Lexi Thompson at Demo Day

Orlando Students Shine At Demo Day

For the past 10 years members of the PGA, industry leaders, and golf retailers have gathered at Orange County National every January to kick off the PGA Merchandise Show by testing out the latest technological advances that leading manufacturers have to offer. In January over 100 golf equipment, accessory, training aid, and performance wear companies assemble to offer their absolute best to PGA professionals for real-world testing.

Presented by PGA Magazine, United Rentals, Yamaha and True Temper, Outdoor Demo Day has flashy allure with famous players, golf giveaways, and swag-a-plenty, but at its roots, it is about cold, hard facts; Do the latest products really deliver on everything they claim to be able to do? The event at OCN is a critically important part of the PGA Merchandise Show experience, allowing PGA professionals, retailers and buyers to decide for themselves if a product is worthy of being placed in your hands.

Over 42,000 people attended the PGA Merchandise show and it’s a good bet that at any given time about a thousand of them were at OCN, home of PGCC Orlando, participating in cutting edge clinics and enlightening themselves about the industry’s best practices. Beyond entertainment and education the real life force of the day was enthusiasm. It takes a great deal of coordination to host an event of this magnitude, and with the help of students from PGCC Orlando, the event , which was the largest, and arguably the best ever, went off without a hitch.

Organized by Orlando’s Director of Golf, Roger Masterson, 74 golf college volunteers were support staff to over 8,000 PGA professionals and insiders throughout the day. “It was challenging but fun” notes Masterson, “It was really nice getting to see the students using things they’d learned in school, in action.” Lexi Thompson at Demo Days

The volunteer staff, comprised of students from every grade level, held positions all across the 25 acre, 360 degree driving range. Tee ambassadors, registration attendants, shuttle drivers, setup crew, trash runners, and a couple of personal assistants for Liz Reed, Owner of Reed Exhibitions, the company that organizes Demo Days, had their hands full, but kept the event on point.

“We got feedback from OCN that of many volunteers at the event we did a better job, stepped up and performed above and beyond ” Masterson recalls, “I saw a lot of smiles on student’s faces when they were doing jobs that were less than desirable.” Laughing, “They were just so excited by the fact that they were that close to that many important people in the industry, getting to help them and interact with them.”

Wounded Warrior On Path To Dream Career

Jorge Zapata The Wounded Warrior Project was founded on the tenets that all wounded veterans should be honored and empowered to lead happy and productive lives after sustaining sometimes debilitating injuries during their service. Through its core values of fun, integrity, loyalty, innovation and service the WWP helps veterans through their rehabilitation process and with the utmost compassion, assimilate back into civilian society. The commitment to “foster the most successful, well-adjusted generation of wounded warriors in this nation's history” guides the organization’s focus to not just heal the physical wounds evident on the body, but also the scars left on the minds of these soldiers. As part of this whole-body approach to healing, the WWP and the Professional Golfers Career College continue to team up to provide full-ride scholarships to attend PGCC, and earn a degree in Professional Golf Management.

Presently a junior at PGCC’s Orlando campus, Jorge Zapata, knows the value of a gift like this. He recalls, “The Wounded Warrior Project sent a mass e-mail to all Wounded Warrior Alumni letting us know about the 3 scholarships at PGCC.” And the rest, as they say, is history. The Columbia native immigrated to the United States as a teenager, and throughout his entire life Zapata has been athletic by every measure. As a youngster he took up the national sport, and anything else he could get into. “Being from South America, I grew up playing soccer, but during high school I tried to play almost every sport, but unfortunately golf was never an option.”

