Rob Karnes, PGA

Southern Ohio PGA 2021 Golf Professional of the Year

After 30 years as a Golf Professional, Rob Karnes, PGA is still as excited and energetic about promoting the game as he was on his first day in the industry. Although he worked at his family’s 9-hole public golf course growing up in Montpelier, OH, Karnes officially became an Associate in 1991. Since his election to PGA Membership, Karnes has been a Member of the Northern Ohio Section and the Michigan Section before settling in the Southern Ohio Section in 2013. Throughout his career, Karnes has been focused on gaining knowledge and experience required to be a well-rounded professional. His passion for directing an operation that excels in all areas has pushed him to never stop learning and seeking out new opportunities for mentoring, networking, and personal growth. 

Karnes is currently the Director of Golf at NCR Country Club in Kettering, Ohio. He was previously the Head Professional at Dayton Country Club in Dayton, Ohio beginning in 2013 until 2019.

Read below to hear Rob’s thoughts on becoming a successful PGA Golf Professional. 

SOPGA: What makes a successful golf professional? 

RK: We are fortunate throughout the whole PGA, especially in our Section, that we have a lot of great Professionals in a lot of different roles at different types of facilities. The specifics of facility performance obviously differ but, in my experience, the Professionals that have had a significant level of success have these things in common: 

Number one, they’re completely dedicated and committed to the facility they’re at, the job they’re in, making it the best they can for their members and owners. 

Secondly, they are continuously striving to improve themselves. Through education, training, and learning from other professionals how they can become better and make themselves more valuable at their facility.

And the third, they’re role models and mentors to young professionals doing what they can to help grow and develop that next wave and stage of successful professionals. 


SOPGA: You mentioned mentorship as one of the keys you’ve seen in successful golf professionals throughout your career. Have there been any mentors you look to when it comes to continuing to enhance the level of service you provide? 

RK: I’ve personally been very fortunate as my dad and grandpa opened up a 9-hole golf course when I was two years old. I grew up at that facility, watching them and the pride they took in the product they were providing and taking care of the customers. So I was learning a lot then, without even realizing it. 

Brian Smith was my Head Professional at Mohawk Golf Course when I first started as an Assistant. The members loved him. I watched how he interacted with them and the little things he did for them that were expected. I just thought that everybody was like that because that’s all I knew. He gave me such a great start and foundation to get going. 

Maybe the biggest influence on my career was Craig Immel, PGA. I worked for him at two facilities. He was a Northern Ohio PGA President, Golf Professional of the Year and just really good at being professional in everything he did. Professional presentation and interactions and all that. 

And I’m very fortunate now, for most of the last eight years working for Jeff Grant, PGA as my General Manager. Jeff is the best I’ve ever been around at expecting excellence. He expects everybody to continue to get better and push themselves to improve while at the same time supporting everything we do by being our biggest cheerleader. He’s never going to let you get complacent. That’s a good mentor right there, making you become as good as you and the operation can possibly be. He’s the best at that.


SOPGA: You credited your good mentors as major influences on your success as a golf professional. Are there any best practices you employ to assist your staff in becoming the most successful professionals they can be? 

RK: I think that’s one of those things that I am continually learning as I go. You know, I wish there was a magic answer for what being a good mentor means.

What I’ve always tried to do is set a good example. I’ll set the bar high of what the expectations are by meeting those myself. But then the key is pushing them. If you’re going to be on my staff, then you’re going to be working harder to get through your PGA coursework, attending seminars and meetings, playing in events and pro-ams. You’re going to be involved in everything that we do as an association.

We’re an active facility at NCR Country Club, which means we have a lot going on and one of the things we do here, that I think is really good, is we give specific events and those responsibilities to specific Assistants. We say, here’s what’s expected and if you need help or guidance, come find us. If we see them getting off track, we’ll get in there. But we give a lot of responsibility and let them kind of learn as they go. 

I think that’s the key thing when you talk about best practices for being a mentor. You have to give them some ownership and the ability to fail, at least on a small level. You know, I’m never going to let the Thursday night league crash and burn, but I will let my staff make some mistakes to learn and figure out how to do it differently and then we’ll talk about it. People tend to excel in those situations. 


SOPGA: As we discuss how you distribute responsibility among your staff, can you describe what an average week looks like for you during the season versus out of season? 

RK: Since coming to NCR as Director of Golf, my specific role has changed a little bit from being as hands on in the day to day operations as I used to be. I went twenty five years in my career being very involved in everything that happened every day in every part of the operation. And now I’m still responsible for all of those things but I’ve got a whole team of very qualified professionals to execute them daily.

