"The Hot Seat" with John Kennedy, HP at Westchester CC

May 4, 2011

Short, poignant answers are often the best answers. "The Hot Seat" is designed to cultivate quick, poignant answers from some of the top veteran golf professionals in the country. On the hot seat today is John Kennedy Jr. from Westchester Country Club in Rye, New York.

John Kennedy Jr. has spent the last 20 years at Westchester Country Club. He is the third member of the Metropolitan PGA Section to be named a recipient of the National PGA Horton Smith Award, which honors individuals for outstanding contributions to PGA Education. John has also earned multiple Section Merchandiser of the Year and Section Horton Smith awards; was the 1997 Section PGA Professional of the Year, and the 2005 Section Bill Strausbaugh Award winner.

Fifteen of Kennedy's former assistants have gone on to PGA head professional positions. Among the many education programs he has supported include serving as a consultant to the Bhutan Junior Golf Association, which offers three and six-month internships for aspiring PGA Professionals to help grow the game in the tiny Himalayan country bordered by India and China.

As it states on his businesses website, www.johnkennedygolf.com, John’s greatest passion, as a professional, has always been education for his students, his staff, his fellow professionals and for himself. Additionally, it is John’s involvement and quest for improvement which he credits for any success he has achieved.

What are some aspects of your position, that if you didn’t do them well, it would be detrimental to the operation?

Take time to prepare and commit time to implement staff training, staff management, and staff feedback.

What are the overarching principles of your operation that you want your assistants to buy into and perform at a high level, and take with them when they leave?

People come first (either staff or members), spend time preparing and continue to grow as a person and professional.

In your eyes, what does it mean to "serve"? What are the best ways that you have found in your experience, to serve the members and their guest's?

Listen first. Then respond to their concern/request and take action.

When hiring, what do you look for in a potential assistant professional?

Humility. Also enthusiasm for people and the game.

What can a new assistant professional on your staff expect to experience/learn during their apprenticeship?

Exposure to all phases of the operation. Exposure to membership and exposure to their fellow staff and my self.

In today's environment, being a golf professional is as dynamic of a job as it has ever been. Between merchandising, tournament operations, instruction (teaching, fitting, fitness) and leadership/management, what kind of advice can you give an assistant professional so that he/she may better balance the responsibilities?

Pay attention to your health and your faith. Develop proper time management skills. Commit to learning.

Can you explain the importance of having a college degree in today's economic environment as it relates to the golf business?

Gives creditability, usually helps maturity.

What advice would you give a young apprentice navigating through his/her path as a golf professional?

Outwork the competition and always continue to grow. Also, increase your exposure to membership and professionals.

Earning our first head professional job must be exciting, what are some critical success factors for rookie head professionals in their first few months on the job?

Positive first impressions are very important. Do not over-promise and under deliver. Identify club needs and address them appropriately. Support your staff in their goals.

In our golf operations, there are generally 2, 3, even 4 different generations of employees. With some generations being harder to lead/manage than others, how can we be successful in bridging the gaps between multiple generations amongst our staff?

Show respect. Give timely feedback. Create opportunities for outside-of-work social gatherings.

Some clubs don't have an assistant professional hierarchy, i.e. First Assistant and/or Second Assistant and so forth. How can a hierarchy in place be helpful?

It allows opportunity for growth. Also, it keeps you aware of sharing responsibilities.

How do you draw the line between being your assistants' friend and their boss?

It's important to be interested but to not be involved in their personal lives unless asked.

It's easy for many to assume that once you're a PGA member, a head professional position just falls in your lap, and that simply isn't the case. When an assistant of yours works hard for a lengthy period of time and achieves his/her Class "A" status, and asks you "What's next?" What would you explain to them?

Continue to expand your sphere of influence (who you know and what they know about you). Continue to increase skills so you are ready when the call comes.