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New Man in Charge at Toftrees Golf Course

by and on April 26, 2014 1:45 PM

After 16 highly successful years as the Director of Golf Operations at the Toftrees Golf Resort and Conference Center, Tom Katancik decided it was time to spend more quality time with family and has moved away from the golfing business.

And, since the place is managed by Marriott Golf, it didn’t take long to find a highly qualified individual within the organization to fill the vacancy.

Charles Sheppard was recently named Director of Golf at Toftrees and comes to the State College area as a Class A PGA member and a graduate of the Professional Golf Management Program at Florida State University.

Sheppard's teaching experience includes 10 years as a Certified Instructor at the Faldo Golf Institute, now the Marriott Golf Academy in Orlando, Fla. He also worked for two years as a Certified Instructor under Top 100 Instructor, Bill Madonna, at the Bill Madonna Golf Academy, also in Orlando.

“I’m originally from Springfield, Illinois,” Sheppard says. “But my parents moved to Florida when I was about 10 years old. So I’ve spent the past 25 years in Florida in the Orlando area and graduated from the Florida State Professional Golf Management program.”

The PGM program provided Sheppard the opportunity to get started right away on a professional golfing career.

“I started working for Marriott Golf right out of college in Orlando at a course called Grande Pines Golf Club, which is a resort-type golf club right in the tourist area off International Drive,” explains Sheppard. “I was there the past 13 years, starting as an assistant PGA professional. I then became a tournament coordinator and golf shop supervisor and was the head pro there for the past seven years prior to the position opening up here at Toftrees as the Director of Golf. I applied and here I am.”

Sheppard’s father-in-law Larry Tipsword and former PGA professional Doug Johnson had a huge impact on the direction he would take in the game of golf.

“I got in to playing golf when I moved to Florida, I had never played the game before, I was about 10 years old and my step-father got me started when we moved down here,” Sheppard says of the move from Illinois to Florida. “He started taking me out to the driving range because he would always play when we lived in Illinois and I would just tag along with him to the driving range a couple of times and I really loved it and when you hit that first solid shot you are hooked.

“I got hooked on the game of golf when I was 10 years old and so I’ve now been playing for 25 years,” explains Sheppard of his career. “Then the game grew into going back to that same driving range where my stepfather would make me go before I was able to get out on the golf course. I probably hit hundreds of buckets of balls before I was able to go play the game. I had to learn the game, the etiquette of the game and things like that before I was able to get out on the golf course.”

While too young to participate in high school matches, Sheppard was still on the team when he was in seventh and eighth grade.

“I played high school golf four years at Lake Weir in Ocala, Fla., I had some success there and it was fun,” says Sheppard. “I practiced with the high school golf team when I was in seventh and eighth grade and they weren’t a great team and I was probably the best player on the team when I was in seventh/eighth grade. But I obviously couldn’t play in the matches because I wasn’t in high school yet but it was fun.”

That started a love for the game of golf that quickly became his life long passion to become a PGA professional.

“That basically started my golf career,” states Sheppard. “That’s where my love of the game started and I ended up working at that same driving range picking balls at night throughout high school and working maintenance during the summers that’s kinda how I got into the game. I got into the maintenance side of the business before getting into the golf professional side because I went through the maintenance part every summer for four years throughout high school and then a couple of weekends before I went to college.”

With his deep interest in the golfing business, Sheppard headed to Florida State University to pursue his career in golf.

“I went to Florida State University because they had the Professional Golf Management program,” recalls Sheppard. “So I decided to go that route and started working there as a assistant golf professional throughout school before getting involved with Marriott Golf.

“I didn’t play golf at Florida State, I was more focused on working and earning my way through college and getting experience in the golfing industry, “ he adds.

The PGA Golf Management University Program is a 4½ to 5-year college curriculum for aspiring PGA Professionals offered at 20 PGA accredited universities nationwide. The program provides students the opportunity to acquire the knowledge and skills necessary for success in the golf industry through extensive classroom studies and internship experience. Upon graduation, in addition to a college degree, students become a PGA member with 100 percent job placement.

“My stepfather was the main reason why I went into the golfing business and the pro that was at the little driving range and the 9-hole course we went to when I was younger, he (Doug Johnson) kinda took me under his wing,” states Sheppard of his tutors. “He had played on the PGA and Senior Golf tour for quite a while and he took me under his wing and taught me a lot about the game. He gave me lessons and pointers here and there that really kept me going and kept me interested in the game of golf. So I would definitely count Doug Johnson as a big influence.”

It’s obvious that Sheppard has the love of the game of golf by his own words, as does his family that looks forward to a change of address in State College.

