Alice Plain discusses her career as an openly gay Golf Professional, and overcoming multiple sclerosis

For Alice Plain, 1996 is a year she’ll never forget. It was the year that her hard work in the golf industry paid off. The time spent studying and countless hours working on her golf game bore fruit. She became a PGA of America Member, and it was life alerting. It set her upon a career path that now has her serving as PGA Director of Golf at Vail (Colorado) Golf Club.

That year was also life altering in another sense, perhaps a greater sense. In 1996, Plain publically shared her sexual orientation for the first time. Alice had known she was gay, just as she’d always known that she was a golfer.

She grew up in a small town in Indiana. Her high school didn’t offer girl’s golf, so she did the logical thing and tried out for boy’s team. She more than held her own, meeting all of the qualifying scores and required criteria. However, the coach didn’t permit her to compete. The school backed his decision.

Plain’s passion for the game wasn’t in the least bit extinguished. In fact, it was quite the opposite. “It was a challenge to me,” she recalls. “It gave me a little more fire to pursue my dreams and get to where I wanted to be in the golf industry.”

She went on to a small community college near her hometown where, this time, she made the men’s golf team and was actually able to play. Her talent did not go unnoticed, and after her freshman year she was recruited to play on the women’s team at Oklahoma State University. It was the first time in her playing career that Plain would compete against other women.

Alice golf After graduating from college, Plain moved to the Vail Valley in Colorado – an area known for its ski resorts and inspiring mountain views.

“I’d always played golf and had a passion for mountains,” she says. “Ever since I left college and moved to Colorado, I’ve pursued my career fully in the Vail Valley.”

The area is home to 15 golf courses, many of which Plain has worked at during her 21-year career as a PGA Professional. At one point, she seemed destined to be a career-assistant after spending 14 years at various courses as a PGA Assistant Professional. Finally, she received her break when she became head professional at Eagle Ranch Golf Course in Eagle, Colorado.

“From what I’ve experienced for the past 20 years, you really have to be a strong woman to stay in the golf industry and succeed,” she explains. “You see more female teachers today, but in my position, managing a golf operation, it’s still fairly uncommon. There are only a handful of us.”

Plain didn’t fear being different, as she didn’t fear being herself. Challenges weren’t really obstacles, but opportunities instead. In 2006, a new challenge presented its self when it was discovered that Plain had multiple sclerosis (MS) – an unpredictable and often debilitating disease that affects the central nervous system.

In 2006, Alice Plain was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and has since made it her mission to teach golf to others with physical disabilities.
In 2006, Alice Plain was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and has since made it her mission to teach golf to others with physical disabilities.

At the time of the diagnosis, she was still at Eagle Ranch – but would only remain there a short while longer before the taking the helm as PGA Director of Golf at Vail Golf Club. During the interview process for the new job, she was up against eight well-qualified men. Just as she’d done in high school and college, Plain found herself competing against the boys and again making the team.

“At the time of the interview, they knew that I had been diagnosed with MS and they knew I was gay,” she says. “When I found out I got the job, it felt really good because I knew they were looking at my qualifications and not at any other factors. They really wanted someone who was dedicated to the Vail Valley and wanted to be there long term.”

They found that “someone” is Plain, as this is her 11th season at Vail Golf Club. Over that time Plain has made great strides in the community by teaching adaptive golf to children and adults who suffer from neurological and physical disabilities. “I didn’t want to hide or runaway after I found out I had MS,” says Plain. “I wanted to take the disease head on, and help other people to do the same.”

One way she’s done that is by teaching group clinics for children with adaptive needs. “We wanted to give them an experience like any other kid would have being in a group with their peers – we wanted them to maybe forget their challenges for awhile and not feel like they’re any different from any other kid,” says Plain, who is not only managing her MS as best she can, but showing some improvement.

Plain has yet to actively try to bring golf to the LGBTQ community the way that she’s brought the game to people with disabilities, but hopes that openly telling her story will help inspire others.

“I know there are a lot of women and men out there who are hiding it. It’s certainly more accepting in our society overall, but golf is a more conservative environment and industry,” she proclaims. “But, yes, I hope that hearing this story might inspire young people to know that it’s OK to be themselves.

Alice Plain (right) and her wife Shelli were wed in 2015, immediately after same-sex marriages were made legal in Colorado. They’ve been together for 19 years. 

“Yes, you may have some knocks along the way but my approach has been that I am going to be open and OK with who I am. What’ve I’ve found is tht when you’re okay with it, others will be OK with it.”

Early in 2016 , Plain was chosen to participate in the PGA LEAD initiative, which works to identify, mentor and progress a dedicated group of PGA Members from diverse backgrounds who aspire to leadership roles within the Association. She remembers sitting at the table with the 14 other participating PGA Professionals for the first time.

“It was a certainly a different look than I’ve seen in the PGA as whole over the last 20 years,” Plain recalls. “To look around and see Hispanic PGA Members, African-American PGA Members and, of course, women, it was refreshing to see and be a part of the group. As someone who’s openly gay and as a women, I’m inspired by what the future of the PGA could look like.”