By Ken MacLeod
When the sold-out Oklahoma State Athletics Hall of Honor dinner takes place Friday evening in Gallagher-Iba Arena, at least six of the tables will be occupied by friends, family and former players coming to pay tribute to inductee Ann Pitts Turner, the trail blazing golf coach who once sued her own university for equal pay.
The Hall of Honor, which was on hiatus for 11 years until 2022, honors OSU athletes and athletic personnel who have achieved greatness in their respective endeavors. Pitts Turner will enter in a class with golf legend Rickie Fowler, football receiver Justin Blackmon, soccer star Yolanda Odenyo, and wrestlers Shelby Wilson and David “Buddy” Arndt. All previous classes can be viewed here.
Pitts Turner, now 84 and still whipping her friends while playing at least three times a week at her home course at Shangri-La Resort, is greatly looking forward to the evening. She was inducted into the Oklahoma Golf Hall of Fame in 2008, an honor she cherishes, but this one is extra special because it’s family.
“Both of them are very special but this is just different,” Pitts Turner said. “I’m OSU born and bred. I went to school there. My kids went to school there. I coached there for 24 years. It’s family.”
Pitts was a graduate student working on her Masters in 1975 when Dr. George Oberle, head of the school’s Health, Physical Education and Recreation program (HPER) asked her to become the school’s first women’s golf coach. Title IX, the groundbreaking legislation preventing discrimination based on sex in education programs and activities, had passed in 1972 and women’s golf teams were suddenly being formed across the country.
Pitts, an enthusiastic but casual golfer who had taken up the game only a few years earlier, agreed to take the position. She recruited local stalwarts such as Janice Burba (Gibson of Tulsa, now the executive director of the First Tee of Tulsa who played 12 seasons on the LPGA Tour; Lew Erickson of Tulsa, who is one of the state’s key links to the United States Golf Association for whom she has volunteered in many capacities over the years; Patty McGraw (Coatney), who went on to become perhaps the greatest female amateur player in state history and Janet Groene (Miller), who is still competitive in WOGA events today. Coatney and Gibson are also both inductees into the Oklahoma Golf Hall of Fame.
All three will be in attendance Friday to support their coach and all three praise Pitts for being a huge positive influence in their lives.
“She believed in us and was so encouraging,” Gibson said. “She was tough. She made us run, which we didn’t like. And she was huge into the mental side of golf. We each had our own swing coaches, but she studied and knew the mental side of golf and wanted us to get the best out of every angle.
“She cared about you and your life and every player you talk to will say that. She’s been a lifelong friend and those were some of the best days of our lives.”
The OSU program started in 1976 and Pitts soon brought in more talent such as future LPGA great Val Skinner from Nebraska and Alicia Ogrin, sister of future PGA Tour player David Ogrin, who won the Big Eight Championship in 1978. The Cowgirls went on to win 15 conference championships in her 24 seasons. She was Big 12 Coach of the Year following the 1997-98 and 1998-99 seasons and West Region Coach of the Year in 1987, 1989, 1992 and 1999. She coached 19 All-Americans, starting with Skinner and including Robin Hood, Eva Dahllof, Marnie McGuire, Stephanie Martin and Mario Boden.
The Cowgirls twice finished third in the NCAA Championship, the first time in 1981-82 on a team powered by Gibson, Skinner and Coatney, and then again in 1988-89 as Dahllof led the charge.
Pitts Turner was instrumental in establishing the record keeping of women’s golf, providing research and a database that helped later with the creation of Golfstat.
“We wouldn’t have collegiate golf rankings and all the Golfstat records if it wasn’t for Ann,” Erickson said. “She worked with the computer science department at OSU to centralize the record keeping. Ann made an impact on women’s golf and not just at OSU. She stepped it up.”
Pitts Turner was feisty and ever protective of her players and program. She wasn’t shy about giving the state golf media an elbow to the ribs if she thought they were paying too much attention to the highly successful program at the University of Tulsa and not enough to her Cowgirls (I was the recipient of a few of those.) She also was unafraid to stand up for what she believed in, and despite being in the shadow of the nation’s most successful men’s program, she went after OSU for the vast disparity in salaries between her and men’s coach Mike Holder, eventually winning aspects of her lawsuit in that she was awarded $36,000 in back pay and damages.
That was in 1994. Pitts Turner remembers the suit as one of the most difficult things she has done in her life and not one she will dwell on in her acceptance speech Friday, but an action she would take again even knowing the personal toll it took.
“People ask me would you do it again,” Pitts Turner said. “Looking back and going through it, it was very, very hard. But I think it did some good for coaches here and elsewhere. Yeah, I would do it again, But I’m not going to dwell on it.”
Kudos to Oklahoma State for recognizing Pitts Turner’s contributions despite the difficulties of the lawsuit. And the pay for women’s and men’s golf coaches or coaches in any sport at OSU or most universities is still not equal. In 2020 men’s golf coach Alan Bratton was paid over $60,000 more than women’s coach Greg Robertson. But the salaries for both have increased vastly since the suit was settled.
“Ann really helped women’s golf in many ways,” Coatney said. “She kept learning and became a really great coach. We were like the second crew to come through and everything was so new. She was such a positive influence on our lives. I know she’s still out there playing at age 84 and kicking everyone’s butt. Her positivity and competitiveness just rubbed off on you.”
“When you’re doing your job, you don’t think about getting honors,” Pitts Turner said. “When coaches win championships and awards, it’s all due to the players and we had great players. When I grew up in the 1950s, there were no organized sports for girls. I was a freshman at OSU in 1957, the same year it changed from Oklahoma A&M to Oklahoma State and the same year the Big Eight Conference was formed. An awful lot has changed and women today don’t realize the affect that Title IX had. It’s just amazing and I’m so happy for all the young athletes today and the opportunities they have.”