Darrell Kestner, David Leadbetter headline 2017 PGA of America National Award recipients

By PGA of America
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Darrell Kestner, David Leadbetter headline 2017 PGA of America National Award recipients

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla.– Darrell Kestner, PGA, the Director of Golf at Deepdale Golf Club in Manhasset, New York, has been named the 64th recipient of the PGA Golf Professional of the Year Award. In winning the highest annual honor given to a PGA of America Professional, Kestner heads the 2017 PGA National Awards class for “qualities of leadership, strong moral character, and a substantial record of service” to the PGA and the game of golf.

A PGA Member for 33 years, Kestner is recognized for his consistent track record of excellence, encompassing his complete body of work as an accomplished player, distinguished instructor, passionate mentor to his assistants and devoted volunteer.

Kestner is the only PGA Club Professional since World War II to compete in major championships in five different decades, including 11 PGA Championships and eight U.S. Opens. He shot a tournament record 17-under-par in capturing the 1996 PGA Professional Championship (then called the PGA Club Professional Championship). Complementing his playing ability, Kestner has taught top PGA Tour golfers, including Ray Floyd, Nick Price, Tom Kite and Nick Watney.  Among his other notable students are: “The Tonight Show” host Jimmy Fallon, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred, IBM CEO Louis Gerstner, Deutsche Bank CEO Seth Waugh and real estate magnate Lew Rudin.

A multiple Metropolitan PGA Section award-winner, Kestner was inducted into the Section’s Hall of Fame in 2010, as well as the Long Island Senior Golf Association Hall of Fame in 2012.

David Leadbetter, PGA, owner of the Leadbetter Academy—with more than 30 worldwide locations—was named the 2017 PGA Teacher of the Year Award recipient for his “outstanding services as a golf teacher, innovator and coach.” One of the most recognized and sought-after instructors and presenters in the world, Leadbetter can usually be found working directly with one of his students or imparting wisdom by teaching other teachers. He has served as a featured presenter at premier events around the globe, including several PGA Teaching & Coaching Summits and PGA Section instructional presentations.

Among Leadbetter’s world-class students are the winners of a record 24 major championships and seven World No. 1’s, such as Nick Faldo, Ernie Els, Lydia Ko, Se Ri Pak, Lee Westwood, Justin Rose, Rafa Cabrera-Bello, Byeong-hun An, Michelle Wie and 2017 KPMG Women’s PGA Champion Danielle Kang. Leadbetter founded the first specialist junior golf academy in 1993, and can be credited with the development of some of the world’s top junior players. The author of several books and a regular contributor to Golf Digest, where he is annually rated as one of the best teachers in America, Leadbetter has been recognized with various awards and accolades on the global stage, including the World Golf Teachers Hall of Fame in 2007, and as an Asia Golf Awards Global Golf Legend in 2016.

Brendon R. Elliott, PGA, Founder and Executive Director of the Little Linksters Association for Junior Golf Development, and Owner and Senior Director of Instruction at Little Linksters, LLC, in Deltona, Florida, is the recipient of the 2017 PGA Youth Player Development Award. This honor recognizes a PGA Professional who has displayed extraordinary and exemplary contributions and achievement in the area of youth player development. Elliott, a PGA Member for eight years, recognized a need when he noticed that every sport aims to catch and inspire kids while young—except golf.

Despite many naysayers, Elliott started Little Linksters to introduce children to golf at the same age they are often exposed to other sports, sometimes as early as three years old. His organization also hosts a G.O.A.L.S. program for children with special needs. Elliott’s dedication to youth golf development began when he crafted a golf practice facility in his backyard to start Little Linksters in 2008. Elliott also is an Instructor and Director of Career Services for the Golf Academy of America. Among his numerous awards, he is a four-time recipient of the North Florida PGA Junior Leader Award and a five-time GRAA Top 50 Growth of the Game Teaching Professional Award winner. 

John Kennedy, PGA, the former PGA Director of Golf at Westchester Country Club in Rye, New York, is the 2017 Bill Strausbaugh Award recipient. This honor recognizes the PGA Professional who demonstrates exceptional character, integrity and leadership by way of teaching and mentoring other PGA Professionals.

The 2012 Patriot Award winner and a 2010 Horton Smith Award honoree, Kennedy has embodied what it means to serve as a PGA Professional throughout 41 years of PGA Membership. The ultimate mentor, he made it a priority to hire, train, promote and support young people who want to make golf their career. As a result, Kennedy positively impacted the lives of more than 200 PGA Professionals, as his storied career earned him tremendous respect from his peers and across the golf community.

