CGA's Tiffany Priest Works Hard, Loves It
This is one in a series of articles profiling Women in Golf in the Sandhills.
Think about amateur golf in the Carolinas and the first thing that pops into your mind is the Carolinas Golf Association.
The CGA, headquartered in West End, not only conducts and oversees approximately 200 tournaments a year in the two states, it provides its approximately 700 clubs with a handicap system that the game as we know it simply couldn’t survive without.
One of the cogs in the machinery that enables the CGA to keep functioning with such efficiency is Tiffany Priest, whose title is director of women’s golf and membership services, but whose actual duties entail much more.
Priest talks about her job and her love for the game in the following interview.
Q. It seems as though you’ve been with the Carolinas Golf Association forever, but I can actually remember when you joined Jack’s hardworking crew, and I’m only a few years younger than our old friend John Derr. When did you begin your career with the CGA, and what were you doing before that?
A. I feel like I’ve been here forever, too! I’ve been here 11½ years already. Time flies when you’re having fun, I guess.
Prior to working with the CGA, I was a club professional at Pine Lake Country Club in Charlotte.
Q. What do you recall about your initial interview with Executive Director Jack Nance, and were you apprehensive at all about taking the job?
A. It’s a running joke in our office that I’m the only one on our staff that has had to interview with a six-person panel from members of our executive committee. I remember walking into this room with not only Jack, but six other people in blue coats staring me down. It was a little intimidating, to say the least. They hired me and they keep me around, so I guess I made a good impression upon them.
I’ve prepped myself for this position my whole career. I’ve been in the golf business in some form or fashion since I was 16 years old. This is what I’ve always wanted to do so I had absolutely no apprehension about accepting this position and still don’t to this day. Well, except maybe when it’s 105 degrees and there is no shade at the scoreboard.
Q. Why did you want to work for the organization? What were you bringing to the table? What’s your background in golf? Did you play in college? Do you play now?
A. I’ve always been a person who has enjoyed tournaments and organizing events. I like to think I’m pretty good at it. I knew the CGA was the best association in the country, and I wanted to be part of growing the association and its programs.
As I mentioned, I’ve been in the golf business since I was 16 years old. I’ve been a cart girl, a club pro, a teaching pro, a tournament director, and I also worked at Bay Hill in the PGA Tour office for the Nestle Invitational (now the Bay Hill Invitational). After working with the PGA Tour, I knew that tournament administration was my calling, and I haven’t looked back.
Unfortunately, I haven’t touched my clubs since last August. I tell people all the time, “If you want to play golf, don’t get into the golf business!” I hope to play more this year. It would be nice to get my handicap back down to what it once was.
Q. Did you ever feel overwhelmed by the sheer dynamics of the organization? Two states and almost 1,000 golf clubs?
A. We actually only have about 700 member clubs in the Carolinas, but we have about 152,000 individual members. We used to have more than 190,000 members! We’re trying to grow membership again. We’re the second largest association in the country.
I will say I haven’t ever felt overwhelmed with the size of our association at all. I’m probably more overwhelmed at how much we have grown as a staff and how many tournaments and events we run in a year (more than200 and growing). I’m proud we’re one of the leading associations in this country.
Q. Was there ever a time when you felt you would like to work in another field?
A. A few times I thought about being a lawyer or going to medical school. I was in sports med. I won’t lie; there are times during the peak of the season when I wish I could be a stand-up paddle board instructor (ha ha). But for one reason or another, this business has captured my heart.
I definitely would have made more money in other fields, but being able to be outside and work with people from all different facets of life makes things interesting and fresh for me.
Q. What are your duties at the present time?
A. Well, as you may know, we just converted the Carolinas over to the USGA GHIN handicapping system after being with Golfnet for a very long time. It’s been a large undertaking and the largest conversion that the USGA and GHIN have ever done.
In addition to my duties and responsibilities with tournament and championship administration, I am also in charge of and oversee all of our membership services. I’m heavily involved with all of our member clubs and their staff, and our individual members with questions relating to all things GHIN and general CGA membership.
I’m also working on a lot of other projects and duties that are too long to list. Let’s just say, lately, I don’t sleep much.
Q. What do you think is your most important contribution to the CGA?
A. Wow! This is hard for me to answer because the whole staff works hard and we’re a great team. I might have to say, for now, that I’m proud I’ve been able to get girls excited about the game. I’ve been able to show them that this game can be fun and that the lifelong friendships they create far outweigh any trophy they’ve won or any score they’ve shot on the course.
I’m able to keep in touch with a lot of these girls (now women), and from time to time I will receive notes from them telling me how much I meant to them or how fun golf is/was because of me. I don’t really deserve the credit for that, but it makes me smile every time I think about it or read one of their lovely notes. I keep them all in a drawer. To me, just one note makes the long days and all the travel well worth it.
Q. I know that you’re married to Andy Priest, a longtime CGA employee who is a valuable asset to the organization. Did you know Andy before joining the CGA? How did you meet?
A. We get asked this all the time. I knew Andy before I joined the CGA but I make sure everyone knows he didn’t get me in the door. (Remember the six-person interview panel I had to endure?)
He’s going to kill me for saying this, but on our first date I told him I didn’t care if we were married or hated each other; if this job became available I was going after it! Lucky for me, it became available. I have a strong belief in fate and right place, right time because everything seemed to fall into place perfectly for us. I met Andy at a rules seminar. I know … we are geeky rules of golf people. What can I say?
Q. Anything you’d like to see the CGA take on or perhaps encourage in the game?
A. Right now, I don’t think we can take on much more, but once the GHIN conversion process slows down I would like to see us be more involved with the community through our Carolinas Golf Foundation. I also help oversee that program, and I’ve always been a big proponent of us “carrying the CGA banner” more, especially out in the community.
Obviously, it would also be great if we could get more people involved in the game in some way. I’m not sure what that means right now but I have some ideas in my head. We’re always brainstorming ideas. With our junior program booming, though, I’m still excited and optimistic about what lies ahead for the future.
Q. What do you most like about your job?
A. I’ve been doing this a long time now and I will admit that sometimes the long hours and the endless days and weeks away from home can wear you down. This job is really not for everybody. I work with a great team. I am continually grateful for all the connections and friendships I’ve made and continue to make.
It’s so fun for me to see our junior’s progress through their game and their lives. I love to see our members improve their game and be excited about being on the course. It’s so great to be a part of the CGA’s continuous growth and to know I have a small part in all of that makes everything worth while to me.
My grandfather always said, “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.” He was right; I can honestly say I love what I do.
Q. What would we like to know about Tiffany Priest that we haven’t uncovered here?
A. Let’s see: I’m a huge Jimmy Buffett fan (Andy and I average about two concerts a year). I love to travel whenever I can, especially to places that are warm and tropical. I spend about half my year on the road for work. I’m left-handed even though I play golf right-handed.
I qualified for and played in a U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur Championship on my first attempt. I love to be on or in the water any chance I can get. I’ve finally come to love snow skiing and am getting pretty decent at it.
I was raised by my grandfather. I’m a workaholic. I’m doing a personal blog and I co-own a side business. If I could live on a boat and travel around the islands for a few years, I would do it in a minute. I’m a true believer in work hard and play even harder.
More like this story