Aaron Oakley reveals why the PGA Jr. League is a Worth The Drive by putting his junior golf prowess into trust
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 coronavirus pandemic, followed by the arrival of his daughter and, ultimately, his facility closing — all of it leading to a staggering change.
“Timing is everything,” he emphasizes.
A change of scenery
Oakley was pre-pandemic and managed RiverRidge Golf Course near Eugene, Oregon. She also continued to teach and coach. Peak season was a common time when people worked 80 hours per week. Even the off-season did not provide any relief.
“Priorities shifted, and things needed to change,” Oakley adds.
The facility closed in 2021 and other courses near it were quick to take 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 ‘21, and a bustling junior camp operation. Other facilities saw the benefit of Oakley and his business and welcomed him on board.
“PGA Jr. League put me in a unique spot,” says Oakley. “My golf course was closing, but I had places that were recruiting me as opposed to me pitching my programs. People were reaching out to me and expressing their regret. [for the facility closure], yet I saw a life-changing opportunity.”
Oakley spent over a month contemplating his next move. He spent a month deciding what next move would be.
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He then made his way to Pine Ridge Golf Club in Springfield. With no strong junior golf program, the formerly private-turned-public golf course had incredible potential. Oakley was excited about his new opportunity but he also had some reservations.
“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 quips. “The unofficial slogan of the course is ‘Worth the Drive,’ if that tells you anything.”
With roaring success, a new chapter begins
Ultimately, it was the opportunities he had at RiverRidge that provided Oakley with the confidence he could recreate his successful program anywhere — even if it’s a little out in the country.
His new facility was a gift that he accepted.
“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,” recalls Oakley. “With over 60 kids, there were 120 people, if not more, at the facility enjoying food & beverage and merchandise.”
How did Oakley create a PGA Jr. League program that was so recruitable? 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. He cared.
“I used parent feedback to drive the program forward,” says Oakley. “We wanted the program to fit the schedules of the parents, the schedule of the facility and the schedule of the coaches. I worked hard to build a strong coaching staff. I have high school coaches involved, one who is an LPGA Member, plus a former PGA Member as well as other facility staff assisting me.”
Communication is still a very important factor. He insists on making sure parents are informed about the program before it begins. Oakley created a one-pager with rules that’s included in every email prior to game days. The day runs smoothly because the lines are prepared in advance.
“As soon as the players arrive, I ask them what hole they’re headed to and who their playing partners are for the day,” says Oakley. “It impresses parents that I have a relationship with these kids. I want them know how important they are to me.
“I truly care about my players. I had 66 kids in PGA Jr. League last year, and I bet I could tell you each player’s grade, school, who their friends are in the program, their other interests and the other sports they play. This is my business. I need to know these kids.”
Oakley recently accepted a position at Sheldon High School as the Head Girls Golf coach. It’s something he’s always wanted to do, and now he has the time to do it. He is reaffirmed his commitment to developing the junior golf pipeline by seeing so many young girls from his junior golf programs join the team.
This past December, Oakley and his wife celebrated their daughter Kallaway’s first birthday. Through this life shift, he’s looking forward to the opportunities 2023 will bring.
“It’s been the most fun I’ve had,” he says with a smile. “I’m loving what I do.”
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