PGA Professionals Keith Reese and Mark Winkley, born just over three months apart, were boyhood friends in Augusta, Ga. They played junior golf, but when pressed to choose one sport in their youth chose baseball and devoted their high school and college careers to the game. Reese became a talented infielder, excelling at second base when he easily could have played most any position if needed. Winkley became a catcher, and proved his value through a strong work ethic.
In 1986, and with the Georgia summer heat becoming unbearable, Winkley landed a job as pool manager at Ocean Edge Resort in Brewster, Mass. Winkley ensured that Reese would be alongside as an assistant manager overseeing 12 pools. During that summer, Golf Digest Schools made their first appearance at the resort, and PGA Director of Golf Ron Hallett sought help for practice range attendants. The twosome agreed, working out an arrangement with the resort that they could manage the pools in the evening.
“I got into the industry by accident, but you could not have stepped into a better situation, with Golf Digest using such teachers then as Davis Love Jr., Paul Runyan, Bob Toski and Hank Johnson,” said Reese, 46. “Mark and I had been together since grade school, playing baseball all the way through college. As things turned out, we kind of sold ourselves as a package to Golf Digest to travel with the schools.”
Winkley said that he fielded a telephone call from Golf Digest Schools Director Andy Nusbaum, who had offered the job in December 1987. Winkley paused, pitched to have his roommate, Reese, and they jointly made the plunge into a new career.
Before that momentous phone call, Reese and Winkley were starters for their respective college baseball teams. Reese earned a scholarship to Augusta State College and Winkley to Georgia State. Winkley’s last at-bat as a college player is imprinted into his memory. It came at the end of his junior season, just before Georgia State closed its baseball program due to financial reasons.
“In my last at-bat, we faced Augusta State and Keith was playing second. I hit a ground ball, a frozen rope that is, that went to the shortstop side of second and under Keith’s glove,” said Winkley. “He still thinks it was an error! Keith was an exceptional baseball player, a very fast, gritty player. We both turned to golf after graduation. Golf Digest paid us $500 a week, which compared to our $5 an hour rate at the resort, sounded to us like we had won the lottery.”
“We learned so much starting out on our travels with the schools, which was a great education,” said Reese. “When you grow up in Augusta, it’s hard not to have golf in your blood. My dad got me started when I was 12 years old, and we played at Augusta Golf Club.”
Reese made it his goal to be a PGA Club Professional, while Winkley chose teaching the game exclusively. Reese began his professional career in 1989 as an assistant at Valhalla Golf Club. He served until 1995, spending a season as PGA head professional at Louisville’s Lake Forest Country Club. In 1997, he returned to Valhalla as head professional. Winkley has served Pine Meadow Golf Club in Mundelein, Ill., since 1992, and is PGA director of instruction, while spending his winters at Estancia Club in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Though Reese missed serving at Valhalla for the 1996 PGA Championship, he has been at forefront as the club hosted an epic 2000 PGA Championship won by Tiger Woods in a playoff battle over Bob May; the 2002 PGA Professional National Championship; the 2004 Senior PGA Championship won by Hale Irwin; and the 2008 Ryder Cup.
“I love it here, it’s a great place to work and to be involved with Championships with The PGA of America is like icing on the cake for me,” said Reese.
Reese admits that it is a unique twist of history that the Senior PGA Championship, which originated in his hometown in 1937, now makes its second appearance at Valhalla, May 26-29. This Championship is the first presented by KitchenAid.
“It is great to have these great players returning to Valhalla and before the fans of Louisville,” said Reese. “We have enjoyed a lot of great golf here, and I expect more of the same.”
As for Winkley, he is single and said that he and Reese remain “very close friends.” Reese and his wife, Bev, live in Louisville and are the parents of daughter, Molly, 13, and son, Zach, 10.