Linville Ridge Golf Club, PGA Professional
By Bill Hensley
Linville Ridge Golf Club, PGA Professional
When Kurt Thompson was playing professional baseball, he had no idea that he would end up in the golf business, let alone be associated with prestigious golf courses, teach celebrities, and play with some of the game’s best players.
His entry into the golf world came in a roundabout fashion that saw the transformation of an unknown hacker, who had played golf only a few times, to the popular Golf Director at one of the country’s finest clubs: Linville Ridge.
“I never dreamed of being a golf professional,” Thompson admits. “I was into baseball big time, and if that failed I would turn to a career in the business world. I had no experience in golf, hadn’t played it in high school or college, and knew little about the game.”
But all that changed.
A native of Springfield, Ohio, Thompson was a gifted Southpaw pitcher who had the “can’t miss” tag hung on him in high school and in college at Morehead State. After graduating in 1994 with a degree in Exercise Science, he turned professional and was assigned to a AA league where he played for three years.
“I loved baseball and thought that I would be able to compete as a left-handed pitcher,” he commented, “but the politics of the game, the trades, and the hassles quickly made me realize that the team concept didn’t exist.”
Thompson moved to Charlotte to pursue the pharmaceutical field and try to land a sales position.
“Just for the heck of it, I would go out to a local driving range at night and hit balls,” he said. “It was good exercise and became a favorite pastime. I even played a couple of times and was surprised that I did so well. My new-found talent finally got me hooked on the game.”
Thompson also took a part-time job at Golf America in the SouthPark mall, to learn about the golf industry and to network with people who could lead to career. Suddenly, golf took on a new meaning.
After a year, a friend asked him if he would be interested in an assistant pro job at Birkdale, a new course near Charlotte. He was interested but was concerned about taking a drastic pay cut from his sales position. Finally, golf won out.
“I worked at Birkdale a year and loved every minute of it,” he remarked. “That’s where I met Billy Harmon, one of the famous golfing brothers, and he offered me a position at a course called Big Horn in Palm Desert, California.”
Big Horn turned out to be a great learning experience, and Thompson was exposed to all aspects of being a golf professional.
“The job at Big Horn was in the winter only,” he explained, “and I began looking for a place I could work during the summer. “Call my brother John, the Golf Director at Grandfather Golf and Country Club, back in North Carolina,” suggested Gary McNeely, a longtime Big Horn staffer. “I think he needs someone.”
That tip led to Thompson’s hiring as an assistant to McNeely at Grandfather in 2000 where he worked for three summers. McNeely also asked him to work at the Floridian, the noted course in Florida that was created by Wayne Huizenga.
The Floridian assignment also led to Thompson working at Diamond Creek in Banner Elk, another Huizenga club, where he stayed for two years. “I thoroughly enjoyed the Floridian and Diamond Creek, two great clubs,” he said.
He was named Director of Golf at Linville Ridge in 2004 where he has built a solid program for adults and juniors. In just seven years, three of his assistants have gone on to become head pros, a fact which makes him proud.
|Kurt Thompson has taught such sports celebrities as Alabama football coach Nick Saban and St. Louis Cardinal star Albert Pujols.
A noted teacher, Thompson has worked with a number of tour players including Curtis Strange, Brian Bateman, Bobby Wadkins, and a number of young, rising players. He has taught such sports celebrities as Alabama football coach Nick Saban and St. Louis Cardinal star Albert Pujols.
Even though he is left handed, he plays right handed and is a highly-regarded competitor in regional tournaments. In his tenure at Linville Ridge his lowest score has been a six under par 66 from the championship tees. His all-time low is a 62 at the Floridian.
Thompson, who turns 40 in August, is married to the former Whitney Johnson of Lynchburg, Va., and the couple has an eight months old son, Benjamin. Mrs. Thompson is Director of the Fitness Center at the Grandfather Golf and Country Club. The couple lives in Foscoe.
“I am delighted over how my career has turned out,” he said. “Starting from scratch when I was in my late twenties was difficult but I’m proud that I succeeded. It has certainly been worth the effort and the obstacles.”
“What’s more,” he continued, “I have been associated with some truly great people like John McNeely, Wayne Huizenga and Scott Lutgert. They have all treated me like family.”
Baseball’s loss has been golf’s gain. Just ask the folks at Linville Ridge.