For most golfers, attending the Masters is the game’s Holy Grail, No. 1 on the bucket list.
For Jon Johnson, it is a yearly ritual, one that he wouldn’t trade for anything in the world.
Johnson, manager and golf professional at The Downs Golf Practice Facility, is a regular at Augusta National, in charge of running the pro shop every year during the Masters. He got his start as a teaching pro at Augusta more than 30 years ago, and knows the course as well as anyone. He once shot a 68 during a rare time Augusta National was available to employees.
He plans to be back next year and in the future.
“It was an opportunity to be a part of Augusta and it all fell into my lap,’’ Johnson said. “What could be greater?”
After playing decent golf in high school and college at Drake University in Iowa, everything started to fall into Johnson’s lap. First came a job teaching at a course in East Hampton, N.Y. He was told that the position might require him to be Augusta National for six months. It didn’t take Johnson long to figure out that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity.
He also had his own career to think about. Johnson said he was long past making it on the PGA Tour, so he became interested in the business side of the game. He ended up spending 18 years in the private club business, then another 18 years in the practice facility business. During a stint in St. Louis, he served as president of the Gateway section of the PGA and then came to Florida when the Downs opened 10 years ago at 11225 Racetrack Road, Oldsmar. He’s been there ever since.
Johnson brought the annual GolfFest to the Downs and is the host every February, and is now responsible for the Florida section of the Drive, Chip & Putt contest that will be July 6 at the Downs for kids aged 7 to 15. The top two boys and girls at the contest will move on to Orlando in the fall for a chance to compete in the finals that will be held next April at Augusta National the Sunday before the tournament. The putting part of the event will be held on the 18th green where some of the greatest legends in the game put on the green jacket.
Johnson likes giving lessons and doesn’t play as much as he would like. He didn’t take his first lesson until he was 18, but he picked up the game faster than most. He tried the Arizona minitour, but decided that teaching and golf business was where he wanted to be.
“I love golf, but teaching is a lot of fun, and, of course, working the Masters every year,’’ Johnson said. “I just teach the fundamentals and then it is up to the golfers.’’
Even though Augusta National is steeped in tradition, Johnson said he has learned to change with the times, especially when it comes to junior golfers. He knows what kids like, so he started using a lot of video with his lessons and said it paid off even though he is used to teaching the more traditional way. He also makes sure his students learn that golf isn’t something that can be mastered overnight.
“I am not a Band-Aid teacher,’’ Johnson said. “There’s too much more to it than that.’’
As for going to the Masters every year, Johnson never actually gets to watch it unless he can sneak a quick peek on one of the televisions.
“I am in that pro shop and it never dies down,’’ Johnson said. “I am right there, but if I get to see even a few shots in person, I’m lucky.’’
CHIP SHOTS Doug LaCrosse
, of Tampa, won the 52nd annual FSGA Senior Championship at Quail Ridge Golf Club
. He drained a birdie putt in sudden death to defeat Rick Woulfe
, a seven-time Senior Player-of-the-Year. LaCrosse also won the 2012 Senior Four-Ball Championship with fellow partner Steve Earsley
. LaCrosse finished the tournament with a 2-under 214 (72-68-74) aggregate. Summer golf memberships are being offered by St. Petersburg Country Club from May 1 – Oct. 31. Membership includes unlimited golf with no greens fees, unlimited walking privileges and more. Call (727) 867-2111 … Black Diamond
is featuring Stay & Play packages at its 45-hole resort, including a one-night Pure Golf Getaway featuring two round of golf on its Quarry, Ranch, and Highlands courses. Call (352) 746-3446 … Ken’s Quality Golf
has moved to 1479 Belcher Road South in Largo … The Steinbrenner High School football team
will be holding its Fourth Annual Golf Tournament on May 11 at the Heritage Harbor Golf Club
. There will be a 1:30 p.m. shotgun start with a silent auction to follow. Call (813) 504-7444 … Several Bradenton clubs have come together to form Partners Golf Card for the summer season. This new card will offer more benefits and value than have been available in the past and can be purchased in the Legacy Golf Club pro shop
. It costs only $39. Participating clubs include: Legacy Golf Club
, River Strand
, River Wilderness
, Misty Creek
, Rolling Green
, Bent Tree
