Longtime Titleist Staff Professional to be Honored by PGA of America at Annual Meeting
It was in June when Eric Eshleman received a call from a longtime friend and colleague with a pretty big secret.
On the other end: PGA of America President Suzy Whaley, who informed Eshleman that he had just been named the recipient of the 2019 PGA Golf Professional of the Year Award, the pinnacle of recognition among the PGA of America’s 29,000 golf professionals spread across 41 U.S. sections.
“I kind of got choked up and so did she,” Eshleman said while recalling the moment in an interview with Team Titleist last week. “We both said ‘Hey, we've got to get ourselves together here.’ I've known Suzy for over 20 years, so it was a real honor and very neat for me to receive that call from an old friend.”
Eshleman, a 24-year PGA Member and the Director of Golf at the Country Club of Birmingham in Ala., which is part of the Alabama-NW Florida Section, was asked to wait to share the exciting news until it was announced publicly more than a month later.
“It was several weeks before I could tell anybody but my immediate family,” said Eshleman. “That was very difficult, so I used that time to write letters and notes to all the people who've been a part of my journey. I sent those out two days ahead of the announcement. It helped me get through having to keep that pretty much to myself. But that was a special way to include people in this award.”
A few Titleist associates received letters, and Eshleman shared what makes his relationship with the brand so special.
“It was in 1997, and I had just arrived to work at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail,” recalls Eshleman, who was Director of Instruction at the Oxmoor Valley facility in Birmingham from 1996-2001 before his move to the Country Club of Birmingham. “The Titleist sales representative at the time, Bobby Andrews, recruited me to join their professional staff - and I’ve been a loyal staff member ever since. I can say that I’ve never thought about going to another company for one day. I trust the brand and the people like Bobby, (Acushnet Company President and CEO) David Maher and (Senior Vice President, Industry and Trade Relations) Peter Broome. I met them early on and I still believe in everything they stand for.”
The feeling is mutual.
“Eric Eshleman is simply one of the finest Professionals in our industry who checks all the boxes and then some,” said Broome. “He is incredibly passionate about the game and he approaches each day and every challenge with an energy and enthusiasm that positively impacts everyone with whom he connects. In the end, it is not just what he knows that makes him special, it is how much he cares which matters most. We are fortunate that a Professional of Eric's caliber is a Titleist and FootJoy Ambassador and trusted friend. This recognition from his peers is a well-deserved honor for someone who continues to do so much for the game.”
The Eshleman Family
Tonight, at the organization's annual meeting in West Palm Beach, Fla., Eshleman will officially be recognized by his peers with the highest annual honor awarded to a PGA Professional. It is awarded for ‘qualities of leadership, strong moral character and a substantial record of service to the PGA and the game of golf.’ Eshleman embodies all that and more.
Eshleman has demonstrated a passion and commitment to training and mentoring fellow PGA Professionals throughout his career. He is also a member of the PGA Adjunct Faculty, teaching golf to beginners and assisting students and staff in developing their skills and shaping their career paths.
“I guess you could say I am of the old school belief that a golf professional should be outside teaching, fitting, and playing with our members and students,” said Eshleman. “With that philosophy in mind, we teach over 2,400 lessons a year.”
What also gets Eshleman excited is CCB’s commitment to the junior program, which has become a model for the rest of the country.
“I have a perfect platform because this is a total family oriented generational club,” said Eshleman, who was asked to grow the junior program that had about 50 kids when he joined in 2002. “Today, we have over 300 kids in the program, we had 213 of them play in our junior club championship this year, and we had seven earn Division One golf scholarships. I have been very fortunate because the leadership of our club realizes that the future members, the future of our club are many of these kids. And I just think that when you see 213 kids in coat and ties and nice dresses at the closing banquet, that definitely moves the needle for people, saying ‘there's the future of our game’.”
“WINNING MY MAJOR”: When asked by Team Titleist what winning this award means to him, Eshleman responded: “Well, it’s truly like winning my major in my career. It’s my green jacket.”
Eshleman, who has been honored by the Alabama-NW Florida PGA Section on several occasions, including the PGA Golf Professional of the Year (2010 and 2017); Teacher of the Year (2000 and 2004); PGA Bill Strausbaugh Award (2011); and Youth Player Development Award (2014), considers this award the culmination of a career well played.
“It’s been a wonderful feeling as a body of work,” said Eshleman. “It is a lifetime achievement and recognition of all the hard work I've put into my career. I hope my peers and family have seen and said, ‘you know, that guy has worked really hard. He's put a lot of energy and effort into being a PGA Professional.’ I’ve been honored before, but this is really something special. I’ve tried to reflect on all the things I’ve done, and to be selected above all the other great candidates this year is pretty unbelievable.”
TEACHING SECRETARY RICE: Before being named Director of Golf at CCB in 2006, Eric Eshleman was its Director of Instruction for five years. Well known as a teaching professional for PGA TOUR players Graeme McDowell, Patton Kizzire, and Paul Dunne, among others, Eshleman also counts former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as one of his students. How did that come about?
“That's a good one. Secretary Rice was born in Birmingham and she still has relatives here in town, and she would come for extended stays periodically throughout the year. Two things happened. It was around 2013 or 2014, and she was with one of our members (Jim Gorrie), who toured her around the club. She said she would like to come over again when she is in town around Christmas time.
Jim invited her to play. She said she would love to, but would also like to start taking lessons when she was in town. She asked Jim, ‘If I come over, who's the best?’ And I guess Jim said, ‘Well, the best guy in Birmingham is Eric Eshleman.’ So she and I played a round a golf with Jim and hit it off that day. It's still a professional-student relationship when it comes to golf, but it's become way more than that. We have become lifetime friends.”
BACK-TO-BACK CORNHUSKERS: It may be the first time a pair of University of Nebraska alums have earned back-to-back PGA of America National Award winners. Last year, James Sieckmann, another longtime Titleist Staff Professional, earned the PGA of America’s Teacher of the Year.
“James was a senior when I was a freshman on the Nebraska golf team,” said Eshleman. “He couldn't have been nicer to me, taking me under his wing. I'm appreciative to this day how nice the senior big man on campus was to the lonely freshman on the golf team. I have the highest respect for James. You know, we both have some Nebraska blood in us and kind of go about things the same way.”
NOT CUT OUT FOR A CUBICLE: “After I left Nebraska, I went to go try and play – or so I thought - mini tour golf down in Orlando. Fred Griffin was an old friend of mine at Grand Cypress, so I went down just to play and got an office job down there. I saw people teaching golf, loving their jobs, making great livings through golf instruction. So that's when I kind of had my light bulb moment. I was like, ‘these guys have great lives and they love teaching golf.’ And that's where it dawned on me that I was not cut out to be sitting in a cubicle.”