Ultimately 2011, would change a lot for Jorge. “I learned to play golf in March 2011. Before then, I only saw golf tournaments on television and always told myself that I would like to learn the sport.” Saying you want to learn to do something is a common enough occurrence, but how often do you hear about somebody wanting to learn something and then taking the steps to actually learn it, and turn it into a career, no less? Fairways for Warriors, a non-profit dedicated to improving quality of life for wounded service men and women, by teaching them to play golf, would be Zapata’s first real experience with the game. Zapata says, “Fairways for Warriors was the organization that introduced me to the game. I got one of the brochures during one of my monthly visits to the VA clinic here in Orlando and I got in contact with them. They invited me to come out to one of their clinics and provided me with a really nice set of golf clubs.”

Fast forward a little bit, and Zapata is now a Junior at PGCC Orlando, and remains a stand up guy. Executive Director of the Orlando campus, Eric Wofford, shared that “He’s a really great student, with loads of potential, who really seems to have it all together.” Wofford continued, “Jorge is a really good influence on his peers, and he could easily be at the top of his class,” concluding that “He can do anything. I definitely think he’s head pro material.” It’s not surprising that he is regarded so highly, the former Combat Engineer for the Marine Corps was attached to infantry units detecting and neutralizing Improvised Explosive Devices. In other words, he had very serious responsibilities, which bore serious consequences. On one of his tours of duty in Oraq, he was hit by an IED which shattered the lower bones of his right leg. Zapata was fortunate to have doctors apply a rod and screws to stabilize his leg, after he was Medavaced to the hospital.

His experiences in Iraq have forged tremendous character. That character now serves him daily as he is tasked with playing a physically challenging game of precision, and adapting to civilian life, like every combat veteran who returns home. Zapata shared that, “At PGCC I have learned to adapt back to civilian life. I have had to deal with my distrust issues and socialize overcoming the effects from PTSD.” Beyond the PTSD, and trauma of his war, is a bright and lively future that he wakes up to everyday. According to Jorge, “Golf has given me a reason to wake-up every morning with a sense of purpose and a direction. I practice as much as I can, trying to break my own personal records.” Anybody familiar with the President and Founder of the Professional Golfers Career College, Dr. Tim Somerville, will attest that attitude can take you a long way in life. That is the basic and resounding message of Somerville’s freshman course, Attitude and Motivation, which makes it easy to see why Zapata fits in well at the golf college. Dr. Somerville noted in a recent class at the Temecula campus, “If you have anger and frustration, Golf is the only sport that will take your game to the trash if you bring those emotions into it. You have to fully control your mind in order to direct your body.”

One of the golf college’s hopes for students is that by the time they complete the program they will have an eye on the future, and be enriched by the game every day. So it goes, and every day brings Jorge one step closer to senior semester, and then graduation, and then the rest of his life. “My goals are to learn as much as I can about Golf Operations, Club Fitting, and Teaching to help more combat wounded veterans to benefit from golf in the same way that I have. I would like to continue working with WWP teaching golf clinics to our Alumni, and eventually become a General Manager at a golf facility.” And he’s not wasting any time getting that dream underway. “I have organized a few golf clinics for the Wounded Warriors where the students from PGCC help me by volunteering to teach and coach my fellow combat veterans. “

Student Volunteers Play Pivotal Role at Humana Challenge

Humana Challenge Logo As a person who loves golf, you may or may not believe how often people are shocked to hear that a golf school exists. Once people get over the initial shock, inevitably the same question always follows…what do you do at a golf college? Well, the short answer is this: we educate the future leaders in the world of golf. The longer answer is that we live and breathe golf, working everyday to provide students with more than a comprehensive and engaging education; we also work to provide them with opportunities.

A thorough golf education stretches beyond the classroom; it even stretches beyond the golf course. A real golf education has to stretch all the way to the core of a student, and fundamentally enhance their knowledge and love of golf, and shape it into something deeper, something that encourages them want to learn and do more.In the case of these five students who went above and beyond their volunteer duties, we have done exactly that.

