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.’’