Do you know what a golf pro does? It’s far more than you might think, as these local pros highlight the work they do, their expertise on the course and the experiences that brought them to a career on the links.
Perhaps you’ve seen them, and perhaps you haven’t, but they were there either way. Certified members of the Professional Golf Association (PGA) are a familiar face at many a local golf course. They teach lessons and dispense advice, but their years of training also make them well-equipped for the behind-the-scenes operations of any golf course. So, who exactly are these pros and what can they bring to your game? We caught up with a few of them to find out.
Nic Barnes, PrairieView Golf Club
He may be the new PGA professional at this Byron golf course, but Nic Barnes is no stranger to PrairieView. That’s because the Rockford native spent many a summer in his childhood playing these links.
“Basically, from the age of 8 to 14 I just grinded it out here every summer,” he says. “I fell in love with the game, I played a lot, and as I went through high school I decided I didn’t really want to do anything else but play golf.”
Life as a PGA pro isn’t all fun and games. Barnes oversees much of the behind-the-scenes operations, from teaching lessons, budgeting and marketing to running tournaments, personnel and the pro shop.
His work also ties into the indoor/outdoor driving range at PrairieFire Golf and Grill, where several heated bays and Toptracer technology provide year-round entertainment in a setting that feels like Top Golf but has more local flavor.
To become a PGA pro, Barnes studied business management and followed the PGA program at Coastal Carolina University. As he dove into the minutiae of the golf world, he interned at top courses in the Chicago area, New Zealand and Oregon State. Since graduating in 2012, he’s worked at The Glen Club in Glenview, Forest Hills Country Club in Rockford, and Marengo Ridge in Marengo. He joined PrairieView this spring.
“You’d be hard-pressed to find a better facility within 35 or 40 minutes,” he says. “And the course layout is great. They’re always finding ways to make it better.”
Sonny Oberoi, Turnberry Golf Club
Visitors to this Lakewood club won’t find a PGA pro, but they will find a knowledgeable and experienced staff led by owner Sonny Oberoi. A software and real estate entrepreneur, Oberoi has infused new amenities into the 50-year-old club since purchasing it in 2016.
While the course is open to the general public, there are many advantages to membership, including waived fees, permanent tee times, and access to the new pickleball and basketball courts.
“If you don’t play a lot of golf, you can come in as Sonny’s guest for the day,” he says. “I believe the best way to bring in membership is to have people come and taste the course. If they like it, maybe they’ll purchase a membership.”
Other new amenities include the golf simulators, where a high-tech system allows year-round practice and swing analysis. There’s also a covered outdoor driving range with Toptracer technology, a system that integrates target practice games into the experience.
The scenic 6,900-yard, par-72 course was designed by course architect E. Lawrence Packard, and it plays to the area’s rolling terrain and natural wetlands. Turnberry has hosted USGA, CDGA and PGA events, including a U.S. Open Qualifying tournament. Century-old oaks guard the challenging No. 17 hole while an original barn frames the scenic No. 11.
“It’s a par 3, and you’re looking down maybe about 100 feet from the tee box to the hole,” says Oberoi. “It’s the prettiest sight with the greens and a 100-year-old barn behind it.”
John Schlaman, Eagle Ridge Resort & Spa
As the new director of golf for this premier Galena-area resort, John Schlaman handles an impressive array of behind-the-scenes work. Not only is he concerned about Eagle Ridge Resort & Spa’s four premier courses, which together comprise 63 holes. He’s also overseeing instruction, customer service standards, staffing and whatever else it takes to wow the course’s four main customer groups: resort guests, club members, the general public and residents of what’s known as “The Galena Territory.”
“The director of golf or head golf professional is instrumental in serving as an ambassador for the brand of the course he’s working at,” says Schlaman. “If I play in or organize and run a tournament, I’m representing Eagle Ridge. If I’m giving lessons, I’m representing Eagle Ridge. If I’m talking with customers or booking a group or dealing with a customer relations situation it’s in the forefront of my mind to make sure the resort is represented properly. My passion has always been to take care of people, and that is what I will continue to do.”
