PGA of America Vice President Don Rea has fun with the crowd during the second round of the 2022 National Car Rental PGA Jr. League Championship at Grayhawk Golf Club on October 8, 2022 in Scottsdale, Arizona. (Photo by Darren Carroll/PGA of America)
Golf is a game. Yes, it’s a multibillion-dollar industry in the U.S., and, yes, many of the people reading this right now depend on golf for their livelihoods, but it’s still a game. And aren’t games supposed to be fun?
Newly elected PGA of America Vice President Don Rea Jr. sure thinks so. He’s built a name and a career, in fact, on asking that very question, and as VP he’s determined to push joy back to the forefront of the game for which he cares so deeply.
Far from your typical PGA Professional, Rea didn’t earn his PGA Membership until he was in his thirties, following a nine-year stint as a minor league baseball umpire. Going into his Player Ability Test, he had never even entered an actual golf tournament. His first paying golf position was cleaning clubs at Augusta Ranch Golf Club in Mesa, Arizona. From there, though, he quickly rose through the ranks. Today, Rea is the owner-operator of Augusta Ranch, and his fingerprints are all over the facility, from the posted rules (rule No. 1: “Come relaxed… leave happy”) to the new Toptracer range that’s set to open this month. He also frequently opens his gates to the surrounding community for non-golf events like movie nights and family bike rides. He even hosted a golf/fishing tournament, where players could deduct a stroke for every fish they caught.
As Rea says, he’s bringing a little of that old-time minor league baseball fun and flair to the regal game in hopes of attracting new players. You might think that approach would ruffle some feathers among traditionalists, but quite the opposite has happened. That’s probably because Rea’s love for golf is genuinely infectious.
“My passion kind of overruns them,” he jokes when asked how his ideas are received.
The respect that Rea has garnered in the industry is evident by the heights to which he has risen. In his role as Secretary he helped expand the PGA’s Disaster Relief Fund to include medical assistance, and his work in getting more career consultants out into the field led to a $6 million increase in total compensation for PGA Members who took advantage of the program.
Rea has also been a vocal proponent of PGA HOPE, which introduces military veterans to the game of golf. It’s been particularly impactful for those suffering from the effects of PTSD.
“We do a boatload of things [in the PGA] that change lives, but only one thing saves them, and that’s PGA HOPE,” Rea says.
Looking ahead, Rea promises to continue championing those causes while serving the association as Vice President. And he’s equally committed to growing the game beyond the existing PGA of America membership roster. With that in mind, Rea encourages PGA Members to look at how he’s using social media and his natural enthusiasm to attract avid golfers and non-golfers alike to Augusta Ranch.
“I talk about how great this game is and show people what Augusta Ranch is doing every day, and you can do the same thing at your facility,” says Rea. “Talk about what you’re doing, tell your story. Let’s start putting the stories out there, because there are a lot of Don Reas in this game.”
Beyond that, Rea says, he’s going to focus on helping PGA Professionals embrace other forms of technology to grow their businesses, and he’s going to encourage them to look for non-traditional avenues to attract new interest in the game, like what he’s done at Augusta Ranch.
When asked how he’ll judge the success of his term as vice president, Rea has a simple answer: “How many people are playing golf. Right now, eight percent of the population plays. I’d like to see that increase to 10 percent in two years.”
It’s a tall order, but not impossible, Rea says. Besides, he’s not doing it alone: There are nearly 28,000 men and women PGA Professionals, and that’s a force that Rea believes can accomplish just about anything. In fact, that collaborative mindset is one of Rea’s greatest strengths as a leader.
“I can’t do it alone,” he says. “In football, a coach can call plays, but it’s the team that executes.”
Rea then points to the bracelet he wears, acknowledging that he leans on his faith for strength as much as he depends on the people around him.
“If I do things myself, I’ll burn out.”
That might be true, but it’s hard to imagine a guy with Rea’s zest for life and golf ever burning out. He’s fun personified. In short, he brings the kind of energy that every game could use. Because if it’s not fun, what’s the point?