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.”
Callaway Golf Ball R&D Visits PGCCIf golf equipment manufacturers did not have Research and Development departments, it’s very likely that after all the time that has passed since 15th century Scotland introduced us to golf, we would still be playing with hickory-shafted clubs and balls stuffed with feathers. Lucky for us, just as times change, so does technology. To that end, the Callaway Golf Company has been a pioneer in new technology and innovative design since its inception; and through endorsement deals with Arnold Palmer, Phil Mickelson, Annika Sorenstan, among others, they have steadily kept golf a high-profile sport.
Dave Ruth and Paul Guy, two members of Callaway’s 18-person Golf Ball R&D team, swung by PGCC Temecula to show our students a little bit of what they’re working on, and to demonstrate that a thriving career in golf is more than just a dream, it is a reality. The duo, equipped with a PowerPoint presentation and display materials, gave a bit of background on Callaway’s 18-person R&D teams, namely, there’s four of them: Materials, Engineering, Testing and Aerodynamics. Many of us take it for granted but the next time you tear open that sleeve of Callaway golf balls, take a moment to consider that at the very minimum, 18 people slaved for countless hours to ensure that you are going to get the best-possible-performance from out of that little orb.
Ruth joined Callaway equipped with a vast arsenal of knowledge from his years working with plastics and manufacturing, shared “The most important part of my job is always moving Callaway forward,” he continued, “We are never good enough, in the sense that we are always pushing to the next level, trying to develop the next golf ball that has the ‘WOW’ factor, not something that’s just a little bit better.” So what is R&D’s bottom line? Ruth states simply, “We want to make something that nobody has ever seen, the absolute greatest golf ball we can produce.” Ruth feels strongly that this drive is what keeps Callaway ahead of the game. Ruth continued, “In terms of golf balls, what sets us apart is our team. 18 people doesn't sound like a lot but we are a team through-and-through. We work as a unit, and develop as a unit.”
Having industry professionals share their knowledge and passion is a critical part of educating the future leaders in the world of golf, because without it, students may never realize just how close they are to having the career of their dreams. Ruth says, “The best part of my job is that I get to work in the golf industry, which is very cool. I absolutely love playing golf so that’s a big drive for me.” A love of golf seems a rather crucial element to success in this industry, but then again, so is the right education.Speaking to the importance of experience, education and a strong network Ruth concluded that, “Having the foothold with the golf college is going to help you get in the door. To get into my field you would want this degree and an engineering degree, and I think to find someone who has a golf college degree would be high on Callaway’s list of potential hires. This is important, it’s what golf companies look for, and it would benefit you very much.”
Student-Instructors Offer Free Golf LessonsAccording to a Buddhist proverb, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” Well, if you’re ready to elevate your golf game and you live anywhere near Temecula, you will find your teacher conveniently appearing every Thursday at The Legends Golf Club.
The Legends Golf Club is the sister site of the Professional Golfers Career College, the nation’s leading two-year accredited golf college. In fact, in order to earn a specialized Associate’s degree in Professional Golf Management, students must complete four courses dedicated solely to the instruction of golf. Every Thursday seniors gather at the Legends Golf Club to put their skills and study into practice, shaping and refining golf swings for their Techniques of Golf Teaching IV class. They, not to mention their students, could not be happier.
Take Glynn Rodgers, for example. A December 2012 golf college graduate, Rodgers taught a diverse group of 4 or 5 students, all of whom had different needs and areas of focus. Rodgers reveals, “My approach to training a new student is to find out where they are and where they want to be. Then I concentrate on the fundamentals. Most importantly, I try to make it fun!”
Rodgers, a recent retiree from the U.S. Navy, got into golf with the help of his dad when he was only four years old. Not long after that he began playing in junior tournaments and eventually his high school golf team. Rodgers shares, “I came to PGCC after retiring from the U.S. Navy...22 years of service. I've been a club-level golfer most of my life. I even worked as an Assistant Golf Professional for a year after graduating from high school... that was a long time ago!!!” Through all the years that have passed since then Glynn maintained a love for the game, and for teaching. Rodgers continues, “I really get a thrill out of seeing someone make a connection with what I'm trying to get them to do. I love the challenge, and I take seriously the trust a person places in me to help them improve.”
The golf swing is a notoriously challenging skill to master, and no two people go about it exactly the same way. Versatility and clear communication are key ingredients to successful progress. To Rodgers, a great instructor is somebody who can see their student’s vision, and be very forthcoming about what kind of work the student will need to put in. According to Rodgers, “A great instructor will really take time to ask questions, find out what the student wants to accomplish, and be honest about what it will take in terms of commitment to practice and instruction.” So what is Rodgers’ number one instruction no-no? “Don't just sell lessons; develop a program that will help your student reach their goals.” This is a lesson he learned from his Techniques of Golf Teaching course at the golf college. Techniques instructor Nick Bland shared some sage advice that really stuck with Rodgers, “Tailor your lessons to the student; there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ in golf.”
According to Rodgers, Bland, who is also the Head Golf Professional at The Legends Golf Club, is big on the basics. “Basically, Nick stresses developing rapport with students, managing their expectations, and not using too much technical jargon... just keep it simple.” While keeping it simple can be a tall order in this game, there are definitely students who defy their instructor’s beliefs about how to hit a golf ball. “I currently have a ten year old student who can hit the ball like Happy Gilmore, with great hand-eye coordination. It cracks me and others up to watch!”
If you're interested in taking free golf lessons every Thursday, contact The Legends Golf Club at 951-694-9998 to reserve your spot today!