John King, the new pro at Poland Spring Golf Course, hits a few balls before a lesson Friday afternoon. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)

POLAND — After 20 years of living and working in the southern part of the country, John King has come back to his home state.

The Portland native has been a teaching professional in North Carolina, Florida and Alabama, but returned to the Pine Tree state for the summer to become the head pro at Poland Spring after Allan Menne took a job at the Mink Meadows Golf Club in Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts.

King heard about the opportunity from a golf pro from Maine at the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, Florida, where pros can meet different vendors, test out the newest equipment and technology, and buy equipment to sell in their pro shops.

“When I was down at the PGA show in late January, I ran into a fellow PGA member, Tony Decker, who’s over at Purpoodock right now,” King said. “He said, ‘Kinger, I think Poland Spring is up, that Allan Menne had taken another job down in Martha’s Vineyard. He said, ‘Are you are going to throw your resume in there?’ I said, “Tony thanks for letting me know.'”

When he returned to Auburn, Alabama, where he was the owner and director of instruction at The Golf Performance Studio of Auburn in Auburn, Alabama, he looked into the Poland Spring opportunity.

There was one slight problem: the deadline to apply had passed. Ignoring the deadline, he threw in his name into the hat. He heard back from Cyndi Robbins, the owner of the Poland Spring Resort, a week later. The two had a Skype interview, and Robbins flew King up for an interview in Poland.

He was offered the position on his flight back home. He accepted the position since it didn’t force him to uproot his family. His family — wife Liz is a Yarmouth native and children Caroline, 20, and Patrick, 18 — can visit King and other family in Maine throughout the summer.

“I said, it wouldn’t be a bad opportunity being home, as me being from Portland and my wife being from Yarmouth, everybody is back here home in Maine,” King said. “What kind of sparked (my interest) was it wasn’t such a long season. I could come home (to Alabama). Cyndi Robbins, the owner here at the Inn at Poland Spring, said, ‘We need you here on site from May 1 to October 31, six months” … which isn’t bad.”

King said he has made plans to fly his family up during the summer to see them before the kids go back to school in the fall. In November he will go back to Alabama to be a “snowbird.” He will prepare for the 2019 season down south by going back to the PGA Merchandise show and going to other events.

King has eased into his new role at the historic course, which opened in 1896. He liked what he saw when he took over, but has made some improvements to what was already in place at the course.

“There’s so much opportunity, I feel, in a lot of different directions,” King said. “They have a good baseline of some member tournaments and some outings, which we have already made some changes. We’ve brought in some new software for tournament operation that we can run tournaments and have nice printed scorecards and scoreboards.”

It’s a process that’s continuously being fine-tuned throughout the summer. King hopes the software will allow him to make an app so players can register a tournament or register to play in a tournament from their phones.

He hopes he can turn Poland Spring into an one-stop shop for the Inn guests, members and the general public for apparel and golf equipment, club repair and build and golf instruction.

Learning from a great

King got his start in the game in high school, and quickly fell in love with the sport. He started out as an assistant at Riverside Golf Course in Portland, and after a year he took his test. His first head pro job came in 1997 when Dick Harris, who’s currently the director of golf at Harris Golf, offered King the position at the Western View Golf Course in Augusta.

After a year in Augusta, King became an assistant pro at Purpoodock. He was ready to return to Purpoodock for a second year in 1999 until he met Ken Venturi, who had 14 wins on the PGA Tour, including the U.S. Open in 1964. Venturi later became a PGA Tour commentator for CBS Sports for 35 years from 1967-2002.

King was in a pickle regarding what to do with his career and in his personal life. It was Venturi who had a solution.

“I got the first assistant job at Eagle Creek in Naples (Florida), and he was a member there,” King said. “He took a liking to me. I was planning on coming back home to Maine to Purpoodock that coming season and going back to (Eagle Creek) in the winter. They wanted me to be there and I was going to have my first born in February. He heard about that and he said, ‘Why don’t you work for me and I will give you time off while the baby is being born. I want you to go teach for me.'”

That’s what he did for the next six years as the director of instruction at the Ken Venturi Golf Academy in Greensboro, North Carolina, based at the Grandover Resort.

Just like a kid getting baseball swing lessons from Ted Williams, King soaked up information from Venturi like a sponge.

“He was a great mentor to me on the teaching side of things,” King said. “I learned an awful a lot from him and picked his brain as much as I could. I inquired about the time he spent with Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan because they were great swingers and great players.”

Once Venturi retired from CBS, the golf schools he had across the country slowly started to close down so he could fully enjoy his retirement. Venturi died May 17, 2013.

After he was done working for Venturi, King moved on to be the director of instruction at Saugahatchee Country Club in Opelika, Alabama. He was promoted to general manager and PGA Professional in 2009 before he left the club in 2014.

He became the general manager and director of golf at Point University Golf Club in Lanett, Alabama, from January 2015 to December 2016 before moving to The Golf Performance Studio of Auburn.

Using technology as a teaching tool

Ever since becoming a teaching pro in the mid-1990s, King has been using video as a teaching tool. As the years have gone by, the technology has improved. Among the technology he uses now are the Foresight GC2 Launch monitor, Boditrak, Blast Motion, JC Video and K-Vest 3D motion capture system to measure and simplify the advanced motion of the golf swing.

King doesn’t use all his technology with every player he teaches. He gets a feel for his students to see if they want to use the technology or want to be taught the old school way. He said the technology allows him to diagnose each player’s issues better.

King has been named Dixie Section PGA Teacher in 2007, he ranked among the top-three teachers in Alabama by Golf Digest in 2014. He was also named the 2009 Dixie Section PGA Alabama Chapter Junior Golf Leader and a US Kids Top 50 Kid Teacher.

Teaching is something he easily gravitated to.

“In 2007, I was the Dixie Section PGA Teacher of the Year, which was a great accomplishment,” King said. “The teaching for my career has been a very big portion of what I did. The tournaments are great, I love running tournaments. I love club repair and building, merchandising in the shop and all the other things that go along with it (as a pro).”

John King, the new pro at Poland Spring Golf Course, gives a lesson to Jill McCann, center, and Cathy Adamson on Friday afternoon. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)

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