Area pro relishes time on PGA board

Posted: May 9, 2013

The Winchester Star

WINCHESTER — If one of the keys to happiness is taking something you love and making it your life’s work, the city’s Mike Ahrnsbrak has plenty of reasons to smile these days.

For the past two-and-a-half years, Ahrnsbrak, 57, has served on the PGA of America’s board of directors, representing District 10 and its more than 3,300 members.

The general manager and head professional at Blue Ridge Shadows Golf Club in Front Royal since it opened in 2007, Ahrnsbrak has been around the game almost his entire life, but admits that the past few years have been some of the best.

Sworn in as a board member in November 2010, Ahrnsbrak — who represents the Middle Atlantic (Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C.), Carolinas and Kentucky PGA sections — has gotten to do some things golf aficionados can only dream of.

He’s served as the announcer on the first tee at the PGA Championship, helped oversee the head-to-head match between Matt Kuchar and Lee Westwood at last year’s Ryder Cup and has sat within a few feet of golfing greats Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson at dinner.

He’s had a hand in helping to develop and implement Golf 2.0, an initiative aimed at driving new players into the game and keeping them playing for a long period of time, and has also helped run other PGA of America events like the PGA Senior Championship and the PGA Grand Slam of Golf.

Not bad for a guy who simply wanted to “do something in golf” when he graduated from Rollins College in Florida.

“Obviously as a kid growing up, you want to play at the highest level, and if I had it all to do over again I might try a little harder, spend a little more time playing the game to see if I could get to the point where I could compete at the PGA Tour level,” said Ahrnsbrak, who did qualify to play in two PGA Tour events, the 1985 Kemper Open and the 1992 Anheuser-Busch Classic, but failed to make the cut in either due at least in part to a bad case of nerves.

“But aside from playing on the tour, this is the next best thing. You’re around the game every day, the view out of my office is of a golf course, I get to teach, and I’ve gotten to see the greatest golfers in the world play. To be able to be around a game that you love as your career, you can’t find much better than that.”

Ahrnsbrak, who is serving out the final year of a three-year term, said he gets the most joy out of introducing people to the game as the head pro at Blue Ridge Shadows, but he’s valued his time as a board member.

An elected volunteer position, Ahrnsbrak had to campaign for his seat and has spent as many as 30 to 40 days a year on the road fulfilling his duties.

“It’s a substantial time commitment ...,” said Dick Johns, a former executive director of the Middle Atlantic Section. “It’s an honor, but it’s also a lot of responsibility. The board members make a lot of the decisions that are critical to the careers of PGA professionals across the country, on everything from financial and membership issues to eligibility requirements.

“It’s not a job for everyone, but Mike’s someone who takes it seriously and has done it well. He’s not a bashful guy, he stands up for what the section wants and what he thinks is best.”

Although the next logical step would be to run for one of the office positions, Ahrnsbrak plans to return to his normal duties at the club when his term ends in November.

He will go out having not only served on the board of the largest working sports association in the world with roughly 27,000 members in both the U.S. and abroad, but also as the first Middle Atlantic Section representative from Virginia.

“It’s a very unique honor, because it doesn’t come around every year,” said Rick Miller, a former club pro who got to know Ahrnsbrak while he was the head pro at Shenandoah Valley Golf Club. “You’re representing three sections for a three-year term, and then it rotates. So it only comes around every nine years.”

Miller said that if you asked most PGA professionals, the reason they do what they do is because of their love for the game and the desire to make it better for more people, and Ahrnsbrak is no different.

Whether it’s announcing Rory McIlroy on the first tee at this year’s PGA Championship, working with some of the top high school golfers in the area or setting up the “Get Golf Ready” program at Blue Ridge Shadows that’s geared toward newcomers or people trying to get back into the game, if it has to do with golf, he’s all about it.

“I love what I do,” Ahrnsbrak said. “That’s hard to find in this day and age, something you can make your vocation and still love it. I love the game. I love playing the game, I love sharing my love for the game with other people, teaching them, mentoring them. It’s been a blast.”

— Contact Kevin Trudgeon at ktrudgeon@winchesterstar.com