Eastern Michigan coach Stephanie Jennings takes on historic role at Michigan PGA

Stephanie Jennings recently became the first female president in the 100-year history of the Michigan PGA. The Eastern Michigan University coach is only the 10th woman to serve as president of one of the 41 sections of the PGA of America.

“I feel it’s an honor that my fellow PGA members look to me to be their leader,” said Jennings, a mother of two who has been a member of the PGA of America since 2007.

Some of Jennings’ goals for the 800-member organization include growing the Michigan PGA’s foundation by creating a foundation board. She’d also like to eliminate the current waiting list of veterans across the state who wish to get involved in the PGA HOPE (Helping Our Patriots Everywhere) program, which introduces golf to those who have served as well as active-duty military. The Michigan PGA currently works with about 1,200 military members across the state. There are around 350 military members on the waiting list.

“To me, one person on the waiting list is too many,” said Jennings.

Another longer-term goal is to find a way to re-introduce golf into P.E. classes at schools across the state.

Jennings was part of the inaugural recruiting class for the Eastern Michigan women’s golf program and was the 1998 Mid-American Conference Golfer of the Year. After graduation, she worked as an assistant professional at several courses, including Meadowbrook Country Club.

During that time, she invited LPGA founder Shirley Spork to the club for a luncheon. It was Meadowbrook that offered Spork an honorary membership in the 1940s so that she could participate in high-level events across the country that required a club affiliation.

When Jennings became head coach at Eastern Michigan in 2018, she carried on that relationship with Spork, who won the first National Collegiate Championship in 1947 while attending Eastern Michigan. A teacher at heart, Spork helped found the LPGA’s teaching division in 1959.

After Jennings got the Eastern job, she took the team out to Palm Desert, California, to meet Spork and benefit from lifelong lessons. Now Jennings is blazing her own trail at the Michigan PGA with the memory of Spork’s impact as fuel.

Eastern Michigan women’s golf team with late LPGA Founder Shirley Spork. (courtesy photo)

When Spork died last April, Jennings was invited to the pioneer’s California home, where she was given Eastern Michigan memorabilia that will be on display at the school’s new indoor golf facility, set to open in early December.

To combat the winter months, an inventive Spork used to go into the wresting room when she was a student at Eastern and put mats on the wall so she could hit balls.

Spork’s commitment to growing the game extended into her latter years when she began an endowment at Eastern Michigan to help the golf program. Part of that fund enabled Jennings to hire an assistant coach.

Those on the current team who never had the chance to meet Spork compete in a tournament that bears her name each fall.

“My team understands that as a female back in the 1940s and 50s, it just wasn’t given to you,” said Jennings.

“Keeping her legacy going is what’s really important to me.”

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek