After a teaching career, a pivot to golf
BIRMINGHAM – These days Karl Yergey sits alone in the room affectionately known as “The Attic” in the offices of the Alabama Golf Association.
His four fellow USGA P.J. Boatwright interns are gone – back to school or on to other jobs. On this late August day, he sits in front of his computer studying up on the Rules of Golf. The Attic will be his office until he finds a job in the industry at another USGA stop or when his internship ends in November.
Now, 57 years old, Yergey isn’t the typical Boatwright intern. For one, he was old enough to be the father of his now-departed fellow interns.
Mostly, though, at a time when most working stiffs in their 50s begin dreaming of retirement and what lies beyond, Yergey has immersed himself in a crash course in golf administration while making a career change. It’s quite the departure from his previous sedate lifestyle where he spent the past 20 years teaching history at a Maryland boarding school.
Then again, Yergey has never shied away from adventure. He’s made numerous solo trips to play golf in Scotland. In the Covid year, Yergey estimates he drove approximately 6,000 miles playing golf in parts of the country he had never visited.
For Karl Yergey, a late-in-life career change
Eschewing his teaching career for a late move to a career in golf was several years in the making. Yergey admitted he came close to entering a PGA Management program in 2018, but a conversation with his father put that dream on hold.
“He was like, ‘Karl, you can’t afford it. It is not something financially that you can do.’ He was right – it was more of a want than a need,’” Yergey recalled.
Two weeks after that conversation, his father was killed when struck by a car while on a bike ride just a half-mile from home.
“Any thoughts of changing my career and all that went on hold,” Yergey said.
He admits that except for his extended road trip in 2020 when he played golf in 10 states, mostly by himself, that he lost his sense of enjoyment for the game.
Fast forward to 2022 when he found his way back to the game by volunteering at a trio of AJGA events.
“I watched interns at the three different tournaments and it was like, ‘I can do that,’” he said. “When I was younger I had worked maintenance at Brookline. I knew how to do course set-up from when I coached high school golf. They were asking questions about the rules that I know.”
Energized by those volunteer efforts, Yergey’s dream of changing his career from teaching to golf moved from the back burner to the front burner.
Had a career in golf passed him by?
Encouraged by some interns and staffers at those AJGA events, Yergey applied for an intern position with that organization. But shortly after a Zoom interview, Yergey was turned down.
“I was like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding. I don’t know what else you want,’” he said. “I was pretty angry. But I knew I could always teach. But the more I thought about it, it’s terrible to say, but the less I wanted to teach. I’m not trying to bash education because it is a great career.”
That rejection left Yergey wondering if a career in golf had passed him by.
“I absolutely thought that,” he said. “I probably had that fear. I certainly was surprised to be rejected by the AJGA in three hours. Now, granted, I sent it in on a Saturday and I had the rejection by 11 a.m. on a Monday, so it was truly more than three hours. But yeah, I thought that maybe that window had closed, and I can’t lie and say that I’m anything but super excited that the opportunity hasn’t closed.”
After the AJGA rejection, Yergey turned to the USGA and researched the Boatwright internship program. He applied to five state associations, including Alabama, which was the only one that responded.
Yergey said he laid out his background in an introductory letter to the Alabama Golf Association and assured them that he understood the financial and health care ramifications of a potential move, what the job entailed and that he was willing to take the chance if they were.
In January, Yergey had a phone interview with Jeremy Gardner, the AGA eirector of junior golf, and Brian Scheufler, Director of rules and competition/course rating.
One question from Scheufler stood out – what would be the most difficult aspect about being offered a Boatwright internship opportunity?
Everyone was ‘You have to do it’
“I told him it would be walking into the headmaster of the school where I worked for 19 ½ years and telling him I was leaving May 1 because you just don’t do that,” Yergey said. “That’s not who I am.”
After being offered the internship, any trepidation of resigning at his school was quickly dispelled by the headmaster.
“Everybody was like, this is what you want. You have to do it. You deserve it,” he said. “It was such a relief knowing that I was going to be leaving with his blessing.”
Yergey’s family also was supportive – telling him they supported him even if it didn’t work out.
