By: Hayden Lewis, PGA
In Celebration of the Alabama-NW Florida PGA’s 50th Anniversary
SHOAL CREEK, Ala. (November 20, 2019) – Many will recognize the name Garrett Powell from the popular TV show, the Bachelorette. Powell, now the PGA Assistant Golf Professional at Shoal Creek, grew up in the Birmingham area playing baseball and football. “We weren’t the most financially well-off family, so on days that my dad got paid he would take us to Oak Mountain State Park [Oak Mountain Golf Course] … and then on days where he got paid well we would go play Highland Park Golf Course.”
Powell says he joined the golf team in high school to miss baseball practices, but still was not any good. After graduation, Powell went to South Alabama to play football, “I kind of hated it while I was there – after practices I would go and play golf at Azalea City [Golf Course] right across the street from campus.” Powell recalls how one day he shot a 75 and thought was he “really good.” Powell then started calling around to junior colleges in Alabama to see if he could walk on. “I definitely lied about how good I was, but the coach gave me a shot, so I tried out at Wallace State Community College. I shot one-under on the first six holes and he offered me a walk-on spot, two days later he offered me a full scholarship.”
Powell spent a year at Wallace State and “didn’t break 80 one time.” He ended up connecting with Adam Scott who, at the time, was the Assistant Director for the PGA Golf Management Program at Mississippi State University, through his coach at Wallace State. Powell decided to pursue a career in the industry by enrolling at Mississippi State – during that time he completed internships at Shoal Creek, Lake Winnipesaukee Golf Club in New Hampshire and Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte. After graduation, Powell accepted a full-time position with Shoal Creek and has been with the prestigious club now for almost four years. This is where we pick up the conversation with Garrett inside the historic Shoal Creek clubhouse:
How does the way you grew up in the game impact the way you view the industry today?
GP: I think it makes me see it as more accepting than people realize. I can remember when I first wanted to be around golf and play the game I was almost afraid to admit it to a lot of people because they knew me as anything but a golfer. So as an ego thing I remember thinking to myself, ‘Dang, I can’t be known as a golfer!’ Once I let down my guard to give it a shot, I realized how much I did love it, and what others thought didn’t really matter anymore. I know now that the ‘stigma’ of golf I was trying to get over was something so small in retrospect to what the game has brought me. Golfers shouldn’t all look the same – it’s what makes our game special.
What does a typical day look like for you at Shoal Creek and how has your position evolved over the last four years?
GP: During our busy season, you can find me on the first tee making sure all of the groups get off on time and, since we are a caddie facility, confirming there is a caddie for each group, too. I like to spend my time outside giving lessons and being with the members. As I’ve progressed it’s been neat to see my position evolve, because now I have my hands in big-picture projects rather than day-to-day operations. It’s developed in to something really special.
If you could pick, what is one part about your position here you love most?
GP: Honestly, the membership – you know, I played in a tournament this week and I got three text messages from members asking how it went. It just shows that they care about your career and your development. Even while I was on the show I had so many members reaching out to me showing support, and that just means the world. It makes me want to work harder for them because you know they do care so much.
Speaking of the show, talking about the Bachelorette, what are some of the learning curves you have experienced since leaving?
GP: Once you get off that thing, it’s like you’re in a fish bowl. Everyone is watching what you’re doing – the spotlight doesn’t leave after you’re done. Even if you think what you’re saying is right in your own mind, you still have to think twice about what others might think. It’s tough because you also want to do the best you can to help others, but you have so many other hands reaching out that want a piece of it.
Would you say it’s been more of a burden or something that you are happy to be a part of now?
GP: I definitely view it more as a blessing now. It’s funny too, because I feel like this job prepared me for the show – when you go on the show you meet people from so many walks of life. Some are more difficult to deal with than others, and here in this job you are literally trained on how to deal with difficult people. By no means am I saying that everyone who walks in here [Shoal Creek] is a difficult person, but again, on any given day you can meet people from so many backgrounds. It taught me a lot about what it looks like to shrug off some of the negativity that life can throw at you.
Would you say that’s one of the biggest things you learned about yourself on the show?
GP: Yes, that’s one of them. I think something even more important I learned about myself is how distracted I can get from a long-term goal. Obviously when you go on to that show there is supposed to be a reason behind you being there, and towards the end I got distracted by a short-term dispute and lost sight of why I was there in the first place. It showed me how I need to work on focusing more on the long-term stuff in life – what really matters. I do use the show as almost a fallback in my mind where if I’m in a tough situation I can just say to myself, ‘If you got through that, this will be a piece of cake.’
It also has to be difficult to stay true to yourself on the show. Can you speak to that a little?
GP: It’s definitely not easy. At first, I really wanted nothing to do with going on because I was honestly scared of how much exposure comes with it. You know, what if I’m not ready to handle what they expose about myself – it’s literally like millions of people seeing your dirty laundry. If you’re fake in any way, that show will expose you to who you really are. You can’t pretend to be someone who you’re not for forty days, because the real you will come out at some point. I was concerned about going on and the show exposing something about me that I wasn’t ready to face. Looking back on it though, it was something I really needed because I wasn’t fully aware of not just the bad, but the good too so I learned a lot in that regard.
What moment or collection of moments stand out the most in your career so far?
GP: Completing the PGA Certified Professional Program in Teaching & Coaching. That was one of the biggest goals I had when I graduated! I think it’s hard to not say being on the show, too. I say that because before all this, people didn’t even know that my job existed! It’s so easy for people to assume a golf professional is someone who plays golf on Tour. I think it’s cool that there was some exposure for us PGA Professionals, and I’m honored to be even the smallest part of helping that. There are people who teach and grow the game of golf for a living – I know a lot of people were exposed to that job opportunity and can consider it as a fun career through me being on the show.
What do you think the most important attribute a PGA Professional can have?
GP: I think there are two: Love service and love the game. It’s really that simple!
What advice would you give your eighteen-year-old self?
GP: I would say to be more of a sponge, and you don’t know as much as you think you do. I just remember thinking how much I thought I knew back then, but I didn’t know jack. The more you think you know the less willing you will be to hear others out on something.
What inspires you?
GP: My mom and my dad are my biggest inspiration. Like I said, we didn’t come from a whole lot growing up so I always look up to them as a big source of encouragement because they grinded things out when we were in some dark times. Also, anyone who is a member of the military and just their attention to detail and order is something that I try to apply to my life. I have so much respect for not just what they do for our country, but also the way they live their lives.
What do you hope your generation of PGA Professionals gets right?
GP: I hope we can continue to do away with the stigma that golf is a game meant for only one type of person. I truly think we are trending in the right direction – I can see it happening in our golf shop, on the golf course and around the club. People talk about pace of play or price, and I’m not saying these things aren’t issues, but the fact is if you feel welcome somewhere you’re probably going to want to go back. Like I said, I think we are on the right track.
ABOUT THE ALABAMA – NW FLORIDA PGA 50TH ANNIVERSARY
The Alabama – NW Florida PGA Board and Staff is excited to commemorate the Section’s 50th Anniversary with the PGA of America! In celebration of this year, the Section is launching a campaign focused on highlighting PGA Professionals and Associates who are driving the game forward in the state of Alabama and the Florida Panhandle. The campaign will be headlined by a series of articles and interviews centered around PGA Professionals and Associates who are willing to share their “golf testimony” – or in other words – answering the question, “What does the game of golf mean to you personally?” Learn More 〉