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Interview: Five Iron Golf’s Nora Dunnan On ‘Growing the Game’

Founder of five iron golf Nora Dunnan with others/ JWS

Nora Dunnan is a co-founder and Chief Operating Officer of Five Iron Golf, an indoor golf facility headquartered in New York City that’s on a mission to grow the game and make a previously inaccessible sport available for all. In a handful of years, Five Iron has grown to three locations in NYC and expanded to cities including Baltimore, Chicago, and Philadelphia, with spaces opening in Las Vegas, Pittsburgh, and Washington D.C. Dunnan sat down with JWS to talk about Five Iron’s efforts to open up the game and life as a female entrepreneur shaking things up in a male-dominated terrain.  

What is Five Iron Golf? 

Five Iron is an indoor golf center started in Manhattan in 2017. We have golf simulators that you can come in and practice on so you can get better at golf, improve your game, learn the game. It could be a group of friends coming in to hang out and play socially. We have golf pros who give lessons, we do leagues, we do events both corporate and private, we do kids programming and then we have a full bar, a full menu so you can eat and drink and play golf all at the same time.

We pride ourselves on being very different from standard golf. If you come inside you’ll notice right away we do not look like a country club. We have a very urban feel, a modern feel, we have neon graffiti murals on the wall. Our staff is wearing t-shirts and we try to be a really welcoming and inclusive place. We know golf can be an intimidating sport and we don’t think Five Iron is an intimidating place at all. So if you’re a brand new golfer or an experienced golfer, you know everybody can come into Five Iron and get something out of it.

So how did this all start? Where did the idea come from? How did you get involved?

So there are four of us who co-founded it back in 2017. We opened in 2017, but we started working on it in 2015. Jared, our CEO, used to take golf lessons from Mike who is one of our other founders at another small indoor place in Manhattan, and the two of them always talked about how if they built a bigger place that was open and had event space and games like pool and ping-pong and TVs and music, good food and drinks that a lot of people would show up. After just talking about it for a while, and really wanting to turn it into a reality, they brought me on board.

I knew Jared previously, not from work, just personally, and they brought me on board to sort of figure out if it would be possible and to do some research. After a couple of years of seeing over 70 pieces of real estate in Manhattan, we landed on our Flatiron location and the rest is history.

So Five Iron starts, you’re breaking into this brand new industry, you’re doing a project you couldn’t have imagined beforehand. What kind of challenges did you face as an entrepreneur and especially as a young woman starting a business in a male dominated sport?

There were a lot of logistical challenges to opening a business that no one really prepares you for. So things like codes and building inspections and getting different licenses. That was definitely something that was new for all of us, it’s almost like you don’t know what you don’t know. Obviously we learned and we figured it out, but there were definitely some scary moments along the way where we kind of wondered ‘what did we get ourselves into.’

In terms of being a female in the golf world, it’s been interesting. Honestly, a lot of times in the very beginning, people didn’t necessarily realize what role I played at the company and sometimes we’d be out and about and they’d always want to talk to the men. I know this has happened to a couple of women who have worked there. They just kind of assume that the men are in charge or that the women don’t know as much about golf.

It’s definitely a male dominated sport and I don’t think people always assumed when they met me that I was one of the co-founders. But at the end of the day, once I get into a conversation with people, they realize I know what I’m talking about.

Have you come into any challenges with people in the space, competitors who are trying to do something similar, but are a bit more traditional and maybe thinking ‘who are these new kids on the block?’

Yea there is some competition out there that wants to stay exclusive. You have to be a member, there’s an initiation fee, and we just don’t want that. We actually got advice from somebody who ran a private indoor facility in the city within the first week we opened saying we were doing it wrong because golf is not for everybody, golf is only for people who can afford it. To which we said no, we want to make it affordable and open to everybody. And that is a big part of how our mission has prevailed.

That’s not to say that those places won’t succeed, but we strongly believe that it can be for everybody based on the clientele that we have. We still have people who come in who belong to some of the most private clubs in the country, but they love coming into Five Iron because it just has a great atmosphere with great service. We’ve proven that golf does not have to be a members only sport.

That leads me to my next question, one of the mottos of Five Iron is ‘grow the game,’ what does that mean to you, to grow the game?

To us, what’s really important is getting more people exposed to Five Iron and to golf. Like I said, golf can be intimidating and golf can be a sport where people think that if they didn’t grow up belonging to a country club or something like that, they can’t play. So one of our big initiatives is to prove them wrong by showing how much fun they can have at Five Iron.

One group that for sure is underserved is women, and we’ve done a lot to get more women in. We do ladies clinics, we have partnerships with a variety of women’s golf groups, we’ll run special deals to get more women in the space and it’s worked. We co-hosted a clinic up in Chicago with Fore the Ladies and there were over 100 women there.

