Unlikely Twosome: Youth on Course and a pandemic

A newfound love for the game leads to PGA Management study at U of Idaho

by Crai S. Bower

When four-year-old Ford Negri raked his first bunker at Seattle’s Sand Point Country Club, he had no idea the role groundskeeping would play in his life. 

Steve Negri with his son Ford – it took a pandemic and the Youth on Course program to get Ford back into the game.

His father Steve, who grew up playing at West Plains Country Club in southern Missouri, says he was never confident Ford would care about golf at all.  

“When they were young I tried to get them excited about the game,” Steve says. “They had access, but neither Ford nor his brother had any interest. They just had so much going on. Ford was involved with lacrosse early on, soccer, and all the school extra-curricular stuff. It was frustrating, I’d never even seen lacrosse before, but I also loved watching them do what they loved to do.” 

And then along came COVID. 

When group sports shut down during the pandemic, Ford, having received a set of irons for Christmas, started hitting balls at the range. His natural ability (he was a face-off specialist in lacrosse, a very unique skillset) led to lessons to study his golf swing. His athleticism and drive motivated him to get better. Quickly.  

Though he’d only started playing in earnest eight months before, he was determined to make the Roosevelt High School golf team, a perennial state contender. By the time he made the team his junior year, he’d lowered his handicap to an 8.  

“The WA Golf Youth on Course program, where Ford could play the munis for five bucks with his friends, was a game changer,” says Steve.

At four years old, Ford raked his first bunker. Who knew at that time where it would lead him?

Ford also joined the greens crew at Sand Point, where he learned that golf courses were much more than tee boxes, fairways and greens.  

“I started thinking about literally every blade of grass, the difference an extra inch of rough can make and how any good hole is an individual portrait in the collective beauty of a golf course,” Ford says. “I learned from my superintendent that you could go to Washington State University to study turf management.” 

Though he wasn’t sure about agronomy at WSU, when a Sand Point member told Ford about the PGA Golf Management Program at the University of Idaho he couldn’t believe his ears.

“I’d become so passionate about the game,” he says. “It was surreal that, even if traditional academics weren’t my strong suit, I could make a career out of golf.” 

“We’d begun looking at colleges,” says Steve. “He’d told me about Washington State. We also knew there were a handful of golf management schools in the United States, but we never would have thought Idaho had a program. It was clearly meant to be.” 

The University of Idaho PGA Golf Management Program is part of the Business School, one of the premier programs in North America. Students complete all the business degree coursework with a comprehensive golf management and teaching concentration. Candidates must also complete 16 months of internships, including a final post-graduate seven-month internship. 

Ford began working on the Sand Point greens crew during the pandemic.

“Our students receive more than a thousand internship offers annually,” says Cole Mize, the PGA Management director, and program alumna. “They’re recruited with competitive pay, housing, and the opportunity to work and learn at some of the most prestigious courses in the world.”  

The 60 or so students also play a lot of golf, whether on the annual September trip to Montana, on the UI course or, over winter, in the state-of-the-art practice facility on campus in Moscow, Idaho.  

“They graduate with both excellent golf pro and business skills,” says Cole. “In 20 years, our grads have a perfect career placement record.” 

Ford sees himself as a PGA Head Professional one day, ideally in the United Kingdom to start, a vision he shares with Steve. However, he plans to spend his first internship close to home, a decision that also agrees with his dad.

“Ford has made me play a lot more golf in the past couple of years,” says Steve. “I can’t say I like playing behind him by 50 yards after every drive, but watching his passion grow for the game I love sure has been fun.” 

Crai S. Bower writes scores of adventure travel articles a year for over 25 publications, including golf stories for American Way, Hearst Media and Journey magazine. He appears regularly on the American Forces Network as a travel commentator. Visit his site at FlowingStreamMedia.net