World War II, Golf Course Design & Title IX: Geri Fiorello’s Incredible Golf Journey

By: Jill Painter Lopez - Nov 13, 2023

Geri Fiorello has so much to celebrate these days.

Fiorello turned 101 on Oct. 23. She had a bench dedicated to her by Woodland Hills CC (WHCC) over the summer. And, for the former Marine, it’s National Veterans and Military Families Month.

Life is good.

Fiorello, a Woodland Hills resident, was a drill instructor in the Marine Corps and served in World War II and the Korean War.

“All my buddies I played softball with, so many were joining the service after the bombing (at Pearl Harbor),” said Fiorello. “They all joined. So I said, ‘I’m joining too. If they can do it, I can do it.’”

Fiorello has had that can-do attitude for her entire life, doing things so many women rarely did in those days. That included playing and coaching golf.

After growing up in Detroit playing all sports with the boys, she moved out West and studied fitness, nutrition and physical education at UCLA. She also played professional baseball, and in 1961, started teaching at Pierce College, where she spent most of her career. She helped write Title IX, too.

Fiorello, who is in the junior college’s Hall of Fame, arrived at Pierce 62 years ago and discovered there were only men’s sports teams. So she started the women’s sports programs.

“We didn’t even have a gym. I did everything outside,” Fiorello said. “We had the best teams in Southern California, actually. I had a lot of very good athletes. We sent several to the Olympics. I did a lot of very good stuff, and I’m very proud of it.”

She coached all of the women’s sports, including golf, and even designed the former 9-hole golf course there.

“I didn’t try to take anything from the men,” she said. “I just wanted something for the women. That was my approach. That’s why I guess I was successful.”

Asked if she encountered resistance, Fiorello said, “Are you kidding me? Of course. Some of the men just about blew my gasket. But I will say there were several other men there that were very good. Denny Crum, for one, was my buddy. He had been a student at Pierce and then he went to UCLA. He and I were good buddies. If I needed something I’d go talk to him. Ray Bishop, who was the football coach and men’s golf coach, was another good friend. He helped me. He’d listen to me and he’d sympathize with me. There were a lot of men who listened to me and said, ‘Hey, you’ve really got a point there.’”

She said she never got paid for coaching, just teaching, and that she never complained about that.

Fiorello was honored by WHCC this past summer, along with Betty Bowler, as longtime members who turned 100. They each have a bench outside the club.

“That was a very nice event,” Fiorello said.

Golf has always been a part of Fiorello’s life. She has three holes-in-one, including two at WHCC and one at Pebble Beach, her favorite course.

She’s healthy and gets around with a cane or a walker. She’s a strong, independent woman but does have help driving, and of course, she gets to the club to have lunch and dinner with her friends. She can no longer play golf because of balance issues, but she can enjoy company at the club she’s called home for 41 years.

“I love that club even though I can’t play golf. I try to go on a Friday for dinner or maybe a Wednesday,” Fiorello said.

And, she believes she’s still got it.

“I probably can still putt better than most people, even with my disability,” Fiorello said with a laugh.

As for living 101 years and counting, Fiorello said her reasons for a long life are: “Number one, activity. I was always very active. Number two, I don’t complain a lot about things or people. I mind my own business and worked hard. Always worked hard. Just tried to see the good in people. Sometimes, it’s harder than hell, but you try.”

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