PGA Associate Aaron Oakley’s circumstances needed to change. Here’s how he turned falling dominos into a life-altering opportunity.
By Hayley Wilson
It’s no secret that major life events can have a domino effect on every aspect of the way you navigate your day-to-day existence.
For PGA Associate Aaron Oakley, dominos began falling with the pandemic, followed by the arrival of his daughter, and ultimately his facility closing, which all led to a staggering change.
“Timing is everything,” he emphasized.
Pre-pandemic, Oakley was managing RiverRidge Golf Course while also staying heavily involved in teaching and coaching. Logging 80-hour weeks during peak season was common, and even the off-season provided no relief.
“Priorities shifted, and things needed to change,” he said.
When the facility closed in 2021, others courses nearby took notice. Oakley was well-known in the area for his successful junior golf programming, which included hosting the largest PGA Jr. League program in the state of Oregon in 2020 and 2021, and a bustling junior camp operation. Other facilities wisely saw the value of bringing him and his business on board.
“PGA Jr. League put me in a unique spot,” said Oakley. “My golf course was closing, but I had places that were recruiting me as opposed to me pitching my programs to places. People were reaching out and saying how sorry they were [for the facility closure], yet I saw a life-changing opportunity.”
Oakley spent a month deciding his next move. In his down time, he became ADM certified and completed the Modern PGA Coach training, which he credits with furthering his interest in the team or group coaching model.
He landed at Pine Ridge Golf Club in Springfield, Oregon. With no strong junior golf program, the formerly private-turned-public golf course had incredible potential. Despite being thrilled with his new opportunity, Oakley had some trepidation.
“My previous course was right in the heart of Eugene, and now I’m a little out in the country. I’m 20 minutes away, which sounds like nothing… but in Eugene, if it’s not within 15 minutes, it’s considered too far,” Oakley said. “The unofficial slogan of the course is ‘Worth the Drive,’ if that tells you anything.”
Ultimately, it was the opportunities he had at RiverRidge Golf Course that provided Oakley with the confidence that he could recreate his successful program anywhere… even if it’s a little out in the country. And his new facility embraced Oakley and his PGA Jr. League program.
“For six weeks during the summer, they closed the back 9 holes on Wednesday evenings to allow for shotgun starts for our PGA Jr. League games,” he said. “With over 60 kids, there were 120 people, if not more, at the facility enjoying your food and beverage and merchandise.
So, how did Oakley create such a recruitable PGA Jr. League program in the first place? It’s a fairly simple formula once you break it down, but don’t let that discount the hours of hard work and passion he’s poured into it.
He listened. He learned. He communicated. Most importantly, he cared.
“I used parent feedback to drive the program forward,” said Oakley. “It was a combination of working with my Player Engagement Consultant and being really engaged with feedback. We wanted the program to fit the schedules of the parents, the schedule of the facility and the schedule of the coaches. I also worked hard to create a strong coaching staff. I have high school coaches involved, one who is an LPGA Member; a former PGA Member helping; as well as other facility staff assisting me.”
Communication continues to be an incredibly important factor. He prioritizes ensuring that parents have all of the information they need about the program before it ever begins. Oakley created a one-pager with rules that’s included in every email prior to game days. Line-ups are prepared ahead of time so the day is organized and runs smoothly.
“As soon as the players arrive, I ask them what hole they’re headed to and who their playing partners are for the day,” said Oakley. “It impresses parents that I have a relationship with these kids. I want them to know their kids are important to me.
“I truly care about my players,” he said. “I had 66 kids in PGA Jr. League this year, and I bet I could tell you each player’s grade, school and who their friends are in the program. After they register, I email them a survey to ask questions that are helpful to knowing and rostering them. From there, I pay attention. I know their other interests and the other sports they play. This is my business. I don’t have a private club player roster I need to memorize. I need to know these kids.”
Oakley recently accepted a position as the Head Girls Golf Coach at nearby Sheldon High School. It’s something he’s always wanted to do, and now he has the time to do it. Seeing so many girls from his junior golf programs on the team has only renewed his commitment to fueling the junior golf pipeline.
This past December, Oakley and his wife celebrated their daughter Kallaway’s first birthday. Through this life shift, you can tell he’s looking forward to the opportunities 2023 will bring.
“It’s been the most fun I’ve had,” he said with a smile. “I’m loving what I do.”