Celebrating PRIDE Month: Sarah St. John, PGA, Leads by Example
Each June, the world comes together to share stories of inclusion that offer visibility to various leaders in the LGBTQ+ community. The golf industry has a wealth of talent from many different communities and is fortunate to have one such PGA Member, Sarah St. John, help lead the way while blazing her own path as a PGA Member for nearly 10 years.
Pride month was established to recognize a collection of movements that led to the celebration you see today. The point remains that Pride month is about visibility of a community and a chance for companies, and the golf industry, to let the LGBTQ+ community know that the game of golf is welcome to them and your golf facility is a safe space for them to play the game. The feeling of support is something that helps drive more into the game and allows those within it the freedom to live an authentic life.
Sarah practically grew up with a golf club in her hand thanks in large part to her father.
“I started playing when I was around 4,” St. John said. “My dad likes to tell everyone the story of how he took my car seat when I was a kid and bungee corded it to the golf cart. I’m my dad’s only child, so he wanted something that we could do together forever. I was very much a tomboy. My mom worked a lot so I was around my dad, his brothers and friends a lot. I was always playing golf and hanging out with the guys.”
It wasn’t until she won several district tournaments in high school that Sarah began taking golf seriously and began competing regularly. Off the course, she was living an outward life that resembled anyone else in her small Texas town. Inwardly, she was going through something different.
“In high school I had crushes on girls but I never read too much into it and I still had boyfriends,” Sarah explained. “I grew up in a really small town, so I wasn’t really exposed to the gay community.”
After graduation, Sarah decided to make golf a permanent fixture in her life. She headed to Sam Houston State University to take part in their PGA Golf Management program where she excelled, and was also asked to join the golf team. It was then that she began to grow and develop more into her authentic self.
“It wasn’t until I got out of the small town and went to college and I met girls who were actually out and thought ‘everything makes so much sense now’.”
And the rest is history. Though she didn’t fully come out until she began dating a fellow member of her golf team, the change in her perspective didn’t go unnoticed by those in her hometown.
St. John became a PGA Member in 2013 and jump started her golf career as an assistant professional at The Club at Carlton Woods outside of Houston before ultimately receiving a call to work at her alma mater as the assistant director of the PGA Golf Management Program, a move she called a “no-brainer”.
In 2018, Sarah was selected to be one of 15 members of the COHORT III Class of PGA LEAD, a two-year leadership development program for PGA Members from diverse backgrounds.
“I felt honored to have been chosen. It’s amazing to see members of different sexual orientations, backgrounds and ethnicities get a chance to offer a different perspective within the association and strive for leadership positions,” Sarah said of the experience.
“It’s important to show that we as an organization are open to people of all backgrounds and I hope we continue to move in that direction.”
It was while she worked at Sam Houston State that she met her now wife Bobbi. Now, four years later, the two live together in Conroe, Texas, and got married this past March after covid delayed their wedding.
Sarah refers to her relationship with Bobbi as “the greatest decision she has ever made”, but that is not to say they haven’t had to overcome challenges.
“It’s 2021 and there are still moments where we’ll be out and about in public and even though we’re married now, we’ll still be hesitant to hold hands or show any kind of affection,” Sarah shared. “I got really lucky with my family, they’ve been very supportive.”
Though Sarah has recently stepped away from the golf industry, she has also experienced some challenges working in such a male-dominated space as a woman and as a member of the LGBTQ+ community.
“Though this wasn’t an issue at my last job [at SHSU], any time you get a new job it’s nerve-wracking as well, it’s like ‘at what point do I tell these people about my personal life and hope they’re okay with it?’ Even working at country clubs, there’s a specific demographic that I don’t really fit into, so I’m sometimes hesitant to reveal details about my personal life.”
Luckily, Sarah has not been alone on the journey. She credits her family and friends, as well as fellow PGA Member and mentor, Ann Marie Gildersleeve, with helping her navigate the highs and lows.
“I worked as an intern for [Gildersleeve] at Austin CC and we’ve been close ever since. It’s nice having someone that understands all the stigma that can come with being a woman in the industry,” Sarah explained. “Sometimes people assume we aren’t good players or we don’t know a lot about the game and while that can be frustrating, it’s awesome to see women, like Ann Marie, dissolve these stereotypes and pave the way for other women in the golf industry.”
“My parents have also been a great support system. We’re very close and I talk to them about anything and everything.”
Bobbi has also been a beacon of support for Sarah. Now, they are happy, settled, and (most importantly) proud of their love story.
“It makes me really happy that when June comes around, you really get to see people openly celebrate who they are with the rest of the community. It’s also really nice to see the incredible support from individuals and businesses around the world.”
As a proud PGA member, Sarah is looking forward to seeing the PGA of America push for more diversity and inclusion for years to come. The PGA is committed to doing just that.