During Kennedy’s 26 years as Director of Golf at the famed Westchester Country Club, he served as Host PGA Professional for 18 PGA Tour events, including the 2007 Barclays, the inaugural FedEx Cup event; and the first KPMG Women’s PGA Championship in 2015. Kennedy announced his retirement in 2016.

Jeffrey Adkerson, PGA, who serves as the Director of the PGA Golf Management University Program at his alma mater, Mississippi State University, is the recipient of 2017 Horton Smith Award. This honor goes to a PGA Member who exhibits commendable additions to the education of PGA Professionals.

Adkerson has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to education, since returning to Mississippi State in 2003. As Program Director, Adkerson educates, trains, and mentors aspiring PGA Professionals while delivering the PGA of America’s education curriculum. Adkerson, who achieved PGA Master Professional status in Golf Operations this year, also has served as Director of Golf Operations for the University Golf Course at Mississippi State since 2015.

He has integrated the golf course with other academic disciplines on campus, including Golf and Sports Turf Management, Landscape Architecture, Fashion Merchandising, Forestry and Architecture. Adkerson also has served as an Adjunct Faculty member for the PGA of America, chaired the Gulf States Education Committee and is President of the Gulf States PGA Section.

Tom Morton, a decorated 13-year PGA Member and the first to be named a PGA Master Professional in Player Development, is the 2017 PGA Player Development Award recipient. Among his many accolades, Morton is a seven-time Northern California PGA Section award winner, and the recipient of the 2014 PGA Youth Player Development Award.

Today, he serves as the PGA Director of Player Development at the award-winning Haggin Oaks Golf Complex, a family-owned business that has been part of his life since the age of five. Throughout his career, Morton has been at the forefront of creating and managing numerous player development programs for juniors, adults, and individuals with disabilities.

A Northern California PGA Section Member, he strives to provide better opportunities to all golfers, and structures his golf programs to be inclusive for people of all ages, abilities and genders. He also serves as President of the non-profit Morton Golf Foundation, which funds programs that offer a healthy recreational environment for the youth, disabled and underserved communities of Sacramento.

Kevin McKinley, PGA, a Michigan PGA Section Member and Director of Golf at Treetops Resort in Gaylord, Michigan, is the recipient of the 2017 PGA Patriot Award. This honor goes to a PGA Professional who embodies patriotism and shows dedication to the men and women who have served in the United States Armed Forces.

He has spent countless hours giving back to those who dedicated their lives to protecting America’s Freedom. At Treetops Resort, McKinley created and runs the Military Golf League for Veterans, active service members, and their spouses. Treetops Resort also offers Veterans and military member discounts of up to 50 percent off for golf and ski packages, and programs.

In support of the Folds of Honor Foundation, the resort has hosted Patriot Golf Day for 10 years. In conjunction, McKinley has hosted the Patriot Shootout for seven years, an annual Labor Day weekend tournament that offers Veterans and military members a free weekend of golf, while raising funds for Folds of Honor. Complementing his 2017 Patriot Award, McKinley also was named the 2017 PGA Golf Professional of the Year by the Michigan PGA Section.

Sam Depe III, a 36-year PGA Member, is the recipient of the 2017 Deacon Palmer Award. The Deacon Palmer Award honors a PGA Professional who personally displays outstanding integrity, character and leadership in the effort to overcome a major obstacle in their life. A member of the Tri-State PGA Section, Depe III, owns and operates Hickory Heights Golf Club, in Bridgeville, Pennsylvania. He previously served as PGA Head Golf Professional at South Hills Country Club in Pittsburgh, for 28 years.

Depe III overcame a terrible car accident in 1998, in which he lost both legs and nearly his life. In the face of tragedy, he chose not to let the accident take golf away from him. As a result, he has pushed through countless hardships to continue teaching and playing the game.

In 2009, Depe III fulfilled a lifetime dream when he purchased Hickory Heights Golf Club, where he seeks to provide a country club experience at affordable rates, so more people can enjoy the game and the golf lifestyle. Depe III is a daily inspiration to others, reinforced by an endless smile on his face, an unwavering positive attitude and unmatched resilience.

The Gateway PGA section is the recipient of the 2017 Herb Graffis Award as a PGA of America Section that has showed tireless dedication towards growing the game of golf and furthering player development both in their community and on a national level, through the enrichment of their many successful programs.

