Derek Sprague always understood where he came from, but he also had a clear vision of where he was going. His long and checkered career path eventually lifted him to the pinnacle of the golf profession he loves and cherishes. Yet in many ways he hasn’t changed at all.
From his first job as a club professional and then general manager for 27 years at the tiny Malone Golf Club in the northern tip of the PGA Northeast Section of New York, to his historic rise as PGA President of America (2014-2016), Sprague always remained confident in his administrative and marketing abilities but also humbled and grateful for his good fortune. He has since served as general manager of the exclusive Liberty National Golf Club in Jersey City, New Jersey (2016-2017) before taking his current role as general manager of the magnificent TPC Sawgrass, home of the Players Championship, in 2018.
What a trip indeed.
Sprague, well known and respected for his views on the game, took time off from his busy schedule to give a marketing presentation to his former peers at the PGA of Northeast New York’s annual spring meeting. Monday at the Edison Club. This guy knows his stuff, and his former colleagues had a real treat hearing some of his advice on how to better succeed in the tough world of the golf service industry.
“I think the fundamentals of the business are the same no matter where you are. You have to work with different stakeholders in different facilities, but it’s really the same principles,” Sprague said. “I started in Malone, which was socially and economically a very small town of 5,000 to 10,000 people. I really enjoyed my time there, and it was something to build on. After being president of the PGA, I went to Liberty National, and the fundamentals are basically the same, even though it was a private and completely exclusive club. It took a bit of time to adjust there, but I got it.
“Now I’m at TPC Sawgrass, and it’s almost like deja vu, because they have 36 holes, just like Malone. It’s also a resort, and even though Malone wasn’t a resort course, I’ve worked with companies that had resort components. I understand the dynamics of dealing with different stakeholders, and it’s fun to use the things I learned at Malone and the NENY PGA, which I still call home.
This guy is a true professional in every sense of the word. Ever since I met him decades ago while covering the NENY PGA for The Daily Gazette, I knew he was on his way to bigger and better things. It’s amazing how a guy from one of the smallest PGA Sections in the country – about 180 professional club members – has been able to climb to the top of his profession.
Sprague was like a sponge absorbing golf knowledge throughout his long career. A graduate of Franklin Academy High School, he majored in marketing at James Madison University and played on the varsity golf team from 1985 to 1987. He became the fourth inductee into the Management Hall of Fame from JMU Hospitality, Sports and Recreation in 2014. When he joined the NENY PGA at Malone Golf Club in 1989, he didn’t know it at the time, but he was already building his resume to lead one day the PGA of America, one of the largest sports organizations in the world made up of 28,000 golf professionals, men and women.
While a member of the NENY PGA Chapter, Sprague was Golf Professional of the Year in 2005 and 2008 and also won the Chapter’s Bill Strausbaugh Award for Leadership four times. He was the section’s Dealer of the Year for Public Facilities in 1998–99 and won the President’s Plaque for Outstanding Contributions to Player Development in 2006.
Sprague rose through the administrative ranks of the PGA of America, from secretary, vice president, interim president and ultimately president. During his tenure, he oversaw the Ryder Cup and the PGA Championship. He then served as Honorary President and a member of the PGA Board of Directors for two years.
While at Liberty National, this club hosted the 2017 Presidents Cup.
Now Sprague operates one of the most dynamic, challenging and lucrative golf courses in the world, located in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.
“I have a bit of a different role now at TPC Sawgrass,” he explained of the famed club with the infamous Green Island on No. 17. “We’re here to stage one of the biggest sporting events of the year in the Players Championship. . It is our job to meet the needs of the best players in the world. My role is more operational now. I must inspire, energize and motivate our team of 300 employees so that they can give the world-class players on the PGA Tour the respect they deserve. Our team does that.”
Sprague said TPC Sawgrass, with current green fees of $600 per game, is open 360 days a year.
“We have 1,000 members between the Valley Course and the Stadium Course, and we also have 1,000 PGA Tour players who are also members,” he said, pointing to the likes of Billy Horschel, Jim Furyk, current Players Champion Cam Smith and Vijay. Singh. “Vijay uses the grass and trains a lot. All PGA Tour players have full access to all TPC courses, and we’re also home to all 1,000 TPC Global employees, all of whom are members here.
Despite working on one of the best courses in the world, Sprague hasn’t had time to play very often.
