SARATOGA SPRINGS – When Derek Sprague ran for the prestigious position of PGA president, his campaign slogan was “Derek Delivers.” The former head pro at Malone Golf Club certainly delivered in more ways than one during his long and successful golf administration career.
Sprague, who landed a job as the managing director of Liberty National Golf Club in Jersey City, NJ in 2016 following 27 years as the GM and Director of Golf at Malone, recently was named the General Manager at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, FL., home of The Players Championship. Despite his numerous national honors and high-profile positions, he said the highlight of his career was joining good friend Kevin Hughes in the Northeastern New York PGA Hall of Fame Monday at Saratoga National Golf Club.
“This is the highlight of my life,” said Sprague in an emotional acceptance speech. “The NENY PGA may be the smallest section, but it’s also the nicest section, and I’ve seen them all. This is definitely the highlight of my career. This is it.”
PRESENTED BY MENTOR
Sprague was presented by longtime friend Dr. Harold Teer, who taught and mentored him at James Madison University. Sprague would make the long drive from Malone to Harrisonburg, VA whenever he was called upon or if he needed more advice than a phone call could provide. (This was long before the age of Skype.)
“The first time I saw Derek, he was wearing slacks, a shirt, and a tie. He was also carrying a briefcase,” Teer said. “This was at a time when almost all of the kids were wearing t-shirts.
“I knew this guy was different. He had an extreme attention to detail,” Teer pointed out. “Derek’s honesty, integrity, professionalism and his love for both his family and the PGA make him what he is today.”
Sprague became the head pro at Malone when he was only 21-years old and helped bring that club out of financial disaster. He quickly became interested in section events and rose up the ladder until he became NENY PGA President in 2003-04. Section awards included the Professional of the Year trophy in 2005 and 2008, as well as the Bill Strausbaugh Award four times. He’s also a former Merchandiser of the Year for public courses. He went on to serve as the PGA District 1 Director.
Sprague’s administrative prowess continued on the national scale when he was elected PGA Secretary in 2010. He became national VP in 2012. After 23 months, he was briefly was elevated to interim-president during the Ted Bishop incident that gained headlines. Sprague was officially elected PGA president on November 22, 2014 in Indianapolis.
During his presidential term, Sprague led the PGA as golf debuted as an Olympic sport and helped oversee the PGA’s centennial anniversary. Sprague is the only NENY PGA member to achieve service as a PGA of America national officer.
“I’m just grateful that I was given the opportunity to serve,” Sprague said. “It seems like when I look back on my life, the timing has been great. The PGA professional at Malone left when I got out of college, and the job was there for me. There was a spot for me on the National Board of Directors just at the right time. That’s the way it has worked out for me.
“The cadence of my career has worked so well. To get hired down at Liberty National just when the previous GM left, and then having the Presidents Cup there. Timing has been on my side,” he said.
Sprague, who oversaw much of the last Ryder Cup competition, said he is thrilled with where the U.S. team is right now. “I read John Feinstein’s book (The First Major: The Inside Story of the 2016 Ryder Cup), and he’s a great author,” Sprague said. “I think he captured the essence of the Ryder Cup. The American team is in a great place right now. They are on the right path.”
HEADED FURTHER SOUTH
As far as his new job is concerned, Sprague is ready for the next challenge in Florida.
“I’m thrilled. I can’t wait to get started down there,” he said. “It’s a big operation, but I’ve never been one to run away from fires. It’s exciting to be heading right in and getting prepared for the Players Championship next spring. Now, it’s bang bang.”
Locally raised, the affable and fun-loving Hughes was more known for his playing ability as a younger pro, winning section Match Play titles in both 1998 and 2010, but the Saratoga Golf & Polo Club head pro dove into section administration over the last couple of decades.
Hughes started out as an assistant pro at Glens Falls Country Club in 1984 and later helped run Hiland Golf Club during the club’s construction process. He earned his Class A PGA membership and became the head pro at Kingswood Golf Club for 14 years. Hughes, with strong backing from Glens Falls CC head pro Tom Haggerty, was hired at Saratoga G&P in 2003.
Hughes served on numerous section committees, including the tournament, employment, board of inquiry and hall of fame. He began his service on the board of directors in 2010-2011 and later became section secretary, vice president and president. He won the Roland Stafford Award, the Bill Strausbaugh Award and the Golf Professional of the Year in 2013.
“He’s easily one of the most qualified assistants I’ve ever had,” said his Haggerty, his mentor, who presented him Monday after taking a few good-natured jabs, including the tongue-in-cheek top 10 reasons why Hughes shouldn’t be inducted. “He’s a great asset to the PGA and to the Saratoga Golf & Polo Club,” Haggerty said.
“Today is an honor for me,” Hughes said. “My involvement in the PGA is so important to me. Now, I know my name will be forever linked with all of the other Hall of Famers. This is definitely the biggest honor of my golfing career,” he said. “It’s even sweeter going into the Hall of Fame with Derek Sprague. We are very similar, and we started out in this business at about the same time.”
In other section news, Hiland Golf Club assistant pro Scott Berliner was presented both the Omega Player of the Year and Vardon Trophy awards. Skidmore College head coach Tom Oppedisano accepted the award for Berliner, who is in Florida.
Berliner won two of the five section majors – the Stroke Play for the seventh time and the Donald Ross for the fifth time – and finished second in both the Professional Championship and the Omega Tour Championship. He won the Vardon Trophy for the fifth time overall and the fourth time consecutively with a stroke average of 69.55 and sank 53 birdies.
Dal Daily of Windham CC was the Senior Player of the Year, John Durcan of Alapaha Golf Club was the Legends Player of the Year and Chris Sanger of Red Hook was the Omega Assistants Player of the Year.