There’s little downtime at Eagle Ridge, because once the golf season is over the clubhouse becomes the Nordic Center, a hub of wintertime activities including ice skating, sledding and snowshoeing. The pro shop becomes a gear and rental shop, and the Trackman golf simulator gets booked around the clock.
For longtime visitors to Eagle Ridge, John Schlaman may look a bit familiar because he was the resort’s director of golf in the 1980s and ’90s. He spent most of the 2000s at Prairie Landing Golf Club in West Chicago and returned to Eagle Ridge in 2021 as the Head Pro at the South Course.
Since the May 1 departure of golf pro Mike Weiler, Schlaman has been elevated to the director of golf position once more. A PGA member since 1986, Schlaman counts fellow pros Pete Jones and Jay Overton as his biggest mentors. Schlaman says he’s looking forward to guiding Eagle Ridge’s golf experience into the future.
Ron Skubisz, Pottawatomie Golf Course
If there’s one common misconception this golf pro from St. Charles hears, it’s the belief that golf pros spend lots of time playing. In reality, it’s a busy season.
“When I attend PGA meetings the most common thing I hear is, ‘I can’t wait to get out and play my first round’ – and it’s September,” he says. “It isn’t unusual, simply because a golf course is open from sunrise to sunset, and it’s open seven days a week.”
So, how often does he get out? He chuckles. “With luck, once or twice a year.”
Pottawatomie Golf Course is a scenic nine-hole layout that hugs the Fox River north of downtown St. Charles. In fact, holes No. 3, 4 and 7 put the river directly into play. “But it’s also very scenic,” adds Skubisz, who’s been the course manager and head golf pro since 2011.
The course was built in 1939 and designed by architect Trent Jones Sr. This sloping landscape is lined with ancient trees and hills that reward the average and skilled golfer alike.
“One of the golfers described the course to me as like walking in a park, but there happens to be a great golf course attached to it,” says Skubisz. “I think that probably sums up from the seniors’ point of view why so many like the course. They get exercise, a walk and camaraderie. But people are generally very tied to this course.”
Skubisz got into the game as a teenager, when he gained a reputation for sneaking onto the nine-hole, par 3 course that was attached to the restaurant near his home. The manager told him he could play for free, so long as he cleaned trash out of a creek that ran through the property.
“The bug just kind of bit,” he says. “I became manager at the local club, Glenwoodie, and I’ve been managing ever since.”
Skubisz also worked at Fresh Meadow in Hillside and St. Andrews in West Chicago before stopping in St. Charles, where he now oversees operations, tournaments, lessons, an indoor golf simulator and a wealth of small details.
“Pottawatomie is a special place,” he says. “People are very tied to the course. It’s where generations of family members grew up playing golf and now bring their son or daughter or grandson or granddaughter to play together.”
Brian King, Prairie Landing Golf Club
In high school, Brian King and his Rockford Guilford teammates dominated Illinois’ state golf tournaments, taking two championships in three years. The team his senior year was so dominant it won state by 19 strokes – a record that stood for 25 years.
King played collegiate golf with Northern Illinois University and jumped right into the business after graduation, turning professional in 1991. As a club pro, he played in the PGA Tour’s Motorola Western Open at Cog Hill Country Club in Lemont. He played full-time for the next three years and then began teaching golfers of all ages.
For the past 19 years, King’s been developing youths and adults as the director of instruction at Prairie Landing Golf Club in West Chicago, where two par 4 practice holes make for great lessons in real-world situations.
“I’m a former full-time player and professional player, so my skills are influential in teaching golfers how to navigate the course,” says King. “Prairie Landing is a good place for young players to get exposure to actual situations on the golf course and its two practice holes, whether it be rules or etiquette, strategy, or just basic introduction to play.”