“I’ve played Stadium Course maybe six times since I’ve been here,” he said. “I haven’t played much”
Sprague said he was buying a house in Saratoga County so he could visit his daughter, a special education teacher in Hudson Falls, more often. He plans to retire in the capital region.
But he is far from throwing in the towel.
“I enjoyed giving my speech,” he said. “If I can help the next generation of PGA Pros learn faster and not make the same mistakes I made in my career, I’ve made it,” he said, glossing over the fact that he made very few mistakes.
“My goal is not just to inherit the great jobs in our industry. I want my legacy to be that our PGA professionals become better and more successful.
The New York State Golf Association has announced its 2022 championship schedule, which will now include a local event with the announcement that the 92nd Annual Women’s Amateur Championships and 13th Annual Mid-Amateur Championships will be heading to McGregor Links CC on July 11 and 12.
The Capital Region hosted three NYSGA Championships last season – the NYS Men’s Amateur at Schuyler Meadows, the NYS Women’s Senior Amateur at Pinehaven CC and the NYS Men’s Mid-Amateur at Shaker Ridge CC.
Other NYSGA Championships are the 11th NYS Men’s Amateur and 10th Senior Amateur Four-Ball at Leatherstocking Golf Course May 22-23, the ninth NYS Amateur & Senior Amateur Mixed Championships at Transit Valley CC June 7, the fourth NYS Women’s Amateur and Women’s Senior Amateur Four-Ball Championships at Stafford CC June 13, NYS Boys & Girls Junior Amateur Championships July 26-27 at Soaring Eagles Golf Course, 99th NYS Men’s Amateur Championship August 9-11 at Onondaga G&CC , the 69th NYS Women’s Senior Amateur and 15th Senior Women’s Super Amateur on August 23-24 at RaNic GC, the 65th NYS Men’s Senior Amateur and 26th Men’s Senior Super Amateur at Springville DC
Sept. 14-15 and the 38th NYS Men’s Mid-Amateur Championship Sept. 23-25 at Seven Oaks GC.
Eleven-time PGA of Northeast New York Player of the Year Scott Berliner, now director of golf at Eagle Crest Golf Club, will compete in the PGA National Professional Championship in Austin, Texas, Sunday through the 20 april.
Longtime Glens Falls CC pro Tom Haggerty, NENY PGA Hall of Famer, will retire at the end of the season. He has had a fabulous career and will come out on his own terms.
Local pros will attend a Pro-Pro Monday at Columbia Golf & Country Club.
Wolferts Roost Country Club is hosting a qualifier for the Notah Begay III Junior Golf Championship on May 15. The qualifier will consist of four divisions and will be taped for broadcast on The Golf Channel.
Dottie Pepper, former LPGA star and current CBS reporter, will serve as honorary chair of the second annual Soroptimist of Saratoga County’s Spring Fever Golf Tournament at the Saratoga National Golf Course on May 18. golf cart, driving range access, raffles and prizes. SISC’s mission is to enable women and girls to achieve economic empowerment. Pepper has won 17 LPGA tournaments, including two majors. She was inducted into the NYS Golf Association Hall of Fame in 2018 and is the author of “Letters to a Future Champion: My Time with Mr. Pulver.” For more information, visit www.soroptimistsaratoga.org/springfever or contact the Spring Fever Committee at [email protected]
The Fox Run Golf Club is hosting the Seventh Annual Greater Johnstown Lions Club Golf Tournament on May 21 with a 9:30 a.m. tee time for the scramble event. The registration fee is $125 if received before May 6 or $145 on the day of the tournament. Registration fees include golf, lunch, cart, dinner and prizes. Call Colleen Ioele-DeCristofaro (518-281-4467) for more information.
Schenectady Municipal Golf Course has implemented a series of hybrid tees. They will be labeled as “combination starts” on the scorecard. Players may use the silver/green and black/silver tees whenever they wish. These tees will not be marked on the tee, only on the scorecard. The new hybrid tees are already rated for handicap purposes.
The first major men’s amateur event of the season will be the annual Tri-County Match Play Championship from May 6-8.
The NYSGA Amateur Series kicks off May 5 at Kaluhyat Golf Club at the Turning Stone Resort — site of the 2015 NYS Men’s Amateur — in Verona.
HOLE IN ONE
Adam Luciano drilled the 122-yard fourth hole on Opening Day at Shaker Ridge Country Club.
Contact Bob Weiner at [email protected].
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