2018 PGA Professional of the Year: A Q&A with Dan Pasternak
Dan Pasternak (L) receives the 2018 PGA Professional of the Year Award from PGA President Paul Levy.
As a 22-year PGA Member, Dan Pasternak epitomizes the consummate PGA Professional. The PGA General Manager at New Jersey’s Essex Fells Country Club has served as a mentor to PGA colleagues, has gone beyond in his volunteer service to the game, and has led selflessly throughout his career—all leading to his selection as the 2018 PGA Professional of the Year.
Related: Pasternak's PGA Magazine Feature
The Met Golfer EXTRA caught up with Pasternak to gather his insight and reflections on his distinguished career:
Extra: What does it mean to be the first New Jersey PGA Section member named PGA Golf Professional of the Year?
Pasternak: It is quite an honor to be the first PGA of America Golf Professional of the Year from New Jersey. I hope this recognition underscores the quality of the excellent golf professionals we have in New Jersey, both past and present. I am honored to be one of them and share this award with them.
E: What’s your earliest golf memory and what hooked you on the game?
P: I remember the first time I swung a club. I was at the local baseball field watching my older brother Edward play baseball. My Uncle Nick, who is a golfer, brought a five iron and some balls with him to the game. I went over to an adjacent field with him and he let me take a few swings. I was hooked instantly. I begged my parents for clubs. They relented and got me a starter set pretty quickly.
E: What do you enjoy most about your job?
P: I’ll answer this question two ways: first, as a PGA Professional and second as a General Manager responsible for the entire operation.
As a golf professional, it is and has always been about sharing the game I love with others. My parents were not golfers. As I stated above, My Uncle Nick first put at club in my hands, and I played literally hundreds and hundreds of rounds with my cousins Kurt, Nick, and Kevin Kroeper. I became passionate about the game from the start, as I loved everything about it. I not only love to play, I love to watch golf; I love to read about the history of golf; I love the values of honesty, integrity and self-reliance by which we play. It was only natural that I would make my life around the game. I want others to have the chance to experience at least some of the joy I get from golf. My uncle and cousins gave me a great gift.
As a GM, I like making the plan, building the team and training and motivating the team to achieve our shared vision. The little successes, as well as overcoming the challenges along the way excite me. As I have said to my team, many, many times, “brick by brick.”
E: In what ways does being a PGA Member make you a better General Manager?
P: I consider my background and training as a PGA Golf Professional critical in any success I have had a general manager. Golf professionals are trained through their PGA education to run a business and in many cases have had the experience of owning their own shop. They are also trained in providing excellent customer service and have literally been on the front lines dealing with their members or patrons from the time they arrive at the course and throughout the experience. Golf professionals are also trained in management and have practical experience in hiring, training, motivating and performance accountability, as well as in the human resource related issues that go along with leading a team. Golf professionals receive training in agronomy and their backgrounds in competitive golf give them a great understanding of and valuable insight into course maintenance. Assuming the golf professional has learned what they need to run a successful food and beverage operation, the PGA golf professional is well positioned in all of the critical areas of the club/course operation. I feel my background as a competitive golfer, and the experience that brings, my PGA education and the leadership positions I have held prepared me well to meet the challenges of effectively running the entire operation.
E: What do you feel have been the biggest changes for a general manager’s role during your career?
P: More than anything the business has gotten much more competitive. It is critical that you understand your market and what differentiates you from the competition. Good is no longer good enough. Clubs that do not realize this and fail or are slow to adapt will be very challenged.
E: You’ve been a highly active member in the New Jersey PGA Section. What is your favorite aspect of serving on committees and in leadership roles?
P: I have been fortunate to serve on more than seventy NJPGA and PGA of America committees. I love the opportunity and find it enormously gratifying to share what I have learned in making the game and the vocation of PGA Professional better. I am honored every time I am asked to contribute and have no doubt I have received much more than I have put into it. No doubt, my favorite aspect of serving has been the amazing and wonderful people I have been privileged to meet and work with. In golf, we know the cliché: “there are no strangers, just friends I have not played with yet.” If you are in the PGA you are more than a friend, you are family. It is a great organization and I am very proud to be a member.
E: What’s your advice for up-and-coming PGA Members?
P: My advice would be to do more. The business is very competitive and if you want to be successful, you must set goals and work harder than everybody else to achieve them. A very smart person in the business, Michael Leemhuis, once told me it’s about “putting arrows in the quiver.” It is critical to keep educating yourself and keep doing the things that will differentiate yourself from the competition. I’d also tell them to work on their games and play. Our ability to play and teach the game is what truly separates us.
E: What are you most excited about for the future at Essex Fells Country Club?
P: Essex Fells Country Club is an amazing place. The club is doing very well in its 123rd year and I am very proud to be the PGA General Manager here. I am really excited about our strategic plan for the future. It is auspicious, but I have no doubt that with direction, dedication, and sustained effort, we will realize our vision and deliver a truly best-in-class family country club that has a real impact on the lives of our members and guests. I have an amazing team of professionals that I work with who are all the very best at what they do, especially making people feel welcome, appreciated and right at home.