Tampa Bay Downs is proud to introduce its blog, “Racing in the Sunshine.” By giving visitors an up-close and personal look at the majestic world of Thoroughbred racing, the sport’s participants – racing officials, horsemen, backstretch workers, trainers, jockeys and track employees – hope to entertain and inform fans everywhere.
Sunday, March 17, 2013
Jon Johnson, Downs Golf Pro
insider’s opinions, observations and reflections about their favorite sport
The past month has been a whirlwind for Class A professional
Jon Johnson, Manager of The Downs Golf Practice Facility since its opening in
March of 2003. In February, Johnson conducted the third annual Golfest
Presented by Tampa Bay Championship, which attracted more than 3,000
participants over two days. In addition to overseeing daily operations, Johnson
has been planning for the 10th anniversary celebration of the golf
driving range and practice complex, which draws more than 35,000 visitors a
year, on March 23. He also gave away daughter Kari’s hand in marriage March 16
in a ceremony at the racetrack. Johnson, the past President of the West Central
Chapter of the North Florida PGA, was honored as the chapter’s Professional of
the Year for 2012 and received the President’s Plaque for his contributions to
the growth of the game. Before arriving in Florida,
Johnson was an assistant professional at Augusta National in Georgia, site of the Masters, and ran the MichaelJordanGolfCenter
in Aurora, Ill. He has been married for 32 years to
Kris, a registered nurse at Tampa
As proof that pedigree is often as important in golf as in horse racing,
Johnson’s son Kyle is an assistant golf superintendent at East Lake Golf Club
site of the PGA Tour’s annual Tour Championship; previously, Kyle was an assistant
in training at Augusta National. In addition to Kyle and Kari, who is an
elementary school teacher, the Johnsons have another daughter, Beth, a student
at the University
of South Florida. The
fully-lighted Downs Golf Practice Facility, which ranks among the top-100
ranges in the United States, features 45 all-Bermuda grass hitting stations;
two full-size chipping greens; an 8,000-square foot putting green; and a
covered range area. Johnson and fellow Class A professional Matt Mitchell offer
private lessons, and the facility provides adult and junior clinics and a
junior summer camp program.
HOMETOWN: Monmouth, Ill.
BEST HORSE I’VE EVER
SEEN: Secretariat, when he won the 1973 Belmont Stakes. I also saw the
movie. Hearing how Jack Nicklaus cried watching him win the Belmont by 31 lengths – Jack was overcome by
Secretariat’s magnificence – proves his greatness.
HOW I GOT STARTED IN
RACING: I was managing the All-In-OneGolfPractice
in Largo when I
heard through the grapevine Tampa Bay Downs was building a range. I sent my
resume to (track Vice President and General Manager) Peter Berube, and I was
off and running pretty quickly.
INSPIRATION: My late father, Carl Johnson. He was a dentist and a town
leader, and he was someone I could always look to as an example. He gave me the
drive to keep going and taught me how to treat people.
CHANGE I WOULD MAKE
TO RACING: I would like to see some night racing. I think it would attract
a different crowd and give people who work a chance to enjoy the sport.
MY FAVORITE SPORTS
TEAM/ATHLETE: The Chicago Cubs will always be my team. Once you are a Cubs
fan, you never leave. My favorite players growing up were third baseman Ron
Santo and outfielder Billy Williams. Later, my favorite athlete was Michael
Jordan. He would come to his golf center and give clinics, and he was always
very nice. Tom Watson, the champion golfer, would be a close second.
NO. 1 ON MY BUCKET
LIST: Take a family trip to Scotland
and play St. Andrews.
FAVORITE TV SHOW/MOVIE:
Duck Dynasty is the hottest show on
TV. My favorite movie is Close Encounters
of the Third Kind.
FAVORITE THING ABOUT TAMPA BAY DOWNS:
Watching the horses train early in the morning – just the beauty of it, the
horses silhouetted against the mist.
WHAT ELSE I’D BE
DOING IF. … I’d be in the marketing field.
ADVICE TO SOMEONE
STARTING IN GOLF: Strive to become a PGA member, and work at as many
facilities as possible to widen your experience.