Behind the scenes: Championship golf in midst of star-studded county

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. — Sitting in his office adjoining the first fairway at Bayonet Golf Course, Dick Fitzgerald has one of many vantage points in a 36-hole golf complex that continues to evolve with both the Monterey Peninsula climate and the golf industry.

Fitzgerald, the managing director of Seaside Resort Development, said that it’s OK if you refer to Bayonet and Black Horse as a “campus” in Seaside, Calif. That description, typically reserved for higher education, just as easily depicts Bayonet and Black Horse’s growth for nearly six decades. Competing in the same “neighborhood” as such heavyweights as Pebble Beach, Cypress Point and Spyglass Hill, there is a feeling of family and singularity at this unique public access facility.

Seaside Resort Development, which began in 1999, purchased the courses in 2005 from BSL Golf Management of Houston. “We had invested in apartments and shopping centers up to then, but this is the only golf-oriented property we currently own,” said Fitzgerald. “We came in with the goal of developing a resort. When the market is right, we will go forward with our plans. Currently, we are proud of the staff we have in operating as efficiently as we can, and at a high standard.

“We are honored to have the opportunity to host the 45th PGA Professional National Championship, and proud of the community support the event has received. The courses are in championship form, the volunteers are ready, and the staff and management are looking forward to making the Championship one of the best ever.”

On June 24, Bayonet and Black Horse Golf Courses become the first venues designed by members of the U.S. military to host a premier PGA of America-sanctioned championship. Gen. Robert B. McClure was the architect of Bayonet in 1954, and a decade later teamed with Gen. Edwin Carnes to open Black Horse. The courses occupy property that was once part of the former Fort Ord military base near Seaside. Today, the courses that were renovated by Gene Bates in 2007 (Bayonet) and ’08 (Black Horse), proudly merge into the competitive golf landscape of Monterey County.

Last January, Golf Digest ranked Bayonet No. 21 among a list of the “75 Toughest Courses in America.”

“Bayonet gets the attention because of its history, but Black Horse is just as challenging, especially when it comes to putting. We are very proud of how it has matured,” said Bayonet and Black Horse PGA Head Professional Pat Jones. “That list by Golf Digest is pretty special, considering 13 of the top 21 courses have hosted major championships. Now, we are prepared to host our biggest event, with 312 players, what I call the largest all-professional championship in the world.”

When Seaside Resort Development made its search for a head professional, Fitzgerald said that his company chose Jones for his “bringing a different set of tools” to the position. “Pat had a good grasp of the game,” said Fitzgerald. “He also had skills in service to the customer, salesmanship and the ability that all PGA Professionals have in creating opportunities for members and guests. He brings a lot of energy to the position.”

Jones, 47, began his career in computer technology, and didn’t consider professional golf until age 35. A native of Lake Tahoe, Calif., who played baseball and basketball at San Lorenzo Valley (Calif.) High School, Jones was introduced to golf by his father at age 7. He was given a Wilson 5-wood, which Jones kept, but didn’t pursue the game with vigor. He attended North Texas State University briefly, then left school to enter high-tech marketing at age 21.

As he became skilled in the rapidly-paced industry, he went to work for IDG of San Francisco, which was the world’s largest publisher of technology magazines. He was recruited by Collabria Technologies as director of product development.

Jones’ sixth floor office overlooked the second hole at Santa Clara Golf Tennis Club. “I saw that scene every day, and had never really played much golf,” said Jones, who now oversees a staff of 32 at Bayonet and Black Horse. “I was then living the Internet dream before the industry took a downturn. I ended up playing a lot of golf, spending $300 a week. A friend said that instead of paying to play, why not becomc a club professional and be a part of a course here you could play for free.”

Jones entered the PGA Professional Golf Management Program in 2003, passed his Playing Ability Test (PAT) and earned PGA membership in 2005. He was hired at The Presidio Golf Course, assuming the head professional post in late 2005. He then accepted an assistant professional position at Stone Tree Golf Club in Navato, Calif., and was promoted to head professonal in 2007. Seaside Resort Development came calling in the fall of 2010, and Jones arrived at Bayonet and Black Horse.

