From the Ground Up
By Joel Zuckerman
t turned out to be the most important sale of his career. Before he got into the golf business a dozen years ago, David Blankenship, currently the head professional at Belfair Golf Club in Bluffton, had to convince his wife Mary that leaving his corporate job selling computer systems in Cincinnati would ultimately be a good career move. “I didn’t see myself selling computers my whole life,” explains the pro, earnestly. “Golf was always a passion, and there’s not too much golf going on in Cincinnati in the wintertime.” So southward they moved.
“I was a 30 year old guy, working the bag drop at Old South,” explains Blankenship, now 43. Their teenage daughter Taylor was just a baby at the time. “Yeah, I guess you could say that convincing Mary to move down here and let me try the golf business was the ultimate sales job.”
Blankenship told me his story as we toured his home turf, sticks in hand, on a delightful autumn afternoon. “I knew this area well, had been vacationing down here for years, and had some acquaintances in the golf business. My parents had a condo in Palmetto Dunes, which is how I got to know the area.”
And he got to know the golf business the old-fashioned way—from the ground up. “I went from cart attendant at Old South to assistant pro at Old Carolina,” he recalls, his golf background cemented at two of Bluffton’s most popular daily fee facilities.
All told he spent seven years at Old South and Old Carolina, moving up through the ranks, until he was named head pro at the latter. Then he made a surprising move to 1st assistant, but a big move upward in terms of prestige, to upscale Belfair, with its awe-inspiring Avenue of the Oaks entrance, a welcoming sight during the daily commute. Three years after arrival, Blankenship moved into the top spot once again.
I love the golf courses, the people I work for and the members. It’s a very active membership of 750, and they keep us on our toes. We’re constantly striving to improve, and continue to find new and better ways to do things.”
David and wife Mary send their two children, 14 year old Taylor and 10 year old Conner, to the St. Francis School on Hilton Head. But home is the Fern Lakes neighborhood in Bluffton, “one of the first real estate communities in the town,” according to the pro. “We lived on Hilton Head at first, but it was too transient. You’d get to know someone, and then they’d be gone. Our neighborhood is much more stable, and we’ve been in town for ten years.”
The pro thinks he might be among the last of a dying breed. “The biggest difference I see between now and a dozen years ago is that when I got into the business, more guys who were staring at the bottom rung had their eye on the top,” explains a guy who scaled the ladder. “Nowadays, many of the guys working the bag drop one year are working construction or in a restaurant the next. It seems there are less of them in it for the long haul.”
Initially, it must have been a shock to the salesman-turned-cart-attendant when he discovered the “dirty little secret” that must come as a shock to newbies in the golf business: Quite often, there’s precious little time for playing golf. “I really don’t get to play or practice much,” concedes Blankenship, belying the fact he was making birdies all over the course, in a variety of ways—mile-long putts, delicate bunker blasts, chipping from the collar after easily reaching par 5s in two blows. “But at least we get to dress nicely,” concludes this very nice guy, who is smoothly running the golf operation at one of the nicest facilities in the Lowcountry.
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