PART 4: The fourth and final 25-year segment of the Michigan Section PGA (1997-2022)
This is the final part of a four-part series produced in celebration of the centennial year of the Michigan Section PGA. The series has been published at michiganpga.com and released to the media over the 2022 golf season.
Michigan PGA Professionals Adapt, Lead and Grow the Game of Golf
John Lindert, the director of golf at Country Club of Lansing, considers the recruitment of the next generation of golf professionals the greatest challenge as he prepares to start his term as the president of the PGA of America in November.
“I have three great young people that work alongside me at Country Club of Lansing and I think they are entrenched in the industry, but that’s not the case for most other PGA head professionals in Michigan or across the country,” said Lindert, the current vice-president of the PGA of America.
“We have to figure out where the next generation is coming from and that’s going to fall on my lap as a national officer; how do we recruit new talent, how do we keep the talent we have currently?”
Lindert will be just the third Michigan Section PGA member in 100 years joining Horton Smith and Warren Orlick to serve as the PGA of America President and just the second to have been both the section and national president (Orlick).
He said the role of golf professionals has understandably changed over 100 years, but dramatically in the last 25 years. The old school days where the golf pro was expected to work sunup to sundown in dedication to the game and club, in part because he owned the golf shop, changed first with most golf facilities changing business models and taking over the shops. The sunup to sundown work was still expected in many cases though.
“Today’s generation is more about working so they can live, not living so they can work,” Lindert said.
The PGA is shifting how they train professionals and coordinating with Professional Golf Management Programs at universities.
“There is also going to have to be a shift in how clubs and courses think and how they operate because today’s workforce is looking for a balanced work environment, the ability to work and enjoy personal time and develop a life outside the workplace,” he said. “It will come as club and facility ownership and leadership changes and gets younger, but that change can’t happen fast enough for some.”
Kevin Helm, the fifth executive director in the history of the Michigan Section, the longest serving at 18 years and an employee of the section for 26 years, said it is his experience that the golf industry like many other things has to periodically go through difficult times or challenges to advance and improve.
“Years ago people got involved as golf professionals for very little money, at least at first, worked every weekend, did every job you can think of but loved the game and figured they were paying their dues,” he said. “The younger generation is not as patient, and not looking to follow that path.”
Helm feels clubs, course owners and operators are becoming more aware.
“A trained PGA professional can have a great impact and they are always trying to adapt to meet the needs, so likewise if clubs want to continue to operate at a high level hopefully they will see the need to help assistant professionals and others earn more and strike a better work-life balance.”
On that front for the Michigan Section, Helm said employment is always a concern. Coordinating with the PGA of America, the Michigan section works with Todd Smith, a PGA of America career consultant, and Kim Shafer, a PGA player engagement consultant.
“They make themselves available for our Section members and are focused on those areas, hiring trends and provide a long list of services to our section members,” he said.
Service to members is also the mission of the Michigan Section, and Diane Lazaros, member services administrator, defines it, Helm said. She has been with the section since 1995, one year longer than Helm, who was first a tournament director starting in 1996.
“Diane is the weekly contact for our chapters and professionals around the state,” he said. “She doesn’t get as much recognition as she should for all she does really behind the scenes. I was recently at a Western Chapter fall meeting and then a Northern Chapter meeting the next day, and the chapter leaders all go out of their way to pass on a thank you to the section office, but especially to Diane. She does a wonderful job.”
The modern Michigan Section office is located on the grounds of Eagle Eye Golf Club in Bath Township near East Lansing and houses a full-time staff of six. Services include the large tournament program coordinated by Tournament Director Justin Phillips. Over 80 tournaments, section tournament qualifiers, chapter tournaments, pro-am events, playability test rounds, Michigan Open qualifiers as well as qualifiers for the PGA Tour’s Rocket Mortgage Classic and PGA Tour Champions Ally Challenge are taken on by the section and its chapters each year.
“We are proud to administer the state open events for men, women and seniors, our state pro-am is a significant event where we love having a relationship with our top playing amateurs as well as our section professionals,” Helm said. “Tournament play is an important part of our culture and history in the section, and our members help in several ways every two years when the Senior PGA Championship comes to Benton Harbor (Harbor Shores Golf Club).”
Beyond what the media and public notice via competition, the section office is tasked with governance, employment, education and certification of professionals, as well as serving each of the three geographic chapters in the state, the senior players organization and lifetime and retired members. In addition there is the PGA foundation work in junior golf, military veteran fundraising and inclusion programming, and the section’s heavy support and direct involvement in Drive, Chip and Putt, Midnight Golf, Folds of Honor and PGA Hope initiatives.
