As an avid amateur photographer, Irene Agnos has a knack for capturing light in people when she walks the streets of her San Francisco home looking for compelling images of urban life.
Agnos also brings that kind of focus on detail to her role as volunteer chairperson at golf championships staged at her home course, Lake Merced Golf Club. She has become an experienced volunteer organizer at Lake Merced, beginning when her club played host to the 2012 U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship, and later to the Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic, held from 2014-2016.
This year, Agnos will again lead the volunteer corps at Lake Merced for the inaugural LPGA MEDIHEAL Championship, and because of her continued leadership at the Northern California venue, she has been nominated as a recipient for the LPGA’s XL Catlin Volunteer Service Award – a new program launched in 2018 to recognize exemplary volunteers at each LPGA tournament.
“I just like working with a team of people I put together and watching them become enthusiastic about the women golfers they see when they come to the course,” said Agnos, a native of Springfield, Mass., who has lived in San Francisco for 40 years.
“I like exposing our membership to the LPGA,” she added. “I feel the energy that lasts long after the tour is gone and I can see how people have bonded and built new relationships at the event.”
Agnos also enjoys helping LPGA players find local private housing, which often means more than just a room for the week.
“A lot of those relationships between players and housing hosts have remained and continued year after year,” she said. “Players become friends with members and their families and that’s been nice to see.”
In her volunteer role, Agnos has set up the various necessary volunteer committees for each championship, recruited and trained volunteer leaders to fill the roles of managing those committees, organized volunteer uniform distribution and has worked with the club’s membership to coordinate LPGA player housing requests.
In addition, Agnos, an active Lake Merced member with a golf handicap index of 15, has handled outreach to the Women’s Golf Association of Northern California, The First Tee of San Francisco, the Northern California Golf Association and numerous other groups to assist in recruiting tournament volunteers. During tournament week, she supervises each committee and provides general support for all volunteers and tournament staff.
“Irene’s passion for the LPGA, Lake Merced Golf Club, and the San Francisco Bay area is evident and her efforts have far exceeded any reasonable volunteer expectations,” said John Post, volunteer coordinator of Octagon, Inc., which manages the championship. “She has done everything in her ability to help make the event an enjoyable experience for spectators, sponsors and other volunteers. The LPGA MEDIHEAL Championship is lucky to have her as an ambassador.”
Agnos’ skills to organize stem from the various roles in her professional career and perhaps, even to her family DNA as a first-generation American of Greek immigrant parents, who demonstrated their determined work ethic in a new country.
She started her career as a nurse and later went to work for the California Nurses Association. She was an organizer of nurses and then moved into their political organizing arena as a lobbyist in the California state capital.
That work led to running political campaigns for nurses. And she likely got a few tips from her brother, Art Agnos, who served as mayor of San Francisco from 1988-1992. Her brother’s lengthy political career included service in the California State Assembly and as the regional head of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development from 1993-2001.
Irene Agnos ended her career as a vice chancellor at the University of California at San Francisco, spending the last 10 years of her career as an administrator. She handled university relations (including public, community and government relations) for the university, which built a new campus in the city.
“UCSF is a medical institution – a health sciences campus where they do research,” she noted. “It’s a hospital and it has schools of dentistry, nursing, pharmacy and medicine.”
Agnos had more time for golf when her full-time career ended. She began playing golf in earnest 20 years ago, and has tried to play twice a week for the last 10 years – largely at her beloved Lake Merced.
So when the USGA championship in 2012 was heading to her home course, that’s when Agnos was asked to get involved. And once she had displayed her organizational skills in assembling volunteer teams – even on tight deadlines – Agnos was the first member Lake Merced wanted on its team each year.
“I’ve organized groups of people to execute things in my professional career, so the club asked me to take on that role,” she said. “I kind of embraced it because it was quite a challenge.”
And once Agnos’ volunteer teams returned each year -- largely enjoying their experience at the championships hosted by Lake Merced -- it wasn’t difficult to ask them to return.
