Tom Philion became the first non-green grass Golf Professional of the Year at Tuesday’s annual Northeastern New York PGA Spring Membership Meeting & Special Awards Presentation at Saratoga National Golf Club.
Simply put, Philion is no longer a head professional at a typical public or private golf course. Instead, he’s director of the SUNY-Delhi Professional Golf Management Program, which instructs aspiring golf professionals in how to become an assistant pro or head professional.
During his time at SUNY-Delhi, which began in 2006, Philion has created a 2.0 player development program and incorporated a high-tech swing lab into his teaching methods. He’s also expanded the facilities at SUNY-Delhi, which has its own golf course.
His graduation rates exceed the national average, and he’s sent those graduates on to work at such nationally recognized courses as Congressional, Sleepy Hollow and TPC Sawgrass. He introduced the first girls’ high school team to the Delhi region, established a 10-school district scholastic program and also started the first collegiate women’s team at SUNY-Delhi.
“I’m what they call a non-traditional golf professional now,” said Philion. “That’s what I mean by non-green grass. We’ve been embracing new ideas in this section and creating new traditions.”
Philion laughed when he admitted that he’s always been a “fringe player.”
“I used to tell people I could shoot one-under-par, and what I meant was that I could shoot a 79,” he said. “But when I was at Columbia Golf & Country Club, I played in everything. I competed with no chance of winning, because I learned early on that what the members really liked to do was to play with their golf professional. They enjoyed it, and I met a lot of nice people that way. I used to pinch myself every day thinking what a great job I have. Now, I still pinch myself every day, because I feel the same way about my job at SUNY-Delhi.”
Philion has been a NENYPGA member for 21 years and served the section as its president (2010-2012), honorary president (2012-2014), vice president (2008-2010) and secretary (2006-2008). He served two terms on the board of directors (2004-2006 and 1997-1999), and also was on numerous special committees, including the PGA National Apprentice Committee (2011-2014), Education Committee, Finance Committee and Junior Golf Committee.
The affable Philion also earned several special awards during his long run, including the Horton Smith Award for education and the Bill Strausbaugh Award for club relations and community service.
He was the head pro at Columbia G&CC from 1991 through 2005 and previously was an assistant pro there. He introduced a junior golf program and established a golf team at Columbia-Greene Community College.
Other major award winners included Anders Mattson of Saratoga National (Teacher of the Year for the second year in a row), Kay McMahon of EduKaytion Golf (Horton Smith Award), Peter Maasmann of of Blackhead Mountain Loddge & Country Club (Bill Strausbaugh Award), Rick Wolcott of Rolling Hills Country Club at Antlers (Roland Stafford Sportsmanship Award), Rich Scott of Fox Run (Youth Player Development Award), Lucas Cohen of New York Golf Park (Player Development Award), Colonie Golf & Country Club assistant pro Kevin Cain (Assistant Golf Professional of the Year), Willie King of Plattsburgh Golf (Patriot Award for raising money to help wounded military personnel), Josh Hillman of Taconic Golf Club (Merchansider of the Year Public Course), Tim Lonergan of Wolferts Roost Country Club (Mechandiser of the Year Private Course) and Gary Chittenden of the Antigua Group (Sales Representative of the Year).
Derek Sprague of Malone, the president of the PGA of America; and Peter Bevacqua, the CEO of the PGA of America, were also on hand to introduce a new junior golf initiative to help young players learn about the game before trying to play on the PGA Junior Tour.