A Friendship Built By Golf – A PGA WORKS Story
December 08, 2022 by Hayden Lewis, PGA
It’s the time of year when we reflect on the things we are thankful for. This time away from work and school allows us to slow down and express gratitude for those special people that have made an impact on our lives. Normally, our friends fall pretty high on this list. Not often do we find our best friends working in the same industry, let alone in the same positions, as ourselves.
This happens to be the case for PGA WORKS Fellows Haleigh Gray and Cristina Hidalgo – both serving in the Northern and Southern Ohio PGA Sections. Crossing paths at the University of Northwestern Ohio where they both played played NAIA golf, Gray and Hidalgo bonded over their passion and love for the game. As they grew closer on the course, their dreams of creating a better world off of the course became more clear.
As a previous PJ Boatwright Intern for the USGA, Gray quickly found herself destined for a career in the golf industry.
“It’s my favorite thing in the world to see younger kids enjoying the game,” says Gray. “When I saw the posting for the PGA WORKS Fellowship, I knew this was the next step for me.”
Gray is keen on creating a better environment and experience for junior golfers in Northern Ohio. The Indiana native has already started her track as a PGA Associate to boost her expertise as a future PGA Professional.
Meanwhile, Hidalgo explains that she never even considered golf as a career. “I found out about the PGA WORKS Fellowship through my golf coach. It still amazes me how many opportunities there are and all the avenues you can take through golf.”
Growing up in Mexico, Hidalgo actually attributes her friendship with Gray as the reason she got acclimated to the U.S. so quickly.
“I had never lived in the states before, I’ve only visited,” explains Hidalgo. “It was hard to leave my family and I was definitely homesick. I’m grateful for Haleigh because she played a major role in making me feel welcomed and, through this, I could clear my mind. I remember spending Thanksgiving with Haleigh’s family and it’s those little things for me that made all the difference. Those are some of my favorite moments.”
Gray and Hidalgo’s friendship is unmistakable. Most of their interaction can be marked by inside jokes and story upon story from their time together as teammates. From visiting haunted houses during Halloween to sharing bunk beds as freshmen.
As you dive deeper into their stories and memories, it becomes more clear what their friendship is centered around – their passion and love for the game of golf.
Golf tends to have this effect on people who have been around the game long enough. This is true for most things in our lives – the more time we spend around something or with someone, we tend to reflect more easily on how it has impacted our lives.
“At Nationals this past May, Cristina and I were both in denial about us ending our time together as teammates – those years were so formative to us,” says Gray. “In the same lens, we were both happy to have shared this experience together and knew that we were both about to step into a new adventure with the Fellowship.”
“At the end of the day, we always did and still do have each other’s backs,” says Hidalgo. “This has been true from the very beginning. There’s always been this element of togetherness when it comes to our friendship – even though the Fellowship would be different and new, it felt comfortable because we were doing it together.”
As both Gray and Hidalgo have stepped into these new roles their eagerness and desire to be in the golf industry has only strengthened. From running Drive, Chip and Putt Qualifiers to administering their Section’s special events like the acclaimed Ohio Cup Matches, Gray and Hidalgo are at the forefront of creating memorable experiences on and off the golf course.
Additionally, Gray and Hidalgo are involved with engaging Veterans in their communities through PGA HOPE as they collectively manage nine program sites. Throughout their time as PGA WORKS Fellows, Gray and Hidalgo play an increasingly crucial role to deliver these life-changing programs to thousands across the state of Ohio.
Hidalgo says the Fellowship has given her a whole new perspective on the game of golf. “I’ve found it to be so important to just try everything during my time as a Fellow,” says Hidalgo. “I’m trying to learn as much as possible while I’m here. One thing that I’ve learned in my time with the Southern Ohio PGA is how much everyone is willing to actually help me to ensure I’m ready for whatever is next in my career.”
Hidalgo continued by sharing that she has a huge passion for the PGA HOPE program in her Section. Just in the past year, PGA HOPE Southern Ohio has been able to impact more than 200 Veterans. Additionally, she has added tremendous value to the Southern Ohio PGA Junior Golf operation. Most recently she spent time translating procedure binders from English to Spanish for local First Tee Chapters.
On the other hand, Gray continues to share her passion for young golfers by leading the charge in her Fellowship. This past year, through the Clubs Fore Kids program with the Northern Ohio PGA Foundation, she helped manage the distribution of twenty golf club sets to kids in need.
Additionally, she helped organize the Ohio Girls Golf Foundation Showcase by recruiting Northern Ohio PGA Professionals to teach different parts of the game to young girls from 27 school across the state of Ohio. “This event was amazing to be a part of because it’s helping expose young girls to golf and showing them that they can be a part of this great game,” says Gray.
The two are equally passionate about paving the way for other women in their position to ensure they receive the same opportunities to work in golf.
“Golf is a wonderful game and I think everyone should be able to play a part in it.” Gray says she hopes to stay on the tournament operations side as she progresses through her career. “Providing those golf experiences for others has been a true joy during my Fellowship,” says Gray. “I hope to continue working in tournament operations throughout my career with an emphasis on junior golf.”
“I’m not sure exactly where I want to end up in golf just yet,” says Hidalgo. “I look at Haleigh and what she is doing in her position now and what other women are doing in the industry and I want to continue exploring those opportunities. For me, PGA HOPE has become a huge passion of mine and I love seeing individuals come to the game and leave a different person. It’s given me a whole new perspective on what the game can provide for others.”
Most who have picked up a club can agree – the game can spark passion and newfound purpose in anyone. For Gray and Hidalgo, they want to be a part of making it a lifelong love for countless others. “We’re just grateful to have had each other to lean on throughout this journey,” says Gray. “It’s great to have that person in your corner through a new adventure like this.”
The future is bright for these two soon-to-be industry leaders. Here’s to the next adventure and many more to come.