Choosing the right Club
Jim Knight has never had a golf lesson in his life, but that hasn’t stopped him from making a career out of offering them to other golfers.
Lake Wildwood Golf Club’s head PGA-certified professional taught himself the game after picking up the clubs in college. And apparently, considering his scratch handicap, he’s both a talented teacher and a quick learner.
“I used to play with my dad a few times a year, but I basically started playing in college,” said the 42-year-old Knight, who grew up in Phoenix and attended Arizona State University. “I’d go out there with friends and I just got hooked. We’d ask do you want to go to school today or do you want to go golfing? For some reason golf would always seem to win out.
“We’d head out to the muni courses in shorts, playing barefoot and looking for the beer girl. It was a lot of fun.”
Knight said that junior golf programs, such as the one at Lake Wildwood that seems to grow in popularity each year, were virtually nonexistent back then.
“I wish I could have played junior golf, it would have helped me a lot,” he said. “But I basically taught myself. I never had a lesson. It just seemed pretty easy to me. I was shooting in the 70s early on.”
Knight said he learned a lot about the game by simply studying some of his favorite players on his TV screen each weekend. It didn’t take very long for his friends to notice him consistently cutting strokes off his score. Soon, he was giving them pointers that he’d picked up while watching the PGA Tour on lazy afternoons.
Shortly after he married his wife, Debbie, he spotted an advertisement for a Florida golf school in Golf Digest magazine. The Knights decided to give the golf business a go, packed up a U-Haul and headed for the Sunshine State.
Such a decision might had seemed somewhat rash to others at the time, but Knight said looking at the big picture, becoming a golf professional just made sense. He grew up playing football, basketball and baseball, which he said helped build strong hand-eye coordination. He had always thought about becoming a teacher and get into coaching some day. And at that point in his life, golf had become his favorite game.
So why not?
“I knew that sitting behind a desk wasn’t where I wanted to be,” he said.
After graduating from golf school in July of 1992, he landed a job at Lake Wildwood that same month as an assistant pro. At the time, he said, he needed to get to work right away and had two offers on the table – one from Lake Wildwood and another from PGA West in Palm Springs.
“It was a big time place, but I would have been really low on the totem pole there. I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to teach as much as I wanted to,” Knight said. “I came here and saw the driving range was just packed and we loved the area. It was just wonderful, so we chose to move to Lake Wildwood and we’ve been here ever since.”
Knight, who has a 14-year-old son (Tyler) and two daughters (Kristina, 12, and Hailey, 11) with Debbie, became head pro at Lake Wildwood in 1996. And with all that job entails, operating the pro shop, teaching and running tournaments, there’s not as much time for teeing off as there used to be.
“It sounds glamorous, I know that … but you put in your time with this job, though it definitely has its moments,” he said. “If I get out for 27 holes a week, I’m doing pretty good.”
Looking back on that decision he made after leaving golf school – choosing a private western Nevada County course over a PGA tournament facility – Knight said he still thinks he made the right choice.
“I couldn’t have made a better decision,” he said. “We’re very fortunate to live here. The school system for our kids is great. Small-town living, which is basically what Penn Valley is – is fine with me. I’ve made a lot of friends here.
“I never imagined I would still be here after eight years, but we fell in love with the community and the people have been great to me, so we’re still here.”
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