Welcome back everyone. Here’s my second of three segments on Sonoma County Club Pros that attended either high school or college in our beautiful area.
Today’s feature is on Bennett Valley PGA Club Professional and Director of Golf, Bob Borowicz.
Borowicz, 56, graduated from Montgomery High School, attended Santa Rosa Junior College for two years before transferring to Chico State University. After one year at Chico, Bob transferred to Sacramento State where he graduated in 1980 with a BS in administration.
Bob has been married to Andrea for 35 years, and they’ve raised their own foursome of Megan, Jordan, Nick and Natasha.
On Tuesday, Borowicz and the City Council, agreed on a new five-year operating contract, including a three year option. The course is owned by the City of Santa Rosa. Borowicz’s responsibilities of running the 44-year-old course will be greatly broadened. He also gains flexibility in offering more promotions to help bolster play.
Borowicz began his career working for present day Bennett Valley Superintendent Don Ballard while he was a student at Montgomery High.
“Don (Ballard) hired me to work on the weekend crews, you know, just cutting grass in the mornings,” Borowicz said. “Then in the summer he hired me to do ground work, like digging ditches, that sort of thing, and a little of the regular maintenance around the golf course. I did that while I was at the JC.”
Bob then went away to college, but after graduating he returned to Santa Rosa and got a few jobs on the maintenance crew under the watchful eye of golf course maintenance and golf shop operations manager John Flachman. Borowicz recalls that it wasn’t a lot of hours but it gave him time to continue playing.
“I would work early and then get off in the afternoons and play,” Borowicz said. “I guess I worked on the maintenance crew for a year, to a year and a half.”
During that time Borowicz began a very special relationship with Flachman, who is now retired, but is renowned for his incredible ability in maintaining Bennett Valley’s course conditions, despite being the most played course in the area. So one day Flachman approached Borowicz and asked if he would like to learn the golf business from the inside.
“I still remember when John asked me,” he recalled. “I was married at the time and we had one child. I mean we had to eat. So in 1982 I began working with John. I moved inside and he was nice enough to let me learn on his dime. I was still thinking about the possibility of playing on the PGA Tour, but that didn’t last long. ”
According to Borowicz, back then to qualify for the Tour you played in a local qualifier and then a final qualifying tournament.
“There weren’t different stages like there have been recently,” Borowicz added. “I remember they used to have it every six months. I think I tried it twice, but didn’t make it, but I came fairly close. If you made it past the local you advanced to a six-round tournament which had cuts every two rounds. But I never made it past the first stage. At that time it was considered Q-School.”
Anyone that has seen Bob swing a golf club will always remember the perfect timing of his fluid swing. But his best timing was actually during his time learning golf from the inside with Flachman.
“I was very fortunate,” Bob said. “About a year and a half after graduating from college, Bennett Valley’s Golf Pro Kelly Wolf decided to move away. So John asked if I would be interested. So I went through the PGA apprentice program, which took four years, and in 1986, I became certified as a Class A PGA Professional.”
Borowicz said he didn’t try any of the mini-tours but did play in four PGA Championships, and eight to 10 AT&T tournaments.
“The last PGA Championship I played in was the only one I made the cut,” Borowicz said. “It was at Florida’s Inverness Golf and Country Club, in 1992. I’d come close, like one or two shots a couple of times, but that was the only time I made the cut. And the AT&T, I made the cut twice individually and maybe three or four times as a team. The highlight, probably other than making the PGA cut, was being paired with baseball star Bret Saberhagen one year. We were actually going into the final nine holes only one shot back, but I think we ended up in the top 10. It was great meeting and fun playing with him. Julius Irving was in the same grouping for the first three rounds, but they didn’t make the cut. Irving hadn’t played much then and it was hilarious watching him try to play golf.”
Borowicz pointed out the longevity of the staff at Bennett Valley was quite unusual.
“The longevity of my career, or actually I should say, of the core of our staff here, is what I’m probably most proud of,” he said. “It’s very unusual, maybe not so much on the maintenance side, but in the golf shop itself. John was here for over 30 years and I’ve been here since 1986.”
Asked to name a couple of strengths of his game Borowicz said he really didn’t consider any particular area a strength or weakness.
“I drove the ball about average length, I was pretty accurate off the tee and I could putt decent,” Bob said.
Borowicz said his best round was 64 which he carded four times, three times at Bennett Valley and once at Meadow Club in Fairfax.
Running Bennett Valley has left little time for Borowicz to play much golf over the past decade.
