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Gay golf pro comes out to change perceptions in conservative sport

Golf ‘at its core is a conservative white straight cis-male dominated industry,’ says Kyle Winn. ‘It has gotten better, but we have a long way to go.’

Kyle Winn golfing
Kyle Winn is a PGA member employed at Marriott’s Shadow Ridge Golf Club in Palm Desert, Calif.

For many years I was openly gay away from the golf course, but at work I was a closeted professional and my two identities didn’t merge.

Maybe that’s why it doesn’t bother me to wear a face mask in public now — I was used to putting on a mask for such a long time when I went to work.

The golf industry is conservative and for me that has been a struggle as a gay golf professional.

Every time I started a new position at a golf course the first few months were always hard. Not only was I getting use to a new facility, I was also trying to figure out which co-workers I could trust and which members might be OK with me being gay. It was emotionally draining.

One night I was dancing at Club Dakota, a gay bar in Santa Cruz, California, when a golf member I knew who was straight came in with his girlfriend. My heart sank.

We said hi to each other and the next time he saw me at the course he said, “Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone you were out dancing with a guy the other night.” That was my reality for the longest time — the fear of being outed at work and how it would affect my career as a golf professional.

Golf is such a beautiful sport. It can pair you up with three strangers and the next thing you know it’s five hours later and you’re all laughing over golf stories while having lunch. My biggest struggle with the conservative aspect of the golf business is that it segregates instead of integrates, it creates walls not pathways, it embraces the mentality of us versus “them.”

Some of us golf professionals have been lucky to work in progressive areas, but at its core it is a conservative, white, straight, cis-male dominated industry. It has gotten better, but we have a long way to go.

One of the ways I describe working at a golf course or club is to reference one of my favorite movies, “Pleasantville,” with Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon. They are modern day kids who get sucked into a “Leave it Beaver” type of sitcom.

As the town becomes more progressive, it slowly turns from black and white to color. The husbands of the town are outraged by things changing and gather in a bowling alley, where the leader says something like, “We’ll be safe here, we’re in a bowling alley.”

To me that sums up the golf industry in many ways — it’s a place some people can congregate and use racist, misogynist and homophobic terms and get away with it because “they’re at a golf course.” It just makes me sad that the golf industry has probably lost so many golfers and possible professionals who have been turned off by these unfortunate true stereotypes.

Kyle Winn
Kyle Winn teaching at First Tee Coachella Valley, an international youth development organization that provides educational programs that build character and promote health through golf.

For me, that’s why I am now more out as a gay golf professional, because it gives me the opportunity to open someone else’s eyes, and it also gives them the opportunity to surprise me with their acceptance.

At Half Moon Bay Golf Links in California years ago, a member named Gary referenced that only “faggots” played tennis (I grew up a competitive tennis player). His wife was the ladies club president at the time and after I slowly came out to some of the women, word spread about me being gay.

Gary came in one day and asked to speak with me privately. He told me that he and Mary thought the world of me, and how embarrassed and sorry he felt for his comments. It was a very nice moment. Though I wasn’t ready to be 100% open at work at the time, it was great to know that I changed someone’s perspective or at least created some awareness.

At the end of 2018 I had an interview with Marriott’s Shadow Ridge Golf Club in Palm Desert, California. I woke up that morning, looked in the mirror and realized I was tired. I was tired of going back into the closet every time I interviewed with a new property, and sadly at that point I had been in the golf industry for more than 20 years.

It was a big step for me to answer questions honestly and truthfully such as “Why did you move down to the desert?” And it was a huge relief to allow myself to say “my husband and I ...” in an interview. I think it’s often overlooked that a part of coming out is an ongoing battle against your own internal homophobia.

Though I have jumped over many hurdles in the profession, overall golf has been a positive impact in my life. My husband, Ryan Halquist, always reminds me that I am so lucky I was able to turn my passion into my profession.

Kyle Winn and husband Ryan
Kyle Winn’s husband, Ryan Halquist, left, encouraged him to pursue his passion. They are celebrating 16 years together this December.

I need to brag on Ryan a bit here since it shows the power of being in a relationship and that power making it easier to come out, in part as to not deny someone who is such a part of me.

I had left the career path of working in the golf industry years ago and moved into retail, working at a Gap and moving up the chain. One day I came home crying to Ryan and said, “I don’t want to tell people to fold clothes anymore.” Being the supportive person he is, he encouraged me to follow my passion. It led be back on a career path in golf and soon I was working at Half Moon Bay Golf Links, while Ryan was finishing his masters. After enjoying the San Francisco life for about 10 years, Ryan and I relocated to Palm Springs to start a new chapter. We have been together 16 years this month.

I have established many relationships with members, guests, co-workers and fellow gay golfers, especially as I have gotten more comfortable in my own skin.

If I had any advice to closeted LGBTQ golf industry folks, it would be to come out when you are comfortable but know the minute you do it’ll be an ongoing process. Taking that first step will be one of the best decisions you will make.

Kyle Winn, 38, is a PGA member employed at Marriott’s Shadow Ridge Golf Club in Palm Desert, Calif., and a life skills coach for the First Tee Coachella Valley. Kyle is excited to collaborate with the Stonewall Golfers and SF Pride Golf in hosting the Rainbow Rumble at Marriott’s Shadow Ridge in January 2021. For more information about the Rainbow Rumble, please visit stonewallgolfers.com. Kyle can be reached by e-mail at kylewinngolf@gmail.com.

Story editor: Jim Buzinski

If you are an out LGBTQ person in sports and want to tell your story, email Jim (kandreeky@gmail.com)

Check out our archive of coming out stories.

If you’re an LGBTQ person in sports looking to connect with others in the community, head over to GO! Space to meet and interact with other LGBTQ athletes, or to Equality Coaching Alliance to find other coaches, administrators and other non-athletes in sports.

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