CLEARWATER - It was "dumb luck" that brought John Hayes to become the head golf professional at the Chi Chi Rodriguez Golf Club.
Hayes had no ambitions of moving to Florida when he took the job after being the head professional for 19 years at the nationally renowned Bellerive Country Club. He and his wife had twin boys and Hayes wanted to teach full-time. And, apparently, it can get a little cold in St. Louis.
He did some research on Florida and noticed that, demographically, Tampa is a lot like St. Louis, but with weather that allows for year-round golf. He didn't want a resort town with beaches or amusement parks, so he decided to give Chi Chi's a try when he heard about an opening, with the plan to give it a year. Now he's decided to give it a lot more than that.
"I can golf here anytime I want, and this is the perfect spot for me," Hayes said. "It had everything I wanted and, the thing is, Tampa is a real city. It isn't like a resort town, it is just real. It reminds me a lot of St. Louis only with golf all year."
Hayes has been a golfer most of his life. He started when he was a kid and played all through high school and college. He never took a chance with Q-School, but he's always worked at improving his game.
He also has worked at improving his teaching. Hayes learned those teaching skills from legendary PGA Hall of Famer Manuel de la Torre, who taught Hayes all about the golf swing. Since then, Hayes has written several books, including his latest, "Learning Golf With Manuel." It's an easy read for anyone with the basic concept of the golf swing.
"Anyone can swing a golf club," Hayes said. "It isn't easy though. Some people say that hitting a baseball is the hardest thing in sports, but in baseball, you can hit it out of bounds and get another pitch. In golf, you can't just climb into the stands and hit another shot. That's a stroke. You have a lot less room for the ball to be in play in golf. It's easy to hit a golf ball, it just isn't easy to know where it's going."
Hayes isn't one of those head golf professionals who yearn to play every day, although he gets out plenty enough. Hayes loves teaching the game. He is active with the First Tee of Clearwater and works with the kids at the Chi Chi Rodriguez Golf Academy. His office at the Chi Chi Rodriguez Golf Range, across the street from the school and golf course, is his headquarters, so he spends a lot of time out on the driving range.
"I played a lot of golf, but teaching is how I really got into it," Hayes said. "I asked myself if I wanted to be a head professional and I knew that was what I really wanted."
Hayes made a big impact in the golf teaching world from the start. He was named the No. 1 teacher in the state of Missouri by Golf Digest and has been ranked in the top 50 in the nation for teaching kids by U.S. Kids Golf. He's also won the Horton Smith Award for golf education twice.
Hayes is available for private and group lessons and all fees go to the Chi Chi Rodriguez Youth Foundation.
For more information, contact John Hayes at the Chi Chi Rodriguez Golf Range at 2987 McMullen Booth Road in Clearwater.