New pro delivers skills to Riverlands

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 21, 2001


PHOTO: John Kacpura points out improvements to the Riverlands golf course. (Staff photo by J. Edmund Barnes) LAPLACE – John Kacpura did not start out as a golfer. Growing up in Detroit, Kacpura played center on a hockey team for 14 years. But three knee surgeries can make one rethink any sport. As the new course professional at Riverlands Golf and Country Club, he thinks about the green conditions rather than the ice. When Kacpura was in high school he got a job at a country club that allowed him to play golf for free. He would mow the greens and fairways, put carts away, anything that would let him play golf. There were immediate results. “I became a good golfer really quick,” said Kacpura. “I broke 40 in nine holes in my first year playing.” A golf scholarship to Spring Hill College in Mobile, Ala., followed. Kacpura stayed there for two years before transferring to New Mexico State University where he studied professional golf management. According to Kacpura there are 10-12 schools of higher learning around the country which feature the specialized program, which is in fact a marketing degree. In addition to the normal college course load for a marketing degree, the Professional Golf Association gives several two-day workshops. Students pursuing a degree in professional golf management must also take 16 hours of summer coop classes, where they spend time at a golf course and are involved in the actual day-to-day operations of a golf course. All this can be overwhelming to the typical college student, so it is not unusual if the degree takes five years to complete. Kacpura spent his last summer coop working at the Diamondhead Country Club on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. After he finished his degree, he was asked to come back and work there. Before coming to River-lands Country Club as the golf pro in June, Kacpura had spent nine years on and off as an assistant golf pro. During the three off years, he was trying to get onto the PGA tour. Kacpura played in mini-tours, state events, and made it into Stage Two of the qualifying criteria in 1996. To qualify for the PGA tour, one must pass through the qualifying school. After paying the entry fee of $3,000, prospective members join a pool of about 900 golfers trying for the honor of playing on the tour. There are three stages, and only the top 40 or so golfers are given tour cards. While Kacpura has said he will never try and make the cut for the tour again, he fondly remembers the camaraderie the school fostered. “It was fun, don’t get me wrong. We stayed in the cheapest hotels, loaded an ice chest full of lunch meats, and tried to keep playing,” he said. But without sponsors, even the qualifying school can be very expensive. Kacpura described the current projects Riverlands has embarked on to improve the course. The two main projects the club has completed are the installation of new greens in 1999, and the upgrading of the irrigation system that allows the course supervisor to control the entire course sprinkler system from his home computer. With the upgraded greens, Kacpura and the course supervisor can make putting difficult due to very fast greens. The improvements to the irrigation system make it easier for the course managers to grow and maintain different heights of rough. Kacpura said his favorite part of being a golf pro is giving lessons. “I love seeing someone hit a shot they have never hit before and seeing the excitement,” he said. Junior golf also presents special rewards for Kacpura. “I’ve got several kids in colleges across the country on (golf) scholarships. Watching them grow up, seeing them advance, that’s what were here for,” he said. Kacpura has jumped into his job as course pro – giving lessons and brainstorming ideas to improve the course. “I’m very proud to have the opportunity to be a part of this place,” said Kacpura. “We beat around ideas all the time. We (Kacpura and the course supervisor) go out and play golf and kick around ideas (about how to improve the course). “The only challenge to making changes is to make it fit.”