Meet the Pro with Go Golf U.S.
Welcome to the third edition of “Meet the Pro”. If you missed our previous articles, let us quickly explain what/why we do it. A goal of Go Golf U.S. is to build a personal connection in the game of golf again. We want to help players get to know the courses, golf shop staff and pros. When we see familiar faces and can add a smile or hello, it makes a better experience for all. So, to gather content for these articles, I (Alan Liwush) put the pros on the hot spot in an interview to find more about them to share with all of our Go Golf U.S. community members.
Ben Wilson of Sodus Bay Heights Golf Club
I had only met Ben in passing at the club and through some friends. This was truly my first interview going into the situation knowing little to nothing about the pro other than where he worked. Was it challenging? Not at all! Once we got going into the questions it was like I knew Ben for years. That being said, enjoy this short story/interview on Ben Wilson of Sodus Bay Heights Golf Club.
Growing up in Richmond, VA, Ben’s parents were members at a Country Club. An exhibition senior tour event was going on called the Valentine Tournament at Hermitage CC. The big names like Arnold, CiCi, Orville Moody and Art Wall were all playing. At the age of 6, Ben met Arnie and CiCi when they signed his visor. Young Ben was enamored at how star struck he was with the players he could barely speak. Ben’s parents took note and the next week, for his bday, he received a set of Wilson Jr. Staff blades with wood woods and driver with a red and white leather bag. From there, the golf bug had bit him.
Years later, selling furniture in his parents furniture store in Charlotte, NC created a skill that lead Ben into his first job in golf as sales rep for Softspikes. During the transition period between metal and soft spikes, Ben was able to take advantage and convert 75 courses in the Myrtle Beach area. This was only a year trial period with the company but lead Ben to a passion for the game and finding another job in golf. He landed at Birkdale GC as a bag boy and worked his way up to shop assistant. Shortly after that, he headed West for the mountains of North Carolina for Linville GC where he met one of his future mentors, Bill Harmon. With the West coast and sun on his mind, he set out with Bill for Palm Dessert, California where he took a position for 6 years, “Chasing the sun” as Ben called it traveling back and forth between seasons at Big Horn GC. Bill Harmon then introduced Wilson to his brother, Craig Harmon which lead him to a position as assistant pro at Oak Hill Country Club in 1999. He made a jump to head pro position at Ridgemont CC in 2005 and then to today where he currently resides as head golf professional of Sodus Bay Heights Golf Club since 2015.
Throughout his career, Ben earned his class A PGA status through the GPTP (Golf Professional Training Program) which was the predecessor to the PGM. He currently holds all 3 levels. An impressive history with many beautiful clubs and great mentors have helped him in learning about the game and becoming a head pro today.
PHOTO ABOVE IS OF BEN WITH SBHGC MEMBERS.
Wilson’s Teaching Style and Ideology
Even with training from pro’s John Busick, Craig and Bill Harmon, Ben believes his teaching style is no different than anyone else. Craig was his ultimate mentor and he shapes much of what he tries to do in teaching and in life from things he learned from him. He explains his style as a “focus on squaring the club face.” Efficiency plays a large role in his position as a teacher as he explained to me that the leisure golfer isn’t always about prettiness. If he can get a player to square the club face or release the club more, then it’s a job well done. He also puts a focus on “swinging the club vs. hitting the ball”. Positive progress is made when his players are swinging instead of just trying to hit it.
A main point I wanted to make in these articles is recommendations for players on where they are wasting time in trying to get better. Ben’s biggest mistakes he sees players make is “overloading their minds with information they have seen on channels or articles. Information overload becomes a problem when talking about a swing that takes less than two seconds. Research is great but can sometimes do more harm than good.” I heard a similar answer from Webster Golf Club pro, Scott Chambers (article here) as well and have a feeling it wont be my last….
Since a majority of us are not “pro” level, I asked Ben next What are the biggest mistakes he see’s novices make on the course?
His answer was as follows. “It starts at the tees. What tees people choose to play is a common mistake I see. I have seen a lot of egos take over at the start of a round. If you’re playing here at Sodus and on your best day you carry the ball down-hill down-wind 180 yards with your driver, you have no business playing the blue tees. We have various tees to accommodate for distance of the players. Golfers tend to play courses that are too long for them. People have a tough time cutting the cord with the fact that they aren’t carrying the ball as far anymore or don’t want to mess up a game they are playing with friends. It’s the biggest mistake I see from course management. Secondly is club selection. While you’re on the course, it comes back to knowing exactly how far you hit your clubs. Maybe when you were 40 and hit a 7 iron 150 yards and now you’re 60, you’re not swinging a 7 iron that far. Just knowing how far you hit your irons is crucial.” I couldn’t agree more with Ben. For a long time, I would try to play the Blue tees and would get eaten up on the course. I decided to stay at the whites until I hit a certain handicap number. Now that I hit that, I move up to the whites occasionally to give the course a different look. It’s actually very challenging mentally.
