Penn State PGM Well Represented At Augusta National
In the landscape of modern American sports, few things can compare to the spectacle of that special four day stretch in Augusta, GA. Of golf’s four major championships (or five if you’re like me and count The Players Championship), The Masters is the pinnacle. Lifetimes are spent waiting for a chance to attend the event as ticket lottery odds continue to rise, and those fortunate to attend the prestigious tournament share one of the greatest experiences in sports. Millions will tune in to watch the 80th playing of the Masters, but a handful of lucky Penn State Professional Golf Management students have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work behind the scenes — all while donning the famous white uniform associated with the timeless championship.
13 students made the journey to arguably the most famous golf course in the world aside from St. Andrews last week to assist with the tournament’s preparation and operation both before and during the tournament. Few get the chance to experience what these hard-working students will over the course of Masters week, and it’s all thanks to a special connection shared between Penn State and Augusta National.
Penn State PGM alum J.J. Weaver, who serves as one of Augusta’s two head professionals, reached out to the program about 16 years ago when he was an assistant in search of some extra help, and from that point on the connection grew. What began with a few students helping out on the practice range has developed into the program sending a large contingency of students to assist in a number of capacities. “We’ll have two students working the at practice range, some at the Berckmans Place hospitality site, and quite a few working in the merchandise department during the tournament,” said Eric Handley, a senior instructor and in the PGM program and one of the department’s respected leaders.
While they’ll be helping to ensure a smooth, flawless tournament, the work they’ll be doing is far from easy. But Handley says that’s not all they’ll take from the experience. “They work really hard this week, but the connections they can make and the impression they can leave with major figures is so important,” Handley said. “People don’t really get this opportunity. That’s what makes it so special.”
Fellow instructor and department leader Brian Soule notes that the experiences the students will share this week extend well beyond the tournament. These are experiences that will not only last a lifetime, but will help prepare them for what they’ll see once they enter the golf industry — and they’ll be prepared. “There are two specific takeaways from this experience,” Soule explained. “The first is incredible attention to detail. Everything at Augusta is perfect, and I think students see that and will take that with them to the facilities they’ll work at in the future. It really leaves a lasting impact on them.” But paired with a sharp eye for detail is a fuller understanding of customer service. “It’s not just great customer service that they learn, but it’s treating every person with respect,” Soule said. “The whole goal of the Masters staff is making each patron feel special and welcomed. If our students can take that mentality to where they’ll work, it’ll make them that much more prepared and that much better off in the long run.”
At Augusta, each blade of grass is identical to the next. But the staff at Augusta takes the term “attention to detail” to a completely different level. “Let me give you an example of Augusta’s perfection,” Soule said. “At Berckmans Place, if there was a nick on one of the chain stanchions, workers have a can of spray paint matching the exact shade of green ready to fix the mark in a moment’s notice.”
For the students, the experience is special beyond words. But for the department, a sense of pride is felt knowing that the students these instructors have known since their first days on campus get to share this unique experience together as they play the role of program ambassador for Penn State.
“It’s extremely rewarding for us,” Handley said. “It means a lot to us, but it means so much to them. The first-year students are seeing the upperclassmen going down and asking ‘what can I do to have that opportunity?’ The people that have been selected previously have represented us in a way that’s only expanded the program. That’s part of why we do this, and it’s such a rewarding feeling.”
“When you think about it, our students grew up idolizing the Masters,” Soule said. “Just to step foot on that property, let alone be a part of it, is something special for these guys.”
There’s something about The Masters’ elegance that words cannot capture. It’s the aesthetic aspect; it’s something one must feel. The stunning beauty of the course paired with the illustrious history of the tournament’s past is what makes this four-day event the greatest in sports — one Penn State is proudly represented at.