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April 1, 2016

PGA Professionals of the Year

These six PGA Professionals of the Year describe their favorite practice range memories and how that space has influenced their careers

“The nine-hole course where I grew up didn’t have a practice range, so the head professional, Joe August (a former PGA vice president), would use me as his ‘target flag’ for his lessons. These lessons were given off to the side of No. 1 fairway. When each shot came at me, I had to retrieve it. Sometimes these students would hit a big slice, followed by a duck hook. Then, they might hit a 200-yard drive, followed by a 75 yard chunked shot. Needless to say, I would get plenty of exercise. At the end, Joe would award me with a couple of dollars. That was a lot of money back then for a 9-year-old caddie.” – Jock Olson, 2002 PGA Professional of the Year

“As a military brat growing up in the D.C. area, I worked at Fort Belvoir Golf Facilities. My job description included changing out beer kegs, emptying trashcans,marshaling/rangering the golf course and picking up range balls. I used a three-wheel Cushman cart to push the range ball picker, and once a week I needed to pick it clean so they could mow. Invariably two things happened: 1) The narrow wheel base on the Cushman would cause the cart to flip over – luckily, I never got injured; and 2) MSgt Henry Gilliam would chew me out because I hadn’t picked the range adequately. The north range had elevated tee mats on concrete pads and was about 275 yards long. At the end of the range was a galvanized chain link fence with a pond behind it. Sgt. Gilliam didn’t know of my prodigious length off the range mats, and like most long-ball hitting kids the only club I hit was driver. I could one-hop most of my tee shots over the fence and into the pond! Hey, it saved me from having to pick them. Several years ago, I visited Northern Virginia and had the pleasure of playing Fort Belvoir once again. As I saw that range, a great big devilish grin came across my face.” – Brent Krause, 2007 PGA Professional of the Year

“When I was head professional at Lexington (Kentucky) Country Club in the 1970s, the right-hand side of our range was next to a horse farm that was home to Secretariat’s colts. As you know, most golfers slice, so a lot of balls ended up in that horse farm. This was back when the balls weren’t hard, so the horses would chew on them and eat them. The horse farm’s owner was never happy about this, and since I owned the range, I had to take out a very expensive insurance policy against a horse getting hurt from either being struck by a ball or eating too many. The worst part was that I couldn’t afford to lose many balls, so I’d have to sneak over that white fence every so often and pick range balls out of the manure. After I left, they decided to reverse the range. Since not many golfers hook the ball, that solved the problem.” – Jack Barber, 2009 PGA Professional of the Year

“When my now 9-year-old son was 6, we would go out and hit golf balls on the range. Like most 6-year-olds, he didn’t listen to a thing I told him, and he would even try to tell me how to swing. I would always laugh and tell him that I did this for a living and he might want to listen. Near the end of the summer, I took him and one of his friends out to hit balls. About halfway through their basket of balls, I heard my son telling the other kid the things I had told him that summer.I just stood back and listened to them talk about how to hit golf balls.It was nice to know that he was listening and could tell his friend what I had told him word for word. They are listening, even when they act like they aren’t.” – Chip Essig, 2011 PGA Professional of the Year

“Over many years, I have grown to see the practice range experience as a culture that looks like a carnival in action, servicing the interests and needs of many types golfers. It could be a private or group lesson, clubfitting, club alterations, seeing friends or making new ones, hitting demos, just hitting balls or learning specific shots, course management, skills challenges created by the staff or maybe just catching up on gossip. Whatever the purpose, I know if we get them there, golf will rub off on them in some form! Nothing looks better than seeing the range packed and our staff growing the game!” – Ray Cutright, 2014 PGA Professional of the Year

“My first job as an assistant professional was at Seminole Golf Club in Juno Beach, Florida. Seminole is like dying and going to golf heaven. Ben Hogan would come down for two weeks every winter,and it was a luxury to be able to watch Mr. Hogan hit golf balls. He had his only little spot where he would hit balls across the first and 10th fairways to the range, where his caddie would shag for him. Jerry (Pittman, the head professional) would tell us not to say a word to Mr. Hogan, but eventually he started talking to me, and I treasure the memories.” – Tom Henderson, 2015 PGA Golf Professional of the Year