One of my favorite parts of the PGA Merchandise Show has nothing to do with merchandise. Rather, it is the time during the week when the Association hands out its annual awards to club professionals. That’s because I appreciate the PGA members who do so much for the game, and I like it when they are recognized for their fine work. I will truly relish the program this week because professionals from the PGA Metropolitan New York Section, which is where I have long hung my golf visor, are taking two of the five awards being meted out. One is for Teacher of the Year, which is going to Michael Breed. The host of The Golf Fix television show, he served for many years as head professional at the Sunningdale Country Club before recently moving across the Hudson River to open a golf academy at the Manhattan Woods Golf Club. And the other is the Horton Smith Award, which is being given to Carl Alexander, director of golf at the Country Club of Purchase. Those presentations come two months after John Kennedy, head professional at the Westchester Country Club, accepted the PGA’s Patriot Award for commitment and dedication to members of the U.S. military. That means the Met Section, which is only one of 41 PGA sections in the U.S., has captured three of the Association’s 10 national awards for 2012. That’s an impressive feat, and so is the fact that the Met Section, which is headed by the esteemed Charlie Robson, has been doing so well for so long. Two years ago, for example, Kennedy won the Horton Smith, while Nelson Long from the Century Country Club was honored with the Bill Strausbaugh Award, given to PGA members for exemplary leadership and service. Over the years, Met Section professionals have won 24 national PGA awards, which give them a record roughly comparable to that of another sporting powerhouse in the area, the New York Yankees. I learned to play golf in the Met Section, from PGA pros Dave Paterson and Rick Whitfield, Ed Sabo and Mike Downey, Jack Druga and Dave Renzulli. I’ve also teed it up at many of its courses. And it was through those experiences that I developed my deep admiration for the PGA professional. For being accomplished athletes and selfless teachers. For the joy they take in bringing others into golf and enhancing their love for the sport. For spending hours with their players in hopes of making them better. I could also see they were just as dedicated to training their assistants, so those young men and women could go on to top jobs one day and carry on the good work of their mentors. And I marveled at the way they so deftly handled political situations at their places of business so crazy they made Washington D.C. seem functional. More than anything else, I have always been impressed by the versatility of the PGA professionals there. The Met Section has long believed that its members should have all the goods. That they are able to play at an extremely high level and also teach touring pros as well as rank beginners. That they can properly fit members with clubs and balls, stock their shops with the finest apparel and smoothly run tournaments of all sizes and formats. I also like the sense of history that pervades there. Met Section professionals know the PGA was founded in New York in 1916. They are also aware of the great professionals who have worked at clubs in that region. Men like Gene Sarazen, Paul Runyan and Claude Harmon. It was where Harry Cooper and Craig Wood gave lessons and sold clubs. Even Ben Hogan toiled in the Met Section for a spell, as an assistant and a head pro at Century. So, there is a deep recognition among professionals of their predecessors, and an understanding among the current generation that they must strive to be just as good – and to train their assistants to be equally as strong down the road. The quality of the clubs and courses make an impression as well. After all, the Met Section is the home of places like Winged Foot and Shinnecock Hills, Baltusrol and the National Golf Links of America. Their courses regularly host major competitions, which is a testament not only to the design and conditioning of the layouts but also to the professionals who can help run such notable events. Those retreats also are populated with members who have been enormously successful in life and know the game of golf well. As a result, they expect a lot from their professionals. That has a way of elevating performance, as does what can best be described as “the New York factor.” Frank Sinatra was right when he sung that those who make it there can make it anywhere, and the demands the area puts on its denizens to excel are quite high. No matter what their occupations. I am a big fan of PGA club professionals in general. But I have a particularly strong affinity for those from the Met Section. And I congratulate this year’s award winners as well as the ones who have been honored in the past.
Well done, guys.