The Women Who Lead Western New York Golf
By Len Ziehm
Taylor Hunter, Tori Schiro, Ashley Easterday and Julie Haile.
The Western New York PGA Section isn’t the biggest in its state.
“We’re a small Section, but we get things done,” says Tori Schiro, currently in her first year as the Section’s Executive Director. “We only have three or four in our office, and we’re on the road around New York four days of every week. Our list of events is very extensive.”
The Western New York PGA, with 275 PGA Professionals making up its composition, was the host Section for this year’s rip-roaring PGA Championship. The Section, founded in 1925, is based at Glen Oak Golf Club in East Amherst, New York, about 60 miles from Oak Hill Country Club’s East Course — where Brooks Koepka was crowned PGA Champion and PGA Professional Michael Block lit the sports world ablaze with his heartwarming story.
The 29-year-old Schiro (above, far right) is only the sixth woman to be the Executive Director of any of the 41 PGA Sections nationwide; she also doubles as Executive Director of the Section’s foundation, PGA REACH Western New York. And her staff consists of the only all-female contingent among all those Sections: Ashley Easterday, Director of Competitions and Member Services; Julie Haile, Director of Junior Golf and Player Engagement; and Taylor Hunter, as a PGA WORKS Fellow.
Women are involved in other Sections, but it’s not common. We’re trailblazing a little bit.
Tori Schiro, Western New York PGA Executive Director
Schiro and her colleagues are working hard to recruit more golfers and retain the ones already playing in her area, which encompasses Buffalo, Rochester and some of Western Pennsylvania. The “recruit and retain” philosophy would be in effect even if the PGA Championship weren’t in the neighborhood.
The Section’s role in the PGA Championship began on Sunday, May 14. That’s when Chris Kulinski, a Western New York PGA Member who works remotely for the PGA of America, directed a Career Exploration Day, meant to attract people who might be interested in a career in golf.
“The main focus is high school kids, but really, anyone was welcome,” recalls Schiro. “Veterans, people looking to start second careers, they were all free to attend.”
The program was conducted at Oak Hill, with over 100 local individuals taking part. On top of receiving two free tickets to PGA Championship practice rounds, the group got a tour of Oak Hill and met staffers from the PGA of America to learn about opportunities in everything from technology to merchandising.
“There’s so many career paths you can take through the PGA,” said Schiro, who began her own career as an intern in the Section office. “He was my mentor, for sure. He taught me everything I know.”
Schiro, born and raised in Buffalo, had earned a Bachelor’s degree in communications with a minor in sports management at State University of New York’s Fredonia campus, then picked up her Master’s at Canisius College in Buffalo.
After her internship and four years in banking, Bartkowski asked Schiro to return as his Assistant Executive Director. She took the ED reins when he left to become Executive Director of the Colorado PGA Section.
With a successful PGA Championship in the books, Schiro and her team’s efforts to increase the ranks of local golfers will resume at full speed. It’s a three-pronged project, focusing on military, youth and inclusion.
The major component is PGA HOPE, which has been part of the effort for more than five years. Run by the Section’s foundation, this year’s program consists of nine series of clinics for any military Veterans who want to check out the benefits that golf can provide. Each series is limited to 20 students and is free of charge to male and female Veterans, some of whom are retired or disabled. Amputees are also included.
Clinics are 90 minutes long, held weekly over 6-8-week periods at various clubs. Some will start indoors in the fall on golf simulators. After each series of clinics concludes, the program shifts to another location with new students.
“It’s an up-and-coming program structured by the PGA of America,” adds Schiro. “We have active military personnel who want these clinics, and we have a massive waiting list.”
The Western New York Junior Tour, for boys and girls from the ages of 10-17, is especially effective attracting new golfers who have just come into the state. Last year, 180 players registered for the tour.
Section projects for juniors serve nearly 250 members and their families each year, and the Section has conducted more than 20,000 rounds of junior golf since 1999. About 25 tournaments, featuring discounted prices for age-group competition, will be held throughout the summer and player-of-the-year points tabulated for each participant. The leaders qualify for a tour championship to conclude the season.
Schiro is especially interested in getting more girls into golf. That objective still is in its developmental stages, but the Section has partnered with Girls on the Run Buffalo in hosting a fun run. Proceeds are divided between the two organizations as a means of promoting good health. The Section also hosts Junior Golf Days with special emphasis on getting girls who have never held a club to attend. S.N.A.G. (Starting New in Golf) gear is used.
“Golf wasn’t available to me growing up. I didn’t even think it was an option,” notes Schiro, “and I haven’t been in my role here for very long, but I have ideas.”
As if all that weren’t enough, Schiro recently became a mother, but isn’t worried about her duties at home slowing her down.
“I’m a busy-body,” she says. “It’s welcomed chaos.”