PGA Championship Field Includes Topgolf Pro For First Time

Forbes May 22, 2023


PGA Championship Field Includes Topgolf Pro For First Time

Gabe Reynolds probably had the most unique preparation of any player at this week’s PGA Championship. That’s because most of his practice time was at Topgolf rather than a golf course.

A 43-year-old Texas native, Reynolds is the PGA Director of Instruction at Topgolf’s Park Lane venue in Dallas. It’s where the veteran instructor gave
the majority of his estimated 1,000 lessons over the past year and it’s where he most frequently hits balls when he’s not working – long before he was prepping for the golf season’s second major championship this week in Rochester, New York.

“It’s my first tour event, first major, so there’s definitely a balance of how new this experience is and navigating all that,” said Reynolds, who was a touring professional from 2004-10 and played in two Korn Ferry Tour events. “I’m just trying to stay in the present, enjoy the little details and not get ahead of myself thinking about results or anything else that’s out of my control.”

A total of 20 PGA professionals joined the tour pros in the 156-player field at Oak Hill Country Club in upstate New York. The PGA of America every year offers exemptions to a group of top finishers from its PGA Professional Championship and Reynolds earned a spot after tying for fourth place. In doing so, he became the first PGA pro from a golf entertainment venue, rather than the standard green-grass golf facility, to qualify for the PGA Championship.

Reynolds’s exemption showcases the evolution within the golf industry, as off-course forms of the game continue to reshape ways in which people
engage with the traditional game. While he might be the first Topgolf teaching pro in the PGA Championship, he surely won’t be the last.

“We have almost 100 really talented PGA professionals teaching lessons for Topgolf and a lot of them are excellent players as well,” said Reynolds. “We have some younger pros going through the PGA process now. Once they’re Class A Professionals, they’ll be able to give it a run too.”

This week, once he gets over the initial rush of playing in front of a major championship crowd and can focus simply on golf, Reynolds expects to be okay.

“The golf part, that’s the most comfortable,” said Reynolds, a PGA member since 2015, the year before he started at Topgolf. “The scale of everything else surrounding the golf is what’s so foreign to me. Once the round gets going, I’m hoping I can catch my breath and feel settled and really enjoy the process.”

That focus on playing – and helping others improve — is why Reynolds first got into golf instruction. And he embraces the special opportunity he has at Topgolf, particularly in introducing newbies, many of whom have never held a club before, to a game he’s so passionate about.

“Our place within golf instruction is that we provide an extremely non- intimidating environment for anybody to get a lesson,” he said. “I teach college players, high-level juniors, and some guys around a scratch handicap. But we also really provide an environment for beginners and junior golfers that’s welcoming, fun and energetic that not every public or private golf facility can.”

Last year marked the first time that more Americans played golf at off- course venues like Topgolf (27.9 million) than on a golf course (25.6 million), according to the National Golf Foundation. And those introduced to golf at Topgolf and other golf-entertainment spaces exhibit more interest in taking the next step to playing at an actual course, in part because of the capability and confidence developed in a hitting bay in a fun, non-intimidating setting.

“The thing we get a lot of at Topgolf that I find most fulfilling is somebody that’s on the fence. They might think, ‘Golf seems like something I like, but I don’t know if I can do it,’” Reynolds said. “Being able to be at the foundation and help them understand wha  the challenge is and work through the process of getting them ready to play golf, get on a golf course, and really see their love for the game blossom. It then becomes a meaningful part of their life in a way that I share.”

Places like Topgolf, and the accessible, approachable onramps they provide, are one reason that traditional on-course golf participation has increased in the U.S. for six straight years now.

And now Topgolf has even sent one of its own to the PGA Championship.

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