Southern Charm and Warm Personality leave mark on Jekyll Island.
by Robbie Burns, firstname.lastname@example.org
Johnny Paulk is a modern-day Rhett Butler.
Daily clad in classic golf attire, and two-tone shoes, he is immediately known by his welcoming, Georgia drawl.
“Johnny is a true Southern gentleman,” Georgia PGA Executive Director, Michael Paull, said. “He is the consummate pro and always goes out of his way to make you feel special.”
The Valdosta, Georgia native has been doing that as Georgia PGA professional for an amazing 50 years.
One month before The Beatles made their 1964 American television debut, live on the Ed Sullivan Show, Paulk made his entrance as a PGA professional, minus the screaming teenage girls.
“When I started,” Paulk said, “I never thought I’d go this far. I worked for Mr. Harold Sargent, former PGA president, at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta and took advantage of it. It’s all about work ethic.”
He worked from “sun up to sun down” never asking what time he could leave work or “how many vacation days” he would get each year. The opportunity to even play a round was as rare as a day off.
“We could only play on Sunday mornings,” Paulk recalled. “Now, I’m a good Catholic boy, so I would go to Mass first. While there, I would recruit some boys to go play with me. After finishing, I gave lessons the rest of the day.”
The majority of his 18,000 plus days as a PGA pro have been served on Jekyll Island.
“In 1967, the state of Georgia asked Mr. Sargent to find someone to come to Jekyll Island and take over for Mr. Bean, who was retiring,” said Paulk, who honeymooned on Jekyll with his wife, Virginia. “At first, I wasn’t that interested. I was talking with other clubs, but I decided to look into it further.”
Jekyll Island is blessed the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame member did.
“When you think of Jekyll Island,” said Doug Hollandsworth, Founder/CEO of The Georgia Golf Trail, “you think of great golf and Johnny Paulk.”
During his tenure, Jekyll’s golfing landscape has significantly evolved. The current clubhouse was built, and Indian Mound, the island’s third and final course was added in 1975. The original pro shop is now inhabited by McCormick’s Grill and the “cart barn” is now the current pro shop.
In the words of Jones Hooks, Jekyll Island’s executive director, Paulk “is Jekyll’s ultimate ambassador” and has “supported every conceivable golf tournament from the Georgia National Guard to US Kids Golf World Championship.” The Georgia PGA President’s Award winner is also the creator of the highly successful Georgia-Florida Golf Classic, which enters its 35th consecutive year in 2014.
“Johnny delivers a measure of comfort at Jekyll Island,” said Mike Waldron, LPGA Manager of Rules and Competition. “When you arrive and see him, you know you are going to get consistency in service from everyone involved there. He always treats the next customer like the last one, as if he’s the most important.”
In 1979, his former East Lake boss invited him to be the announcer on the ninth hole at The Masters. He stayed there for 20 years until taking over for close friend Leo Beckmann on the famed 18th.
Rhett Butler in a red coat is not hard to miss, though. His friendly charm has endeared him to fans and players alike.
“I like seeing Johnny out there every time I finish a round,” former PGA champion and close friend Davis Love III remarked. “It’s a great tradition the Masters has, and he does a great job.”
The Albany High School product has been showered, for his great work, with a host of honors that includes the Governor’s Faithful Service Award, Georgia PGA Public Merchandiser of the Year three times, Spalding Professional of the Year and twice the Georgia PGA Eastern Chapter’s Professional of the Year.
In 2011, Paulk received the Calvin Lee Murphy Award from the Georgia Athletic Coaches Association. Fittingly, it is given to a recipient “with a strong commitment to promote, preserve and strengthen the Georgia Athletic Coaches Association with activities that foster positive influences on both coaches and athletes in Georgia.”
In 2009, Johnny was inducted into the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame.
Jekyll Island’s current director of golf can attest to Paulk’s personal impact.
“Johnny gave me my first opportunity in the golf business,” Rob Ellis said. “I wasn’t sure if it was the career path for me, but he gave me a chance and now I have the distinct honor to continue his legacy on Jekyll Island.”
“When people think of Jekyll Island golf, there is no way to not mention Johnny Paulk. He laid the groundwork to everything that we are building on today. He epitomizes what it means to be a gentleman of the game and everything the PGA of America stands for.”