By Jim Nugent, Global Golf Post/Biz
It was 1981, and Donna Hoffman was one of five newly minted female certified public accounts out of a class of 100 that joined a Boston-based public accounting firm. Not a golfer, she noticed that the other 95 male accountants played a lot of golf — and got choice assignments, promotions and raises.
She got out of the profession shortly after joining it.
That was a lesson learned for a lifetime and, in a circuitous manner, led to the formation of one of two national membership organizations in golf: Women On Course. Based in northern Virginia, Hoffman helms a 60,000-strong women’s golf community.
A community for women, designed by women. And she built it all by herself.
The seed of her idea came several years ago when a friend visiting from Florida described something called “Ladies, Let’s Go Fishing.” This was an effort by the fishing industry to develop more female anglers.
“They would teach you how to throw a line, drink beer and cuss,” joked Hoffman. “I said to myself, ‘How do we do this in golf?’ ”
Thus was born Women On Course. It has two distinct chapters — pre-traumatic partnership breakup, and post-traumatic partnership breakup.
After her brief foray into public accounting, Hoffman operated a video production company, which she ran successfully before selling it. She then had a “what’s next?” moment. Her last video production was a golf lifestyle piece that attracted a national insurance company as a sponsor; the company wanted to leverage golf to help their agents network with high-net-worth women. The company asked Hoffman to create happy hour mixers across the country, and that became the spark that resulted in Women On Course.
Gradually, she was asked by the female attendees whether she could add golf to the offerings with clinics and events. So she did, eventually gaining enough traction to attract several sponsors. Organically, the organization was gaining traction.
Then came the big break: a significant partnership with a large multi-golf course ownership company. Now Hoffman had access to golf courses and infrastructure, and membership began to really take off.
Things changed after three years, as the multi-course owner decided to go in a different direction. It was abrupt, but Hoffman felt it coming and was prepared for that eventuality. However, it meant starting all over again, virtually from scratch. “It was just a roadblock” she told GGPBiz. “I am a problem solver.”
She began by offering a $300 lifetime membership. This earned her enough capital to get back on her feet. She became more dialed in on her mission: to connect women golfers regardless of skill or experience. “There is a clear need there,” said Hoffman. “Women want to find other women to play golf with. We are all about networking.”
Today, Hoffman has 17 market leaders scattered across the country. They will conduct more than 1,800 local events, consisting of instruction, social mixers and weekend travel opportunities.
Hoffman grew up in the Washington, D.C., area in a sports-minded family that included two younger brothers. Her father was recruited to pitch in Major League Baseball, and he introduced all three of his children to sports — but not golf. She got her degree in accounting and finance at Lehigh University.
When she owned her video production company, she was married but found herself a golf widow raising three children. That union didn’t last. Some 15 years later, she met another man who was a serious golfer. They eventually married, and her new husband brought Hoffman’s entire brood into the game.
“Unlike husband No. 1, he wanted me and my kids to be part of the golf lifestyle,” Hoffman said. “We were added to his golf club membership, the kids went to golf camp, and he introduced me to the game again, bringing in all the things I already enjoyed, like being outside, getting exercise and socializing in a beautiful setting with a glass of wine.
“This new awareness of what golf was all about coincided with the time my friend was telling me about the fishing thing. I thought if women knew what golf had to offer, they would all be doing it.”
Women On Course has expanded significantly into the women’s buddy trip arena. This year alone, Women On Course will visit Ireland and Santa Fe, New Mexico. All of her travel events sell out; she recently teased a 2024 trip to Torrey Pines in La Jolla, California. It sold out in less than 24 hours.
She is also dabbling in corporate events, teaching the value of golf as a networking and career-building asset. She firmly believes that golf can be a business development tool. She discovered that in a CPA firm in Boston in 1981. And that discovery has taken her on a long and wonderful journey.
The women’s game in America is better for it.