Golf is a sport that I think women would love to pick up, especially if they’re in a relationship with a golfer. It can be really fun to learn and play with your partner rather than have it be an activity they disappear to go play for a whole day. Instead, make it a family activity. It can be a lot of fun playing with your entire family.

We’d love to get more kids into Five Iron, we’d love to get underserved communities into Five Iron, and that’s something we actually have a dedicated employee for. One of her main focuses is the ‘grow the game’ mission and she’s working hard to find different non-profits, schools, and other organizations who are interested in using our resources to learn and enjoy golf.

I know you have been an athlete your entire life, but didn’t pick up golf until your early 20s. Do you have any advice for girls who are interested in golf and looking to break in, but might have no idea where to start?

It’s a great question because I think for a lot of women, if they’re not really close with someone in their life who plays golf, it can be hard. Like for me, my husband taught me how to play, told me where to get my first set of clubs, helped me buy my first set of clubs, gave me his old driver. You know, without that, I would have been totally lost.

But there are so many options out there that I did not know about. So for one, there are groups like Fore the Ladies and Grueter Golf. What they’re both doing is getting women into golf — some who play and some who don’t — and showing that it’s totally fine to not know what you’re doing. They host some of their clinics at Five Iron and our instructors go over everything —  basics like, here are the different clubs, here’s how you hold them, here’s what you wear to go play golf.

By finding resources out there like Fore the Ladies and Grueter Golf, you not only provide yourself with an opportunity to ask for help or get research, but you put yourself in a community with other women who are looking to do the same. You have friends who are learning the game and friends who are buying their first sets of clubs and being a part of a community makes it a lot more fun to get into a new sport.

What does the future look like for Five Iron?

We’re excited to be in new cities and we hope one day down the road there’ll be a Five Iron in every major city and smaller cities and maybe some suburban towns, too.

I think the more and more people get access to the game, whether it’s to come in and really improve or just do something fun rather than sitting at home, the better. We hope that we can keep growing and bringing the Five Iron experience to more and more communities.

Serena Williams is ‘super interested’ in owning a WNBA team

Serena Williams speaks on stage during keynote conversation at 2019 conference in San Jose, California
The tennis icon is all in on women's sports — and the WNBA is right on her heels. (Photo by Marla Aufmuth/WireImage via Getty Images)

Could Serena Williams co-own a WNBA team in the near future? 

Speaking with CNN on Monday, Williams expressed her interest in that potential — as well as the mounting enthusiasm for women’s sports around the world. 

"I think women’s sport is having a moment that it should have always had," Williams said. "I feel like tennis has had its moment. It’s international, and it’s huge, and it’s always gonna be there.

"Now it’s time to lift up other sports — women’s soccer, women’s basketball — there’s so many other sports that women do so great, let’s put it on that platform. Women’s basketball is getting there, and it’s arrived."

When asked if she had any interest in adding a WNBA team to her roster of ownership stakes, the tennis great welcomed the idea. "I absolutely would be," Williams said. "With the right market, I would definitely be super interested in that."

"There is no risk — women’s sport is exciting," Williams added, citing the 2024 NCAA women's tournament's record-breaking viewership as evidence. "People are realizing that it is exciting to watch, so it's an overly safe bet."

Williams may not need to wait long to act on that bet. On Monday, WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said that she is "pretty confident" the league will expand to 16 teams — up from its current 12 — by 2028. 

The goal, she said, is to reach 14 by 2026. Oakland's Golden State is already on track to launch the league's 13th team in 2025. The move will mark the WNBA's first new franchise since the Atlanta Dream debuted in 2008.

"It's complex because you need the arena and practice facility and player housing and all the things," Engelbert said at a press conference before Monday's WNBA draft. "You need committed long-term ownership groups, and so the nice thing is we're getting a lot of calls."

Engelbert went on to name a few of the cities behind those calls, saying that the league continues to engage in discussions with Philadelphia, Toronto, Portland, Denver, and Nashville, as well as South Florida.

"These can either take a very long time to negotiate or it can happen pretty quickly if you find the right ownership group with the right arena situation," Engelbert added.

The Commissioner's 16 team goal is not only good news for WNBA fans, it's great news for current and future WNBA players. At 12 teams with just 12 roster spots each, the league is held to a total of 144 players for any given season. An abundance of fresh talent coming up through the NCAA ranks has put pressure on the organization to make room for more worthy competitors, and four additional teams might be just the ticket.

Hellen Obiri claims back-to-back Boston Marathon wins

Hellen Obiri, winner of the women's division of the Boston Marathon, poses with the Boston Marathon trophy
Hellen Obiri, winner of the 2024 Boston Marathon's women's division, poses with her trophy. (Photo by Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Kenyan runner Hellen Obiri won the 128th Boston Marathon on Monday, becoming the first woman to claim back-to-back titles since 2005.

