John Hanlon ’77

Changing Course

By Kristin Hurst

John Hanlon

Anyone who has ever fantasized about quitting the rat race to pursue a dream can look to John Hanlon ’77 for inspiration. In 2008, at age 52, Hanlon gave up the security and salary of a 15-year financial career with Raymond James to follow his lifelong passion for golf.

With the support of his understanding wife, Mary, he took the first step by landing a job at the posh Vinoy Golf Club in St. Petersburg, Florida, where he had been a member for seven years. He gave up his membership perks and started at the bottom, washing golf carts and clubs and assisting guests.

While catering to former golf partners at a fraction of one’s previous salary would likely be humbling for most people, Hanlon has taken it all in stride. “You have to eat crow a little bit,” he said. “You really have to want to do what you’re doing. The golf buddies I’ve addressed for years on a first-name basis I’m now calling ‘Mr.’ But I think it’s been more of an adjustment for them than for me. I really haven’t had any problem making the transition. In fact, several now call me Mr. Hanlon for fun.”

Working at a course is a requirement for entering the rigorous PGA Professional Golf Management program, where Hanlon earned PGA membership status in just 14 months. His ultimate goal is to become a head professional at a golf club. After almost two and a half years of paying his dues, he recently was named first assistant at Vinoy, a position that comes with more responsibility and much less time working outdoors. “I know I don’t have a 30-year career ahead of me in the golf business, so I had to tackle it quickly,” Hanlon said. “I want to grow and improve, and becoming a head pro will allow me to do that.”

Hanlon’s love of golf began at age 10 and continued through his years at Rollins, where he was a member of the men’s golf team. But with distractions such as the Rollins theater group and his Phi Delta Theta fraternity, Hanlon’s interest in golf waned a bit. By graduation, he no longer found the long hours and low pay of a golf career appealing, and he quit playing. “I struggled for years with the idea that there was no way I could play competitively like I did when I was in college, so I decided I’d rather not play at all.”

That is, until about 10 years later, when a co-worker talked him into getting back on the course. It didn’t take long for him to get “re-hooked,” and eventually that rekindled passion led to his decision to trade finance for the fairways.

Hanlon, who completed the coursework required to become a Certified Golf Professional in February, says he never doubted for a moment the timing of his departure from the corporate world. “I didn’t want to have any nagging regrets,” he said. “I knew that if I was ever going to do it, I had to do it now. I was getting to the age where I couldn’t wait any longer. I have always loved the game, and this gives me the opportunity to be involved in it at a whole new level.”