The landscape for women in sports is constantly changing, especially when it comes to golf. More young women are taking up the game of golf earlier, and are contributing to the growing number of women playing in high school, college and going on to play professionally on the LPGA tour. The number of girls playing high school golf has increased by 10.9 percent in just six years, while the number of boys entering the sport has dropped over five percent in the same time frame.

Sarah Schmelzel, an Arizona native, who has been playing golf since she was 5 and graduated from Xavier College Preparatory in Phoenix, went on to play golf at the University of South Carolina, hopes more young women get involved playing golf.

Currently a rookie on the LPGA tour, Schmelzel has finished third at the inaugural LPGA Q-Series to earn Priority List Category status for the 2019 season and has a recorded seven top-10 finishes on the Symetra Tour in 2018.

She will be playing in the 9th Annual LPGA Bank of Hope Founders Cup held in Phoenix from March 21-24 at Wildfire Golf Club at the JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort and Spa. The event will be televised live on The Golf Channel all four days and features a $1.5 million purse.

Sarah Schmelzel. (Photo courtesy of the LPGA)

The Bank of Hope Founders Cup was established to honor the 13 original Founders of the LPGA, and help continue the growth of the LPGA-USGA Girls Golf Program, which has received almost $3 million from tournament proceeds to date.

“I grew up watching the LPGA event travel around Phoenix, it started out at my home course at Moon Valley Country Club, which is where Annika Sorenstam shot 59 in March 2001.

“That day really sparked my love for the game and ever since then I’ve seen it when it was at Superstition Mountain and when it’s been at Wildfire. So to be able to kind of work my way into that reality, it seems like it happened with the snap of my fingers, but to be able to have gone from the little girl that was behind the ropes watching to being inside the ropes competing, I feel so blessed to be a part of it.”

Arizona is home to programs such as the LPGA USGA Girls Golf of Phoenix, which gives young women opportunities to experience the many golf courses in Arizona. The nonprofit aims to provide girl-friendly environments for juniors to learn the game from the best. The 2019 Bank of Hope Founders Cup, the only LPGA tournament in Arizona, is a sponsor of the program and helps celebrate the future generation connecting professional players and juniors alike.

“I think there’s so much more opportunity for girls in golf…I think people are taking a big initiative to empower young women in this sport, and there’s so much opportunity in the workplace for a woman that plays golf,” Schmelzel said. “And I think from a young age there are so many organizations that have popped up that are empowering young women to chase this big dream and I think are really good at involving young girls as well.”

With temperate weather most of the year, Arizona is one of the premier states in the country to play golf, whether it’s professional or recreational. In addition to hosting nationally broadcasted events like the Bank of Hope Founders Cup and the Phoenix Open, Arizona has many championship golf courses at esteemed resorts and clubs in the Valley that are known for their pristine greens.

Schmelzel said she was able to go on some of these golf courses growing up when she tagged along with her dad and older brother. “I went with my dad, who is a golf nut, and my older brother, but it was amazing to grow up and be able to go on these golf courses and play in tournaments,” Schmelzel said.

“My grandma is almost 90 years old and she is maybe even a bigger golf nut than my dad, and she tells a lot of stories about how she could only play on a Tuesday or Wednesday,” she said.

“I think it’s cool to have that perspective from my grandma, learning from her and seeing how far the game has come and being able to pursue it as a career…it’s amazing that it’s something that has become a reality for me.”

Schmelzel thinks the biggest way the sport can encourage young girls to play is to make it fun by including them in activities with the LPGA Girls Golf of Phoenix such as an all-girls clinic with some professionals. “By immersing young girls in that world with other women who have been able reach the LPGA or Symetra Tour, girls can be exposed to the sport at a young age and see that it’s definitely something that can become their reality as well,” Schmelzel said.

Although golf has made great strides with the LPGA, Schmelzel said she thinks women’s golf is going to continue to increase in popularity.

“I think stereotypes in women’s golf are already being broken with women’s golf being more televised, and being able to watch the college national championship for women — that’s something we didn’t think was going to happen even when I was in school. I think getting more notoriety and into the public to show them we’ve got game, we can play, and we can keep up with the best of them, so I think it’s going to keep breaking barriers and making progress towards equality for women’s and men’s golf.”

Schmelzel is excited for her future career on the LPGA tour and says she’s “stepping into a whole new arena. I’ve dreamed my whole life of being able to be on the LPGA tour, so I’m really excited to see where it takes me…to see new places, meet new friends and to compete at the highest level, so I’m excited to see what that opportunity looks like.

“And being able to learn every week I think is what I’m most excited for both in golf and my career. I’m excited to see what new happens in golf in 2019, I think if you look at now versus beginning of 2018, there were barriers that were broken again, so it’ll be interesting to see and hopefully I can help spur that along in 2019 and in 2020 think, “Wow, look at how much further we came again this year, let’s do it again.”’