Brandi Merrick, a graduate research assistant in NC State’s agronomic pathology program, loved growing weed before she loved playing golf.

Now, the Iowa State graduate with a degree in agricultural education and a former high school math, science and agriculture teacher can’t imagine her life without one or the other. something she’ll think about often this week as she volunteers as a greens trimmer at the 77th U.S. Women’s Open Golf Tournament at Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club in Southern Pines.

The seven-day service opportunity, which began earlier this week, will not only include preparing the famous Donald Ross-designed course for the world’s best female golfers, but will also give Merrick and other female members of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA) the opportunity to participate in workshops for women in the industry. This is the second year in a row that Merrick will volunteer at the United States Golf Association Women’s National Golf Championship, which began with four days of practice on Sunday and continues with four days of competition starting Thursday. .

In all, 31 women from golf courses and the sports turf industry are volunteering in the agronomic services of the Open, some of whom are members of the CGSAA. They join 40 other volunteers and the 17 members of Pine Needles’ full-time agronomy team to prepare the course for the group of 156 players who are aiming for a $10 million purse, one of the biggest wins in women’s professional sport. Merrick has been a member of the organization of 19,000 people – only 2% of whom are women – since she first became interested in agronomy more than 10 years ago.

The third hole at Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club in Southern Pines. Photo: USGA/Chris Keane.

Last year, at the Olympic Club in San Francisco, she spent the week putting holes on the course’s notorious tough greens.

His task this year as a greensmower will be very different from that of his first Open. The day begins with a 3:45 a.m. wake-up call, a daily 4 a.m. briefing, followed by the mowing of three different greens with a partner, long before the first golfers started playing daily. One will use a self-propelled reel mower to cut the greens and the other will place a turntable on the edge of the green which allows the mower to change direction without damaging the grass on the green deck. She and a partner will mow three greens before sunrise, then again at sunset after each day’s play.

Between weekdays, GCSAA will host training seminars, professional development sessions and networking opportunities for women volunteers.

“Last year we had a seminar where we talked about what it was like to be a woman in a male-dominated field,” says Merrick. “Everyone shared their story. My story is a little different than most because I have only had wonderful experiences, although I realize that others have had a harder time being accepted into this industry.

sacred ground

Like many courses in Moore County, Pine Needles is hallowed ground for golfers. Built in 1928 by famed designer Donald Ross and purchased in 1954 by couple Peggy Kirk and Warren “Bullet” Bell, the course was a leader in teaching women’s golf long before hosting its first Open in 1996. This year’s Open will be the fourth held at Pine Needles, the largest in history with an event that began in 1946.

Merrick had no idea that taking an advanced turf course as a requirement in horticulture for her college degree would put her on the path to plant pathology or a future in the golf industry.

Merrick in an NC State lab.
Merrick is working on three different golf-related research projects at NC State.

“The grass class was the only one that fit my schedule and everyone told me I was going to hate it,” she says. “I showed up and loved everything from the first minute I walked into class. I loved the subject. I loved my teacher. I loved my classmates. I loved everything about it.

Little did she know that there were golf courses and resorts and other professional opportunities that employed turf experts as superintendents. She applied for internships all over the country, hoping to find one that would take her away from the unforgiving cold winters of Iowa.

“I said I would do the first internship somewhere warm,” Merrick says. “I didn’t know what Pinehurst was, but I knew North Carolina was warm.”

At home in North Carolina

At the time, she didn’t even like to play golf, but learned to love the game during her summer internship at the resort’s No. 5 course. And, after working at resorts in Pinehurst and Asheville and marrying a North Carolina native, she’s pretty much decided to stay in the Old North State, where golf generates $2.3 billion in out-of-pocket spending and brings in collectively more than $1.3 billion to its 53,000 employees.

After teaching at high schools and colleges around the state, Merrick eventually decided to pursue an education in NC State’s turf pathology program, working on three different golf-related research projects. Two of these projects study root ripping rot in ultra-dwarf Bermuda grass and another surveys and takes samples from more than 500 golf courses in the state about their bermudagrass greens.

When she graduates, Merrick plans to pursue a career in academic research or perhaps even pursue work as a superintendent in a community or golf resort. For now, she is adding to her resume by working at the biggest women’s golf event in the country.

“The opportunity to volunteer at the Open,” says Merrick. “It doesn’t get bigger than that.