The Humana Challenge is more than one of the year's first tournaments. Kicking-off the west coast swing of the tour, the Humana Challenge is a notoriously fun and challenging Pro-Am, so when Dr. Jack Gyves approached a couple of students to volunteer, there was no hesitation. Senior Marshall Gerlach recalls “Jack Gyves came to the senior class and pulled a few of us into his office. He presented us with the opportunity, and I couldn't volunteer quickly enough.” The timing could not have been better for Gerlach, who spent a portion of the previous day discussing his desire to pursue a career in tournament operations with Randy Shannon, Director of Golf at PGCC Temecula.

Ty Heine, another senior who was approached to volunteer, mirrors the sentiment, sharing that “I enjoy volunteering with any tournaments that we have the opportunity to assist with.” The two are not strangers to offering up extra hands wherever they’re needed. While Gerlach was a sophomore, he recalls some very impactful volunteer opportunities, “I volunteered for the inaugural Veritas World Junior tournament at Industry Hills. It was a terrific week and really opened my eyes to the tournament operations side of the golf business. I also volunteered at Q school.”

Heine has numerous events under his belt as well; from tournaments at The Legends Golf Club, PGCC’s sister course, to the Wounded Warrior tournament in Hollywood, the Kraft Nabisco tournament, events for the SCPGA, junior clinics with Steve Adamiak, and the upcoming golf course owners and superintendents conference, it would appear that he’s spending more time juggling than golfing, but his persistence is admirable. As a senior with his eye on the future, Heine appears to be of the mind that the future is now, so there’s no time to waste. While studying at PGCC he’s been taking night classes to complete a business degree. “Upon completion, I would like to work for the PGA Tour running tournaments and events. This greatly influences my volunteer work, I try to assist with every tournament that I can.” There is a familiar ring to his story..

Marshall Gerlach, Humana Challenge VolunteerGerlach has his sights set on the tour also. “My aspirations are to eventually work for the PGA TOUR being involved in tournament operations. My other interest would be to work for the USGA as a rules official.” The more you talk with them the clearer it becomes why they are go-to guys for volunteering, Gerlach continues “I try to volunteer as much as I can because you just never know who you are going to meet, and what may ultimately interest you. I never thought about tournament operations before volunteering at Veritas, and until that point was still wondering what I wanted to do. Now thanks to volunteering I have a direction and goals.” And where is that direction pointing him? More school…for now. “I learned that to work for the PGA Tour you have to have a Bachelor’s degree so I am looking into heading back to school and getting my bachelors after I graduate PGCC, and I have applied for the AJGA traveling internship already. I want to travel and pursue my dream to work for the PGA TOUR.”

Ty and Marshall are capable of great things, but they were not a two man show. Joe Mentz, Kody Idland and Kevin Bourland, were all key members of the volunteer crew on different days, and they all turned out to be indispensable parts of a tournament. The flu wave that swept through the valley left Humana severely understaffed, but these five guys were not daunted. They shared duties of issuing walking scorer equipment, helping walking scorers comfortably mount equipment, ensuring that equipment worked properly, roving the golf course to assist walking scorers with any problems that may arise, learned on the fly how to repair equipment problems, break down and store equipment upon completion of the round, and assisting with any other task, as needed.

Being prepared to dive into any task as needed can be intimidating, but in those moments, these students rose to the occasion by remembering a lesson they learned in their Attitude and Motivation classes...always do whatever we can to be an asset. To inform the way he operated, Heine looked to the golden rule “I was able to apply just about everything that I learned in Mr. Wilkinson's class. His class has taught us how to treat others as we would like to be treated. His class has no doubt changed my life forever.” He continues “I’ve learned that the greatest way to meet new people and leave a lasting impression on them is through kindness and helpfulness. You can try as hard as you can to do other things, but these things are what people remember most about you.”

If that's true, and we believe it is, it seems like these five students left exactly the right type of impression on the Humana Challenge crew. An official with the tournament shared that “These young men were there to help us in any way we needed them. They were always smiling, courteous, and encouraging to everyone. They became part of our family, some of whom have been together over 10 years. They made us feel like they had always been with us.”