Golf

Longtime head golf pros endangered, but 3 from Sacramento area endure

Dave Bingham (Valley Hi), left, Jim Salazar (Sierra View), middle, and Mike Green (Del Paso) at a local golf course on Nov. 6, 2015, in Sacramento. The three golf pros are the deans of area head golf professionals with 90 years at the top job among them.
Dave Bingham (Valley Hi), left, Jim Salazar (Sierra View), middle, and Mike Green (Del Paso) at a local golf course on Nov. 6, 2015, in Sacramento. The three golf pros are the deans of area head golf professionals with 90 years at the top job among them. rpench@sacbee.com

Having a tough time with your boss?

Buck up. You could have 400 bosses, most with Type-A personalities and spouses you also have to please. Each could call for your job over your next seemingly benign comment.

“You’re playing too slow; please pick up the pace,” for example.

Talk about a professional minefield.

Things have gotten corporate and turned golf pros into a bunch of bean counters.

Jim Salazar, Sierra View head pro

Which makes the staying power of area private-club head golf pros Jim Salazar (27 years at Sierra View), Mike Green (22 years at Del Paso) and Dave Bingham (19 years at Valley Hi) even more impressive.

The secret to their longevity? To quote action movie star Liam Neeson: “They have a very particular set of skills. Skills they have acquired over a very long career.”

They use them to enhance the experience of their members.

“There’s no science to it it – just be receptive to their needs,” Bingham said.

Cherish them while you can because “the old pro” is a vanishing breed with the demands of the golf industry rising and private and public clubs increasingly employing management companies that move their people around.

“Things have gotten corporate and turned golf pros into a bunch of bean counters,” laments Salazar, one of only two head pros in Sierra View’s 62-year history. Salazar learned from and took over at Sierra View for Bill Brooks, who had the job for the club’s first 35 years.

Del Paso has had just six head pros in its 99 years, including Frank Minch Sr. from 1925 to 1964. Jim Collart was Bingham’s mentor and Valley Hi’s leading man for 26 years.

“The old pros just took that as a responsibility to mentor the young pros,” said Green, who learned from and took over for Les Streeper, who was at Del Paso for 13 years. “It was part of their makeup.”

Salazar, 57, Green, 53, and Bingham, 65, one day hope to pass their expertise to another generation of longtime head pros. While the tradition at their clubs suggests that’s possible, dwindling private-club memberships amid an increasingly competitive market for golfers suggests otherwise.

A long-lasting head pro needs to, among other things, mesh with every conceivable personality, display finesse as the fashion police and pace-of-play marshal, enforce cellphone rules, manage a staff and the pro shop’s bottom line, coordinate tournaments, give lessons and have time to chat when there are 100 time-sensitive tasks to complete.

All while not stepping on anyone’s toes. It’s not digging ditches, but it’s not as easy as they make it look, and the hours – 50 to 60 a week plus weekends – aren’t family friendly.

Each has his keys to success.

Bingham – or Bing as he’s known by anyone who’s had a 30-second conversation with him – said it’s anticipation and availability. He lives two minutes from the course and is there before 6 a.m. most days.

“They know they can pick up the phone at 6:15 and the person who will answer is me,” he said.

A membership of upper management, entrepreneurs and professionals who are used to driving the bus has its challenges, especially just after they’ve retired, Bingham said.

“Now they don’t have anybody to push around,” he said. “That’s when they grumble the loudest. We take them under our wing and help their transition.”

Salazar said he spends five focused minutes with a different member every day, gives freely of his knowledge of the golf swing and treats women well.

“If you take care of the ladies, you’re probably going to be pretty successful,” he said. “You help someone with their game, you have them for life.”

I basically grew up as a man with these guys. The friendships I have made will endure long after I have taken the sunset highway.

Dave Bingham, Valley Hi head pro

He said 10 percent of the membership is way too involved and 10 percent couldn’t care less. He said 10 percent doesn’t like him and 10 percent likes him too much.

“I don’t stress about it like I did when I was younger,” he said.

Green said he treats everyone consistently, has a willingness to adapt to industry changes and hires good assistants.

“I’m fortunate to have great assistants,” he said. “I’ve tried to do the same for them that was done for me, which in turn has helped make me successful.”

Salazar, Green and Bingham were aspiring touring professionals in their younger days. Whereas the days of the head pro mixing it up with members every day and then heading with them to the clubhouse for cocktails are gone, Salazar and Bingham play twice a week, and their on-course interaction is viewed as positive club-wide.

Bingham fishes every Thursday, oftentimes with members that include the club president. He’s traveled with members. Successful head pros never forget that they’re an employee, he said, but lasting friendships still are built. It’s the nature of the game.

Valley Hi provided Bingham a second chance of sorts. A six-year stint at Cameron Park didn’t end particularly well and he was out of the business for five years. He’s retiring next summer, and while he won’t miss some of the day-to-day grind, he will miss the people.

“I basically grew up as a man with these guys,” he said. “The friendships I have made will endure long after I have taken the sunset highway.”

Steve Pajak: 916-326-5526, @Steve_Pajak

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