This week in the AJGA Trailblazers Spotlights Series features Hanna Waits who currently serves as Manager of Business Development within the Sponsorship department. Waits has worked with the AJGA since 2022 after completing a traveling operations internship in 2021. Her journey shows the uniqueness of working within three departments and her growth within the organization in a short time frame.
Waits grew up in a small town in Tyler, Texas where she played various sports throughout high school but not initially golf. She then went on to study at the University of Oklahoma, double majoring in sports business and finance. It was her sophomore year when she picked up golf as a fan and player and started to look for opportunities throughout the golf industry.
“The year COVID hit, I started picking up golf personally and watching it more because my mom and dad were casual players,” Waits said. “I just really thought it was neat so at that point I decided that was the sport I wanted to work in.”
Initially exploring opportunities for a golf internship, Waits encountered a change of plans when her first choice was unavailable due to COVID restrictions. She then turned her attention to a few junior tours on TeamWork Online where she got help from her local club of their familiarity with the AJGA.
“I was just wondering how to decide and asked the head professional what they thought about the AJGA,” Waits said. “He said the AJGA is legitimate, don’t even look at the other ones. So, I applied and luckily got the internship and here I am today still.”
Waits credited her internship team she traveled throughout the stint with the success they had. Four members of her team went on to get hired full-time with the AJGA. She picked up communication, networking, conflict resolution, and attention to detail skills that helped her to where she is today. Although it was filled with long hours and days, Waits got hired as a Tournament Coordinator in May 2022.
“Typically, Tournament Coordinators are hired at the beginning of the year so you kind of get thrown into the fire right into the spring season,” Waits said, who started in May after graduation. “But everyone here is awesome, and they’ll answer any question you have as they want you to succeed. I like to say the AJGA is a teaching organization as it offers great opportunities for people straight out of college.”
Her time in operations proved immense as she ran four events and picked up skills such as time management, multitasking, and the ability to see the bigger picture. Despite her short time in operations, she was always interested in sponsorships and building relationships as it stemmed from her time in college working with the Sooner Club, where she got to work in development and fundraising. Waits worked in the Operations department until January 2023 when she was hired as a Regional Manager for the South Central region in the Tournament Business Affairs Department (TBA).
“Event planning always interests me, and when I found out more about the TBA department, I knew that’s what I wanted to get into,” Waits said. “The aspect of getting to meet new people and build those relationships from a larger scope of the tournaments was something I wanted to grow in. I realize that I was only half of a year in my role, but I wanted to show my interest.”
Working for the South Central region, she worked in her role overseeing relationships with golf courses, sponsors, and key stakeholders of the tournament. She credits the department for helping her grow the skills that were needed to move onto her new role within the sponsorship department. Waits was hired in October 2023 as the Manager of Business Development.
“I was able to hone my people skills and learn how to develop relationships,” Waits said. “I also learned how to pitch the AJGA which I didn’t do in Operations too often. I pride myself in being able to ask the difficult questions with the golf courses without being able to fail and that comes from the environment that the AJGA has with all of us.”
Waits currently works with Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) and sports commissions to bring tournaments to new destinations and find funding for current destinations through sponsorships and grants. There’s a lot of outreach to potential stakeholders looking to work with the AJGA and bring events to new places which is something she’s enjoyed learning through her first couple of months.
“The first week on the job, I already went to a conference to meet with over 40 different stakeholders from all different companies,” Wait said. “To be comfortable to tell them what we’re about and how we can work together is something I credit to my time with the TBA.”
Waits has been a vital part of the AJGA since 2022, showcasing a remarkable journey that highlights her versatility across three different departments in a relatively short time. She appreciates the culture that the AJGA provides to young developing professionals to allow her to branch out and entrust her in roles that she’ll have to learn as she goes.
“I think you can’t be afraid to put yourself out there and take a chance in what you’re interested in,” Waits said. “The AJGA has certainly helped me find out what I’m passionate about and never discouraged me from taking those chances. They do such a good job of teaching young individuals and growing our skills. I’m just excited to be a part of my department and what’s to come."
Wait's journey from AJGA intern to Manager of Business Development exemplifies the organization's commitment to empowering young professionals and fostering a culture of continuous learning and growth.