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PGA Professional Bob Baldassarri works with a youngster on his putting Tuesday at the PGA Learning Center at Southern Hills Country Club. (Photo: The PGA of America).
PGA Professional Bob Baldassarri works with a youngster on his putting Tuesday at the PGA Learning Center at Southern Hills Country Club. (Photo: The PGA of America).

PGA's community reach extends far beyond Southern Hills

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Along with most everyone else at Southern Hills this week, PGA of America Director of Community Relations Earnie Ellison has been a busy man. From working with local charities to organizing the first PGA Learning Center on site, there has been much to do.

By T.J. Auclair, Interactive Producer

TULSA -- Whether it's benefiting local charities, or taking on initiatives to bring more people to the game of golf, the PGA of America is providing it all at Southern Hills this week for the 89th PGA Championship.

Just prior to the year's final major, PGA of America Director of Community Relations Earnie Ellison said 36 charities from the Tulsa area -- a cross-section of the community -- were selected to receive credentials to come out and enjoy the PGA Championship.

The 36 charities that were chosen came on the recommendation of Southern Hills members, or spouses of members, who serve on that particular charity's board, Ellison said.

"All throughout the week now, because of the number of credentials we gave out, the charities will bring kids to the tournament through Sunday," Ellison said. "But another big part of this was that these same groups got tickets to come to PGA hospitality and they will then give those tickets to board members and potential donors as a way of saying thank you for what you've done. We do that because charities just don't have the resources to give back. They're always asking. And what happens when they give those tickets out is that it makes the relationship with that donor stronger."

Ellison said the reaction to having a professional event in Tulsa -- an area of the country that doesn't boast any major professional sports teams -- has been terrific.

"Our philosophy is that we want to look at the total community, not just the corporate community, because the total community is what it's about in the cities we go," he said. "Finding ways to bring the communities that would not normally have a presence here, it's big time for us that we're able to do this. From their eyes, this kind of thing has a tendency to set us aside from any other major events. We don't leave out a section of the community. We make sure that we have enough people on the committee to get us to places we wouldn't normally know about. I don't want anyone to come to us at the end of the day and say, 'You forgot about our community.'"

Aside from the charities, the PGA of America is also making the 89th playing of its premiere championship the ultimate fan experience. For the first time in major championship history, there has been an area set aside for fans, where they can receive instruction from top PGA Professionals -- including PGA Director of Instruction, Rick Martino -- throughout the week.

Located between the popular merchandise tent, adjacent to the driving range at Southern Hills, hoards of people gather to either have their swings analyzed using state of the art V1 video technology, receive a free 10-minute lesson from a PGA Professional, or a putting lesson.

"We've got three different stations. We've got these three inflatable nets. In one of them, we have V1 technology, where they do a swing capture," said Ron Stepanek, the PGA of America Senior Manager of Player Development. "You'll take one swing, we'll capture the swing on video, email it to the PGA Learning Center in Port St. Lucie, Fla., one of the PGA Professionals down there will give an analysis of that video and email it back to that person. It's the gift that keeps on giving.

"Then we have PGA Professionals giving free 10-minute lessons in the other bays. It's a fantastic thing. I had one guy come up to me yesterday and tell me that it was his greatest golf experience of his life. It was fantastic," Stepanek said. "We also have access to one of the greens and we have PGA Professionals out there giving putting clinics on an ongoing basis. A family of five will come up -- mom, dad, three kids -- we give them each a putter and they all get a lesson. People are having a ball. I think it's interesting. In addition to the lesson, they love the fact that they're putting on a Southern Hills green. The No. 1 question isn't, 'What am I doing wrong?' It's, 'How fast are these greens rolling?' People are just having a blast over there. It's a lot of fun."

The idea of having a mini learning center was inspired by the PGA of America's Play Golf America initiative. All of the PGA Professionals involved are volunteering their time. Most are from the South Central Section, but Stepanek said others have asked to pitch in as well.

"We probably had about 40 professionals signed up to help this week. But there's also a lot of PGA Professionals out here, due to the excitement that we're generating, and the section is just so thrilled about this, we put a sign up in the PGA member tent and we said that if any professionals wanted to help out, come on down," he said. "I just had a guy from Colorado come down and say, 'I've got a half-hour, can I give some lessons?' So, they're getting on board as well. I think that just speaks to what PGA Professionals are all about. We've got such a passion for the game and we want to share that passion, so what better way to do that than at out trophy, our showcase event, the PGA Championship."

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