Led by President Benjiman Kent, the Gateway PGA Section was recognized as not only the birthplace of PGA REACH but for additional programs that have further served the greater St. Louis-area, Southern Illinois and the eastern half of Missouri by targeting youth, military, Diversity & Inclusion, and more. The Gateway PGA Section has become a leader in utilizing the platform of golf to usher in growth, positive perception and overall impact. Through industry summits and fundraising events, CEOs and Presidents from each of the major golf Associations, as well as sports icons Ozzie Smith, Hank Aaron, Bo Jackson, Julius Erving, Cal Ripken Jr., Bob Gibson, Reggie Jackson and more have taken part in Gateway PGA initiatives.

In the last four years, greater than $1.5 million was generated to help at-risk youth stay in school, while simultaneously bringing PGA Professional instruction to more than 180 Veterans year-round. The vision of PGA REACH and the tireless efforts of Gateway PGA Members helped secure the 100th PGA Championship, which will be contested at Bellerive Country Club in 2018.

Michael Strlekar, PGA, who has served as PGA Director of Golf at Montclair Golf Club in West Orange, New Jersey, for the past 16 years, is the recipient of the 2017 PGA Merchandiser of the Year Award for private facilities. Since 2001, Strlekar has successfully guided his team in running the 36-hole Montclair facility. During this time, his sales increases were impressive—rising 39 percent.

Even after the recession affected the local market particularly hard, Strlekar’s team produced a 51 percent sales increase from 2009-‘15. Montclair acquired a second course in 2016, now named Montclair Golf Club at Rock Spring. Mike and his staff quickly re-established the golf shop as a focal point of the club.

In operating two facilities that are among the busiest in the highly competitive Northeast golf market, Strlekar has successfully relied on education and classic merchandising techniques—such as paper folding, lining up logos, changing merchandise and displays every seven to 10 days, using mannequins to draw attention, trunk shows and more. Strlekar’s philosophy is simple: “Make them want to buy from us.”

Mark Pfingston, PGA, is the recipient of the 2017 PGA Merchandiser of the Year Award for public facilities. Pfingston has served as the PGA Head Golf Professional at The Golf Club At Bear Dance, home to Colorado’s PGA Section, since 2006. He also served as the facility’s First Assistant Golf Professional for three years. During Pfingston’s time as Head Golf Professional, golf shop sales have skyrocketed, and they continue to grow.

Pfingston, who values creativity in the shop as a way of maintaining an appealing environment and increasing sales, has redefined the shop experience for his customers. In running an aesthetically pleasing, true “mountain style” course, he and his staff seek to create raving fans by exceeding customer expectations every day.

Pfingston is a graduate of Rice University, where he was twice named to the All-Southwest Conference Golf Team and was the Individual Medalist in the 1989 Southwest Conference Championship, which earned him a bid in the 1989 Colonial Invitational. Pfingston also received the Colorado PGA Section Merchandiser of the Year in 2005, ’15 and ‘16.

Zachary J. Chapin, PGA Head Golf Professional at Arcadia (Michigan) Bluffs Golf Club, is the recipient of the 2017 PGA Merchandiser of the Year Award for Resort Facilities. Chapin began his tenure at Arcadia Bluffs as PGA Head Golf Professional in 2011. Since then, merchandise sales have grown steadily under his leadership.

His state-of-the-art pricing strategy—which finds a balance between what a product costs and its worth to the customer—has gained the attention of his peers. Chapin begins by selecting the price of a garment based on what he thinks the merchandise’s value would be to the customer. This strategy has paid off, with a better than 50 percent merchandise price margin.

Chapin’s philosophy is to provide all guests with the best experience possible, by offering a wide variety of quality merchandise that is beautifully displayed, while providing world-class customer service. These innovations have helped Chapin also earn the Michigan PGA Section Merchandiser of the Year Award for three consecutive years (2014-‘16).

“The 2017 class of national award recipients are truly deserving of this recognition, having distinguished themselves as inspirational leaders, mentors, and pioneers among their peers,” said PGA President Paul Levy.  “The PGA of America proudly recognizes them for their unwavering commitment to represent the PGA Professional and the game of golf at the highest of levels.”

Kestner and Leadbetter lead a contingent of 11 PGA Professionals and one PGA Section in winning the PGA of America’s 2017 National Awards, which will be presented on Nov. 1, in conjunction with the 101st PGA Annual Meeting in Austin, Texas.