By Alan Prescott
April 29, 2021
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In my last article, I discussed John’s meeting with Arnold Palmer and the impact of this meeting. Earlier, during his education at the “Evening School of Golf”, taught by PGA Golf Professional Joseph Sirico, John was encouraged to finish his college education. In his last year at the State University of New York at Oswego, New York, John met Wayne Levi. It was 1972 and Wayne was a member of the golf team. John wasn’t eligible to play for the team because he had previously declared his professional status. However, Wayne and John were golf “acquaintances” from that time. After they graduated, John entered the “School of the Business of Golf” while Wayne went south to Florida to practice at “the pits’, a sandy area where golfers learn to hit golf balls in sandy conditions. Wayne earned his way to the PGA Tour by trying to qualify for the Tour by playing the mini-tours across the country. The “mini tours” consisted of golfers who were trying to gain experience before trying the Tour Qualifying School. They consisted of 1 to 3-day events with lower prize purses and served as a training ground for future PGA Tour players. Wayne Levi went on, a few years later to win 7 PGA Tour events in one year, a feat that few players have accomplished in their careers.
However, John moved on and, until the end of 1980, he learned yet another lesson in golf. On September 8, 1974, John went to work for the Pedersen Golf Company in North Haven, Connecticut. He was a sales representative covering all of Upstate New York north of Westchester County (north of New York City), the northern half of New Jersey from Tom’s River Park on the east to Flemington on the west, and all of the state of Vermont. It was quite an expansive territory!!
During the next 3 years, he was only home to pay the rent on his apartment in Great Neck, New York every few months. Calling on golf professionals at golf courses and off-course golf shops was both educational and enlightening. What a lot of PGA Golf Professionals didn’t realize was that they controlled the golf club marketplace in the beginning when the golf club industry divided itself into two parts, clubs sold exclusively to golf professionals at golf courses and clubs sold to sporting goods stores. The golf club companies enjoyed the benefits of selling to the closed market at golf courses, where retail (list) prices were charged by PGA Golf Professionals at golf courses. For the most part, there were few discounts given to the members at golf courses by resident golf course professionals. It was a closed market and most golf course professionals didn’t have to discount golf clubs to sell them.
So, John traveled his territory and sold his wares. He traveled from town to town and from city to city and from state to state. It was a lonely existence. He would work long, difficult hours traveling and selling what he could each day, practicing each evening to hone his playing skills, then finding an affordable motel and an inexpensive dinner to satisfy his hunger, and, after his daily paperwork, fall asleep until the “morning wakeup call” would announce the beginning of the next day. His small earnings at first allowed him to pay his entry fees into any tournament that he could enter, and that was controlled mostly by the local PGA section. John was not a PGA member due to his conflict with the Metropolitan PGA Section. He certainly put in his time as an Apprentice professional. However, on the north shore of Long Island, young Jewish PGA Apprentices were discriminated against by their non-Jewish head professionals due to a fear that resident club professionals would be replaced, at the mostly Jewish Clubs, by the apprentices when they became PGA members.
A case in point was when John was an apprentice working at Middle Bay Country Club in Oceanside, New York. The head professional Craig Shankland was an accomplished player and teacher whose family was very prominent in the British PGA in England. The members, many of whom were prominent businessmen from 7th Avenue and who knew Ken, John’s father, from there. They used to come to play golf at the Club on weekend mornings, walk right past the head professional and greet John first. Things turned sour between the head professional and the head professional confiscated the set of clubs that he had given to John indirectly through a relationship with the Ben Hogan Golf Company. It was a cheap shot. On John’s day off one particular Monday, he found his clubs confiscated by the head pro and his old, well-used set of clubs leaning in the front corner of the pro shop. He had been terminated because of professional jealousy.
In my next article, John’s education in the “School of the Business of Golf” continues. As the golf club market continued to evolve toward what it is today, John learned yet another hard lesson. Would or could he handle the circumstances that were dealt with him? Would he give up or would he stay the course and graduate from the “School of the Business of Golf”?
As always, I am Alan Prescott and I can be reached at [email protected] Stay healthy and be safe.
Editor’s Note: Alan Prescott reached out to us after reading a recent article on the Fernandina Beach Golf Course. His articles are being well received by golfers and non-golfers. We thank Alan for his contribution to the Fernandina Observer.