Alumni Spotlight on Bob Ricker: Living the Dream at GreenbrierRobert “Bob” Ricker might be the only golfer in his immediate family, but many years ago, while he was a junior in high school, a tremendous coach by the name of Randy Seely taught him the essential elements of golf; core lessons he would revisit years later as a student at the Professional Golfers Career College. “Coach Seely taught me not only how to play the game properly, but the history of the game, what it stood for, and how to conduct myself on the golf course.” As the world watches the Greenbrier Classic this week, it is hard not to wonder if the coach had any idea what events he set in motion all those years ago. The Greenbrier Classis is played at the Greenbrier Resort, in White Sulpher Springs, West Virginia, which is where Bob Ricker spends his days as the course’s Senior Assistant Golf Professional.
Because the Greenbrier Classic comes right in the middle of the year, the first half of the year tends to be jam-packed with to-do items for Bob, but he took some time out to share a bit about how long he’s loved golf, how his alma mater changed his life, and how he turned his passion into a profession.
“I grew up in Penns Valley, Pennsylvania. It is a small community just outside of State College, PA, the home of Penn State University. It was a great place to grow up. Being surrounded by beautiful mountains and wide open spaces, my parents encouraged me to spend as much time as possible outside fishing, camping, riding dirt bikes, mountain biking and generally enjoying the outdoors. Growing up I played football, baseball, basketball, and karate… almost every sport aside from golf.” But golf wasn’t far behind. ”It wasn't until I began golfing at the age of 16 that I stopped playing all other sports and focused solely on golf. It was the hardest of all the sports I played and that somehow was very appealing to me.”
Under the tutelage of Coach Seely, Ricker flourished. “I played on my high school team at Penns Valley Area High School, and my junior and senior years I was Captain of the team. During senior year I was awarded the Outstanding Senior Athlete Award for golf. Oddly enough after high school I put the clubs down and stopped playing for almost 10 years.” With such an abrupt shift, one has to wonder why a player with such momentum and passion would just hang it up. Ricker’s answer? “I was simply unaware of all the career options within the golf business, and I did what most of us do after school; I went off to find a career and make some money.”
A few years passed and while working as a business manager in State College, PA, Ricker hired a few gentlemen to come work for him. As fate would have it, they also happened to be golfers and one day they convinced him to dust off the old clubs and join them on the course. While he was there, Ricker spoke with the Head Professional for a few moments when it just hit him, ”This is a great career! To spend my days on a beautifully manicured piece of property, and around some of the best people that life can offer was beyond appealing to me. I later saw a commercial for the Professional Golfers Career College on the Golf Channel and the rest is history.”
Ricker recalls that the most important lesson he learned while at the golf college was a simple and straightforward one, but it is also one that bears repeating; one’s own success is very much dependent upon surrounding yourself with, and working with, those who are the best at what they do. Ricker wasted no time putting that lesson into practice by getting a job at another famed PGA Tour stop while he was still a student. Because of the flexible schedule at the golf college, Ricker attended classes in the morning and worked at the lauded Harbour Town Golf Links after class. ”PGCC played an enormous role in helping me break into the golf business. Had I not been a student there, I probably would not have been hired, as I had zero experience in the golf business at the time. But, because Harbour Town has a working relationship with PGCC, I was already a trusted member of the local golf business community.”
The curriculum is the same for all students, but the truly fascinating part of this educational process is witnessing how every student walks away with their own take on what they’ve learned. Those impressions continually shape the game of golf as our graduates go on to great careers in the industry. Ricker continues, “Where PGCC holds the most value for me is the fact that it allowed me to spend time amongst, and learn from, some professionals who have a wealth of real world knowledge to offer. They are some of the best in their respective fields.” To cite some specific examples, he shared a few of his favorites: “Taking lessons from the late, great ex-tour player Frank Jones, learning business planning from Jim Hoff, who brought several golf courses "out of the ground" and made them successful, learning 21st Century marketing and business tools from David Littleton, and learning how to give lessons from ex-tour player Doug Weaver.”
Ricker says, “PGCC also allowed me to fill my resume with the tools that all potential employers are looking for in the modern golf business. Everything I added to my resume as a result of the classes I took are skills that any employer at a golf facility would find advantageous to have in a member of their staff. He concluded, “It molded me into a well rounded golf professional before I had even been hired for my first golf professional job.”
Since graduating in December of 2010 from PGCC Hilton Head, Ricker has been traveling full steam ahead, pursuing his life’s work and loving his job every day. “Working at The Greenbrier Resort has been the most rewarding experience of my professional life to date. There is so much I enjoy about working there! Being able to play a role in our annual PGA Tour event, The Greenbrier Classic, is a great thrill. It allows me to spend a week observing and spending time around the best players in the world. Also, knowing that the eyes of the entire golfing world are fixed on the golf facility I work at for an entire week is very exciting.” While the Greenbrier Classic arrives at his doorstep every year, there have been a slew of other exciting projects he’s been involved with.
“Hosting the most recent season of The Big Break on the Golf Channel, Big Break Greenbrier, was a lot of fun. Witnessing the production aspect of a Golf Channel series was great, and it gave me great appreciation for what the Golf Channel does, and how efficiently they operate.”
Bob reiterates the greatest lesson he learned while at the golf college, “The only way for us to get better at what we do within the golf industry is to strive to constantly be growing and improving the game of golf. We can only do that by striving to work with and learn from the very best and in turn ‘sponge in’ the wealth of knowledge they have to offer.” Ricker continues, “I am always trying to spend time within the business amongst those who are the very best at what they do. It is the only way to reach my full potential.” That’s not a tall order for Ricker, after all, every year the best of the best are at Greenbrier, which places him dead center of a storm of talent and experience…but after the excitement has dissipated and players make their way to the next stop, Ricker is unaffected.
“On a day to day basis, the most rewarding experience is working with some of the business's finest professionals, from our Director of Sports and Recreation, Golf Club General Manager, and Head Professionals to our caddies and outside service professionals. It is very rewarding knowing I am working with and around the game's very best.”