Following his passion for the game, King has coached hundreds of golfers, including as a coach for boy’s and girl’s high school teams and Division III college teams. With a primary focus on youth instruction, he’s been part of the Nike Junior Golf summer camps for 10 years.
He also maintains a private indoor training center with state-of-the-art equipment that enables him to instruct year-round. For more information, contact [email protected] or visit briankingperformancegolf.com.
“I’ve been coaching so long that I had kids who played for me and I’m teaching their kids now,” says King, who also leads high school golf teams in Batavia. “I’m coaching another generation of kids now. It’s great. I’ve gotten to see a lot of young men and women grow up through their golf careers.”
Joe Fritz, Orchard Valley Golf Course
The brand-new pro at this Aurora course can’t remember a time when he wasn’t playing golf, but he does remember the moment that he realized he could make a career of it. He was just a freshman at Aurora’s Marmion Academy when a fellow team member committed to the golf management program at Mississippi State University.
“I didn’t even know that was an option, so that turned me on to it immediately,” says Joe Fritz, a Naperville native. He attended college briefly and then found a job back home at Seven Bridges Golf Club in Woodridge.
“I wanted to get my hands dirty and be a sponge, and absorb as much as I could right away,” he says. “And I’ve been doing it ever since.”
Fritz just arrived at Orchard Valley this April, and while a shoulder injury has kept him from hitting the links, he’s no stranger to the course. After years of playing there in high school he recognizes its twists and challenges.
“If there’s anyone outside the superintendent who should know the course at a very detailed level, it would be me,” says Fritz, adding he’s like an “encyclopedia on the golf course.”
As the head pro, he handles “a million things” behind the scenes, especially as it concerns the customer experience – a key component since Orchard Valley came under new management. While big changes have come to the on-site restaurant, Fritz is also anticipating big changes outdoors as he introduces a player development program and prepares for a multi-year overhaul of the course itself.
And as for playing the course? Well, Fritz admits there are hazards of the job.
“I think a lot of people have the conception that pros are often out and about and all they do is teach, but we’re heavily involved in every aspect of the operation, whether it be in the golf department or food and beverage, or maintenance,” he says. “It’s amazing the sheer amount of work that goes into everything the customer doesn’t end up seeing but does see the result of.”
Jordan Zellman & Chris French, Aldeen Golf Club
Visitors to Rockford’s premier public course have a chance to work with not one but two golf pros. LPGA pro Jordan Zellman and PGA pro Chris French together oversee the day-to-day operations, from managing staff, marketing and logistics to executing lessons, training and outings.
“You can see us pulling out carts, cleaning carts, picking up the range,” says Zellman. “We are constantly moving and helping our team to make operations run smoothly.”
French doesn’t just work behind the scenes at Aldeen. He’s also representing Rockford as an active tournament player. Just this spring he earned an invite to play the PGA Championship in Rochester, N.Y.
Zellman is one of three ladies LPGA pros in Rockford, and she oversees lessons at Aldeen’s practice center, where there’s also an outdoor driving range.
“It has been really nice having both sides of the golf world, both PGA and LPGA, because I feel like we can cater to a lot more people,” says Zellman. “There are some people who prefer to have a female instructor and there are many who prefer to have a male instructor or someone who is still competing as much as Chris is.”
Both Zellman and French grew up in the Rockford area, competing in high school and the Rock Valley College team, where Zellman was the only female golfer. After graduating from college in Florida, Zellman landed a job with LPGA champion Annika Sorenstam’s ANNIKA Foundation.
French started his career in North Carolina and eventually landed in California. Both Zellman and French were recruited by Aldeen’s longtime former pro, Duncan Geddes, to work as his assistants before he retired in late 2021.
For those golfers who want to hone their game, French encourages a quick conversation with the local pro.
“If you have questions, just come in and talk to us,” he says. “We’re here basically every day. We’re easy to find.”