Son of African-American golf pioneer shares insight on growing game

At the 93rd PGA Annual Meeting in 2009, The PGA formalized the unanimous decision to acknowledge three courageous African-American golf pioneers by granting them posthumous PGA membership. Those men were Ted Rhodes, John Shippen and Bill Spiller. Also at that time, legendary boxing champ Joe Louis was posthumously recognized as an Honorary PGA member.

On that day, then-PGA President Remy said: “They say you can’t turn back time, but you can do your very best to make it right.”

Bill Spiller Jr. admitted during his speech that when he first received word that his father had been elected to PGA membership, he was unsure how to react after years of watching him suffer indignities because of the color of his skin.

“But The PGA of 1950 is not the same PGA today,” said Spiller. “My family and I are very happy that this decision has been made. We’re happy to know that our father’s legacy has come full circle.”

Spiller Jr., a lawyer in Los Angeles, Calif., is himself a golfer. In celebration of Black History Month, Spiller shares some of his insights on how to grow and drive diversity among the game and business of golf:

What are your recommendations on how golf can reach more minorities at the grassroots level?

Spiller: You initiate interest in golf by creating a belief system, so people can truly start to believe that it’s something other than an “elitist” endeavor.

If one isn’t introduced to the game, one typically never generates enough interest to take the initiative and satisfy the curiosity. The game must be made available in a manner that makes it achievable to those who do not have the fortune of being introduced, or that live close enough to a course and have access to what goes on there.

Is there a way to make golf more prevalent for minority youths?

Spiller: A mindset of achievement needs to be created separate and apart from the “overnight riches” endeavors linked to basketball or football.
Many minority and inner-city kids look at sports as their only way out, and that doesn’t mean going professional. They understand that sports can earn them college scholarships and afford them the opportunity to get an education. When it comes to the golf industry, not enough is done to educate the masses about the business of golf. Golf is seen in terms of the PGA Tour and the country club lifestyle. Minority kids aren’t aware that golf is actually a business and with hard work and dedication positive results are achievable.

What got your dad and his colleagues into the game of golf?

Spiller: I don’t know what insect bit my dad and got him interested in golf initially.

However, he was a perfectionist and a type-A personality, and once he decided that he wanted to do something, nothing would stand in the way of achieving perfection – except himself – and God help anyone that did attempt to stand in his way. He felt so strongly about having the right to make a living at golf; and his real passion was not competitive play but teaching and dreaming about operating his own pro shop. He suffered tremendously, more than anyone I’ve seen, but he stayed steadfast in order to prove his point.

If you were in charge of the diversification component of Golf 2.0, what would you recommend for getting people into the game and keeping them playing golf?

Spiller: I’d try to expand the concept of “National Golf Day” to the point where local governments and schools are hosting activities to introduce kids to the game. You have to find sponsors (industry manufactures and associations) who are willing to support the cause. PGA Professionals need to organize clinics and seminars with test equipment available. PGA Professionals need to pass out invitations, because minorities likely won’t feel welcomed to play golf unless they’re invited. And finally, go to the schools and start golf programs, real competitive teams. This may be a herculean task, but one fraught with positive possibilities nevertheless.

Griffey Jr. eager to promote family, fun through new partnership

In 1994, when major league baseball was in the midst of another labor crisis, Ken Griffey Jr. discovered his love for golf. While the owners and the MLB Players Association went about an arduous 232-day arbitration to settle their differences, Griffey found a new way to ease the frustration.
“I started playing the day after the strike began,” said Griffey during his appearance Jan. 26, at the 59th PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, Fla. “It was a good time to start. I was playing with guys like Randy Johnson and Jay Buhner at Bear Creek Country Club outside Seattle. You wouldn’t believe all the balls we were losing on the course.”

Griffey, a member of the Board of Governors of the Boys Girls Clubs of America (BGCA), made his first PGA Merchandise Show appearance in support of the new partnership between The PGA of America and BGCA. During his visit at golf’s largest exhibition, his longtime friend, PGA Professional Rodney Green, joined Griffey. A native of Annapolis, Md., Green is the PGA director of golf at Innisbrook Resort Golf Club in Palm Harbor, Fla.

