In the world of golf, there are professional golfers and there are golf professionals. The professional golfers play for million-dollar purses week in and week out and have corporate logos sewn on to every stitch of their clothing.
And then there are the golf professionals. These are the sun-up-to-sundown, hard-working folks who run the pro shop at your country club or local muni. They give lessons, sell equipment, run a driving range, set your tee time and organize golf outings. They are responsible for anything and everything else that goes on at the course, from keeping golf ball washers filled to ordering you a new putter.
And to be sure, they surely don’t earn anything near what the pro golfers earn, probably in their lifetime.
What they do earn is the respect and friendship of their customers. They take home the satisfaction of making each golfer, whether a weekly duffer or first-time player, feel welcome and important. And especially rewarding is the joy they receive when they give some kids a few lessons and then watch them grow up to love the game that frustrates the hell out of so many.
And if all that respect and satisfaction were dollars and cents, local “golf professional” Jim Deck would be one of golf’s top money winners.
For now, Deck, 67, is winding up his career at the top of his game. He leaves as the head pro at one of Baltimore’s Classic Five courses, the historic and scenic Pine Ridge Golf Course. It’s a position (he would never call it a job) he’s reveled in since coming over from another Baltimore Classic Five course, Mount Pleasant. And now after a combined 40 years of playing, teaching and making the golf course run on time, Deck, a pro’s pro, is retiring.
For the record, Deck has been championing the game of golf since he was about 8 years old.
“My dad was the pro at the Bowie Golf and Country Club,” Deck said. “So, I grew up in the golf business, helping my dad out in the pro shop, doing whatever.”
After graduating from Bowie High School, where he played on the school golf team, Deck went on to qualify as a teaching professional. He then landed a job as assistant pro at the U.S. Naval Academy in 1979.
“It was an amazing experience,” Deck recounted. “Some of the guys were pretty good, but they were not there to be pro golfers. Just being able to watch these young guys grow and go on to become officers was very special. One of them became an Admiral.”
After five years in Annapolis, Deck moved on to serve stints as an assistant pro at Indian Springs Country Club in Silver Spring and the Country Club at Woodmore in Bowie.
From there, Deck went on to become head pro at Mount Pleasant in 1988. And after about 20 years, he went on to become head pro at Pine Ridge.
Throughout the years, Deck has seen his share of changes in the game of golf, most of which he attributes to the celebrity of the touring pros and then to the pandemic that still lingers on today.
“In the late 90’s the game really started to take off,” Deck said. “I call it the Tiger effect.”
He is referring, of course, to the burst of excitement brought on by Tiger Woods winning major tournaments in dramatic fashion. Every day, people young, old, male and female, many of whom never played golf, started buying clubs and taking lessons.
And with more people playing, the demand for new courses increased. It also meant that the existing courses had to improve their infrastructure to stay competitive.
To meet that challenge, Deck pointed to Baltimore’s Classic Five and the “great job” they have done upgrading Baltimore’s local courses.
He said things like improving cart paths, modernizing the driving ranges, creating better teaching facilities and adding more food amenities have really paid off.
Especially now, because while play remained steady over the past decade, it has taken a sharp tick upward due to the pandemic.
Deck said that in a strange way, the pandemic has been good for golf.
“People are coming back to the golf courses because it’s outdoors and good exercise,” he said.
But through it all, Deck has been true to what he learned growing up in his father’s pro shop.
“I’ve always tried to create an environment where everyone feels at home,” Deck said. “It’s kind of like ‘Cheers.’ We know them by name. I would like to see that carried on after I retire.”
He would also like to see continued efforts to bring young people into the game through junior golf clinics and local tournaments.
“Many kids come back and thank me for teaching them the game.” Deck said. “It’s gratifying to know that you played a part in their lives.”
As for retirement, Deck plans to play a part in the lives of his two grandkids.
“It’s been a good run,” he said, “but they’re at an age where I’d like to spend more time with them.”
Good luck, Jim. Hit ’em straight.
Photo Credit: Barry Silverman/PressBox