Member Profile: Tara McKenna, M.S., PGA/LPGA

Born in southern California to an Irish-Swedish golfing family, we moved to upstate New York at age 5 for my father’s work. If my older brother and I wanted to see my Dad on the weekends, it would be at the course by playing 9 holes with him on Sunday afternoons. I spent all of my school years at Normanside CC in Delmar, NY, swimming, shagging my own balls on the 18th fairway (our practice range) and playing in the LGA events; winning the Ladies’ Club Championship five times, until it was enough…for them. My father passed away shortly after winning the first one when I was 15. I know he would have been very proud of where I arrived with respect to the game of golf.

Education & Golf
Playing all four years on my High School boys’ team really solidified and prepared my “golfing skin” for this industry while moving up to the #3 position my senior year. When choosing colleges, I looked to merely leave NY to play somewhere warm. I wound up as a four year walk-on at James Madison University (JMU) in Virginia. I still had to work while playing college golf and landed a job working as a Campus Police dispatcher for three years and securing a similar, more demanding version at my local police department for many summers and vacations. Several of my JMU teammates and fellow competitors are LPGA T&CP colleagues (Janet Matsey, Wendy Kern, and Laura Tyler, Paige Cribb, Joy Bonhurst and Sandra Chester) are just a bucket droplet of talent that I met playing college golf.

I chose to enter graduate school on a full scholarship at UNC-Greensboro studying Exercise Sport Science with a concentration in Sport Psychology. My Graduate Assistantship was crafted in two amazing parts: re-launch the dormant women’s golf team as Division I coach and assist the research of fellow respected SW T&CP member and entrepreneur, Dr. Debby Crews. During my initial coaching tenure, I was recruiting gals out of the school hallways to fill my roster that first year. Fellow T&CP member Mary Beth McGirr successfully took over the reins and introduced me to teaching golf at The Farm in Greensboro. From that moment, I knew I wanted to teach golf.

Industry Experience
I enrolled as a PGA apprentice in Saratoga, NY with the ultimate goal of becoming a Head Professional. I soon returned back to my hometown club for four years as an assistant professional developing my love for teaching and merchandising. I competed against my male colleagues, yet missed the collegiality of my LPGA sisters. I earned my LPGA membership shortly thereafter under the guidance of Becky Dengler and Jane Frost.

Most of my professional career was rooted in New England while earning my “snow flake“ stripes every winter in South Florida. I am so thankful for my time, the friendships and the students at my New England clubs and enjoyed camaraderie of teaching many of the LPGA Executive Women’s Golf Clinics and competing in PGA and LPGA section tournaments.

I reached my desired goal of Head Professional at Tatnuck CC in Worcester, MA, where I oversaw the entire golf operation, owned the golf shop concession, trained caddies, mentored staff, and conducted over 40 member tournaments annually. The Northeast LPGA section twice honored me with section Professional of the Year (2001) and Merchandiser of the Year (2005).

In 2010, I packed a Pod™ and moved to Ft. Myers, FL for an opportunity of lifetime entering academia as a Director & Assistant Professor of PGA Golf Management (PGM shortened for some) at Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU). I’ve been fortunate to find a career that taps into my passion for education and yet challenges me daily. I currently develop and teach undergraduate classes in golf management, train/recruit adjuncts, maintain curriculum and accreditation standards, oversee the execution of nearly 80 student internships every spring and summer semesters and direct the overall operation of this degree. FGCU is one of 18 programs nationally accredited by the PGA of America whereby students earn a Bachelor’s degree and PGA Class A designation upon graduating. Our program boasts the second largest enrollment of female students, whom I am grooming to become dual PGA/LPGA members after graduation with the help of fellow southeast member, Carol Clark!

I currently serve on the national PGA committee and chair the SFPGA Section level for Diversity & Inclusion. I pressed for the idea of inviting LPGA professionals to our SFPGA section events (Pro-Pro and Mixed Team) to boost participation and enhance collegiality. We host two Women’s Golf Days which attracts over 200+ women for clinic instruction, wine and prizes. The SFPFA recently honored me with the 2015 Horton Smith Award which recognizes outstanding contribution to education of Association members. I am a strong advocate for empowering and assisting women improve their positions in our industry.

Meanwhile not at the office: In my non-desk job time, which are now holidays and weekends (the benefits of being a state employee), I play golf, tennis, paddleboard, cycle and enjoy wine and travel. I recently escorted 17 students to southwest part of Ireland in May for a “bucket list” golf excursion and will repeat a similar trek to Scotland in 2017. I usually take my clubs anywhere I travel if possible.

The LPGA has been instrumental is proving a platform to play, teach and learn. I am thankful for the colleagues and friendships that have grown out of my affiliation with a tremendous association.

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