Storin: Sea Pines' John Farrell is living out his dream

storapse@aol.comApril 18, 2013 

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Harbour Town PGA head professional John Farrell stands outside the pro shop Monday afternoon at the 45th RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing at Harbour Town Golf Links in Sea Pines on Hilton Head Island.

SARAH WELLIVER — Island Packet Buy Photo

John Farrell is a man who knew what he wanted in life when he was a high school student in Pittsfield, Mass.

Some 35 years later, the director of golf at the Sea Pines Resort says he is "living a dream" as he goes about his duties at Harbour Town and prepares for the RBC Heritage tournament.

"Most of the retired people I know didn't find this wonderful place until they were in their 60s or 70s, and here I am at 51 and I've been here 29 years," Farrell says.

Farell grew up across the street from Pittsfield Country Club and worked many jobs -- caddy, ball retriever, grass cutter, etc. -- while in high school and college. And along the way he became a low handicap golfer.

He is one of nine children. His father died in February, but his mother, who has 27 grandchildren, still lives in the same house they've called home for 47 years.

After graduating from Springfield College, Farrell moved to Hilton Head Island in 1984 and found a job at Shipyard Golf Club.

"Like it does now, this area had such a terrific reputation, and I figured it was such a great place to get started," Farrell says. "I met my wife, Jane, who was an outstanding tennis player and also worked at Shipyard."

In 1989 Farrell became head golf professional at the Ocean Course in Sea Pines and two years later was promoted to Sea Pines' director of golf.

"I am so lucky. This is a great place to raise a family," Farrell said. "Megan (19) attends Clemson, Thomas (16) plays lacrosse at Hilton Head Island High and Charlie (13) is into golf."

This week Farrell will work from sunrise to sunset behind the scenes at the RBC Heritage tournament for the 22nd year.

"It's not really work," he says. "It's such a treat helping to host a party of 30,000 happy people."

Farrell's primary duties during the tournament include acting as a liaison with the golfers and PGA Tour officials, supervising retail sales, and watching over the driving range.

"I have a special relationship with Slugger White (the top official of the PGA rules committee). I consider him a dear family member, and we stay in contact throughout the year."

Farrell's favorite pro golfers are those who treat the locker room staff well.

"Class guys like Nick Price and Tom Watson come to mind immediately," he said.

Farrell pointed out how the locker room atmosphere has changed over the years.

"It used to be kegs of beer and ash trays. No more. Now it's fresh fruit and healthy snacks. These guys are so into physical fitness," he said.

"And it's not just Tiger Woods. Practically everyone has a fitness specialist. It used to be that you could look out on the driving range and identify the golfers by the shape of their bodies. No more. Now they all are slim and fit."

I asked Farrell his view on why Tiger skips the Harbour Town tournament.

"Most people think it's because of the tight fairways and trees," he said. "That's not true. It's simply a matter of schedule. He does not play the week after a major tournament like the Masters.

"But that is okay. We've got a great field here without him."

One of the many delights of the tournament for Farrell is the way the community responds.

"The last couple of weeks residents have been cleaning up their property -- repainting their decks, planting flowers and tidying up," he said.

Despite his professional and family obligations Farrell has found time to volunteer his services to the Heritage "Hooked on Golf" program run by the Boys & Girls Club and the Program for Exceptional People.

"It's not just me," John pointed out. "Everyone on our staff (14) is encouraged to give back to the community."

Overseeing three golf courses consumes much of his time, but one of his priorities is working with the Hilton Head Island Junior Golf Association, teaching young kids at golf clinics around the island.

"I give about six or eight individual lessons a week and only for Sea Pines residents and their families," he said. "It is no longer the primary function of my job."

One of the lucky pupils is David Hutchison, a longtime resident.

"I've had 10 or so lessons over the years," Hutchison said, "but I get to play with John once in awhile and he is quick to pick up things I am doing wrong.

"When he gives a lesson he works on one phase of your game, one thing to improve on. And he makes sure you understand what he is talking about.

"John is a fine golfer. Very consistent and a real competitor," Hutchison added.

Farrell the instructor says the most interesting student he has ever had is his son, Charlie. "He has lot of questions, but like most teens he doesn't listen to my answers."

Farrell is excited about the two new clubhouses -- one under construction at the Ocean/Heron Point courses and the other which will be built at Harbour Town starting in 2014.

"We have great owners here at Sea Pines," Farrell said. "They don't want to just repair, they want to rebuild."

Just another reason John Farrell is "living a dream."

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