So, on May 1, Yergey packed what he felt like he needed into his Honda Civic and put the rest in storage in Maryland, and set sail for a new career and a new adventure in Alabama.
He started along with the four other interns on May 10 with a meeting in The Attic.
“Andy [Priest, AGA executive director] gave us kind of an overview and bang, the next day we were at River Chase for a state am qualifier and we were setting up tents,” Yergey said.
That first day Scheufler told Yergey two things that still resonate.
Impressed by the passion of Karl Yergey
“He said to remember that we are a customer service industry and that I didn’t have to be an expert on the rules, but you have to get it right if you make a rules decision,” Yergey said. “Those two things still stick in my head.”
Priest said having Yergey as an intern has been “awesome.”
“Throughout the country there have been other individuals who made career changes late in life – maybe not quite that late, but we were certainly excited for him,” Priest said. “We knew his background as an educator and teacher, his passion for the game. We knew we would have a great individual here. It was just a matter of whether he wanted to be an intern, if you will, and start over and learn from the ground up. He has been incredibly passionate about it and wanting to learn. He’s like a sponge – you can tell he really wants to do this and become a golf administrator, which is awesome.”
Priest said Yergey brought a different perspective to his internship.
“We had a really great group of interns this year,” Priest said. “No offense to past classes, but overall, I would say this was our best class from an experience standpoint, from a personality standpoint and a work ethic standpoint. They all did a great job for us. Karl’s passion I think fed off to the rest of the intern group as well. I think he kind of took the other interns under his wing.”
Yergey said he had a pretty good idea what he was getting himself into.
“Brian and Jeremy did a really good job of explaining that it was going be early mornings and late nights. It was going to be literally learning how to set up a golf course and how to run a tournament, and if necessary to interpret rules. There wasn’t anything that I have seen thus far this summer that I haven’t been prepared to see.”
Fellow intern and University of Alabama golfer Mary Mac Trammell said she was surprised to see someone Yergey’s age as an intern, but quickly came to respect him.
Ironically, a summer without golf
“He has so much energy and enthusiasm,” she said. “He just fit in. I have a lot of respect for what he did – leaving school to take an internship after 20 years. I can’t speak for everyone, but I probably learned a lot from him as a person. He approaches every day in what he was doing with such a positive attitude. He never complained. What he is doing is such a leap of faith.”
There is little in the way of downtime during the summer at the AGA. Seemingly every week the crew was somewhere overseeing a tournament or two. Although days off were rare during the busy summer months, Yergey has been able to explore Alabama – from taking in some minor league baseball games to the civil rights museums. One thing he didn’t get to do during the summer was play golf, even though he brought his clubs with him.
“I was told early on that yes, AGA stands for Alabama Golf Association but it also stands for Ain’t Going to Golf Anymore,” he said, laughing.
He will play in the upcoming 100 Hole Hike to support the Youth on Course initiative and might try to find some other opportunities now that most of the golf season has wrapped up.
Yergey’s internship ends in November and then it will be onto the next chapter in this late-life adventure.
“The next step is hopefully to find a full-time position somewhere wherever that may be,” he said. “It would kill my mother and stepmother to hear me say I’d go anywhere. But I’m the kid in the family who’s lived in Boston or West Virginia or Florida or wherever. Alabama. It doesn’t matter to me. What I like about it is having that flexibility. I’m single, not married, no kids. So, if the opportunity is in Georgia, great. If the opportunity is Idaho, great. To me, it’s a chance not only to do a new job, but it’s to see a different part of the country.”
Regardless of where he lands next, one thing Yergey will carry with him is the memory of his P.J. Boatwright internship in Alabama.
“At the end of the day I’ve learned a lot,” he said. “I’ve eaten well. I’ve met really great people. I’ve seen Alabama and I’ve seen some good golf courses and some fun golf courses – golf courses I would love to go back and play. I’ve also seen the future of golf. I didn’t meet Gordon Sargent, but I had a cursory introduction to Nick Dunlap. I’ve seen Tyler Watts, but whether they’re younger players or older players, be they men or women, I’ve seen some really good golf. I’ve had a blast.”
Gregg Dewalt is the editor of Alabama Golf News
Featured image of Karl Yergey (center) courtesy of the Alabama Golf Association