Editor’s note: This story on PGA of America president John Lindert is the second in a series of special GGP/Biz pieces during the week of the PGA Show in Orlando, Florida.
Though John Lindert may have grown up in Wisconsin, neighboring Michigan was where he firmly established himself as a PGA of America golf professional. But only after stops in Arizona, Florida and Ohio. In fact, it was not until 1993 that he went to work in the Wolverine State, as the head professional at the Spring Lake Country Club, located in the town of that same name just northwest of Grand Rapids. Nine years later, he moved to the Country Club of Lansing, about 100 miles to the southeast, where he serves today as its COO/director of golf. And it was while holding those positions that he burnished a career that led to his winning several industry honors in the Michigan PGA Section, including the Bill Strausbaugh Award for mentoring and both Golf Professional and Merchandiser of the Year. A solid player, he qualified five times for the PGA Professional Championship. Then in 2019, the Michigan PGA made Lindert a member of its Hall of Fame. And last fall, he ascended to the top job of his association, beginning a two-year term as its national president.
That is quite a rise for someone who entered far more swim meets than golf tournaments as a young man, and who enrolled in the University of Arizona in 1975 with the intention of competing as a swimmer for the Wildcats, which in those days regularly produced future Olympians.
But there was something about golf that Lindert truly loved. And that passion for the game, which he started playing as a boy with his parents, eventually led him to make a living – and a life – in the sport.
As Lindert prepared to attend his first PGA Show as president of the PGA of America, the married father of two took time to talk with our John Steinbreder for the latest rendition of The 19th Hole for GGP/Biz. Lindert touched on his introduction to the game, the reasons he “never dipped a toe into the pool at Arizona” even though he had been recruited to swim there, the satisfaction he derives from the entrepreneurial aspects of being a club professional and some of the things he wants to do in his new job. :
I grew up in Milwaukee. My father was a physician, and my mother a nurse. And I was the youngest of four kids by 10 years. My parents were tennis players most of their lives, but they picked up golf when I came along.
They got me playing, as well, and would bring me to the course at what was then called Tripoli Country Club, and what is now part of the University Club of Milwaukee. I was 6 years old when I started taking lessons from Steve Bull, a PGA professional who was inducted some time ago into the Wisconsin PGA Hall of Fame. He was a terrific player and teacher, and I worked with him until I was 22 years old.
I played junior golf. High school golf, too. But I was also a swimmer. My event was the 100-yard freestyle, and I was nationally ranked for a while. I went to the University of Arizona with the intention of swimming there. And the team was really good, with eight members of that squad my freshman year going on to compete in the Olympics. But I didn’t even try out. I guess I didn’t like the idea of getting up at 6 a.m. every morning to train and having two-a-day practices in the pool. I thought being on the golf course would be a lot more fun, so that’s what I did. I walked onto the golf team there and played for two years as I earned a degree in accounting.
I graduated in 1980, and I was not at all gung-ho about putting on a three-piece suit and working in an office for an accounting firm every day, so I started looking for something in golf.
I took the top job at Country Club of Lansing, where I work to this day. It is a great private club that had just completed a $7 million clubhouse renovation when I arrived. Several years later, the recession hit, and that caused a number of members to drop out, which ultimately forced the club to file for bankruptcy. Eventually, we worked our way out of that, but times were tough for a while.
My first job was at the Meadows in Sarasota, Florida, and it was there I developed a real interest in teaching. Jim Flick and Bob Toski conducted golf schools there, and I watched them whenever I could, to see how they did it. Then I moved to Ohio, first to be an assistant at the Brookside Country Club in Canton. I was there for three years and worked hard on my game as well as my teaching skills. Then I took my first head professional job at a club in the small town of Bryan. I was there for six years, and that was where I got my first taste of really running my own business. I liked that a lot. I had the shop, the range, the bag storage, as well as a portion of the cart fees, and also tournament revenues and guest fees. The population of Bryan was about 6,000, and people there did not have a lot of options when it came to clothes, so they came to me, because I stocked my shop with a lot of top-line names. I did really well.
Slowly but surely, I was working my way back north to my family. In 1993, I became the head professional at Spring Lake. After nine years there, I took the top job at Country Club of Lansing, where I work to this day. It is a great private club that had just completed a $7 million clubhouse renovation when I arrived. Several years later, the recession hit, and that caused a number of members to drop out, which ultimately forced the club to file for bankruptcy. Eventually, we worked our way out of that, but times were tough for a while.
It is hard when revenues fall at a private club. The first impulse many times is to cut expenses. But as you do that, services often decline, as does maintenance. And when those things go, members tend to go, too, so you have to figure out ways to provide Class A service and a Class A product even if money is tight. You have to learn to operate more efficiently.
I always liked having ownership of my shop, of being autonomous and having some skin in the game. That makes you more accountable as a golf professional and keeps you in tune with your business, your club and your members, because you have to pay attention to everything that is going on.
One of my goals in the golf business, and one of the things I like most about it, is finding ways to make people’s lives better and make them smile. I loved when that happens in teaching, whether it’s helping a new player get the ball in the air or showing a better player how to hit a certain shot. It’s so rewarding, and so are those reactions when you fit a person for the right set of clubs or sell them an outfit that feels and looks good.
And that leads into how I started getting into governance, first at the section level in Michigan and then nationally. There are so many ways the PGA of America helps golf professionals, from enhancing their knowledge of their business through education to being there for professionals who are struggling with illness or difficulties with their jobs or simply looking for work. And I was amazed at the ways in which the PGA could be so impactful on people’s lives in those ways, as well. It made me want to get more involved, first on a section basis and then nationally. It was another way to put smiles on people’s faces.
I still love to play and practice. And I take my clubs with me wherever I go. These days, I play as much as possible with my wife, Wendy, and my children, JD and Brooke, both of whom are grown. Weather permitting, put me on a golf course. I can do that all day.
As for my favorite course, it is probably whichever one I am playing.
Hobbies? Well, I used to swim in some masters meets, but not anymore. I like to work out and exercise. I like to ride a bike. I also enjoy David Baldacci novels. Books on business, too, like Getting to Neutral, which is about thriving in a chaotic world.
As for what I want to do as PGA of America president, one of the most important things has to do with attracting and then retaining the next generation of PGA professionals, the ones who are going to succeed me and my peers. That is very important, especially when you consider that more than half of PGA members became members before 1995 – and that a lot of them will be retiring in the not-too-distant future. And to attract our successors, we have to do a better job of ensuring that they are able to achieve a better work/life balance and take time off to be with friends and family when they need and want to, even if it is in the middle of their busy seasons.
Ours is a very attractive industry, and with these sorts of refinements, we can make it even more so by setting standards that allow PGA golf professionals to build a balance that works best for them, at work and in life itself.
Top: John Lindert. Photo: Montana Pritchard, PGA of America
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