Down the Fairway: PGA of America plays important role

Local club pros like Brian

Damon of Schenectady Municipal Golf Course, Rick Wright of The Ed

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Local club pros like Brian

Damon of Schenectady Municipal Golf Course, Rick Wright of The Edison Club or Rick Wolcott of Mohawk Golf Club don’t seem to have much in common with Tiger Woods and his fellow PGA Tour members. That fact often creates confusion among the general golfing public.

Brian Whitcomb, the 35th pres­ident of the PGA of America, doesn’t mind the confusion. He believes the two separate but related organizations are instrumental in both promoting and growing the game of golf.

Whitcomb attended the Northeastern New York PGA section’s annual spring meeting Monday at Columbia Golf & Country Club in Claverack, and he continued his “Town Hall Tour,” which connects the PGA of America’s national

officer and chief executive officers with members of the world’s largest working sports organization.

“It’s important to us to demonstrate the difference between tour players and a club pro, but before 1967, we were all the same,” said Whitcomb, head pro at Lost Tracks Golf Club in Bend, Ore., who was elected the PGA of America’s pres­ident in 2006.

“The PGA Tour is important to us. We should thank them, because they create interest in the game. We take that interest and turn it into participation. The relationship between the two organizations is parallel. The more we can do to show everyone all that we do, the better for us, but the PGA Tour players are still members of the PGA of America.”

PGA Tour players often make millions of dollars and play golf for a living. Club professionals are lucky to earn a couple of thousand dollars for winning their local major tournaments, and they spend most of their time teaching the game, running amateur tournaments and selling golf equipment.

“Golf is a $76 billion industry, and it helps raise $3 billion for charity every year,” said Whitcomb. “Overall, the golf business is very healthy. But those in the golf bus­iness must remember that there is a discretionary amount of time to play the game, and there is a dis­cretionary amount of dollars to spend on it. People don’t have to play golf. They play it because they want to. But there are also other things that they can do.”

Whitcomb reminded the

NENYPGA members that they should be proud of what they do.

“The PGA promotes and teaches the game better than anyone in the world,” he said.

“We have never been stronger. The PGA is like the gold standard.”

Part of the PGA’s mission is to establish and elevate the standards of the golf pro profession. Club pros maximize their performance by taking classes in instruction, marketing and merchandising. Whitcomb said PGA members are encouraged to stay on top of their profession, much like secondary or elementary teachers do.

“All of our certification proced­ures are voluntary, but they do help to make us the best that we can be,” he said.

Many of the smaller PGA sections, like the NENYPGA, are having problems filling their

assistant pro positions, and I asked Whitcomb if he is concerned.

“It all depends on what part of the country you are talking about,” he said. “In the South, for example, they have more than enough people who want to become assistant pros, but around here, it’s a problem. It’s bittersweet, as far as the assistants are concerned, because the PGA of America is a non-profit organiz­ation. We can do only so much to help them with the cost of their PGA school education. They don’t make much money, and many of them are just starting out, with young families.

“But if they take the time to make a complete commitment to us, we try to make a commitment to them. We want to help them become full professionals someday.”

Whitcomb’s candor is refreshing, and it is nice to see the head of such a large national organization be so down to earth.

NEW KIDS PROGRAM

Schenectady Mayor Brian Stratton and Damon were on hand to kick off the new “Hook a Kid on Golf” program that was announced at a press conference Thursday at Schen­ectady Municipal Golf Course.

Backed by the United States Golf Association, the program has benefited more than 52,000 youngsters in more than 250 communities since 1990. Youngsters learn how to play the game, along with understanding its rules, etiquette and history.

Muny has received a $5,000 grant for the program from the USGA, but more funds are needed. The “Hook A Kid on Golf” Charity Classic, set for June 3 at Schenectady Munic­ipal, will raise money to fund up to 80 scholarships for the weeklong “Tee Level” clinics, which consist of four days of instruction and one day for on-course play.

“I believe that the lessons that golf teaches can translate into other areas of life,” said Stratton in a press release. “Even more importantly, children that are

active in sports or other organized activities are also far more likely to stay out of trouble and become productive members of society. I am proud that we are able to bring this nationally proven program to the City of Schenec­tady.”

All youngsters who participate in the program will get the use of clubs that will be kept at the course for them whenever they want to play with them.

Damon said that the goal is to get between 90 and 100 kids in the program. A total of $20,000 must be raised.

Sponsorships are available in many forms, including sponsoring a hole for $150. Contact Damon or assistant pro Mike Durant at

382-5155 for more information.

GAZETTE CUP NEARS

The sixth annual Gazette Cup is May 7 at Albany Country Club.

Twelve of the Capital Region’s top amateurs off the Capital Region Amateur point list will take on 12 of the top local club pros off the Northeastern New York PGA point list in a match-play format for both individuals and partners. The pros lead the series, 3-2.

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