Having grown up pretty much on a golf course, it was only natural for Kirk Schooley to end up making a career out of the sport.
In May, Schooley celebrated 14 years of being the golf pro at Juniper Hill Golf Course.
He grew up in Columbus, Indiana, with a father who was a golf pro.
“My dad was a pro in Kentucky, Indiana and Tennessee,” he said. “I grew up in a pro shop.”
By age 5 or 6, Schooley and his brother, Rocky — who is the golf pro at the Wild Turkey Trace golf course in Lawrenceburg — were chipping or putting on practice greens.
“Starting about age 9, we were playing in tournaments,” he said.
Schooley played golf all through high school until graduating in 1979 and receiving a full-ride scholarship to play at Ball State University. He played all four years and graduated in 1983 with a degree in counseling psychology.
“We had good teams while I was there,” he said. “We were able to make NCAA top 20 my junior and senior year.”
In 1983, Schooley’s senior year of college, he won the Mid-American Conference championship.
“That’s been my biggest accomplishment,” he said.
After college, he started working at a course in Columbus. In 1990, he accepted a head golf pro position at Mt. Sterling Country Club, where he worked for 14 years before coming to Juniper Hill in 2004.
State Journal: What did you like about playing golf when you were a kid?
Schooley: I always liked playing against adults. I used to always hang around the putting green and try to challenge the adults. We’d have putting games. I would beat them sometimes. I putted better when I was 11 or 12 years old than I ever have since.
SJ: What are some of your golf highlights since college?
Schooley: I’ve won Player of the Year three times in the regular Kentucky PGA and once in the senior division.
I haven’t done as much the last couple of years. Hopefully, later in the fall and late summer, I’ll get back into it.
SJ: What are some of your favorite courses to play around the state?
Schooley: The older country clubs are all pretty. The Greenbrier Golf and Country Club in Lexington is pretty. I like old-style courses.
I don’t like to see a lot of housing. The way I hit now, I’m afraid I’m going to hit someone.
SJ: How does Juniper Hill compare to other courses you’ve worked at?
Schooley: It’s a real active golf facility. Both men and women associations are the largest in the state. There’s a lot of activity and a lot of community involvement. Local players take pride in the course. They don’t tear up the greens.
All courses are a little bit different. One good thing about Juniper is that the Frankfort parks system is good. It’s well maintained. Adam Curry and the staff do a great job maintaining the course.
For a municipal course, it ranks high. Everything looks nice and fresh. There are a lot of flowers.
SJ: What are some of the challenging parts of the course?
Schooley: The challenging part is always the yardage on the scorecard. It’s short for modern courses. It always plays more difficult than it should.
The greens are tricky in spots. The first tee shot is the toughest number one tee anywhere around. The tree right in front is disconcerting to many people.
If it’s someone we know is at number one, we get on the PA system and rattle them a little bit when they’re up to hit.
SJ: What do you personally get out of playing golf?
Schooley: I always enjoyed getting out and practicing by myself. I can get away from everything and get in my own world.
I like to get out and play with other people too, though. It’s a big social event. It’s fun both ways. You don’t have to have one or the other.
SJ: What are some of the life lessons that you think golf teaches?
Schooley: It teaches patience and perseverance, as far as sticking with it. When you’re first learning, you can see improvement week to week. Sometimes improvement slows, but you can see it by scores.
The improvement is exciting. People get addicted to the improvement. You have to have a lot of control and balance as far as controlling your emotions. It’s also a lot of fun.
The competition is good. I think it helps for everyone, including young boys and girls, to be able to play golf. I think it will help to teach social skills. And, it helps business-wise.
No matter what field you’re going to go into, if you spend seven hours playing golf with someone, you can work with anyone.
You don’t have to play that great to be able to go out and play socially.
Even for people taking carts, it’s still a workout. You’re walking the greens and tees, getting Vitamin D.
SJ: What are the “Juniper Hill Raisers”?
Schooley: It’s a PGA junior league for boys and girls ages 13 and under. They play a two-person scramble. Seven or 8 years old is the youngest players on the team now. We have about 20 golfers.
I started it four or five years ago. It’s low-pressure and a lot of fun. The kids are always high-energy. I keep hoping some of their energy will rub off on me a little bit.
SJ: Do you think you’ll ever retire?
Schooley: I envision that after retiring, golf pros keep a hand in teaching or working part-time at a course. I don’t think I’ll ever quit and do nothing. I envision still wanting to teach two or three days a week, or working a weekend a month and giving the golf pro who replaces me a break.
One difficult thing is that you’re working weekends and holidays. We had a long Saturday recently, and I don’t bounce back as quick as I used to.
SJ: Do you stay open through the winter months?
Schooley: In the winter, you can recharge some, but we still keep the pro shop open every day. It stays open year-round.
We do it for the benefit of the wives in town — get their husbands out of the house for a while.
SJ: When you’re not at the golf course, what do you like to do?
Schooley: I always like listening to live music. Just about any kind really. I like blues.
I’d like to get to Florida next January. Maybe play a couple of tournaments if I can get these old ones working.
There’s a couple of the PGA events in Port St. Lucie, just north of Fort Lauderdale.
SJ: What are your hopes for the future of Juniper Hill Golf Course?
Schooley: I hope we get new players coming in and we encourage people to take up the game and drive all the physical and mental health benefits it entails. We want it to be a fun experience for them to be out here.