“We have been able to get almost the same exact team of volunteers who have served in various capacities on past committees,” she said. “It’s such an advantage to have experienced volunteers and people who know how to maneuver through the challenges and how to go with the flow. Things happen before the tournament and during the tournament, and you have to be flexible to help out in many areas.”
Agnos and her fellow tournament volunteers have experienced a fog delay and a torrential rain downpour that required evacuating players from the course. But those experiences have helped make the Lake Merced crew ready for anything, Agnos noted.
“We learned from those things, which have prepared us for the following years,” she said. “Having a good team is critical.”
Admittedly, Agnos learned a lot about volunteering at that first championship in 2012. First, she quickly learned the tournament couldn’t happen with only members of the club. Volunteers from outside the club had to be recruited, and once they were onboard to work, she learned it was essential to treat all volunteers as a key part of the event.
“We want them to feel welcome and we try to make sure they are fed well, rested and know they are appreciated,” she said. “We also try to make sure they have an opportunity to see some of the golf.”
Working as a tournament volunteer also takes time, which requires a special commitment from each volunteer leading up to and during tournament weeks, she added.
“I do it because it’s about giving back to our golf club and in this case, it’s giving back to women’s golf – which has been good to me,” Agnos said. “I’ve made a lot of friends through golf.”
“It does involve a lot of time and effort, but I think we have an obligation to give back and to participate,” she added. “I can get things done here and make a contribution.”
One meaningful aspect of her volunteer role has been meeting former amateur golfers, such as Lydia Ko, Minjee Lee, Ariya Jutanugarn and Alison Lee, at the U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship back in 2012, and reacquainting with those same players years later after they had become members of the LPGA Tour.
“We gave Lydia Ko an honorary membership at Lake Merced after she won the Swinging Skirts tournament two years in a row,” said Agnos. “Her locker is four down from mine. She gets to use her own locker at this year’s LPGA tournament.”
Agnos has also connected with her favorite LPGA player, Morgan Pressel, because of their shared love of photography and Pressel’s involvement in raising money and awareness for breast cancer.
She also keeps a close eye on the Northern California women golfers, such as Christina Kim, Juli Inkster, Pat Hurst, Paula Creamer and current golf broadcaster Kay Cockerill, as well as rising junior star Lucy Li.
“We can tell they are familiar with our course because they’ve been here before,” said Agnos. “They like the challenge of Lake Merced and that’s the experience we want them to have.”
Agnos tries to bring new improvements to each tournament she works. This year, she is recruiting volunteers to announce the LPGA players on the opening tee and plans to bring women into that role.
“We don’t always have women involved at that very visible level, so I’m happy about that,” she said. “I get to make those fun decisions and implement them.”
For the last 25 years, Agnos has also taken her volunteer organizational skills to Futures Without Violence, a San Francisco-based organization working to prevent domestic violence against women. She has served on the board and now works as an advisor.
The organization is now international and works with public policy regarding violence against women and children, and family violence. The group trains judges, teachers and nurses to identify domestic violence, child abuse and sexual assault and helps develop curriculum for teachers from high schools to college.
Of course, with roots in New England and now in San Francisco, Agnos admits when it comes to baseball, she pulls for the Boston Red Sox in the American League and the National League’s San Francisco Giants. If the two meet, Boston wins her allegiance.
But in late April when the LPGA rolls into Northern California, Agnos is all about shining a special light on Lake Merced and making the week memorable.
“I want to make Lake Merced the place for a successful tournament for the volunteers, players and fans,” she added. “It’s really important that they like coming back to our course.”
And as a nominee for the 2018 XL Catlin Volunteer Service Award, if her name is drawn at the end of the year, Agnos will share the honor with a deserving charity – only fitting for a woman who gives freely of her time.
The XL Catlin Volunteer Award was first started at the America’s Cup, where it recognized outstanding volunteers who give back to the local community in its headquartered country of Bermuda. XL Catlin is a global company that provides insurance and reinsurance to clients in more than 215 countries. As risk experts, XL Catlin relies on innovation and creativity to drive business and provide a unique approach to risk management.