Golf Like a Girl

Swing Like a Girl | BCBusiness
AJ Earthorne is the face of Predator Ridge’s Swing Like a Girl program.

Predator Ridge program draws women to the game

As 2010 rolled along, AJ Eathorne knew she was reaching her limit. A former LPGA Tour player and a successful caddie on the PGA and LPGA Tours, Eathorne had been witness to the best golf could produce. She even caddied for LPGA Tour star Brittany Lincicome during her win at the CN Canadian Women’s Open in Montreal.

But the endless days of hotels and grinding it out on tour, either as a player or looping, had taken their toll. It was time for a break. Eathorne joined the office ranks and tried to settle into the corporate groove, but with her boundless energy and outgoing personality she knew it was a bad fit that wouldn’t last. Besides, she had other ideas in mind. Golf ideas.

Three years after shutting down her life on the road, Eathorne is now an important part of the bustling instruction program at Predator Ridge Resort near Vernon, B.C. And she’s more than just a golf instructor—Eathorne is also the face of Predator’s “Swing Like a Girl” initiative, an innovative program designed to lure more women to the sport. She’s a great fit—her bubbly personality creates an atmosphere of fun for participants in the new classes.

“It was a really positive environment,” says Kim Heizmann, a Vernon realtor who attended the Swing Like a Girl program with Eathorne before advancing to personal lessons. “AJ is fabulous, always joking, but you recognize she really knows what she is talking about.”

Swing Like a Girl (branded to include merchandise and even an all-pink golf cart at Predator Ridge) and golf programs like it could be important for the game as it struggles to find its gender equilibrium. According to a 2012 study by the National Allied Golf Associations, a group of organizations involved in the game, 30 per cent of golfers are women. Women have continued to follow a long-recognized trend—joining the game in large numbers, but not sticking it out and ultimately abandoning the sport.

Though Eathorne has been the face and driving force behind the Swing Like a Girl program since it was launched, she didn’t create the program. Ingrid Dilschneider, Predator Ridge’s director of business development who was running the resort’s marketing program at the time, first imagined the concept. She was looking for the right personality to launch the program and found it in Eathorne, who joined Predator Ridge as an instructor in 2011.

The ironic tag line has certainly caught the attention of some—and not always positively. “I did have one lady push back and think the idea was negative,” Eathorne says. “So I had to explain it to her. I told her that the notion of swinging like a girl was positive. I swing like a girl. The women on the LPGA swing like girls. Why wouldn’t you want to swing like they do? Heck, most guys would benefit by swinging like someone on the LPGA Tour. When I told her that she understood.”

The program is an amplified version of the traditional golf camp, but caters solely to women, who pay $125 for the daylong session (though some camps involve other elements like spa days and can be more costly, Dilschneider points out).

“We want everyone to have fun—that’s the goal,” says Eathorne, who leads the camps and tailors them to the ability of each participant. “Women are attracted to the game for a lot of reasons—some for the sport, some for the social element—and we work those in as well.”

As a golfer, Eathorne’s accomplishments were numerous. Raised in Penticton, she won the B.C. Ladies Amateur for three consecutive years and also took the Canadian Ladies Amateur while playing at New Mexico State University. She was expected to be one of Canada’s most notable female successes when she turned professional in 1998, but she never managed to do better than a tie for third in her rookie season. She basically walked away from tour golf in 2009 (with career winnings of more than $1 million), and began caddying on the PGA Tour for Kris Blanks. When she parted ways with Blanks, Eathorne found her way back to the LPGA Tour, this time caddying for Lincicome, carrying the golfer’s bag for two wins.

One thing that was unexpected when Swing Like a Girl was launched is the revenue spun off by the program’s merchandise, an array of pink Swing Like a Girl golf shirts and additional fees to rent the matching golf cart. The resort is now rolling out a Swing Like a Kid program, and if Dilschneider has her way, both programs will move outside of the resort.

“I think down the road there’s a good chance we’ll do something more with [the programs],” she says. “Whether that’s franchises or licensing, I don’t know yet.”

Eathorne is aware the concept might have a long reach, but for now she’s just focusing on the women who turn up at Predator Ridge and trying to be sure they come to love the game that has meant so much to her.

“I try to make it sound like I’m just your everyday average person who had some success at athletics,” says Eathorne. “That way you become a real person to these ladies as opposed to someone they once saw on TV. I want to find out about them and what brings them to the game. It is more than just a golf lesson— for me it is about meeting people.”