Gateway PGA's Ali Wells is a Rising Leader for Golf's Future Generation to Follow
By Hayden Lewis, PGA
Multiple Gateway PGA WORKS Fellows have gone on to become full-time Section staff members thanks to Wells (far right).
There’s excitement happening everywhere you turn in the golf industry.
Over the last few years, the sport has seen a steady growth in almost every category imaginable. From green grass facilities and practice ranges, to the growing number of Topgolf venues and spectator counts at major championships – it’s evident that more and more people of all backgrounds and abilities are gravitating to the game.
For Ali Wells, the PGA Executive Director of the Gateway PGA Section, she believes these inclusive and welcoming efforts surrounding the game are here to stay.
From basketball dreams to a career in golf
Growing up in Cedar Rapids, South Dakota, Wells was convinced she would become the first woman to play in the NBA. “If you’ve met me, you would know that was never in the cards for me standing at five-three … on a good day,” she notes. “I clearly was not meant for the NBA, or the WNBA for that matter.”
From the beginning, however, Ali knew that sports would become a part of her life in some form or fashion. After graduating from the PGA Golf Management Program at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, Ali’s love for the game grew deeper as she spent three seasons at the then PGA of America-owned Center for Learning and Performance in Port St. Lucie, Florida.
“I just fell in love with the Association and where the mission of the PGA of America was headed – from teaching and coaching, youth development, fitness and performance," Wells remembers. I loved seeing how much growth opportunity there was.”
After her time in Florida, Wells transitioned into a role with the Gateway PGA Section in 2012 to help develop the newly established Gateway PGA Foundation.
“No one was there to actually execute the programming and vision," says Wells. "So I was excited to step in.”
She did more than step in, and has helped bring those dreams to reality.
Fast forward 10 years, Wells now finds herself at the helm of the ship as Executive Director, leading a talented team of eight individuals at the Gateway PGA Section and PGA REACH Gateway – the Section’s 501(c)(3) foundation.
“I truly feel like I have the dream job,” notes Wells. “It’s an absolute honor to serve in this position because there’s only 41 of these jobs in the entire world.”
Paying it forward through PGA WORKS
As the first woman PGA Professional to serve as an Executive Director for a PGA Section, she recognizes there is much more work to be done on this front to make the game accessible and welcoming for more women and minorities to enjoy – perhaps even see themselves making a career out of golf.
“When I started there were only three of us," Wells recalls. "In five years, that number has grown to six.”
There’s no doubt Wells' leadership style is a direct contributor to seeing more women in roles similar to hers and beyond. One of those ways she’s committed to driving change in the game and business of golf is by supporting the PGA WORKS Fellowship, a one-year, paid immersion in a PGA Section’s operations that offers a taste of what a career in the golf industry can provide.
Since Wells has held her position as Executive Director, there have been five PGA WORKS Fellows that have come through the Gateway PGA Section. She says each of her Fellows have contributed significantly in their own ways to build the overall operation year-over-year. Of the five Fellows, three are currently on full-time staff at the Gateway Section and all five are still actively building careers in the golf industry.
“Ali exemplifies what it means to be a leader in every aspect, " says the current Gateway PGA WORKS Fellow, Karena Ballard. “She has inspired me to show up everyday and do my best.”
Natalie Long, who is working towards her own path to PGA Membership, completed the PGA WORKS Fellowship at the Gateway Section from 2019-20 and says Ali has had a significant impact on her career by being more than a boss, but leading through friendship and mentorship.
"Ali gave me the opportunities and confidence to step outside my comfort zone and embrace my own place in the golf industry," says Long. "She believed in me more than I believed in myself at times, and serves as a role model for so many.
In the same way, Mackenzie Myers, the Section's Fellow from 2021-22, draws inspiration from Wells now as a full-time member of the Gateway PGA team.
"As a PGA WORKS Fellow, Ali immediately impacted my career by being a mentor and leader from my very first day,” says Mackenzie. “She encouraged me as a woman in the golf industry, and has empowered me to make decisions as both a Fellow and now as a Junior Golf Coordinator.”
Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable
To Wells, PGA WORKS is more than finding a career in golf.
“It’s about figuring out how to take that next step – even if that takes you beyond golf," she says. "Being in my position, I’m more focused on preparing our Fellows for that next step in their careers.”
Cameron Dinkins, who currently serves as the PGA WORKS Program Coordinator, says that Wells made it less daunting to navigate the next steps of her career after her Gateway PGA WORKS Fellowship in 2021.
“I know to this day I can count on her,” says Dinkins. “Everyone needs someone like Ali rooting for them.”
Fernando Molina, who served as the first-ever PGA WORKS Fellow for the Gateway Section in 2018 during the PGA Championship at Bellerive Country Club, credits Wells for jumpstarting his golf journey. He's now the Gateway PGA's Programs Manager – the same position Wells started in.
“Ali is the reason why I am where I am today within the PGA of America,” says Molina. “She inspires anyone she works with, and my hope is to one day be able to lead and inspire my own team in the same way Ali has.”
Wells' evident impact stems from her belief that growth doesn’t happen by staying in your comfort zone. She shares that getting uncomfortable is such an important part of anyone’s development – whether in your career or something different.
“I try to instill that idea in our entire team,” says Wells. “That’s ultimately where innovation comes from, and how we keep the game of golf moving forward.”
To learn more about the PGA WORKS Fellowship, visit pgareach.org.