Green, 49, met Griffey in 1997, when he began working at the Palm Course at Walt Disney Resort and the two became “fast friends.” Green often gives coaching tips to Griffey, and he’s caddied for him at celebrity events, including the 2000 ATT Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, while playing with Jack Nicklaus, Mark O’Meara and Steve Nicklaus.

“I think Ken has great respect for the game, and understands the amount of work it takes to play at a high level,” said Green. “Whenever I play with him, he keeps this in perspective. He will have his good days and not so good days. He understands that is part of the game.”

What impresses Green just as much is how Griffey can balance his love of family and golf. Green said that Griffey’s longtime affiliation with Boys Girls Clubs of America makes the baseball great a great fit for promoting family participation in golf.

“Ken cares so much about his family, and nothing excites him more than when you talk about family,” said Green.

“We need to give more kids the chance to experience golf,” said Griffey. “I’m happy to do what I can to encourage that. I am always feeling the best when I can be on a golf course with my family. I do get to play golf with my dad often, and I can tell you that those moments are among the best of my life.”
Griffey said that golf has taught him patience. “You have to think before you act in golf.”

Green also cited Griffey’s competitive nature that did not diminish after leaving major league baseball in May 2010 with 630 home runs and 10 Golden Glove awards.

“Ken and I play a lot of golf, and in the 1990s, I said that neither of us have ever made a hole-in-one, and I said, ‘I bet I make one before you,’ ” said Green. “He said, ‘OK, make it light on yourself.’ I agreed to a $1,000 bet. If you are not playing with the other person when he gets an ace, it would be $500.”

In January 2001 on the Palm Course at the Disney Resort, Griffey and Green were on the 12th tee, and “Junior” stepped up and hit a 5-iron 195 yards to an elevated green with a partially obscured flag.

“Ken hit a high cut, which for a lefty means the ball curves left,” said Green. “We never saw it after it came down to the green and drove up and looked everywhere. Ken looked in the hole and found his ball. He is immediately on his cell phone calling everybody and bragging how he got me! I paid him with a money order. I don’t carry that kind of change!”

Griffey, who recalled the moment with a big smile, said his shot “was a Charles Barkley butter cut.”

About two years later, Green made his first ace and telephoned Griffey, who agreed to pay him when the two met. Then playing for the Cincinnati Reds and facing the former Florida Marlins, Griffey invited his friend to join his family at dinner in Miami. Griffey remembered to reimburse his friend and then pointed the waiter to Green.

“Oh, by the way, that gentleman there is picking ups the tab,” said Griffey. Through the ensuing years, Green has made up for that moment by scoring two more holes-in-one, and finding Griffey.

“Ken Griffey Jr. hits the ball further off the tee than perhaps 25 to 30 percent of those on Tour,” said Green, who watched Griffey test a new Nike driver during a “speed trial” at the PGA Merchandise Show. With only one warm-up swing, Griffey hit the ball 353 yards in the computer-monitored hitting area.

“He has a solid move through the ball, and has really improved his short game, especially the pitching wedge. He has about an 8 handicap, and I know that he will work to lower that. You think there is pressure for someone standing over a four-footer to win a match? Ken thrives on that kind of pressure. In fact, the quiet in golf bothers him.

The best thing is that he’s a good person, a good friend and a great father.”

PGA highlights jobs, employment services for Jobs in Golf Month

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. — As the national job market shows signs of recovery in 2012, The PGA of America’s 11th Annual Jobs in Golf Month-which highlights online employment resource tools and a breadth of jobs within the industry-will kick off in conjunction with the 59th PGA Merchandise Show, Jan. 26-28, and continue promoting employment in golf throughout the month of February.

Building on the success of its previous campaigns at the PGA Merchandise Show, The PGA of America’s Employment Services (located at Booth #2885) will highlight job opportunities that are currently posted on PGAJobfinder.com. The Jobs in Golf Month initiative at the PGA Merchandise Show includes recruitment services by leading industry employers; golf-related job posting boards; on-site interviewing for industry positions; employment workshops; and comprehensive PGA Employment Services.