“I’m working in a golfing utopia,” says Jones. “There aren’t too many places in the world where you have som many opportunities to play golf at so many different levels. Bayonet and Black Horse is unique in so many ways. The views are incredible. Bayonet is a test of golf on any level, and we have always been an advocate here of Tee It Forward, playing from the tees according to your ability.

“We believe that regardless of what course you are playing in the National Championship, it’s tournament golf at its best.”

One of the chief “lieutenants” in the team at Bayonet and Black Horse is Director of Golf Course Maintenance Ryan VerNess. He literally has the broad shoulders to match the expertise in carrying the responsibility of maintaining quality playing conditions. In his sixth season on site, VerNess oversees a 45-member grounds crew.

“It is a challenge for the amount of property and the care needed to maintain bent grass to a high standard every day,” said VerNess, a native of Stewartville, Minn. “We work in a most unique area of the country. Temperatures affect the growing pattern, and the grass doesn’t recover as quickly. You have to be creative.”

The son of a golf store owner, one of the first jobs that VerNess held was working in operations on a local golf course, where he began playing the game at age six. He was a 2003 graduate of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. Before he picked up his diploma, he gained invaluable turf management experience on another lofty plane. VerNess may be one of the few golf course superintendents who spent quality time in the NFL. He served as an assistant groundskeeper from 2000 to 2004 for the Kansas City Chiefs.

In 2004, VerNess made a major leap to one of golf’s shangri-las, the Monterey Peninsula, when he joined the grounds staff of head superintendent Chris Dalhamer at renowned Spyglass Hill Golf Course in Pebble Beach. “It was a great place to work, and to be under Chris, who has an eye for detail. I learned earlier that the players on the course Tuesday don’t care about what happens on Monday,” he said. “People have high standards and you have to maintain those standards. We work to do the same at Bayonet and Black Horse. We have a great staff, a great working relationship and good camaraderie. As we get closer to the National Championship, I am getting excited to see how the course looks on national television. We know it will be a great test of golf.”

The camaraderie among the Bayonet and Black Horse staff extended to last year’s National Championship at Hershey (Pa.) Country Club, where VerNess got an unusual perspective in preparing for this year’s showcase event. VerNess caddied for PGA Professional Jason Owen, a teaching professional at Bayonet and Black Horse who also serves as the men’s golf coach at Cal State-Monterey Bay. Owen finished tied for 45th in the National Championship.

“I got an intimate look at what was happening at the National Championship while caddying,” said VerNess. “It was a great experience, and I feel it all helped in preparing for this year’s Championship.”

Rounding out the Bayonet and Black Horse professional staff are LPGA Teaching Professional Katherine Nino, PGA apprentice professionals Alexis Edwards, Darcy Lake, DJ Milligan and Mike McDonald; and assistant golf professionals Anthony Henry, Cheryl Swix, Manny Isla and Patrick Calhoun.

“My staff is excellent,” says Jones. “Mr. Fitzgerald is excellent to work for, and I love where I am. I’m living the dream. We are excited to have the opportunity to present our courses through this Championship to much of the world through Golf Channel. What we have built by reputation over the years speaks volumes for our facility.”

About The PGA Professional National Championship
Begun in 1968 as an outgrowth of the PGA Championship, , the PGA Professional National Championship is the showcase event for PGA Professsionals. Together with 41 PGA Section Championships, the Championship features a total purse of more than $1.5 million. The PGA Professional National Championship purse is $550,000, distributed among those who make the cut in the 312-player field. GOLF CHANNEL will televise all four rounds of the National Championship. The PGA Professional National Championship is presented by Club Car, Mercedes-Benz and OMEGA. The PGA Tour is a supporting sponsor of PGA of America Professional Championships and GOLF CHANNEL is the exclusive media partner of The PGA Professional National Championship.

About The PGA of America
Since its founding in 1916, The PGA of America has maintained a twofold mission: to establish and elevate the standards of the profession and to grow interest and participation in the game of golf. By establishing and elevating the standards of the golf profession through world-class education, career services, marketing and research programs, The PGA enables its professionals to maximize their performance in their respective career paths and showcases them as experts in the game and in the multi-billion dollar golf industry. By creating and delivering world-class championships and innovative programs, The PGA of America elevates the public’s interest in the game, the desire to play more golf, and ensures accessibility to the game for everyone, everywhere. As The PGA nears its centennial, the PGA brand represents the very best in golf. 

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