She clocked a total time of 2 hours, 27 minutes, and 37 seconds in a women's division that race organizers described as "historically fast."

"Defending the title was not easy," Obiri said. "Since Boston started, it's only six women [that have repeated]. If you want to be one of them, you have to work extra hard. And I'm so happy because I'm now one of them — I'm now in the history books."

A two-time Olympic silver medalist and two-time 5000m world champion, Obiri is a clear favorite in this summer’s Paris Olympics.

“Last year I was pretty familiar to the marathon, but this year my training was perfect — we trusted everything we were doing,” Obiri said. “When we won last year, of course I was saying I’m going to win this one. Winning is like love. It’s something precious to me.”

Though, she wasn’t without a challenge. Fellow Kenyan Sharon Lokedi finished a mere eight seconds behind Obiri. Edna Kiplagat, who won the 2017 Boston Marathon, completed the podium sweep for Kenya with a third place finish.

Emma Bates, the race's top American finisher, came in 12th.

Obiri wasn't alone in making Boston Marathon history this year. The repeat champ walked away with $150,000 in total prize money allocated from a purse that topped $1 million for the first time ever. 

College rivals Angel Reese, Kamilla Cardoso drafted to the Chicago Sky

Angel Reese and Kamilla Cardoso competing at the NCAA SEC Conference Tournament Championship
Once rivals, Angel Reese and Kamilla Cardoso are now teammates. (Jim Dedmon/USA TODAY Sports)

The Chicago Sky made a splash in Monday night’s WNBA draft, taking Kamilla Cardoso and Angel Reese in the first round. 

South Carolina’s Cardoso, who was the 2024 Final Four Most Outstanding Player, went third to the Sky. The day before, the team had swapped picks with the Minnesota Lynx to land the No. 7 pick as well, which they used on Reese, the 2023 Final Four MOP.

Now, the two will team up in Chicago after battling each other in both college and high school

"She’s a great player, and I’m a great player. Nobody's going to get no rebounds on us," Cardoso joked afterwards, while Reese expressed excitement about playing under new Sky head coach Teresa Weatherspoon.

"Being able to be a Black woman and as a head coach, and everything she's done at the NBA level, I just knew everything they were bringing to the table," Reese said of the Sky. "Player development is something that I was looking for and they looked for in me. I'm super excited for this move."

Former NBA star and Chicago Sky co-owner Dwayne Wade welcomed the pair to Chicago.

“The foundation is set,” he wrote.

The Sky have entered re-building mode after winning a WNBA title in 2021. This offseason, they traded franchise cornerstone Kahleah Copper to the Phoenix Mercury for a package that included the No. 3 picked used on Cardoso.

Now, Cardoso and Reese will be looking to jump-start the team's return to contention.

Watch: Iowa star Kate Martin’s draft moment goes viral

Kate Martin poses with Cathy Engelbert after being drafted by the Las Vegas Aces during the 2024 WNBA Draft in New York
2nd-round pick Kate Martin poses with Cathy Engelbert Commissioner of the WNBA at the 2024 draft. (Photo by Catalina Fragoso/NBAE via Getty Images)

Former Iowa captain Kate Martin was in the audience during Monday night’s draft when she was selected 18th overall by the Las Vegas Aces. 

The moment quickly went viral, as Martin was in the crowd to support superstar teammate Caitlin Clark going No. 1 overall, and was not one of the 14 players invited to the draft.

"To be honest, I don't think I'd have the type of career if I don't have a teammate like Kate," Clark said about Martin leading up to the 2024 national championship game. "She's been one that has had my back. She holds me accountable. I hold her accountable. But I think at the same time, me and Kate are wired so similarly that we get each other on a different level."

Martin being drafted marks the first time that Iowa has had two players selected in the same WNBA draft since 1998.

“She's one of the best leaders I've been around," Clark said. "She wants the best for her teammates. She's one of the most selfless people."

Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said Monday that she is “so proud” of her player, “because her dreams came true.”

"She has been such a big part of our program over the last six years,” she said. “Her efforts did not go unnoticed by her peers. I wish Kate all the success with this next step.”

Martin said afterward that she’s “excited for the opportunity” and to showcase her “really good” work ethic. Helping Iowa to back-to-back NCAA title games, Martin finished her college career with 1,299 points, 756 rebounds and 473 assists.

“There are a lot of emotions right now,” Martin said in an interview on ESPN. “I’m really happy to be here. I was here to support Caitlin, but I was hoping to hear my name called. All I wanted was an opportunity and I got it. I’m really excited.”

While Martin was watching from the crowd, her family was watching from back home.

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