During a brief ceremony at the 117th PNGA Annual Meeting, held April 30, 2016 at Tacoma Country & Golf Club, Mary O’Donnell of Bellevue, Wash. was formally elected president of the Pacific Northwest Golf Association.
She is now just the second woman to serve as president of the fifth-oldest golf association in North America, with Lynda Adams being the first, serving as president in 2000-2001. O’Donnell succeeds Ed Burke of Hayden, Idaho, who had served as president the previous two years.
O’Donnell’s resume is impressive. A member (along with husband Richard) at Overlake Golf & Country Club in Medina, Wash. since 1980, she was captain of the women’s golf team several times and was the women’s club champion in 2006, all despite not picking up the game until in her 40s.
She was also the first woman president of Overlake, serving in 2003. “I really didn’t look at it as being a big deal,” Mary says. “It just seemed normal to me. I was raised with three older brothers, so I was used to being around men. And everyone was very good about it.”
It may not have seemed a big deal to her at the time, but it was a harbinger of things to come.
From her volunteer activities at Overlake, O’Donnell expanded into the golf community at large. She’s been a PNGA Club Representative for over 10 years, and served as executive secretary for seven years for the Washington State Women’s Golf Association.
Judy Thompson, a recipient of the 2010 PNGA Distinguished Service Award, has been the chairwoman of the PNGA Hall of Fame Committee since 2000. “Judy asked me to be on the Hall of Fame committee,” Mary said. “And a couple years later, John Bodenhamer (former PNGA executive director) asked me to be on the PNGA Executive Committee, and that was a real honor.”
After being named to the executive committee, the first meeting she attended was a joint meeting with the Washington State Golf Association executive committee. “Being a newbie, I didn’t know how unusual that was,” Mary said. “But I quickly found out why – everyone was called to the meeting because that was when John announced he was leaving to take a position with the United States Golf Association.”
And after serving a couple years on the executive committee, Mary was asked to be the PNGA secretary. Dr. Jack Lamey was PNGA president at the time, and he had called for a strategic planning session, and Mary was heavily involved with its formation and implementation.
“It was a great experience and an opportunity to think ‘outside the box’ and reassess what we were all about, lay it out, and how to achieve it all,” Mary says. “A very informative experience.”
Liz Culver was a good friend and mentor to O’Donnell, and was also a longtime member at Overlake. Culver, who was inducted into the PNGA’s Pacific Northwest Golf Hall of Fame in 1989, had competed in the PNGA Women’s Amateur for 37 years (winning in 1978), helped establish the PNGA Senior Women’s Amateur (which she won in 1989), and was instrumental in establishing the PNGA Women’s Division in 1984.
“During my years as a PNGA Representative, my ears would perk up at the PNGA Annual Meetings whenever John Bodenhamer would talk about Liz of a long time ago and of how she used to sit in the back of the room and wasn’t allowed to vote. It has really made me want to keep things going; I didn’t want to see her efforts come to nothing. I think Liz would now say, ‘We’ve come a long way, baby!'”
Four days after her election, O’Donnell attended the PNGA Cup matches, being held at Richmond (B.C.) Country Club. “I had my passport ready, so off I went,” she said. “It was a great opportunity to interact with the PNGA’s allied associations, and watch some good golf.” (The PNGA Cup is an annual Ryder Cup-style competition held between the OGA, IGA, WSGA and British Columbia Golf; and was created by past-PNGA President Dr. Jack Lamey as a way of continuing the friendship and partnership of the region’s associations under the PNGA umbrella.)
“I am completely enthused about being president, and looking forward to my time in office,” O’Donnell says. “It truly is an honor. I’m very biased toward golfers. I really believe that golfers, and those who love the game, are, at their roots, great and honest and nice people. It’s the nature of the game. Being from this area (her roots are deep in the region – her grandmother survived the Great Seattle Fire of 1889), my husband and I have been fortunate to have had many friends and colleagues over the years, and most of the time golf is the common thread.”
Asked what her goals are for her time in office, O’Donnell didn’t hesitate, “I don’t want to shake things up, and I think things are pretty good as they are. The PNGA is a great organization. But I’d like to look at more diversification. Yes, we conduct quality amateur championships, but not all golfers are going to be champions, so I would like us to look at ways to encourage more players. The young, the ‘buff,’ the seniors, men, women. I love and respect that we are all different, so let’s each celebrate who we are and enjoy this great game.
“I hope sometime soon we no longer need a ‘Women’s Committee.’ There isn’t a ‘Men’s Committee.’ Before, everything was geared to the men so there needed to be a women’s division. Things have changed. Just ask your daughters. You ask the younger set and they say, ‘What? You mean women didn’t used to be able to vote? Are you kidding me?’
“BC Golf is doing a great job of diversifying with the aboriginals, men, women, golfers, non-golfers. They see a challenge and are facing it head on. They’re really doing good work.
“We will continue to look at the planned Golf House at The Home Course and all the options on how to accomplish building it. And we have some housekeeping to do, such as updates to the bylaws.”
O’Donnell seems to be the ideal blend of common sense and forward thinking.
“I have been so blessed with my husband, Richard,” she says. “He is truly the ‘wind beneath my wings.’ He isn’t much of a golfer but has encouraged and supported me every step of the way. Being the first ‘First Husband’ at Overlake, he handled it beautifully. Usually the spouse receives a bouquet of roses – he received some fancy cigars. He was a happy camper.”
Mary and Richard have a son who lives in Seattle with his wife and two beautiful children (Logan, age nine; and Maria, seven). “And yes, they are learning the game – pink clubs and bag and all.”
Sounds like the best man for the job is, particularly in this case, a woman. The PNGA is now in the capable hands of Mary O’Donnell.