By: Hayden Lewis, PGA
In Celebration of the Alabama – NW Florida PGA’s 50th Anniversary
Selma, AL (March 29, 2019) – A PGA Professional for forty-one years, Tommy Burns, Head Golf Professional at the Selma Country Club (SCC) in Selma, Alabama, is everything you could ask for and more as your club pro. Caring, passionate, genuine, and probably most important, he just loves the game of golf. Burns has been at the Selma Country Club since 1974 and hasn’t really looked back. The son of Bud Burns, a PGA Member and a member of the Alabama – NW Florida PGA Hall of Fame, Tommy was born in Johnson City, Tennessee and attended the University of Alabama where he played golf. In 1952, Tommy’s family made the move to Selma where he grew up playing golf at the Selma Country Club with his dad working as the club pro. Tommy assumed the roll of Assistant Golf Professional at SCC until 1991 and has been the Head Golf Professional since.
Six of Tommy’s immediate family members either used to work or still work in the golf industry – needless to say golf has run in the Burns family for a couple of generations. Tommy claims that his earliest memories aren’t of him running around the Selma Country Club actually playing, but it’s the moment he slipped on his first pair of steel golf spikes, “Everything needs a hook – something to keep you coming back. I don’t remember the first time hitting a golf ball or getting it up in the air, but I do remember putting on the first pair of steel golf spikes and I was hooked that day.”
Tommy’s opinion and charismatic take towards the game of golf today is undeniable yet refreshing. He doesn’t take in to account all of the extra things the industry has to offer these days. His number one priority has always been the relationships he’s built throughout his career, and the moral lessons that can be learned through playing the game. Instilling the proper character traits in his juniors (who many are now members at SCC) is more important to him than playing will ever be. Tommy’s passion is exemplified every day through what he does for his members and the community of Selma. This is where we pick up the conversation with Tommy at the Selma Country Club:
What has made you stay here in Selma all these years? What do you love most about it?
TB: I love the kids here – I want them to be great players and I think that is the most important thing we can do as PGA Professionals to grow the game. It’s our greatest opportunity and obligation to leave the game better than we found it. I think part of the reason I have stayed here so long is my father’s legacy [at Selma Country Club]. I don’t think I have nor will I be able to fill his shoes. I want to see this thing through for as long as I can because of what he did for the place. His legacy is what I’m here for most of all and I still don’t think I’ll be able to replace him.
This golf course here isn’t like most that we have in our Section. What do you like the most about it?
TB: I find it so refreshing to be here compared to other “modern” golf courses – it’s the way golf is supposed to be played in my opinion. Someone told me this is the longest, hardest 6,200-yard golf course in America, and they’re right. This is how the game originated and we have never redone our golf course since the day it opened in 1923.
What do you find to be most exciting about the golf industry today?
TB: I love the camaraderie of our Section and the Members. The longevity of the Membership is getting better and it’s certainly great to see the younger guys and girls getting excited about the industry again. I see Members these days who are way more versatile in their skill sets. PGA Members are more than just golf professionals or a shop clerk – they bring so much value to their respective facility. I truly believe a PGA Professional is that important and it’s exciting to see that talent evolving in our industry.
What challenges do you think the industry is facing right now?
TB: Too much of anything will eventually spoil something good. What I mean by that is I think the game can sometimes be overexposed and overhyped. There are so many ways to be exposed to the game today, but I think the only way to truly enjoy the game is to get out on the golf course and play it. It’s really that simple. I think sometimes the industry as a whole tries to push for more of a “politically correct” schedule than what is actually good for the game. I think it’s great there are programs that support an inclusive invitation to golf, but if you don’t love the game and see it for just that – a game – then this isn’t the right industry for you.
What do you think is the biggest change the industry has undergone over the past 20 or 30 years?
TB: I think the technology is the biggest change. The golf ball especially has changed tremendously – it’s incredible what goes in to it these days. It used to be when or if you miss hit a golf ball with an iron you could find rubber bands halfway to the green! Now days, based on the rules of golf and equipment standards, manufacturers have to limit what speed the golf ball can exit the club face because guys are hitting it so hard.
What do you think is the most important attribute a PGA Professional can have today?
TB: I think the ability to grow the game is key in our industry today. I say that and I’m in a pretty unique situation because it’s hard to grow the game in the community that I live in. It’s very difficult because Selma’s population has slowly gone down over the years. I feel like I have to push even harder and host clinics for all different kinds of players because ultimately that’s why I am here. It’s amazing to me to see these kids who I’ve taught grow up and become President of our club! I invest in them because I know that they’re going to invest in me later down the road.
What is one lesson you have learned that has always stuck with you over the course of your career?
TB: I’ve loved being able to use my knowledge and experience in my job and building on that throughout my career. You have to remember though: Knowledge is one thing, but experience is another – I don’t remember anything in this world that I have done right, but I remember everything that I have done wrong.
How do you define success?
TB: Happiness. Just because I have been here for forty-four years doesn’t mean I’m successful. I see our members here at the club and I know that I do my best to instill in them the citizenship and morals that will take them where they need to go in life. If I’ve made the difference in just one person’s life by them coming through this property, that’s all the success I need.
What do you hope the next generation of PGA Professionals gets right?
TB: You need to understand the reasons you yourself chose to pursue this profession. I hope PGA Professionals are in their jobs because they love the game, because they want to engage the next generation and I want them to be confident in what they can bring to the game and industry. I think if you can encompass those three things, to me, our game has a bright future.
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 〉