Alice Plain, PGA, Director of Golf at Vail Golf Club in Vail, Colorado, has been selected as the 2021 Colorado PGA Golf Professional of the Year! The highest honor given annually by the Colorado PGA goes to a member for their overall performance including leadership, service, and promotion of the game of golf, and it’s evident that Ms. Plain embodies each and every one of those pieces.
“I’m so excited and honored to win this award. I’ve worked really hard in my career, and I never thought I would win this award – it’s incredibly rewarding to be recognized for this type of award.” Having grown up in South Bend, Indiana, Alice was exposed to golf at a young age, and as she would say, “I was the last hope within the family to pick up the sport.” Her father intentionally introduced her and her three other siblings to lifelong sports, and while Alice admitted to playing more soccer while growing up, she always came back to golf because it meant spending time with her dad.
In fact, when asked who was an influential role model in her early years, she was quick to share the relationship she had with her father, George Plain, as he became a good friend and mentor to her while growing up as they spent a lot of time on the course. He never pressured or pushed her to focus on golf, which is something she appreciated.
Entering her 25th year with the Colorado Section, Alice can admit that the challenges she faced while growing up and trying to play golf as a female in a male dominated industry prepared her for her career today. She wasn’t allowed to play on her high school golf team, as they didn’t have a women’s team at the time. It wasn’t until she had to organize a meeting with the President of Hanover College, where she was enrolled at the time, plus, the roster of the men’s golf team, to allow Alice to play competitively at a collegiate level. “They [members of the men’s team] went to bat for me. It was huge – I wasn’t alone in my fight, and they wanted me to be a part of the team. It set the stage for me. They knew I could compete, and it gave me confidence on the course and in life to know that I could compete in a man’s world.” After two seasons with the men’s team, Plain transferred to Oklahoma State University, where she helped lead the women’s golf team to finish third in the 1989 National Championship.
Following graduation, Plain moved to Colorado to embrace the true beauty of The Centennial State and all it had to offer: golf and skiing (both of which she loved dearly). Growing up as a member at South Bend Country Club in South Bend, Indiana, Plain remembers a conversation she had with the PGA Head Professional at the time, Mr. John Guyton, who echoed her dad’s philosophy of the importance of lifelong sports. “’You can make a career out of this sport,’ and that always stuck with me,” recalls Plain. So, when Alice found herself working for Mike Steiner, the PGA Head Professional of Singletree Golf (now known as Sonnenalp Club), the light bulb went off, and she found herself enrolling in the PGA Apprentice (now Associate) Program. She immediately recognized her connection to teaching during her first winter in Colorado – she taught skiing at Vail Resorts, and was quick to see how what she was doing in the snow could translate to the fairways.
As the Director of Golf at Vail Golf Club, Plain wears many hats within the Club, but one of her favorite things about her role is the opportunity she has to mentor future PGA Professionals. “It helps us as an industry,” she shared when asked why she enjoys that piece of her career. “You have to challenge them, and you have to teach them. It’s important to take the time to spend with them to expose them to everything we do on and off the golf course.” It’s clear that Alice’s leadership has made a lasting impact and impression on the Club and her peers. Trey Johnson, PGA Assistant Professional at Vail Golf Club, can attest, “She gives you the space and operation to make it your own, while providing guidance along the way. She’s always great about checking in along the way.” Nathan Mead, PGA Head Professional at Vail Golf Club, reiterated that through her leadership style, she’s created a culture that allows for freedom, yet “always has our backs – to the end, even to a fault. She supports us through and through and you never feel alone with something or trapped in a box.” That’s something Alice has continued to strive for at Vail Golf Club. George Hart, PGA Assistant Professional at Vail Golf Club, was quick to share that Alice “puts all of her staff in situations to succeed.” The culture, impact and environment she has created during her time is something she would like to be remembered for, as she sees their team “as a family. We all chip in to help each other. It doesn’t matter what your title is, we’re in this together.”
A true testament to Alice’s leadership was how she and her fellow peers handled the 2020 COVID pandemic. Ms. Plain stepped up to the plate without being asked and led the “Eagle County Golf Council” through the navigation of how golf could be played safely throughout the uncharted waters of the pandemic.
“We were able to agree all together, which was huge. It was important to be on the same page through all of this, and it was even better that we had the support of the Colorado Section as well.” Plain and four of her colleagues met with Eagle County Health Officials regularly to determine the safest way for golfers to enjoy the sport all while being in compliance with CDC guidelines. At one point, Plain was faced with her own challenge when she received a phone call from Health Officials informing her that five members of her Vail Golf Club staff needed to be placed in a 10-day quarantine. “Our staff didn’t skip a beat, and they never complained once,” Alice shared. “We had four members of our staff running golf operations for 10 days, and we were completely booked for those 10 days. Our guests didn’t notice that we were so short staffed, and all I could think was, the culture we’ve created has prepared us for times like these. This is how we function.”
While some might say that 2020 wasn’t ideal with all the challenges it brought, Alice found light in the darkness that was 2020. Seven years ago, Alice met a young man by the name of Heivan Garcia, while playing hockey, as he worked at the Dobson Ice Arena in Vail through the Vail Recreation District. “He had such a great personality, he was a soccer player – he won the 2012 State Soccer tournament with Battle Mountain High School, but he had never played golf!” So Plain took it upon herself to introduce him to the world of golf and got him set up with clubs, a bag and of course her expertise in the game. As they became friends over the years, Heivan shared his personal story with Alice and she learned that he was here on a resident card and didn’t have his citizenship.
Alice did what she does best. “Through working here, I was able to meet a retired attorney who was in town to play a few rounds of golf! He was able to connect me with an immigration attorney in Denver.”The entire process for Heivan extended over the course of two years, and last September, he obtained his citizenship in a swearing-in ceremony in front of the Colorado National Monument in Grand Junction, Colorado, outside of course. “It was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life – so much so that Heivan and I want to start a non-profit that can help others obtain their citizenship.” Plain deems this as her “retirement project” and hopes to have the opportunity to help others in The Valley like Heivan.
The power of golf can often be underestimated, or forgotten, but when we meet PGA Professionals such as Alice, we are quickly reminded how incredibly rewarding, powerful and impactful the sport and industry can be. “She’s a role model for everyone – for the industry, Vail Golf Club and future members of thePGA. She truly is a shining example of a PGA Professional.”
Alice would like to give a special thanks to all who have helped her get to where she is today. She would like to especially thank Ann Pitts – her Coach at Oklahoma State “for giving me an opportunity to play and compete on the OSU Women’s Golf Team.”