“Golf needs more girls and giggles.” That’s the motto of the Girls Independent Golf League, (GIGL – appropriately pronounced “giggle”). GIGL is the only all girls, town based, team golf league in the U.S. Though it started small in the tiny town of Norton, Massachusetts, a recent Golf Channel feature has led to coast to coast expansion. People in Arizona, Illinois, Michigan, Rhode Island, Texas, Vermont, and even Canada have begun plans for new GIGLs. “I guess we have to admit that it’s kind of an amazing story,” says GIGL’s co-founder, Dave Barend.
That story commenced about four years ago while the Barends’ two daughters Jillian, then 10, and Sadie, then 6, watched the Solheim Cup. They asked if they could join an all girls team like the women giving high-fives on Team USA. Dave and his wife Sara looked for an all girls golf team but found nothing. So the two little girls simply created their own league with a few of their friends at the par-3 MGA Links – the Massachusetts home of the First Tee Program. With three 4-girl teams from different towns, GIGL had its start. The subsequent growth of GIGL has been nothing short of astonishing. This past June 26th, GIGL had a whopping 200 girls, ages 4-16, come to its second team tournament this season.
Dave advises those interested in creating new GIGLs that the task is really pretty simple. Finding around eight girls to split into two teams is the first step. “When we began, people told us that it’s nearly impossible to find girls who golf in New England. Well, that might have been true. But it was pretty easy to find girls willing to give golf a try, which is what we did.”
Once the Barends started attracting over 140 girls, they actually began running both a morning and an afternoon tournament on the same day. In addition, a clinic precedes each of those tournaments. “The clinics alone are amazing, particularly for the girls who are new to the game”, according to Rob Croak, the “GIGL Team Organizer” for the town of Mansfield. PGA and LPGA Pros as well as college coaches and players run the clinics and then walk the 9-hole alternate shot tournament with the girls. Amongst the many “GIGL Experts” who have assisted include Hall of Famers Pat Bradley and Kay McMahon, former LPGA Stars Michelle Bell and Pamela Kerrigan Johnson, as well as current LPGA rookie Megan Khang.
While all of that expert assistance is impressive, it’s the cost that most astounds Colleen Chin, who makes the hour long drive to the GIGL events with her team from South Boston.
GIGL is a non-profit organization and nobody associated with the league makes a dime. It charges no team or league membership fee. It also provides clubs, balls and tees for free for any girl who needs them. The only cost for the girls is the mere $10 greens fee which all goes to the First Tee Program.
Though keeping the cost very low is extremely important to GIGL, there can be no doubt that the main founding principle and distinguishing feature is that it is an all girls “team” based league. Jillian recently sent emails to numerous college coaches asking if being a good teammate mattered to them for recruiting. She received a plethora of positive responses including this from Harvard Assistant Coach and former LPGA star, Naree Song, “Coaches are always looking for good team members because it builds a positive team culture.” Being on a team also makes it more fun. The GIGL tournaments are borderline raucous (some might say they are “Solheim”-esq) filled with high-fives and cheering. Though scores are kept, winning is clearly far secondary to the, well, “GIGL-ing.”
The creation of a lot of the laughing and energy must be accredited to Dave. He does warm up jumping jacks with the girls while “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” blares in the background. He’ll literally run from hole to hole during the tournament providing encouragement. “The man is nuts, but a good nuts,” says MGA Links Pro Peter Walsh. If you’re thinking that he’s just a golf nut, well, you’re wrong – Dave doesn’t even play. Seriously. This, of course, begs the question: Why start and run a girls golf league then?
He explains, “Well, my little girls ended up loving golf. I’m a dad. So ok, golf it is. And now I’m the commissioner of GIGL. But more importantly, golf is great for girls who haven’t yet found their sport. Most other sports require a physical aggressiveness that many girls just don’t have. And you can get pretty good at golf without being really strong, tall or fast. When you combine those facts with the many studies indicating that girls who are on all girls teams through high school have much higher self-esteem than others, well, I really think we are on to something good with GIGL.”
With “good” clearly accomplished, GIGL now has its sights set on “great.”
“What would really be fantastic”, says Dave Barend, “is if we could get GIGL across the country. Then we could have an annual championship tournament at our original home at MGA Links in Norton, Mass.” If you’d like more information about the Girls Independent Golf League or starting a GIGL near you, just go to www.GIGLgolf.com or the GIGL Facebook page.
Article written by Roderick S. Oreste co-author of the book “Red Sox Legends”
Video: Big thanks to Donny Goertz and John Henry at the Golf Channel for access to the feature video of GIGL.