“When you work in the golfing business, the family has to understand and my family has been great about the whole situation,” says Sheppard of his wife of 14 years Annika and daughter Payton (9) and son Caleb (7). Right now they are still in Florida and they will come to State College once the school year is over in June. “That’s another tough thing trying to get the family up here,” says Sheppard. “It’s tough for me to go down there to visit. I came here (State College) in January and it will be six months that we’ve been doing this routine of up and down before they finally get here.

“In addition to the long hours of working and the long distance between here and there you really feel that aspect of the job,” adds Sheppard. “The kids are excited about coming to State College and Centre County because they want to play in the snow and do all those things we can’t do in Florida.

“Fortunately, they will be here when the snow is gone but they will get to see it this winter,” sats Sheppard, laughing. Payton and Caleb are pretty excited about the move, my wife is a native Floridian so she’s going to have to get used to this climate. It will be a big adjustment for her but she excited, too.”

One good thing for the Sheppard family are the similarities between St. Cloud and State College.

“We lived in a small town (St. Cloud) outside of Orlando so the area is pretty similar to State College to where we lived in Florida,” states Sheppard. “The last time she came up to visit she stated that it reminded her a lot of when we went to school in Tallahassee. It’s a college town and you have the college town feel. It’s still a small town but you have everything that you need so she is excited about that. She’s excited about the environment and the atmosphere of what a college town has to offer so she’s really looking forward to the move.

“This is a great place to raise and a family and one decision we took into account when we thought of making the decision to head north or not,” says Sheppard of State College. “The quality of life is what we are looking forward to mostly and having a great place to raise children. Tallahassee and Orlando was nice but the area is very crowded and the schools are over-crowded. We’ve just heard so many nice things about this area and the State College school district and just the way the people are here.

“Since I’ve been here since January I am really impressed with the friendliness of the people and how they will go out of their way to help you in any way. It’s just a really great community.”

Sheppard feels his experience will be a major benefit on the job at Toftrees.

“I have 13 years of experience of working with Marriott Golf and obviously the big focus with Marriott is customer service and I would like to think that I could make some improvements in that area for our members and our guests,” explains Sheppard. “The really big thing here at Toftrees I would think is we are here to service our members and we have a great membership and within the community Toftrees has a great reputation and we would like to keep that going and slowly make improvements in that area as we can.

“You won’t see any major, major changes overnight,” adds Sheppard. “It’s going to be little things here and there that area going to add to the golf experience at Toftrees. Just to let everybody know that we are open to the public and we are here for everybody to come play the great game of golf. I think Toftrees has a great reputation as a golf course that has certainly been earned but at the same time people get the feeling that they can’t come play here. So I think that will be one of the big things moving forward without sacrificing our service to our members to mix in some public play and make sure everybody knows we are open to the public and we are here for all. It’s not going to cost you a $100 a round to come play Toftrees.”

Sheppard feels Toftrees will also generate interest by holding more tournaments at the venue.

“We are looking to host tournaments and it will be a mixture of events,” states Sheppard. “And, obviously, we look forward to hosting as many events as we can and we will definitely go in that direction. We know Penn State has a great venue for hosting tournaments, obviously, because they have two 18-hole courses so when they get some big events you can spread them over a lot more holes. So that’s tough to compete against but we are definitely looking to host as many outings as we can get without sacrificing service to our members.

"We always have to walk that fine line of making our members happy and satisfied and trying to accommodate the public play as well. We are open to getting some events in here. We have some great events coming up this golfing season and we are looking forward to hosting the events. That is something we are definitely looking forward to, it’s just getting the golfing season started and getting the events we have on the books out here and get everybody out to play.”

After a long, cold, snowy winter, Sheppard feels Toftrees is more than ready to host members as well as non-member golfers to the resort.

“The winter has been so long and it just continues to drag on and on and we even had snow on April 15 so we are just trying to get the season kicked in gear,” says Sheppard. “It’s been tough because we would have a good day then a bad day and over and over. No one could really get into a grove of getting out doors on a daily basis to do things.

“When I got here I said Toftrees is a great golf club with an amazing golf course and a great membership and the staff is outstanding. I’m not looking to come in here and disrupt any of that, I am looking to make small changes over time that will add to only benefit our members and our guests and the golf experience and the reputation of Toftrees. I am very excited to be here.”

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This story was produced by the staff at the Centre County Gazette. It was re-published with permission. The Centre County Gazette is a weekly publication, available at many locations around Centre County every Thursday morning.

John covers sports for the Gazette.
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