The Right Stuff
Justin Gravatt brings all the best qualities, and for all the right reasons, to his position as PGA head pro at The Home Course
by Bart Potter
He is no hatchling in the weeds, but neither, at 34, can he be called old.
He’s aware enough to laugh at himself when he can’t resist a glance at his smart watch. That is SO millennial. And if he’s thoroughly jacked in to the techno-tools of his trade and clued in to the bottom-line realities of his industry, he is just as grounded in the ethic of an ancient game and its players, its customs and its customers.
Justin Gravatt, PGA director of golf. Youthful, agile mind. Old soul.
Gravatt, recently promoted to that job title at The Home Course in DuPont, Wash., likes to quote a certifiably grizzled veteran of Northwest golf, a guy who never got caught behind a wave or ignored a new, good idea.
“Ron Hagen was incredibly adaptable to the industry,” Gravatt said. “He said, ‘The industry’s changing. If we don’t adapt and change with it, it’s going to pass us.’”
For Gravatt, it means recognizing the business model of today – especially at public courses – is less about relationships and more about maximizing revenues. That’s fine for this numbers guy – his staff laughs at how giddy he gets when budget time rolls ‘round on the calendar.
There is room still, he said, for service, for the little things, for making it nice for the people.
“I want to operate at the Home Depot level of volume,” Gravatt said, “and still give that warmth of the Mom-and-Pop shop.”
Hagen, who retired in 2017 at age 71, was the founding professional at The Home Course when it opened in 2007 as the headquarters course for the Pacific Northwest Golf Association and Washington State Golf Association. Already inducted into the Pacific Northwest Section PGA Hall of Fame by then, he came out of an earlier retirement in 2016 to temporarily fill a sudden vacancy in the course’s head pro job, and stayed around long enough to help hire Gravatt to replace him.
Troy Andrew, executive director of the PNGA/WSGA who also serves as the CEO/executive director of The Home Course, said Gravatt understands the balancing act required of a public-course pro.
“He really spends a lot of time in looking at the data and making decisions based on what’s good financially,” Andrew said, “but also what’s good from a customer service standpoint. He knows how to take care of the golfer, from the moment they come in to the counter, to make it the best experience possible.”
Gravatt said he knew early on he wanted to work in the golf industry. He played in national events as a junior golfer, and was on the golf team at Olympia High School before moving on to Walla Walla Community College and its professional golf management program. He was an all-conference player his sophomore year (2004) in Walla Walla when Coach Mike Rostollan’s Warriors won a second straight Northwest Athletic Conference championship.
He was a good, competitive player, but he saw his playing future with clear eyes.
“I realized it wasn’t something I was going to be able to make a living doing,” he said. “Because of other people before me, watching them go through it, I had a realistic expectation of what it took to play at the next level.”
The business and management side of golf, he said, would always come easier to him than playing. And the people he admired in golf were not necessarily its best players.
“Because of the relationships I had with golf professionals growing up, guys who were real positive influences on me,” he said, “I knew that was the kind of person I wanted to be. I wanted to have the same positive impact on golfers as they did on me.”
Hagen is only the most recent Northwest professional he calls a mentor. He learned from the best, he said: Mike Fields, Chris Mitchell, Don Rasmussen, Mike Montgomery …
He met Fields as a kid at Alderbrook Golf and Yacht Club, and the then-head pro taught him a few things about golf. But it was Fields the person that really made an impression on the young Gravatt.
“He was just a genuine, friendly, kind guy,” he said. “I really wanted to be like him. He was the epitome of what I thought a golf pro should be.”
Gravatt was too young to have a paid job when he met Mitchell, then the head pro at Tumwater Valley. So he volunteered around the place, and Mitchell let him play and hit range balls and paid him in golf equipment. Later, when he was old enough, he worked picking the range and other jobs.
During Gravatt’s time at Walla Walla, he did internships with Rasmussen at Washington National in Auburn, Wash., and later worked as an associate instructor in the Leading Edge Golf Academy there. He was scrambling to make a living, but it was where he learned entrepreneurship.
“I was a private contractor,” he said, “running my own business, promoting myself, setting my price structure, and trying to survive off that right out of college.”
In 2005, Gravatt was a finalist for an assistant pro job at Tacoma Country & Golf Club, and though he didn’t get the job, one guy on the interview panel – Mike Montgomery – was impressed. Montgomery was the guy whose departure from Tacoma – to his new job as PGA head professional at Bellingham Country Club – had created the opening.
Montgomery, now the head pro at Sahalee Country Club, offered Gravatt a job as his right-hand assistant in Bellingham.
“He was my first important hire,” Montgomery said. “One thing that impressed me – you could tell he wanted to be a head pro. He wanted to be good at all facets of the business. Often you get guys who just want to teach or they want to play. Justin wanted to experience it all and wanted to learn it all.
“A big part of me being successful – starting in a trailer, a new merchandise situation, basically a new business startup with a new head pro – a big part of my success in a challenging situation was Justin.”
Gravatt, after 10 years at Alderbrook, nine of them as head pro, threw his number in the bowl at The Home Course when they were looking to fill Hagen’s shoes.
Montgomery was not surprised by Gravatt’s hiring. Well-deserved, he said.
“He’s a nice guy,” Montgomery said. “He knows how to communicate with members and guests. People like Justin. He could have been equally successful at a private club.”
Success, and the human touch, is where you find it.
“There’s no reason,” Gravatt said, “that we can’t offer a private club experience to the daily-fee golfer.”
Bart Potter has taught journalism at a public college and private university, and won awards for sports writing and news reporting as a daily journalist. He manages the golf and travel website, www.greygoateegolf.com.