Short term success is ok but we all play this game for long term success. Starting beginner level players in the right direction is a goal of mine and Go Golf U.S. as it will help grow the game overall. Ben made a great point when I asked what’s one thing he would teach beginner level players to set themselves up for long term success? His response was “start in the game working from the green backwards.” This was something I hadn’t heard before and his point was excellent. He said, “Starting the golf experience from the putting green to chipping to pitching to bunkers and then to the full swing. Its fun to hit long shots off the tee and how far you can make the ball go, but the scoring happens the closer you get to the hole.” This made perfect sense in that after you start getting “good” you focus on scoring. If you know/are more comfortable with the areas where you can save strokes, you’ll have a better chance at success in this challenging game.
Q and A
Q: What’s your view on golf and fitness? Has it changed the game? Do you think its positive for golf?
A: “Lets start at a tour level in 96 with Tiger coming out when he was still lanky and better than everyone by a landslide. Then he became a monster with a fitness regimen second to none which we know was spurred by guys coming after him. Then we have Rory and Vijay who are fitness buffs. I think it helped Vijay keep longevity in his career just from working out. To play at a top level, you have to be physically fit. You don’t see the Miller Barber shaped guys who have never been in a gym a day in there lives but can flat out play really making a big impact anymore. The physical fitness part of the game is crucial and the way its going, you need speed and length. Dustin Johnson is the perfect example of that. He could probably play another professional sport tomorrow, he’s a physical specimen. For the average golfer, I’d love to see more stretching and elasticity all around. Take some time to warm up for the round. I see a lot of guys walk out from the car to the first tee and its luck if they hit a good one. Simple stretching routines are crucial for pre round success.”
I couldn’t agree more. After this interview, I implemented some simple stretches I do in the locker room before a round.
Q: What’s your view on technology and golf? (Two meanings to this, Equipment and Electric/mobile tech.)
A: “There is no question that the golf ball is very long right now. I think they are at the limits where they are talking about restricting the flight of the ball for the pros by creating a PRO only ball. The top tour line balls that we play now are amazing. No spin off the driver and they spin like crazy on your iron/wedge shots. You get the best of both worlds with one ball. Any golfer can benefit from playing a Pro V. Any golfer no matter the handicap you’re going to have more distance off the tee and closer shots with short irons. In regards to club, drivers, fairway woods and hybrids are border line illegal! They are sooo much longer than ten years ago. With all of the face technology plus weighting/adjustability, it takes a lot of guess work away from where the ball is going to go. That being said, you still need to be able to square the club face on your own. You can change the face angle and other stuff but you NEED to keep repeating that swing. From a mobile tech side, I would highlight use of a launch monitor. No question in my mind that launch monitor helps the game and to figure out how far you hit golf shots. Where you are hitting the ball on the club face is key and it can tell you that as well. We have a flight scope here are SBHGC. I use it for fitting and teaching. It tells you ball speed, club head speed, carry distance and more. Carry distance is huge because people think they hit it farther than they do, but the tech. has the ability tell you exactly how far you’re hitting the shots, where your spin is, where the attack angle is and how your can improve those things with instruction.”
If you haven’t done flight scope testing yet, call Ben at SBHGC and check it out. You will likely be unpleasantly surprised with how short you true carry is… (or maybe I just need to put some more hips into my swing!)
Q: What are the most common misconceptions of golf pros?
A: “That we play all the time. People think you just play golf really. For me, its about 10% of the job. I don’t think people are aware, nor should they be, of the things that go on in the industry. Your typical PGA pro wears a lot of hats by design. There’s a lot of different roles you get to play as a pro from master of ceremonies to confidant to food and beverage manager to greens consultant and so on. A lot of things are going on, its not just playing golf, teaching lessons and selling shirts. There are a lot of critical parts of the operation that go unseen if you will. Interpersonal skills are extremely important and if you can master those and getting to know guests and members on a personal level, you are ahead of the game.”
Q: How do you think we can get more juniors involved in the game? Having kids, I’m sure you have seen what works and what doesn’t.
A: “The way I do it is by making it as easy and most enjoyable for the kids as possible. Flexibility in schedules is very important for us at SBHGC. We have ton of juniors who want to play, but can’t be at the club at the same time as other juniors. For me, I try to make myself more available to the juniors. As a whole, in golf itself, we need to make the game more interesting as far as games we are showing kids while teaching. For example, I went to get certified in Pittsburg for U.S. Kids Junior golf as a coach. The biggest thing I learned was the teaching of the game needs to be in a fun atmosphere and there are so many ideas on how to engage kids and keep them involved and interested. From a practice standpoint, the biggest downfall now is time to get on the course. Schedules are tight and kids are playing other sports, which I recommend. If we can get the captive audiences and make it fun from a learning standpoint, it becomes more accessible on the course. While on the course, it has to be short and fun enough to have perceived success. If kids get the feeling of success, you have hit your goal. As far as getting juniors to play, they need to have a place to hit balls and they need equipment readily available at the courses. Getting group clinics with multiple children and instructors is great as well.”
