Maldonado, who is helping to expose the game to the next generation of women, began a Latina Golfers Association in Southern California, and is in the midst of beginning an LGA chapter in Houston, Texas.
Azucena Maldonado is a relatively new golfer, having only first picked up a club eight years ago at the prompting of someone she was dating. During the three years of their relationship, Maldonado's love of the game grew as she spent at least three days a week on the course learning and improving her game. Since then, she's shared her love of the game of golf with Latina women in California and across the nation through the Latina Golfers Association (LGA).
Maldonado began participating in charity golf tournaments, but noticed few women and even fewer Latinas taking advantage of the benefits of the game of golf. As she saw men having a great time and taking advantage of networking opportunities, she thought to herself, "Women are missing out!"
And that's where the LGA all began. Maldonado let some friends know that she would be at the range on Tuesday nights if they wanted to join her. As more and more women came out, a local Latino magazine asked to do a feature on her weekly gathering. In the story, she boldly stated that she was starting a Latina Golfers Association. The response was shocking. More than 100 women came out for the kickoff event, the majority of whom had never even picked up a club before.
The following year, she was partnering with courses in the Los Angeles area to host golf clinics that would make Latina women feel that golf is doable, inviting and fun. The LGA mission statement was created out of these clinics: "The mission of the LGA is to introduce women to golf for their professional development, personal enjoyment and to promote a healthy lifestyle." To date, more than 700 women have attended LGA clinics. Maldonado's goal is to grow the game through the LGA and introduce golf to more women, young and old.
To help carry the game to the next generation of women, the LGA "adopted" the girl's golf team of Theodore Roosevelt Senior High School in Los Angeles. The LGA raises money for the team members to buy clothes, shoes, clubs and anything else they need to improve their game. Taking the program a step further, this year's LGA members serve as mentors to the girl's team, taking them to courses to practice and paying for their on-course experiences.
"Golf is essential in developing self-confidence and opening doors for these girls that they can't even imagine," said Maldonado. "Growing up in a disadvantaged household can result in low self esteem, but golf puts them on equal footing with their peers. It's incredibly powerful."
Maldonado has big plans for expanding the LGA in the future. She is in the midst of beginning an LGA chapter in Houston, Texas, and sharing her story at Latina and women's conferences nationwide. The growth isn't only in terms of location. Maldonado is also looking for more ways to connect first-time golfers who attend clinics to the game for a lifetime. In addition to clinics, she's continually adding on-course playing experiences and encouraging clinic attendees to consider lessons. Another element of expansion comes with adding families to the mix.
"If women golf, they'll get their families to golf. The woman is the key to growing the game of golf in families," Maldonado shared.
On May 22, the LGA hosted its first family golf clinic with The First Tee of Los Angeles, inviting parents, children, grandparents and aunts and uncles to experience the game of golf together. The event had such a positive impact that Maldonado hopes to add more opportunities to include families on the course.
"I am so grateful to the Southern California PGA Section board and staff members, including Jason Taylor, Nikki Gatch and Tom Addis III, for introducing me to The PGA of America and the Lorena Ochoa Foundation. I look forward to partnering with them on future projects to promote golf in the Latino community," Maldonado added. "They have all been very supportive of the Latina Golfers Association. I love that they're so open to discussing new and fresh ideas about introducing Latinas to the game of golf. They've made me feel very welcome and unintimidated by the PGA world."