Azucena Maldonado could never have imagined fifteen years ago when she founded the Latina Golfers Association (LGA) that her dream to introduce golf to Latinas would play a role in changing the face of golf in the US. Or that she would forge partnership with the pillars of the golf industry, from the Professional Golfers Association (PGA) of America to the United States Golf Association (USGA).
At the time of her interview with Hispanic Executive in early September, Maldonado was hours away from boarding a plane to Spain, along with thirty members of the LGA, to represent the organization at the Solheim Cup, which pits the twelve best players from the Ladies European Tour against the twelve best Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) Tour players in an international showdown.
“The LGA was made official ambassadors of this amazing event, and we’re so excited,” Maldonado says, the excitement evident in her voice.
Azucena’s golf journey began when she fell in love with the game after being introduced to recreational golf by a friend. She had never played golf or even stepped onto a course, but that didn’t stop her from becoming obsessed to share her passion with everyone she met. While she embraced every aspect of golf—the gorgeous courses, tough challenges, miracle wins, as well as the business and personal relationships that could be cultivated and maintained through the sport—she wondered, “Where are the women? Where are the Latinas and the women of color golfers?”
Azucena saw the potential in introducing women to the game and benefits both the women and the game itself would garner. She set down her clubs and took up the banner of the LGA. “I decided to take it into my own hands,” Maldonado recalls, “and create an entity, a movement really, that would bring women together to learn to play golf and take advantage of all the opportunities that golf offers.”
The LGA’s first event drew ninety-four women in the Los Angeles area, an astounding number considering just how rare it was for the founder to see more than a handful of women at charity tournaments.
“It was a chance to talk about interest in a sport that many of us didn’t grow up with or know a lot about,” Maldonado notes. “I wanted to take the mystery out of golf and introduce this sport that can be a healthy walk in a beautiful park, quality time spent with friends, a personal challenge, and present professional opportunities. That was the day that I realized that the Latina Golfers Association could be the welcome committee for our community, for women to be introduced to this sport.”
Fifteen years and five thousand ardent members later, the LGA is going strong. The PGA was the first to reach out to Azucena to forge a strategic alliance. Today, the LGA boasts partnerships and working relationships with the major forces in golf, including Callaway Golf and the USGA, to bring more Latinas and women into golf.
In fact, if you watched the US Men’s or Women’s Open this year, or affiliated amateur events, you’ve already seen the LGA spotlighted for millions of people across the world.
“Our success is the result of much grassroots work and because we insure our programs are on par or better than anything out there,” Maldonado explains. “When you attend our events, you will experience golf in a fresh new way. We create fun, nonintimidating golf events that resonate with women in our community.”
Through the LGA’s Latina Leadership Through Golf program, a curated cohort of Latinas from diverse backgrounds are led through a leadership development and golf program. “These women are able to learn about golf as a tool to break down cultural and gender barriers and to use it to enhance their personal and professional lives,” Maldonado explains. “This program is in its seventh year, and we’re looking to expand into new cities.” The founder is currently focused on expanding the LGA’s reach into Texas, Florida, and more states in the southwest.
While the LGA started to empower Latinas by teaching them how to leverage golf as a business and career tool, its efforts have expanded to include girls golf programs and clinics to bring families together. “When you teach a mother to play golf, her family will play golf,” Maldonado insists.
She says the variety of careers in golf, from engineering to hospitality, are often overlooked, and there is incredible potential for more women to build professional lives there. Recently, the LGA was able to bring in a Latina Calloway engineer to talk to girls in the LGA’s Junior program about her work designing golf balls. It’s an effort to get girls thinking outside the tee box when it comes to futures in golf.
You can’t talk about the LGA without talking about Maldonado herself. Her energy seems inexhaustible. Her love for the game is evident in the way she talks about it. She travels the country speaking to thousands of people at events and panels, speaking about her love of the game and how it can be a gateway to personal and professional growth as well as a lifetime sport.
“The LGA is about advocacy for our Latino community,” Maldonado says. “We belong in this space as much as anyone else. Golf, for many of us, becomes much more than a lifestyle. I believe golf is a lifeline for our community that can change and enhance our lives. It absolutely changed mine.”