Kasi Hornback Utilizing Heritage to Enhance the Golf Experience
By Charles Dillahunt
*** Editors Note: This article originally appeared in the May 2020 issue of PGA Magazine.
A combination of culture and coaching has given Kasi Hornback, PGA, a new way to connect with students. Her journey in golf began with an invitation to play from her father. A member of the Los Angeles-based Okinawa Golf Club, Hornback’s father, alongside his group of Japanese golf buddies, gathered weekly for friendly competition on the links.
While the invite was originally meant to serve as an interactive way to gain more father-daughter time, it would ultimately become the beginning of Hornback’s journey to PGA membership.
“Playing with my father’s friend group not only taught me the ins and outs of the game, but also many life lessons about my heritage,” says Hornback, a PGA Teaching Professional at Blackthorn Golf Club in South Bend, Indiana. “They often shared stories of Japanese golf history dating back to imprisonment in internment camps (during World War II). Back then, all Japanese citizens had for a golf course was recycled cooking oil-based soil that they’d mix and shape together to make putting greens and tee boxes.
“It felt like a privilege to be able to play on a real golf course knowing it wasn’t always an option for our people.”
Speak with Hornback and you’ll find that golf mentors have been a constant on her journey to PGA membership, even PGA Professionals she knew from afar.
“PGA of America Hall of Famer Tom Sargent was a PGA Professional I looked up to, because he was always so caring and inclusive of everyone,” adds Hornback, who previously served on the Indiana PGA Board of Directors. “I idolized him as a junior golfer after meeting him. Knowing he was a legitimate PGA Professional with those characteristics always left an impression on me. I aim to do the same for others through my membership, as well.”
With her ancestry in mind alongside lessons from her golf industry mentors, Hornback is able to pay homage through innovative golf experiences that combine her Japanese heritage and her love of coaching. In South Bend, she’s able to coach golfers who aren’t typically exposed to Japanese culture about the game of golf and her heritage – like how she was taught by Okinawa Golf Club.
“I know first-hand that a sense of comfort in a community and access to PGA Professionals are both key in a golfer’s development,” explains Hornback. “So, I created a pro-am golf scramble format at my club called The Tokyo Shuffle.
“I start by placing one PGA Professional in every foursome alongside three amateurs. Every six holes, the PGA Professional partners with one new member of the foursome, leaving the two remaining individuals to partner with one another. When you are on the PGA Professional’s team, you play each hole alternating shots, and if you are on the other team, you play a regular scramble. Out of the two groups, the one with the lowest score on each hole is the one that counts for the foursome.
“We named this The Tokyo Shuffle as a homage to my heritage – and due to the chaotic team atmosphere it can cause as a result of constant shuffling. It’s always a favorite for my students, and provides great one-on-one time with a PGA Professional, which is vital to developing lifelong golfers.”
Students are then treated to authentic Japanese cuisine post-round in the clubhouse, made by chef Hornback herself.
“You have to be innovative in today’s busy world to attract newcomers, and I use education through my heritage to help me do so,” says Hornback. “I will often introduce students to Japanese comfort food classics, like miso soup and teriyaki salmon post-round. That way, it’s more than just a golf lesson. It’s another opportunity to connect off the course over something everyone can enjoy.”