In addition, PGA.com/employment, home to PGA Employment Services, is the centerpiece of the Jobs In Golf Month initiative, and serves as the golf industry’s online resource for jobs. In support of Jobs in Golf Month, PGA Employment Services is ramping up its available resources to ensure that PGA members continue to find and maximize their career opportunities.

“The PGA of America is delighted to present Jobs in Golf Month for the 11th consecutive year,” said PGA President Allen Wronowski. “In 2012, the emphasis on job placement is central to the growth of our field and the overall economy. The exciting positions offered during Jobs in Golf Month provide an opportunity to achieve a dream career within the golf industry, which employs more than 2 million people nationwide.”

PGA Employment Services was developed to serve as the golf industry’s hiring resource and a support mechanism to help ensure the 27,000 men and women PGA Professionals have the necessary tools to secure employment. In addition to serving as a vehicle for PGA Professionals, PGA Employment Services offers a direct communication link between golf industry employers and individuals seeking to gain employment in the golf industry.

PGA Employment Services is supported by 12 regional PGA Employment Consultants based throughout the country. These employment consultants serve as an invaluable resource for both PGA members and golf industry employers, working tirelessly to match applicants with appropriate employers that are seeking to hire talented and dynamic PGA Professionals. These Employment Consultants are also charged with further educating employers on the unmatched benefits of hiring a PGA Professional.

Employment-related education seminars are also being featured at the PGA Member Business Center, and will be led by the PGA Employment Consultants. Some of the featured seminar topics include “What Your Employer Wants – Connecting with Golf 2.0,” “Grow Your Value Starting NOW – The Strategy of Golf 2.0,” and “Utilizing Golf 2.0 – Your Competitive Edge,” among others.

While The PGA of America offers additional resources to promote Jobs in Golf Month and the benefits of hiring PGA Professionals throughout the month of February, the Association’s expansive employment services division, which caters to PGA Professionals, golf industry employers, and individuals seeking a position within the golf industry, is an everyday commitment throughout the year.

Among the many service options from the Employment Center, The PGA offers CareerLinks, a complimentary employment referral service with PGA Employment Consultants based throughout the country to provide support to employers and PGA Professionals. With this service, PGA Employment Consultants help employers identify the skills and experiences that are necessary to perform a specific job, and then enter the search specifications into the CareerLinks database to identify qualified PGA candidates. Last year, more than 470 positions were filled through the CareerLinks service.

Other employment services include PGA Jobfinder, an online tool located at www.PGA.com/employment, which helps golf industry employers fill a variety of golf industry positions from PGA Teaching Professionals to Clubhouse Staff to Manufacturer’s Sales Representatives. The PGA also retains the services of a wage-and-hour consultant to help PGA Professionals and employers interpret labor laws and wage-and-hour information. Since last January, more than 3,035 jobs for PGA Professional positions were posted on PGALinks.com and nearly 1,900 positions were listed on the public job board on PGA.com.

About PGA Jobs in Golf Month
Launched in 2002, the Jobs in Golf Month campaign is designed to promote employment services to golf employers and potential employees. The PGA Jobs in Golf Month campaign works with the PGA Employment Center located online at www.PGA.com/employment.

About The PGA of America
Since its founding in 1916, The PGA of America has maintained a twofold mission: to establish and elevate the standards of the profession and to grow interest and participation in the game of golf. By establishing and elevating the standards of the golf profession through world-class education, career services, marketing and research programs, The PGA enables its professionals to maximize their performance in their respective career paths and showcases them as experts in the game and in the multi-billion dollar golf industry. By creating and delivering world-class championships and innovative programs, The PGA of America elevates the public’s interest in the game, the desire to play more golf, and ensures accessibility to the game for everyone, everywhere. As The PGA nears its centennial, the PGA brand represents the very best in golf. 

Donald accepts PGA POY, Vardon Trophy at PGA Headquarters

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. — Catching his breath after a trip nearly halfway around the world to compete in Dubai, Luke Donald returned to his winter home Tuesday to a reception at PGA of America Headquarters, where he received two carryover awards from a banner 2011 season.