Overall, my role now is to set the expectations, have a vision, communicate that vision, and try to get everybody from our golf professionals to our shop staff to our outside staff to the locker room guys to buy into that vision. Then, with some direction, give them the ability to make that [vision] happen. We have regular meetings to see what’s good, what needs improvement, things that we might need to change, and get feedback from them. 

But that’s the big picture. You’re talking about how a typical week looks? I’m still here 60 hours a week but my target is 50 hours, six days a week. I’ve tried hard the last few years to develop a little bit more of that work-life balance. I’ve got such good people working here with me that I have that opportunity. 

I spend a lot of time in my office and have to force myself to get out of the office sometimes to say hello to members and shake hands a little bit and talk to staff. There’s a lot of administrative work involved with organizing and sending contracts for outings. I do pretty much all of the major communication from the golf department including emails and videos and sending out info for big events to the participants and the results afterwards. I’ve taken on that role.

And then we have Head Professional John Elking, PGA who is a great young professional. He and I talk all day, every day to ensure he’s really on board with exactly what’s going on then I leave the implementation of the day to day operations to him. 

None of that specifically answers your question. It’s like most golf professionals, you ask them what they do today, “I don’t know but I spent 10 hours doing it.” 


SOPGA: You completed the PGA Master Professional Program in 2016. How has that process impacted your performance as a successful golf professional?  

RK: I’ve always said attaining those kinds of certifications doesn’t necessarily mean I’m a better professional than the guy down the street, but it does show that I was dedicated enough to put in the time, the effort to be recognized in that manner. So to me, that makes a big difference. If I’m an employer of any kind looking at candidates and I see those who have been specialized, certified, Master Professionals, to me that indicates an additional level of dedication to the position and industry.

In my mind, [going through the program has] validated what I already knew. I knew I was capable of accomplishing all that, but it validated that as a great experience. Meeting with other Master Professionals and going through that process and the interview and everything. 

The other thing it’s done is it’s launched me now into an area where I am in a position to really give back. It’s opened up that door to help me mentor other professionals. I’ve always tried to do that anyway in the past but now we’re talking about highly accomplished people who are in the process of attaining Master Professional status. I’m supposed to be helping guide them through the program. I’ve got guys from Texas, Maryland and Arkansas and you get to know these different people and what they do in their operations. 

That’s one of the great things about this industry is we’re all very helpful with each other. We all want everybody to succeed. We have great communication back and forth and sharing of ideas. And now these people that I’m mentoring are giving me the ideas. It’s been pretty cool in that regard.


SOPGA: What does it mean to you to be named the Southern Ohio PGA Golf Professional of the Year? 

RK: Well, the PGA has been a big part of my life for almost 30 years now. It’s my professional identity. I’ve been in golf my entire life and it’s just an enormous honor is the only way I can say it.  To be recognized by your peers for any kind of award is a big deal. Those are the people that matter. For them to recognize me and join that list of some phenomenal names that have won this award is just a huge honor.

We all have those life moments that are a big deal to us – when you graduate from high school and college and get married and all the big things. The first one for me was when I became a PGA Member. It was something I had aspired to since I was 12 years old. When I became a member it was a huge deal, and it still is. But then this is probably the next one. 


SOPGA: What was the best piece of advice that you received that has helped you excel as a golf professional? 

RK: So this is a tough one, obviously, because everybody gets a lot of good advice in their careers if they have any type of success.

I go all the way back to when I was either 12 or 13 years old. My grandfather was a huge impact in my life. He built the golf course he grew up at and after every round, I had to sit at the table with him and go through shot by shot and tell him what [club] I hit where. And so we were very close. 

He gave me a plaque to hang on the wall in my room when I was about 12 or 13 and it says, “to be one of the best, ‘you gotta wanta.’ So: learn proper techniques then practice, practice, and practice.” 

Clearly, at that time, that was intended for my golf, performing on the course. But it still hangs in my office right now. I think that could apply to anybody in any industry, in any situation. If you want to be one of the best, you have to want to; so you learn what you’re supposed to do and then do it over and over again. 

About the Award: The SOPGA Golf Professional of the Year is awarded to a PGA member for overall performance as a golf professional, leadership, service and promotion of the game of golf. Overall performance at the member’s facility, level of service to the SOPGA Section and to the Association, and image as a golf professional are some of the criteria considered for this award.