I met up with Phil & his son Hogan on the 16th green of the picturesque River Course while they were playing a “One Club Challenge” against each other. The stakes were high, Hogan had bet his father that if he won they would both enjoy a soft drink after their game, Phil had wagered that they would choose lemonade. I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to find out more about what it takes and entails to be the Course Pro for a championship course.
Q: How did you get started?
A: “Well there’s no better place than a Golf Course.”
Phil began working at Black Forrest Golf Course when he was 14, the year was 1988. When he got off of work he would pick up carts, and “run through 9 holes in under an hour just to be able to play.” At Black Forrest Phil enjoyed gaining wisdom from Rick Smith, renowned golf instructor and coach of Jack Nicklaus, Phil Mickelson, and Lee Janzen. Phil “became a fly on the wall” in order to obtain the intimate golf lessons and knowledge from Smith.
One day Phil’s Mother asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, and when she heard his answer responded, “ Golf Pros are dime a dozen.”
Phil attended Northern Michigan University and studied Environmental Conservation. His area of Michigan was not unlike Keystone, they received 300″ of snow annually while he was in college, “You wouldn’t see green until your first tournament.” Phil’s background in environmental conservation gives him insight into the green regarding soils, irrigation, and whether a hole should have poaceae, cyperaceae, or a juncaeae family of grass to ensure the right type of roll or bounce. Phil modestly stated that any Pro can tell those things.
There are different avenues to becoming a PGA certified Golf Pro, one is gaining a degree in golf management, the other is attending PGA Golf Professional Training. After college Phil completed PGA training which was comprised of a rigorous 3 level program that takes into account home study, work experience, and a player ability test — a very competitively scored round of golf at an approved course.
Q: What do you do in winter?
A: “Get ready for summer.”
I thought it was a necessary question as Phil has golfed in more than one area with snowy winter climates. Phil explained during winter he works closely with the staff to make improvements for rate of play, clinics, planning new events, or listen to player feedback.
Although Phil has had an estimated over 4,000 students while being the Course Pro for Keystone, he is still as approachable as ever. It was apparent during our first meeting a few weeks prior in the club house that Phil really cares about each of his students. During our initial introduction an older golfer came up and shook his hand, “You gave me a lesson three years ago while I was visiting for a conference.” Phil shook his hand and instantly recognized the man and asked how everything was before the man was on his way to the green. Our conversation was filled with these pop-ins as Phil would inquire about how their short game was going or if they enjoyed their clinic they attended the week prior. Both the River & Ranch course offer private lessons, group clinics, and ladies & juniors programs.
“It’s not only about golf; it’s about building a relationship,” says Phil.
Q: What’s the daily routine of the Golf Pro?
A: “First one in, last one to leave.”
Working closely with the course supervisor & player attendants, Phil supports the different golf venues, dropping tips, and making sure everyday runs smoothly. Phil enjoys the close relationship between the staff at the River Course and how this tight knit group is always coming up with and implementing new ways to improve every player’s experience.
As our time drew to an end on the 16th hole, Phil and Hogan were in the final strokes of their “One Club Challenge”. Even though they we’re competing against each other, Phil was eager to help & instruct Hogan. Phil knelt down and in hushed tones conveyed tid-bits of intimate golf knowledge before Hogan took his swing. I was able to squeeze in two final questions:
Q: How do you introduce a younger generation of golfers like Hogan to the game?
A: “You have to make things fun, and not take the game too seriously.”
Q: What’s your favorite piece of advice to give to golfers?
A: “Don’t get mad, we’re not good enough too get mad.”
Who do you think won the “One Club Challenge”? Find out in this clip!
The River Course is the perfect place to get some family bonding time in. Junior golfers play free every Evening with a paying adult. Junior rental clubs included (if available). Adults save 50% on rental clubs. Golf fee is $55 for adults. Evening start times vary by season. Book your tee time online, and get out on the green!