By Julia Pine, Web Content Manager
Women make up just five percent of the SCGA’s total membership, but the 180-person Los Angeles Department of Water & Power Golf Club boasts a female membership just over 15 percent. The reason? Lilli Freeman.
The club’s 91-year-old club president, pictured earlier this month at Balboa Golf Course in Encino, has been a member of the golf club for almost 50 years, and held almost every position imaginable before working her way up to president. Since the beginning she has been an incredibly strong advocate for boosting female membership.
“When World War II was over a coworker of mine at the Department of Water & Power restarted the golf club and began soliciting men to join,” remembered Freeman. “They had a big drive for membership, and at the time I was dating the tournament chair, so I asked why they never solicited any women to join.”
She was told it was because it was a “men’s club,” an answer that didn’t sit well with Freeman, who at the time was in her 30s and sat on the Employee Association’s board at DWP. She informed the membership chair that any club accepting funding from the board was required to let women in.
“It was written into the bylaws that if you have a club, it is for everyone,” said Freeman. “They weren’t allowed to discriminate against women.”
So the membership chair opened up membership to everyone, and told Freeman she was more than welcome to ring the bells for female golfers. Though some rules made club membership less attractive to women at DWP, especially rules stating that golfers must own their own set of clubs and already know how to golf, Freeman was able to wrangle up five female members that first year.
“One of the women who joined was a big-time golfer,” said Freeman, pictured (on left) with another female member she recruited. “She could really hit the ball far, which rattled some of the men!”
Freeman, however, is not one to get easily rattled. Growing up in San Antonio, TX, Freeman was determined to start making a living after high school. After briefly pursuing a career as a nurse, and taking a number of classes at a local college, the war opened up a number of jobs for women that had previously been unavailable, so Freeman began working at an Air Force base near her home, where she eventually became a supervisor.
“If I was living in my parents home and eating their food, I was going to pay them for it,” said Freeman. “But I really loved my time working with the Air Force because I just did so many interesting things.”
And even after meeting her husband, having two sons and moving to California in 1947, Freeman continued to work for decades, finding employment at the DWP after arriving in California and remaining there for decades.
“I didn’t stop working until recently because there were so many things I wanted to try,” said Freeman. “In general, there were so many things I wanted to do before I died, and really I’ve done all except one. hang gliding. But I won’t do that now! Never will.”
But Freeman isn’t too torn up about missing her chance to hang glide, because it’s not like she hasn’t been adventurous. During her life she has gone up in a hot air balloon, learned to both ski and water ski, as well as extensive traveling.
“Riding the horse-drawn carriage in New York,” says Freeman, when asked what bucket list item stands out to her the most. “When I was young, I used to watch movies and musicals where the characters would go to Central Park and ride the carriage. When I was 12 I told my mother, ‘I’m going to do that!’ Years ago I went with my son and was able to. The only problem was he forgot the camera, so I didn’t get to take a picture!”
Much of the traveling Freeman has done, whether to Europe, Canada, Hawaii or just within the continental United States, has been done through DWP Golf Club. For years the club has taken “go away” trips to a number of cities, playing a variety of courses at each one.
“I think we had more than 70 people on our first trip way back in the day,” remembers Freeman, pictured in 2002 on a trip to Hawaii. “Those trips are great. More recently, we brought almost 100 people with us to Whistler!”
While Freeman hasn’t golfed in a little over a year, she takes her duties as active club president seriously, and is still in charge of organizing the club’s “go away” events.
“Lilli has been responsible for arranging all of our annual week-long golf trips, including to Canada and the Caribbean,” said Club Vice President David Ho. “She’s been such a strong advocate for women to be club members, and her antics on the golf course are precious and humorous. We truly appreciate her contributions and leadership.”
And Freeman appreciates the club, as well, and credits many of its members for helping her stay young.
“Even though I haven’t golfed in awhile, the guys at the club are still getting me to come out to tournaments,” she said. “They don’t want me to quit and wind up sitting in a rocking chair getting old!”
Later this year, the club will travel to Northern California, where they will play Monterey Pines and Poppy Hills Golf Courses. While Freeman won’t make the trip (she recently suffered a minor heart attack), her impact will surely be felt with every female member who does.