The on-again-off-again temporary collapse of the football program at East Hampton High School six years ago sent a young Jack Brown in a different direction. Then a rising freshman and three-sport athlete at the Pierson Middle-High School, Brown says he had no choice but to join the Whalers golf team.
As it turned out, the decision altered his path significantly and sent the Sag Harbor native on a trajectory that landed him at one of the top golf management programs in the country, which could lead to a career as a teaching professional.
Brown today is a rising junior in the PGA Golf Management Program at Campbell University in Buies Creek, North Carolina. The program is part of the university’s School of Business and is designed to prepare students for life-long careers in golf. Brown learned about the program from a family friend, Gabe Denon, who graduated from Pierson three years ahead of him and enrolled in the golf program at Campbell.
“It sounded like a cool idea,” Brown said on Monday, standing outside the clubhouse at the Atlantic Golf Club in Bridgehampton, where he is in the midst of a six-month internship required by the university program. “One of the big things they teach at Campbell is teaching the game of golf. It’s a big draw. It covers all aspects of golf management and then you choose what field you want to go into. It’s really whatever you want to do, at the end of the day.”
The innovative four-and-a-half-year program at Campbell is one of only 18 to be sanctioned by the Professional Golfers’ Association of America (PGA). Graduates earn a degree in business administration and acquire a solid foundation on the theory, concepts and applications of playing golf, teaching and other aspects involved in the management of golfing facilities. Class topics include tournament operations and rules, introduction to teaching, facility operations, turfgrass management and golf shop operations.
In addition to learning the business side of golf, students enrolled in the PGA program are expected to be strong players as well. Brown was the top golfer at Pierson during his senior season in 2016, routinely shooting scores in the low 80s and a few in the high 70s. Now he plays almost every day and has developed into a 1-handicap golfer, meaning his scores rarely drift above 80.
“We get to play a lot,” said Brown, who has unlimited access to the semi-private Keith Hills Golf Club near Campbell in North Carolina. “We have a tournament every weekend, which is pretty cool.”
Students enrolled in the PGA university program have to pass what is called a Playing Ability Test, or PTA, by the end of their junior year, or they are asked to leave the program. Brown, who can drive the ball roughly 300 yards, passed the test following his freshman year when he shot below 156 over 36 holes, or the equivalent of two consecutive rounds of 78 or lower.
“I’m done, so that’s a big relief,” he said about passing the test. “For some people, it takes a little bit of time. It’s tough. There are a bunch of my friends, they’re good golfers, but it’s just a tough thing to do mentally.
“Personally, I try and play every day,” he added, attributing the constant practice to the drop in his scores. “Right now, about 90 students are enrolled in the program, and I’m in the upper half. There are some really good players and then there are some players who are still developing their game.”
Denon, who graduated from Pierson in 2013 and from Campbell in 2017, now splits his time between working at Atlantic and at clubs in Florida during the winter months. The game of golf—teaching, playing, managing and learning—has become a career, one Brown said he is excited to chase.
“Coming from being a caddy and working my way up, it’s been cool to see how everyone else works,” Brown said about his own journey. “This past year, a lot started to come together and I’ve been playing well. I’ve been playing every day, hitting balls every day. Playing with kids who are better than I am helps, also.”
It’s that cycle—the constant effort to improve, the desire to be better than your competition and, ultimately, the joy of passing on what you’ve learned to others—is what Brown truly loves about the game of golf.
“It’s a lot of fun,” he said simply, before returning to his duties at Atlantic on Monday. His smile, as he walked toward the driving range, told the story just as well.