The world’s No. 1-ranked player, Donald spends his winters in Palm Beach Gardens, and was honored by PGA staff as he picked up his first PGA of America Player of the Year Award and Vardon Trophy. Donald captured both awards last season, becoming the first native of England to win both in the same year. He is just the second Briton to earn the Vardon Trophy, based upon lowest adjusted scoring average and first presented to “Lighthorse” Harry Cooper in 1937.

The PGA Player of the Year, first presented in 1948, was last presented to a native Briton in 1990 when Nick Faldo earned the honor.

“It means everything, that’s why we play the game, to try and write history and to try and get our names on trophies,” said Donald, who won two PGA Tour events in 2011 and won the money title on the PGA and European Tours. “To be mentioned among the names of the great champions that have won before, it inspires me to keep working hard and to hear those great champions, it is truly an honor.”

Donald splits his year by living in Evanston, Ill., where he graduated in 2001 from Northwestern University. His alma mater is not far from Medinah (Ill.) Country Club, the site of the 39th Ryder Cup, Sept. 28-30.

“Medinah is about 30 minutes from my home, and I have played it (No. 3 Course) a few times, but not for about a year and half,” said Donald. “They have made a few changes recently. It will be a great event at Medinah. The Ryder Cup is the most special event I have ever played. I’ve always enjoyed match play, fortunate to have had a good record as an amateur in the Walker Cup. When you do well in those competitions, it gives you a lot of confidence.”

Though he holds the top world ranking, Donald is asked what has kept him from achieving a professional’s ultimate career goal – winning a major championship.
“It’s hard to answer, my game is good enough to win a major,” said Donald. “My driving has held me back and you have to be driving it well during a major championship. If I can sharpen up a little bit, I feel I can compete well.”

When he was a youth, Donald admired a European wave of talent that was headed by Faldo and the late Seve Ballesteros. He said that the current European young talent, of which he is a member, “runs in cycles.”

“Certainly, things are going well for European golf now,” said Donald. “There are many fine players and they are holding their own everywhere. Are there more on the horizon? I’m sure there are.”

Donald’s reception included his answering questions regarding his personal life, choices in local restaurants and sports idols.
“The time I have away from the course, I am with my family, and to have two daughters who greet you with a smile when you get up in the morning, means everything,” said Donald. “Having two daughters, I believe, has given my life a lot more balance.”

The PGA Player of the Year and Vardon Trophy
The PGA of America has honored the game’s best players with The PGA Player of the Year Award since 1948. The award is presented to the top touring professional based on a point system for tournament wins, official money standings, and scoring averages. Points for the 2012 award are tabulated from Jan. 1, through the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic, which conclude Nov. 11.

The PGA Tour also recognizes its annual Player of the Year, with the winner determined by a vote of the membership. The voting period commences after the conclusion of the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic. The Player of the Year, who receives the Jack Nicklaus Trophy, will be announced by the Tour in December. Additionally, the Tour recognizes a Rookie of the Year and in select years, a Comeback Player of the Year, with both of those awards also being determined by a vote among Tour members. Other season-ending honors to be announced by the PGA Tour include the Arnold Palmer Award for the leading money-winner and the Byron Nelson Award, presented to the player with the lowest adjusted scoring average (minimum of 50 official rounds).

Since 1937, the Vardon Trophy, named by The PGA of America in honor of famed British golfer Harry Vardon, is awarded annually to the touring professional with the lowest adjusted scoring average. It is based on a minimum of 60 rounds, with no incomplete rounds, in events co-sponsored or designated by the PGA Tour. The adjusted score is computed from the average score of the field at each event.

About The PGA of America
Since its founding in 1916, The PGA of America has maintained a twofold mission: to establish and elevate the standards of the profession and to grow interest and participation in the game of golf. By establishing and elevating the standards of the golf profession through world-class education, career services, marketing and research programs, The PGA enables its professionals to maximize their performance in their respective career paths and showcases them as experts in the game and in the multi-billion dollar golf industry. By creating and delivering world-class championships and innovative programs, The PGA of America elevates the public’s interest in the game, the desire to play more golf, and ensures accessibility to the game for everyone, everywhere. As The PGA nears its centennial, the PGA brand represents the very best in golf.