Last Updated on Thursday, 01 January 2009 17:47 Thursday, 01 January 2009 17:41
by Gord Montgomery
Saying that golf pros don’t like the water is like saying Albert Einstein would likely run the category ‘Theory of Relativity’ on the game show Jeopardy. In other words, both are no-brainers.
So then, how do you explain former PGA pro and mini-tour veteran Steven Hawkins’ love affair with H2O?
After all, to a golf pro, a shot that nestles to the bottom of a water hazard is like the famed scientist proclaiming ‘E = mcHammer2,’ because neither works.
As it turns out though, both Hawkins and Einstein figured out a way to put things into perspective.
While the scientist went on to win accolades for his work by losing the Hammer reference, Hawkins found a way to combine his work with water, by becoming a cruise ship golf professional. By doing that, he feels he found a slice of heaven from being on the water rather than in it.
“I always thought this would be a great job - see the world and get to play some golf in some great places,” he said while en route to Hawaii on the Golden Princess just prior to Christmas.
“I got divorced last year so I came out for six months to clear my head and save a little money. But when I got out here I realized what a great opportunity this is.”
Landing the job on the ship wasn’t that hard the pro noted, saying he went on-line to track it down. He subcontracts his services through a company that supplies golf pros to four different cruise lines.
One of the biggest reasons Hawkins, who stated during this interview he has hopes of making it to the Champions Tour in a few years, likes this nomadic lifestyle is the opportunities it allows him.
As a land-locked teaching professional in the Hilton Head and Atlanta areas he had little time to work on his own skills.
Thus, the time at sea aboard a ship that has two virtual reality golf simulators, plus the ability to play with passengers at stops along the ship’s route, were a blessing in helping bring his game back up to par.
“Out here, not only do I get to do what I love to do, teach, but I also get to play. It’s hard to find this on land. Here you actually have the best of both worlds. You can do what you love to do plus work on your game.”
Hawkins did spend some time on mini-tours after becoming a PGA pro but never made it to the big show.
“There are lots of mini-tours out there but what I found was it was getting so expensive to play. In fact, after last spring when I was in the Caribbean and playing three times one week, four times the next, my game was getting pretty strong. So I went home and looked at different tours out there and found it was going to cost about $1,500 to $2,000 (US) a week to play the mini-tours. If you don’t place in the top 15 you don’t make much money.”
Thus, when he was offered the job with Princess Cruise Lines, he jumped at the offer. What he found was a more relaxed atmosphere among golfers on the cruise ship as opposed to their terra firma brethren.
“I think the main difference is that people on the ship are on vacation and are a little more jovial,” Hawkins noted. “They’re here to have a good time. They’re more relaxed. Plus, they’re playing in a new setting most of the time so they’re getting that plus the chance to play in tropical weather and the ability to play in the winter when it’s too cold at home to do so. I think it shows in their game as well.”
While on the ship Hawkins is free to set his own schedule. Because he doesn’t receive a base pay for his work, making his money instead from lessons and pulling down a percentage of the fees paid by golfers who participate in a ship’s golf outings, he must sell himself to the public on board. He does that in a couple of ways.
“I’m basically an independent contractor. Everything I do, I get a percentage of. In this job you better be good at sales and marketing. That’s why I do the clinics – you’ve got to get out in front of the people.”
The clinics he spoke of are free for anyone to attend with the first one taking place on the second day of the four-day journey across the Pacific Ocean to Hawaii. In the presentation he explains, and demonstrates, different techniques players can use to improve their game and fields a variety of questions about becoming a better player.
Through this he hopes to inspire players to visit him in his 14th floor ‘office’ where the simulators are located.
“It’s a good set up for the pro here,” Hawkins said of his working schedule. “On sea days we’re in the simulator. I spend the first couple of days of the cruise booking tee times on that for passengers. After that, I find I spend most of my time teaching. I do a lot of teaching. Other times you’re setting up the simulator for people playing. I try to give a few tips when I can which helps with lessons. And we do get to take people on excursions, so other than the clinic, that’s about it. Since this is a longer cruise (14 days) I’ll do two clinics. Usually on shorter cruises, I just do one clinic.”
Hawkins has found his mellow style works in drawing people to his on-board pro shop, which features NIKE golf equipment and clothing. Passengers come to his area for various reasons – to see how the simulator works, to look at equipment or just to talk to the pro about the game.
The attitude the paying passengers show toward him has always been good, Hawkins who is 45, noted. That’s maybe a result of his age and experience in the game which help him sell himself to the on-board population a little easier than some young golf professional, he feels.
“I enjoy it. I love the golf game. I could sit and talk golf all day,” he said about that interaction with the public.
“It probably does happen to me a little more than the younger guys because I am older. I think most of our sailing guests are around my age and when they come to my clinic I think they feel more comfortable with my experience level. I agree with you – most of the ships have guys that are in their mid-20s. I tend to do well on ships because I have 15-plus years of experience teaching and people are a little more trusting of me with their golf swing.”
As part of his duties, Hawkins not only takes the passengers to the courses they play during a cruise (this one had stops at Kauai Lagoons, the Ko’olau club in Honolulu which is rated as one of the top 100 courses in the world and the Plantation Course on Maui, home to the PGA’s Mercedes Championship) he also plays a portion of each track with the customers.
For many of his customers, having someone like Hawkins as part of their group is a big deal as they may never have had the chance before to play with a certified professional, even at their home course. Hawkins said he enjoys that interaction with his clients.
“I usually play three or four holes with each group depending on the number that are playing,” he explained. “I have to leave myself time at the end to take care of things. I usually break away from the groups to make sure (ship supplied) transportation is ready to take us back. It’s tough for me to play 18 holes unless you have a smaller group. A lot of times, like when I was in the Caribbean, I had 20 or 30 people each time I stepped off the ship. You do get to play a few holes here and there but most of the time you’re making sure everyone is enjoying their round of golf. I do try to take time to give a few pointers on their short game. I never give them instruction on their full swing on the course, though,” leaving that for the simulator area aboard the ship if a passenger desires that sort of help
“What I’ve noticed is that if I play really, really well the tips are good and I give a lot of lessons. So I try to hit the ball really well out there!” the pro said with a laugh.
While he’s enjoyed this lifestyle, Hawkins said this cruise was going to be his last one – at least for a while.
“I absolutely love what I do,” he said of this particular style of professional golf work. “I get people all the time who say ‘You have the best job in the world.’ My comment is ‘Yeah, I do!’ It’s a great job. My only drawback is my kids (and not getting to see them while he’s at sea). It if wasn’t for that situation, I could see myself out here for several years.”
That, along with his desire to make it to the Champions Tour when he’s age-eligible will see Hawkins head inland to spend time sharpening his own skills for that challenge as well as working as a teaching pro. His time at sea though, he says, will never be forgotten.
“I can tell you this: Most of my friends at home would love to be doing this! I feel like I’m very fortunate to have been able to do this. There are very few of us doing this. At any given time, there’s probably not more than 60 guys doing this, in the world. It’s a very good job. It’s a good position,” even if all he can see for days on end is one big water hazard.
Gord Montgomery is the sports editor of the Spruce Grove Examiner and Stony Plain Reporter newspapers.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .
By Gord Montgomery
About the writer: Gord Montgomery is the sports editor of two weekly newspapers in the Edmonton area and is a member of the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. He has written for Inside Golf for the past four years with the majority of his coverage in north and central Alberta. He can be reached at email@example.com://www.insidegolf.ca