Golf

A new generation of opportunity for Sacramento-area girls golf

aseng@sacbee.com

No one has more perspective on the growth of girls golf in Sacramento than Angie Dixon.

She was one of the area’s best high school players in 1990. Good thing, too, or she couldn’t have competed because there were no girls teams then.

Dixon was good enough to make the boys’ team at El Camino before playing collegiately at Washington and going on to a distinguished amateur career.

“There were maybe three or four girls playing high school golf (in the area) back then,” she said.

Flash forward a generation, where Emily Dixon, Angie’s daughter, is one of 18 players on the Whitney High School girls’ golf team. Emily, a senior, is among the top female players in the area, but the Whitney team features players of all abilities, including those holding a club for the first time.

It helps me grow as a person. You mess up and then you fix it. It teaches you how to deal with frustration.

Emily Hodgson, Whitney High School golfer, on learning the game

The school has a passionate coach who welcomes all comers, a dedicated assistant coach and a stream of former Whitney players who return to volunteer their time and expertise. It makes 1990 seem like a long time ago.

“It’s neat to see so many girls playing and having that option,” Dixon said. “They get to experience the camaraderie and all the activities that go with being part of a team, even if they’re not college-caliber players.”

While Dixon said she enjoyed competing alongside boys, she said Emily has one advantage in particular that she envies.

“I never got to invite my best friend to come be on the golf team with me,” she said.

Emily Hodgson is one of 7,531 girls – the most ever – who played high school golf in California in 2015, according to the California Interscholastic Federation. That puts it in a virtual tie with lacrosse as the 10th most popular girls high school sport in the state.

The equivalent number for boys: 10,828, the lowest total in the past 10 years.

In the Sac-Joaquin Section 136 of 198 high schools fielded girls golf teams in 2015. There were 150 boys teams.

Hodgson is in her fourth season after joining the Whitney team as a freshman at the invitation of Emily Dixon. She represents who the evolution of the girls’ game benefits. She had no experience, plays only during the season, appreciates the challenges the game presents, is improving and envisions playing more when she gets older.

“I could hold a club; I think I putted in the fourth grade,” Hodgson said of her exposure to the game before joining the team. Her average score is 60 for nine holes. “I’m not awesome, but I’m getting better.”

She especially likes the mental toughness golf requires.

“It helps me grow as a person,” she said. “You mess up and then you fix it. It teaches you how to deal with frustration.”

St. Francis fielded Sacramento’s first high school girls team in 1991, competing against boys. Dixon, now the executive director of the First Tee of Greater Sacramento, returned from college to coach Loretto’s inaugural girls team in 1994. The Sac-Joaquin Section held its first team championship in 1997, which St. Francis won for the first of its eight consecutive titles.

Laura Faber has been Whitney’s girls golf coach since the school opened in 2005. The road was rocky in the beginning but eventually led to seven consecutive seasons in which the Wildcats went undefeated in league.

It’s a place for girls to pick up their skills and learn a great game in a healthy environment.

Laura Faber, Whitney High School girls golf coach

Interest increased, and Faber started a junior varsity team. Practices at Catta Verdera are focused and structured with pods of six (varsity, tweeners, beginners) rotating from the putting green to the short-game area to the practice tee.

Everyone who comes out makes the team. Faber holds all to the same standard: Miss more than one practice without an excuse and you’re gone. She’s never lost a player. She values the life lessons team golf provides over the victories.

“It doesn’t matter if you are my first player or my last last player, we are family,” she told them after a preseason practice. “We’re sisters now.”

Carol French has coached the girls team for 10 years at Placer High School, where she played on the boys team from 1976 to 1979 before playing collegiately at Sacramento State.

French is more selective than Faber in determining her roster, but one thing that’s similar at both schools – and at schools around the region – is girls get what amount to free golf lessons.

“My girls certainly have access to things that I didn’t,” French said. “To all the available technology. People that I consider having teaching savvy to the golf swing.”

Said Faber: “It’s a place for girls to pick up their skills and learn a great game in a healthy environment.”

Steve Pajak: 916-326-5526, @Steve_Pajak

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