, and Buffalo Creek
. Call (941) 907-7067 … The Claw at USF
is offering specials including weekday tee times for $22 before 8 a.m. and $27 after 2 p.m. Weekend specials are $29 before 8 a.m. and $34 after 2 p.m. Call (813) 632-6893 … Anna Newell
and Emmy Martin
, both from Tampa, finished in a tie for second at the Florida Junior Tour event at Rio Pinar
in Orlando … Paradise Tee Times
is offering free membership to join and there is golf available at most of the finest courses in the Tampa Bay area. Check www.paradiseteetimes.com for details … The Tampa Bay Senior Amateur Golf Tour is hosting several local events including May 4 at Black Diamond
, and May 18 at The Eagles
(Lakes). Check [email protected]
… The Abe Brown Ministry Foundation
will host its second annual golf tournament on May 31 to June 1 at Innisbrook Golf Resort
. There will be a four-person shotgun scramble and a banquet. Call (813) 247-3285 … The American Legion Post 152
will host its annual Boys State Golf Tournament at Heritage Harbor Golf Club
on May 11 at 8 a.m. There will be long drive, closest to the pin, and putting contests … The FSGA will be hosting one-day competitions throughout the Florida west coast in the coming weeks. Events include: May 2, Innisbrook South
; May 7, Champions Gate International Course
; May 8, Champions Gate National Course
; May 18, Sara Bay
; May 16, Vinoy
; May 21, TPC Tampa Bay
; May 23, Cypress Run
. Check www.fsga.org for information on these and future events … The Golf Channel AM Tour
, the largest amateur golf tour in the nation, is looking for new members. Call (877) 465-5094. Golfers of nearly any handicap are invited and play is held at some of the top courses in the country, including many in Florida … The West Florida Golf Tour
is about to announce its summer golf schedule. There will be 10 weeks of 54-hole events with no cut. Courses include The Founders Club
, Laurel Oak
, and several others. Call (941) 735-4428 … For regripping services, you can call Cindy Dzuro
at Rocky Point Golf Course
at (813) 673-4317 … Rocky Point Golf Course
will host the annual charity tournament for the Knights of Columbus Incarnation Council 8612
on May 4. Cost is $65 per player with a four-person scramble and an 8:30 a.m. shotgun start. Putting contests will start at 7:30 a.m. Call (813) 541-7161 … Westchase Golf Club
will host the 2013 “Charlie” Garren Memorial Golf Scholarship Golf Tournament on May 18 with a four-person scramble format. There will be net and gross prizes. Call (813) 854-2331 … Pebble Creek Golf Club
is hosting private lessons for adults with a certified PGA instructor. Fees for a one-hour lesson start at $60. Juniors and seniors can get a half-hour lesson for $30, and semi-private lessons are also available. Also, Pebble Creek is offering adult group clinics on Saturdays at 10 a.m., and junior clinics every Saturday from 9 to 10 a.m. for ages 3 to 9, and 11 a.m. to noon for kids ages 10 to 18. For Pebble Creek lessons, call (813) 973-3870 … Westchase Golf Club
will host the second annual Tampa Jewish Community Center & Federation Second Annual Golf Tournament
on May 19. Registration is at noon with a 1:30 p.m. shotgun start … Westchase Golf Club
will also host the 1st Annual RVR Horse Rescue Charity Golf Event on May 11 with a 1:30 p.m. start. Check RVRHorseRescue.com for details … The Tides Golf Club
in Seminole is offering memberships to its Loyalty Club. For a $10 membership fee, members can receive a dozen free golf balls after six visits and free weekly clinics for members and their families … The Morning Star School
will present the 28th Annual Morning Star School Golf Classic
at the TPC of Tampa Bay on Oct. 25. Call (813) 935-0202 … The Pinecrest Golf Club
is looking for new members for its Women’s Golf Association. Tee time is every Wednesday at 9 a.m. Call (727) 584-6497 for information … The Rocky Point Men’s Golf Association
is looking for players at all levels to compete on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. It starts at 7:30 a.m. Call (813) 205-6828 for information … Lansbrook Golf Club
will host Thursday clinics from 10 to 11 a.m. at its Shriver Golf Academy. Cost is only $15 … Rocky Point Golf Club
has a Friday 3-hole course clinic from 5 to 6 p.m. and supervised practices on Saturday’s from 10 to 11 a.m. coordinated by leading golf instructor Brianne Murphy
, and Cindy Dzuro
will teach a golf clinic at the range every Sunday from noon to 12:45 p.m … Rogers Park Golf Course
, Babe Zaharias Golf Course
, and Rocky Point Golf Course
are offering a group membership plan that includes all three courses. Golf costs $12 for 18 holes with a membership … Silver Dollar Golf Club
is now offering a Thursday Ladies Day with half-off all rates. Players can walk or ride nine or 18 holes. Call (813) 920-3884.