Not So Par for the Course: Debby King and Nancy Woodke challenge the status quo in Oregon golf
written by Sheila G. Miller | photos by Kjersten Hellis
It started simply. In the wake of her husband’s death in 2008, Nancy Woodke decided it was time to get her golf game back. The standout high school and college golfer called on Debby King, who has been the general manager and head golf pro at Laurelwood Golf Course in Eugene since 2008.
Since then, King and Woodke have started their own golf school, competed in dozens of tournaments and done their part to end golf’s boys club reputation.
The sport is not new to these women.
King started playing golf while at a swim practice at age 16—not much interested in swimming, she saw a group hitting golf balls, put a towel around herself and took her first golf swing in a bathing suit.
I knew that was what I wanted to do from day one. I wanted to be a golf pro.
She played in college, learned to teach the game from a legendary golf instructor, and played on several mini-tours and in a few LPGA tournaments before turning to coaching, first at University of Memphis and then at the University of Notre Dame (“The coldest place I’ve ever lived.”)
Woodke grew up in the area, and remains a kindergarten teacher in the Eugene School District.
“I got addicted to golf because it was the hardest sport I’d ever done. It became a passion almost instantly,” she said. “It was something where I kept improving a little bit. … It’s given me way more than I could ever give back.”
When, after raising a family and spending a couple decades away from the links, she returned to the sport, it wasn’t easy.
“Golf isn’t like riding a bike. You can stop riding a bike for five years and get right back on,” King said. “It was really hard for her because she had played at such a high level. … To be able to come back and get her LPGA teaching card was a big deal.”
Transforming Laurelwood Golf Course
After moving to Eugene in the mid-2000s to be near her ailing parents, King discovered Laurelwood Golf Course and networked her way into a job, eventually taking over as the general manager and head golf pro.
“What she won’t tell you is, I grew up here, and Laurelwood was like a daisy farm. It was one of the worst golf courses around,” Woodke said. “And it was all guys. The only kids who played there were high schools. Since Debby has been there, we’ve started teaching women and couples and kids. It’s a huge transformation from just the guys beer-drinking, to now a family and kids place.”
For the first seven months King was at the course, she said, she never saw another woman or children. Today there are more than 200 kids taking lessons there.
“I was met with a little bit of reluctance from the men’s club, but it didn’t take long,” King said. “All you have to do is beat them at playing golf.”
But while they were already breaking ground as one of the few clubs in the state with two female golf pros, the pair wasn’t finished. They purchased a property adjacent to Laurelwood and built Kingdom of Golf out of the home—complete with a backyard putting green, bunkers and target greens. The duo lives upstairs.
The golf school offers private lessons and group packages, in which visitors from all over the country stay in the downstairs area of the home, receive instruction, play courses and sometimes even hit up a Ducks football game.
Keeping the competitive edge
King still competes, usually in about a dozen tournaments and pro-ams each year. “I want to keep my competitive edge,” she said.
But that’s not the only way the duo keeps fit. They do CrossFit, a competitive interval and strength-training program. Kingdom of Golf’s downstairs includes a golf studio with workout equipment designed to help students learn golf-specific CrossFit workouts.
“We do a lot of workouts that touch golf muscles,” King said. “Golf is athletic. Tiger Woods changed that image.”
And at the end of the day, just golfing the hilly, nine-hole Laurelwood course is a workout in itself.
“This is not just a little jaunt,” King said. “We call it cardio golf. You are definitely breathing heavy.”