Palmer returns to women's golf at Birmingham Southern
DESTIN, Fla. – Betty Palmer’s Birmingham Southern team knows her heart lies in Alabama. That much is evident by the thick southern accent. But Palmer’s history with the Crimson Tide is so much deeper than that.
Palmer, 54, was the head women’s golf coach at Alabama for 17 years. She was named the SEC Coach of the Year in 1993, stepped away in 2005 and reappeared in women’s college golf in June. Palmer now leads Birmingham Southern’s women, a program that transitioned from Division I to Division III during the 2006-07 season.
Palmer has made golf practice and weight training more structured in Birmingham, and the Panthers are responding well. Palmer’s message is one of minimizing the big numbers and doing the little things well. Birmingham Southern recently placed three players inside the top 50 at the Golfweek Division III Fall Invitational.
“I’m implementing the things I always knew to do that were normal in my world,” she said. “They’re not so normal to them. I think they’re embracing it.”
Palmer retired from Alabama eight years ago as her husband David accepted a college teaching position at Jacksonville State. Palmer became the athletic director at The Donoho School and Faith Christian in Anniston, Ala. Her days often spanned 12 hours or more and as she oversaw other sports, she had too much on her mind to think about how much she missed golf. Still, when Birmingham Southern’s Director of Recreation called earlier this year with an opening for a women’s golf coach, Palmer listened.
“I’ve always known about Birmingham Southern and the reputation it has in our state and the southeast,” she said. “... This has been a wonderful opportunity to get back into it.”
Upon her hire, Palmer back-tracked through Division III women’s golf records, educating herself on where the game has come. The competition, she says, has gotten deeper, but like at the top levels, equipment has a lot to do with it. She calls Division III golf “a good different, a healthy different.”
Palmer’s players attend Birmingham Southern on academic and leadership scholarships, not athletic ones. The curriculum at the Division III school is designed for students to graduate in four years with very few exceptions.
“Not one of these players (in Division III) is on an athletic scholarship, and you have to appreciate that and the work ethic,” she said. “They just love to play the game.”
Palmer’s past players include a slew of top college coaches – Leslie Spalding, San Diego State; Judi Pavon, Tennessee; Darby Sligh, Illinois State and Maria Lopez, Emory Riddle, among them. Palmer refers to herself as a one of the “old guard” of women’s college coaches.
As she focuses her energy on Birmingham Southern, Palmer’s heart will always lie in Tuscaloosa, where the Crimson Tide, led by Palmer’s successor Mic Potter, now is at the top level of the sport.
“He really has taken things to a new level, where it needed to be,” Palmer said. “I couldn’t be more appreciative of what he’s done.”