By Vinnie Manginelli, PGA
Paul Johnson is the PGA Director of Golf at Mary Calder Golf Club, a nine-hole public facility in Savannah, Georgia. Johnson earned the Georgia PGA Section’s Player Development Award in 2017, and preceded that honor by winning the 2008 Youth Player Development Award in the Alabama-NW Florida PGA Section, known as the Dixie PGA Section at the time. He was also recently recognized as a 2022 Top 100 Growth of the Game Teaching Professional by the Golf Range Association of America (GRAA).
Always a teacher, coach and mentor, Johnson has been working with an organization called the 100 Black Men of Savannah to bring the game of golf to under-served youth in his area. The mission of the 100 Black Men of Savannah is to “serve as a beacon of leadership by utilizing our diverse talents to create an environment in which Savannah youth are motivated to achieve, and are empowered to become self-sufficient shareholders in the economic and social fabric of their communities.”
It was just two years ago when a representative from the 100 Black Men organization approached Johnson to request a portion of their driving range to bring their young men and teach them how to play golf. After all, golf would be an activity to which many of them had not been exposed, and introducing them to the game might open their eyes to its benefits, as well as create some avenues to future connections, enjoyment and engagement.
Johnson did them one better. He offered his time and expertise at no charge to help energize the group and hopefully inspire a few of the young participants to further pursue the merits of the game of golf. Johnson and reps from 100 Black Men put their heads together and created a formal program that would improve the lives of the kids and adhere to the mission of the 100 Black Men organization, as well as the PGA of America.
A 12-week fall initiative, the GLASS Program – Growing Leaders and Setting Standards – was formed via this new collaborative effort. Using the Operation 36 curriculum, Johnson worked with almost two dozen young men between the ages of 12 and 17 in 2021 and almost 20 in 2022, teaching them the basics of the setup, the mechanics of the full golf swing and the intricacies of pitching, chipping and putting. He also brings to their attention the importance of etiquette, rules, course management and strong mental fortitude, as they face an array of ups and downs in their education in golf.
Johnson teaches the golf and 100 Black Men have representatives and counselors, both from within their organization and from Savannah State University, the first Historically Black College or University (HBCU) in the state of Georgia, onsite at the same time to discuss character development, while highlighting the efforts of different African-Americans in golf – players, superintendents, architects, broadcasters, etc. Participants are taught etiquette in golf that often mirrors real life, which Johnson reinforces in his instruction and presentations to the kids.
Most of the instruction is on the driving range and practice putting green, but Johnson ensures that he exposes the kids to the course, as well. “We’ll walk a few holes on the course to show them what it’s all about. There are natural undulations, ups and downs in the terrain, as well as in one’s performance. Golf, after all, is often a metaphor for life,” Johnson says.
At the end of the 2021 program, Johnson gave the participants an interesting opportunity to continue their golf journey. “If any of the kids wanted to continue, there were some requirements that they had to satisfy,” Johnson explained. “They had to come up with 300 things that they want to do in their lifetime – places to travel, things they wanted to accomplish, etc.” Johnson said that five members of that inaugural group took him up on the challenge/opportunity. Although golf might not be the first activity choice for some of the boys, Johnson is proud of the experience he provides each fall. He even mentioned that a few of them are joining his junior golf classes this spring.
During that first year, Johnson was in contact with a local man who was very passionate about the success of the GLASS program and the fate of its participants. He scoured every Goodwill store within 60 miles of Savannah to ask them to donate any clubs they had in their inventory. He acquired enough equipment to provide each new golfer a set of his own, as long as they attended 10 of the 12 classes. Unfortunately, this gentleman passed away, and coming into this large number of clubs has become more difficult. “I had many junior and adult golf clubs that enabled each participant to keep a putter and a wedge at the end of the 2022 program so they can practice at home,” Johnson explained.
The program is not marketed as such, but Johnson has hired four of the kids who have demonstrated good leadership skills and an interest in the game. They’ve worked in outside operations, maintaining cart rotation and greeting patrons as they arrive at the facility. He meets with the kids and their parents to lay out his expectations, furthering the success of the relationship between Mary Calder Golf Club and 100 Black Men of Savannah.
For more information on Mary Calder Golf Club, please log on to its website.
For more information on 100 Black Men of Savannah, please log on to its website.