“In the last 10 years the only time I’ve played is in the Montgomery High School Boosters fund raiser with my kids,” Borowicz said. “The last couple of years that I was playing as the Club Pro I just wasn’t getting nearly the enjoyment I use to, partly because of time restraints. It just wasn’t as fulfilling. I wasn’t that successful the last year or so either. I didn’t like the way I was playing. It wasn’t much fun and I didn’t look forward to going away to tournaments any more. It kind of coincided with me taking over the golf operations in 2004 and 2005. John and I had become partners in 2001 and I knew he was planning on retiring in 2005. So with our agreement and contract with the City and having to learn the restaurant business, which I didn’t know a lot about, it took a lot of my time. John had always taken care of all the back-end and behind the scenes things while I took care of the golf operations. Then John retired and I ran both until 2007 when our current operator of the restaurant took over.”
Bob also pointed out that once you’re away from a sport for six months to a couple of years you begin filling your free time with other things. He also admitted he got a little lazy. But lately, he says he’s beginning to get the urge.
“Lately, I’ve started hitting a few balls here and there and maybe I’ll try and play some non-competitive rounds with my buddies,” Borowicz said. “That’s what I’ve missed most, not playing with my friends and, you know, all the stuff that goes with that.”
Borowicz teaches is teaching less and his approach to teaching has also seen some changes.
“I don’t teach as much as I use to,” he said. “I only teach a couple days a week, mostly with past students. The rest of the staff handles the others. I’ve come to realize it’s not so much the technical or mechanical issues but how much students align their goals with their input realistically. That’s the first thing I need to square up with my students, is what they’re expecting and how much time they plan on putting into it. Then I explain to them my interpretation of how much talent they have, and I’ll try and tell them if they have the potential to reach their goals or not. All too often golfers get frustrated because they’re expecting way too much, with not enough input on their side of it.
I’d say the first half of my teaching career I was a little reluctant to say that, because you want to stay busy. But after a while you start telling people it’s a hard game and you don’t have to be great to have fun. Don’t screw things up because you’re expecting so much that you go out there and don’t do it when you really don’t have a realistic reason to expect to be able to. Based on that, you probably didn’t warrant those expectations and you get upset, frustrated, and then you don’t like it.
It’s really a couple of things. Either commit to more time or just accept the fact you can only get so good doing how much you work at it. If you take that approach, you’re going to enjoy it more and you can relax and probably play better.”
Borowicz has done some intensive research on why play is down at Bennett Valley and is working to turn things around.
“You know I’ve had to do a lot of research with the recent issues with the City, like why are rounds down, and things like that,” Bob said. “The rounds have been down, but it seems to have leveled out the last couple of years. Over the past five or six years across the U.S, maybe not so much from the core golfers, but it’s dropped off from approximately 29 million to about 24. But over the past couple of years it has started to even out. The number of golfers leaving is about the same coming in. The biggest demographic that shows the biggest drop isn’t the ‘Baby Boomers’, but from ‘Generation Next’, the 25 to 50 year olds. That’s where the biggest drop in participation percentage is coming from.”
Borowicz gives Tigers Woods a lot of credit for showing young people that golf can be fun.
“We need to try and convince kids like Tiger did, that it’s a cool thing to do,” he said. “But I would guess a number of sports are showing some decline because there are so many options for our youth, and unfortunately a lot of them are indoors, like computer games. A lot of kids are playing golf and other sports on the computer. We have to make it enjoyable for them so they’ll play the games outdoors, then hopefully the adults will also come back to the game. There’s a different mentality with kids. They expect everything right now. Kids want that instant gratification. That doesn’t happen in golf. Very few can go out and be good right away.”
Borowicz calls himself a traditionalist when it comes to rule changes and the new variations that have come along recently, like Hack Golf and Foot Golf.
“I think one of the perceptions of the younger golfer is there are just too many rules and that some are unfair,” he said. “I can understand that. You know, like you hit the ball in the middle of the fairway and your ball comes to rest in a divot. They probably look at it as, why should I be penalized when I hit it in the fairway? Why can’t I move the ball? It’s just that some of those rules have been around forever. That’s probably what some of the new forms of golf are trying to address.”
Asked who had impressed him most of our local players through the years, Borowicz thought for a second and then said Cardinal Newman’s Tom Costello.
“Tom was the best I’ve seen around here as far as a high school, junior player or collegiate golfer,” he said.
Lastly, I asked Borowicz who his favorite professional golfer was.
“There are a number of them but I would have to say Arnold Palmer,” he said. “He seemed to stand for everything good about golf. I’m talking about him as a player. He was always so positive and I enjoyed watching him. Nicklaus and other golfers just as good came along, but I don’t know if they were any better. Palmer just stood out to me.”