“There are a lot of other things our members are doing in their clubs and their own communities, too,” Helm said. “We have members like Kevin McKinley (section president in 2018-19 who most recently worked for Treetops Resort) who has gained national attention for his fundraising and activism for veterans (2017 PGA of America’s National Patriot Award). Glenn Pulice (general manager at Royal Oak Golf Center) and other members help Midnight Golf. We have a lot of great, active members who make an impact.”
The role of the teaching professional has expanded in different directions in the last 25 years and is tied closely to the advancement of technology and a more diverse group of active golfers. Long gone are the days when the pro was also a clubmaker, greenskeeper, salesperson and player wrapped up in one individual, and gone too are the days when golf lessons were primarily taught by a professional at a private club.
Dave Kendall of the Kendall Golf Academy at Miles of Golf in Ypsilanti is representative of a band of top teaching professionals who work at or even own public practice facilities. Kendall even makes appearances on the Golf Channel as an instructor and is involved in course ownership at Washtenaw Golf Club. Rick Smith, who has one of his national academies at Oakland University’s golf facility, started his career as a Michigan section professional at Treetops Resort.
“Teaching the game has definitely opened up as another area for members to specialize in,” Helm said. “More members are going that path because there is a demand for it. The academies and professionals who just teach and coach are busy, and they now have great technology with simulators, launch monitors, televised promotion of instruction, a lot of factors that help them. PGA professionals have always taught the game, but there seems to be a new level of interest, increased levels of competition and new people have come into the game looking for instruction, too.”
The rules of golf is yet another area where PGA professionals become experts. Mark Wilson, a longtime PGA professional at Watermark Country Club in the Grand Rapids area and now an instructor for the Professional Golf Management School at Ferris State University, is regarded as one of the top rules experts in the world.
A past chairman of the PGA of America rules committee for several years, he has led the rules efforts at multiple major championships and the Ryder Cup Matches. He’s often been the national television expert called upon to discuss rulings on air and works the Masters Tournament among others on an annual basis.
“We are so proud of members like Mark,” Helm said. “What he has accomplished with the rules of golf, chairing the PGA Rules Committee for so many years, following in Warren Orlick’s footsteps and being widely regarded as one of the best rules officials in the world reflects greatly on Michigan.”
Lindert, too, has taken what he learned in growing through leadership in the Michigan Section, to the highest office in the PGA of America.
“We know how good he is at leadership locally, and now we know he will and has been doing a great job nationally,” Helm said.
Lindert started working with chapter leadership in 1993, moved to the section level eventually serving as president in 2010-2011 and then went national in recent years running for PGA of America Secretary office, being elected and moving up the ranks as vice-president to president. He said being the next president of the PGA of America is humbling and he will always remember where he came from and the lessons learned.
“When I first came to the Michigan Section there were some tumultuous times financially and what Ken Devine was able to accomplish as executive director was so important,” he said. “Then what Kevin Helm has done in his time to continue to grow and adapt the section has been remarkable. We are from a section standpoint in great shape. We would like to have more associates like all sections right now, but the strength of our membership is still extremely high and the leadership strong. We’re stable financially. We have a wonderful home office and we have wonderful partnerships with other associations and sponsors. The Michigan Section is one of the best sections in the country.”
Dean Kolstad, the director of golf at Gull Lake View Golf & Resort in Augusta, Mich., is a former National Hockey League player turned golfer who has been a section member for 21 years. He is the current president of the Michigan Section PGA, and he said few people realize how much the section engages in on a daily basis.
“Golf is a seasonal sport in Michigan and that helps make it harder to find people to work, it limits the tournament schedule to certain months and facilities and yet the staff and the chapters and the pros make it work,” he said. “The section staff is great and I see a dedicated membership out there that loves the game and does what it takes to keep people playing. I’m proud of what we do for the game.”
Helm said the golf professional adapts as the game evolves. He isn’t sure what the future brings, but he is sure the golf professional will be part of golf as long as it is played.
“The old cliché of only old white men playing golf is a thing of the past and that’s great,” he said. “Stephanie Jennings (Eastern Michigan University golf coach) is our vice-president. She’s just one of our female section members who give us a better understanding and help us work with the golf industry in seeking diversity so that our membership looks more like society.
“And in the end, we continue together as golf professionals to work towards the long-term goal of growing the game, teaching the game and keeping people playing the game.”
Media contact, Greg Johnson, 616-560-8995