Ben had some great insight seeing as he has kids in the golf world. I am excited to see what he brings to Sodus and the Rochester area on the Jr. program level.
Q: Whats the most important thing golf has taught you? And you hope it teaches others?
A: “Golf has given me the opportunity to meet so many wonderful people. It teaches us all the same thing in honor, integrity and honesty. It has made me understand how to be more humble. I can’t always do what I want to do on the course or lesson tee, but I always enjoy myself while I’m playing. What I’m enjoying now more a days is watching people play better, have fun and developing relationships. I really don’t know if I’ve meet someone on the course that has been absolutely unbearable. You have some sort of common bonds as golfers no matter who you are. Its been a huge part of my life in the people I have met and built relationships with.
This was an amazing answer to hear. I hope you can feel the passion for his response as much as I did when he answered.
The fun stuff
Q: What golf book is your favorite, do you recommend to read or have you most gifted in the past? I like this question for gentleman over 40 as they tend to read more?
Ben’s favorite book right now is “Men In Green’ by Michael Bamberger. Bamberger was an old sports reporter and former tour caddie. The book talks about Nicklaus, Palmer and other big names, but also under the radar pros and caddies from the golf world in the 70s,80s and 90s.
Q: Name 3 things you need in the golf bag – CANNOT be a club.
- “Bandaids. No one ever has them and sometimes a small cut can make the difference in a golf swing.”
I was skeptical about this answer at first, but then understood after some explaining.
- Nutrition – Ben’s nutrition of choice is a Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwich.
I liked this answer a lot. I have been walking more these days and make a conscious effort to put some healthy nutrition in my bag so that I’m not grabbing a hot dog at the turn… (no hot dogs for me, maybe a few beers though)
- A range finder – Common answer thus far with all of our pros.
Go Golf U.S. recommended brand is the Bushnell tour V3
Q: What do you like to do outside of golf?
“I’m a Full time dad so I’m usually spending time with the kids. I Love to play the guitar. I grew up playing them with my whole family.”
Q: Have you had a hole in one? If so, how many. If not, how close have you got?
A: “I do. 2002 8th hole of the West course at Oak Hill CC.”
The hole in one question is now going to be a question we ask to ALL pros. It’s a lighter subject to talk about since I have one already.. (Clifton Springs Country Club 2016 hole #13 – I can give you the date and time too..)
Pictured below is Ben and his son.
About Sodus Bay Heights Golf Club From Wilson
History and layout of the course from Wilson, “The first 9 was built in the mid to late 1920s by locals. It was different than the front 9 is here now, but a majority of the holes were built then. Then a popular architect by the name of Geoffrey Cornish came in the late 60″s and was commissioned to redo the front 9 and finish the back 9. We are considered a Geoffrey Cornish design. The layout starts on the water and then goes back inland. There is a lot of hilly terrain with elevated greens and side hill type of shots. Its more narrow than long. The longest we can stretch it is 6700 yards which is plenty for the type of course it is. I consider it a parkland style course with tree lines. Accuracy is more important than length here. A few holes will give you an advantage but not many.”
I wanted to put the pro’s on the hot seat and asked them, What their favorite and least favorite hole on their golf course was. This may be me doing my own homework to know which holes to look out for and which to take some chances on when I play them…
Ben’s favorite hole – “My favorite and most fun hole for me to play is the 3rd hole. Which, its probably the least favorite for a lot of players. Its a longer par 4 that demands a lot off the tee. You almost have to hit it perfectly to gain any advantage. Its a well bunkered green and it gives a visual illusion of a swell about a 100 yards before the green that makes it look like the green is closer than it is, so you really have to trust your yardage on that second shot. Favorite par 3 is #6. Short par 3, I love short par 3’s because they demand a very precise shot with a short iron. The bunkering on the hole is just wonderful. The bunker complexes on the course are really well designed and maintained all together. “
Hole #6 shown below
Ben’s answer to his least favorite hole – “I don’t really know. Most benign hole for me would be #10. It’s a great hole to start the back 9 on. Not just because its the 10th hole, but because its wide open, no fairway bunkers and the green is really large. For me, it’s a driver to short wedge. Its a great opportunity to make no less than par. It serves it’s purpose.”
Rates and Find Sodus Bay Heights Golf Club online
To help get SBHGC info out there, the public rates for 2017 will be $50 weekend and $45 week day at peak rate for 18 with a cart (you of course can play for $30 with the Go Golf U.S. app for $30 during allowed times). They are currently our only semi-private course involved with Go Golf U.S. – To see out membership opportunities with SBHGC, check out their site here at https://www.sodusbayheights.com/membership, which we highly recommend as they have great incentives for young adult members.
Website (Newly remodeled) – https://www.sodusbayheights.com
Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/sodusbayheightsgc/
That concludes our May edition of “Meet The Pro” with Ben Wilson. I cant say enough good things about Ben after getting to know him better. Next time you’re at SBHGC, say hello to him and his staff.
Be sure to stay tuned for next month’s edition as well as other blog posts. Thanks for reading!