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Most of us envy the lives of golf pros. We think we’d like to make a living playing golf, instead of being stuck in an office, a building project, a classroom or a truck.
Or maybe we could be a club pro, hobnobbing with members, booking starting times, giving a few lessons and playing lots of golf.
Wrong, wrong, wrong.
First of all, except for the cream of the crop, most guys on the several professional tours in the U.S. are grinding it out, often living from hand to mouth, sometimes sleeping in their car or a camper, counting their pennies and working hard for the big break.
And the club pros (my son-in-law is one) are not much better. They work long hours and deal with many difficult issues and problems on a daily basis. They don’t have the time to play as often as we do.
I wanted to get the skinny of what it’s like to be a pro at one of our area clubs, so I spoke at length with Barry Walters, head PGA golf professional at The Founders Club at St. James.
Barry is from Michigan and got into the game as a teenager when he caddied at Oakland Hills Country Club, one of the most prestigious courses in the world. The Ryder Cub, three PGA Championships and six U.S. Opens have all been held at Oakland Hills. In fact, the 2008 PGA Championship was there this past August.
Barry attended Ferris State University and took its Professional Golf Management Program (PGM). Naturally, he studied the rules of golf and course maintenance, teaching, club repair and how to organize and conduct golf events. But he also took courses in accounting, financial management, statistics, marketing, anatomy, biology, macroeconomics and microeconomics.
After graduation, Barry’s career included a six-year stint as director of golf instruction with the Jimmy Ballard Golf Schools. He came to St. James in March 2000. Today he uses all of his formal schooling, his interpersonal skills and his expertise in golf to run the operation at The Founders Club.
His day begins before dark, when the alarm goes off at 5 a.m.
“I’m at the shop by 6 a.m. year-round,” he said. “I make the coffee, I check out the POS system (Point of Sales computerized system, which tracks the merchandise in the shop), the register, e-mails. I review starting sheets and talk with Dockery Steed, our greens superintendent.”
Barry explained he and Dockery communicate many times each day about course conditions. They talk about whether the play for the day should be “cart path only,” broken sprinkler heads, ponds, downed tee limbs and trees and routine course maintenance.
Because The Founders Club has private homes on it, maintenance issues are linked with private resident’s issues. If a tree is down, is it on private property or on the golf course or both?
Barry has a staff of four in the shop, plus another 20 outside employees who work as rangers, starters and bag handlers. A food cart circulates each day. At The Founders Club, members and guests come and go all day long.
Besides the staff at the Founders Club, Barry is in charge of the merchandise they sell in his shop. Shirts, golf balls, gloves, hats, visors and shoes all have to be ordered. Each of the golf shops at St. James has autonomy, and Barry orders the merchandise for his operation.
“It’s all part of the business of golf,” he said “This afternoon, I’m meeting with the Ashworth rep to place our 2009 spring order. The vendors come to me with their lines of goods. I deal with all of them one by one.”
St. James Plantation is managed by Troon Golf, one of the largest golf management companies in the world.
“Troon has been here since April of 2005,” he said. “They have very high standards in everything from golf operations to service to members. We are very competitive in our prices because of Troon volume buying and connections. This extends to soft goods to maintenance equipment to food, and insurance.”
Each day, Barry teaches golf from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. “After I’m finished teaching, I’m back in the shop to answer e-mails and to get ready for the next day.”
Barry has a daily planner and lesson book in which he tracks all of his many activities. Reports need to be filed in a timely fashion. There are weekly meetings and monthly meetings with staff and/or members Barry must attend, but it’s all part of his job.
For example, the men’s member-guest is coming up with 106 teams playing over three courses. A huge amount of planning is going on and Barry is part of it.
“This is a golf course community, that’s the reality we deal with,” he said. “It’s up to our staff to make our member’s rounds of golf enjoyable. If we give a lesson to a member and their play improves, that enjoyment is increased. If the golf course is well-maintained, if the carts are clean, if our staff is courteous, that creates an enjoyable atmosphere for members and guests of St. James.”
Even complaints are viewed as opportunities by Barry Walters. “When someone comes in to complain, we always learn something we did not know before. If there is a way we can fix that problem, we will.”
The golf shop at The Founders Club is presently housed in a crowded temporary building. The old clubhouse, the first one built at St. James, developed black mold problems and had to be shut down. Now the old building is in the process of being gutted and completely renovated, according to Barry.
“The construction crew has been working for nearly two months now and our ‘new’ clubhouse will open in April,” he said. “The crew is following the original blueprints. Before we move into the new pro shop, we will have to get it ready and fill it with merchandise.”
After eight years at The Founders Club, Barry is still enthusiastic about his job.
“I’m proud that Homer Wright, the owner of St. James Plantation, has kept to his initial vision, that plans were not made and remade with a series of owners with different plans and ideas. Mr. Wright said there would be a marina and shops and we have a marina and shops. Our golf courses, clubhouse, pools and parks are all part of that original plan and vision.”
Barry summed it up in these words: “I love my job because the game of golf is special. Everything about it is unique. There are so many variables, whether it’s the club, the shot, the lies, weather conditions. It all changes from shot to shot, day to day, even if you play the same course over and over. Golf is a social game, and the people that I meet are the best part of my job.”
(Next week, look for “10 tips for getting your game together in the offseason” in this column. I picked Barry Walters’ brain about it. He’s got some great ideas I want to pass on to you.)
GOLF GAB GROANER
The golf club is having a black tie dinner and Harry, a 70-year old wealthy widower, shows up with a stunningly beautiful young and shapely blonde in a tiny black dress.
She hangs on to his arm and listens intently to his every word as they circulate around the room.
At the first opportunity, Harry’s friends corner him and ask, “How did you get the trophy girlfriend?”
“She’s not my girlfriend. She’s my wife!”
“How on earth did you get that gorgeous thing to marry you?” one of his friends asks.
“I lied about my age,” Harry says.
“You told her you were only 50?”
Harry smiles. “No, I told her I was 90.”
Elsa Bonstein is a golf columnist for the Beacon. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.