Editor's Note: This story originally appeared in the April 2019 edition of PGA Magazine.
When Belfair opens its gate this month to host the 52nd PGA Professional Championship, its staff and membership may be the most prepared of any venue that has never entertained a national event of its magnitude and depth.
In fact, Belfair is justifiably proud of its multiple “preambles” before Golf Channel cameras sprinkle the 1,100-acre property, April 28 to May 1, in Bluffton, South Carolina.
The PGA Professional Championship presented by Cadillac, Club Car and OMEGA, with a 312-player field, follows the 2013 South Carolina Open and the Players Amateur (2000–11), one of most prestigious events of its kind in the country. Amateur past champions include Ben Curtis, Bill Haas, Camilo Villegas, Brian Harman, Rickie Fowler, Bud Cauley and Kevin Tway.
To add to Belfair’s welcoming atmosphere, more than 80 members will house PGA Professionals competing in the largest all-professional national championship. Additionally, more than 600 volunteers are ready to greet the field.
“We have an incredible community that is very giving and passionate about golf,” says PGA General Manager/COO Ken Kosak, who oversees a 140-member staff. “They want to make sure that we are putting our best foot forward for all visitors in the area.”
Kosak, who may be the most traveled PGA General Manager in the Association, celebrated his 20th anniversary in February working for Troon, which manages Belfair. Kosak has served in seven PGA Sections, and arrived at Belfair also having worked in Puerto Rico, Malaysia, South Africa and Dubai.
“It’s been a great experience here at Belfair,” says Kosak. “We are incredibly excited to be working with the PGA and hosting the Championship this year. Having been involved in a number of tour events throughout my travels, this is very special to me being a PGA Member as we welcome many of my peers to our club and community. Troon is one of the largest employers of PGA Professionals in the country, so the Championship coming to a club managed by Troon is extra special.”
He picked up a copy of Golf Digest and saw a photo of Troon CEO Dana Garmany, PGA, positioned with his team in front of a big boulder at a pristine location.
“I was thinking, I would love to work for a group like that,” recalls Kosak. “Who would have thought eight or nine years later, I would have the opportunity?”
PGA Professionals and Associates joining Kosak in spreading the Belfair welcome for the 2019 Championship include PGA Director of Golf James Swift; PGA Head Professional John Kauzlarich; PGA Director of Instruction Jason Baile; PGA Teaching Professional Dana Rader; PGA Assistant Professional Steve DePiano; and Associates Kristen Hubert and Jason Heintschel.
Swift, a native of West Palm Beach, Florida, and a graduate of Queens College in Charlotte, North Carolina, is in his eighth season overseeing golf operations. One of Belfair’s unique features is the proximity between the West and East Courses. The respective 18th greens lie approximately 50 yards from one another.
“The luxury we have is a central location. There are a couple days when we have 350 players playing the golf courses,” says Swift. “With the exception of double tees and all caddies, this (the PGA Professional Championship) may be like a spring day here at Belfair.”
Belfair’s Member-Member event also is great practice for the staff, hosting nearly 270 players. “The big thing is that we want to give a great experience to everyone,” explains Swift.
When you arrive at a property branding its birth date of 1811, you know there’s more than a bag full of history and ambience to share. In addition to its showcase courses and grounds, Belfair was one of the first venues in the Southeast to boast its own golf learning center.
Kauzlarich, a native of Richmond, Virginia, is a 2006 graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University. He doesn’t hold back when speaking “team” with the staff.
“The communication, teamwork and culture here is unbelievable,” says Kauzlarich. “We’re in a team mindset of communication and positivity. We basically have an army here — more than a one through five players. Our six through 10 guys can come off the bench and score when needed.”
Keith Einwag, CGCS, Director of Agronomy, oversees superintendents Dan Neus (West Course) and Lee Dempster (East). Einwag arrived at Belfair with extensive PGA Tour experience, having served as in the same position at Innisbrook Golf Resort in Palm Harbor, Florida, site of the Valspar Championship.
“Keith hit the ground running in one year here,” says Swift. “He is very knowledgeable on warm season grasses and over-seeding. He had a new staff and in just 17 weeks grew out a new strain of grass, finishing on Oct. 1.”
What Belfair will present to the PGA Professionals ina national Championship, says Kosak, “is focusing on the little things. The little things make up one big, thing, the overall experience. We strive to achieve that every day.”
The curtain is about to rise for Belfair, and one of the Palmetto State’s finest is chomping at the bit for the show to begin. “Any time that we can showcase our facilities and our talents in front of 312 of our peers is exciting,” says Kauzlarich.