Spence hired and
mentored her. "She was hands down the most qualified person for the
job," he says. "That she was also a woman was kind of
Some members of
the club's U.S. Open committee were less than thrilled, but not for long.
"Seeing someone work so hard on a daily basis and achieving results won
everyone over," says Spence.
In the end, three
decades of keeping courses playable while constantly feeling the need to prove
herself took its toll. "I had done stuff that people dreamed about,"
Knaggs says, "but I wasn't willing to compromise on my life anymore. It was
my turn to be selfish. When I started out, my career was a lot more interesting
than those of most of the men I met, but it asks for more than most people want
to give to their career. That's not a bad thing, necessarily, but I didn't find
out until I left the profession how out of balance things were." Plus, a
woman may be Speaker of the House, but there are grill rooms--like the one
Reedy is not allowed to enter at L.A. Country Club--that remain off-limits to
women. "That's one of the reasons it was easy for me to step away,"
Candice Combs took
her first step toward becoming a super 29 years ago at Balboa Park Golf Course,
which like Torrey Pines is part of the San Diego municipal system. As an
employee of the city she was protected and promoted by the system.
When she first
arrived in San Diego with her boyfriend in 1976, Combs had no idea what she
wanted to do, other than escape the harsh winters of her hometown, Dearborn,
Mich. She had a degree in botany from Michigan and liked plants, the outdoors
and physical labor (her father was a mason), but she wasn't a tomboy. "I
was a real girl-type girl," she says. "I cooked. I sewed. I crocheted.
She worked as a
waitress and got a pilot's license and eventually landed a job in the city park
system, spending a year picking up whatever dogs and people left behind. She
hated it. Then came what Combs calls "a happy accident." She was
transferred to the maintenance crew at Balboa. "I didn't know what a green
was," she says. "I didn't know what a tee was." But Combs was a
quick study, and in addition to keeping up with her coworkers, she also
impressed her supervisors by taking turfgrass courses, learning advanced
maintenance techniques and earning a pesticide license.
She became a
supervisor and then, in 1984, the assistant superintendent. In 1993 she was
named Balboa's head super. The news did not go down well in all quarters.
"On the first day I was told flat out by one of the retired Navy men on the
crew that he wasn't taking orders from a woman," says Combs. But she was
better qualified for the job than anyone else in the system, and the city
promotes from within with gender-blind eyes. "I'm a diversity queen,"
active in the local GCSAA chapter. "I went to the first meeting in a dress
and high heels," she says, "and no one took me seriously." Not for
long. She was elected chapter president and named superintendent of the year in
Then another happy
accident occurred. After the smashing success of the 2002 U.S. Open at Bethpage
State Park, the USGA sought another public venue for its signature event and
awarded the '08 Open to Torrey. The consensus was that the bone structure of
the South course was superb but its skin was a wreck. In 2005 the city went
into overdrive, hiring GCSAA president Mark Woodward, a certified
superintendent with years of experience in the municipal system of Mesa, Ariz.,
to manage Torrey's golf operations and improve the conditioning of the
facility's two 18s. When he decided to hire a new super for the South course,
"I had to first look internally," Woodward says, "and Candice was
the only certified superintendent in the system."
The road to Torrey
Pines (Combs calls Torrey "the glory place") has had a few twists.
Woodward gave Combs and her assistant, Bill Sinclair, three months to prove
themselves. They did enough--improving bunker drainage, ramping up overall
maintenance schedules--to warrant a three-month extension, taking her through
the 2006 Buick Invitational. "You could feel the pressure," says
Sinclair, "but she's a rock. I'd panic, but not Candice."