BANGOR — When Rob Jarvis was “7 or 8 years old,” he wanted to be a marine biologist. He knew absolutely nothing about golf until he was 18.
Jarvis took a 1994 summer job at Bangor Municipal Golf Course that, in part, required him to hit balls. His determination to learn how to do it turned into a passion for the game and a career teaching it just a few years later.
Now an assistant pro at Bangor Muni, his ability and innovation in reaching his students have earned Jarvis designation by the Maine chapter of the New England PGA as its 2011 Maine Golf Teacher of the Year.
“We all want to make them the best they can be,” said Jarvis, but he also wants to give his students more than that.
“I want to do for them what’s going to make the game fun,” Jarvis continued. “I ask them what they want out of lessons.
“I have to work with a student based on what they want and what they bring to the table. You’re never going to see my students say I taught them the same way, unless they’re clones.”
He realizes he’s working with people who generally hope to just shave a few strokes off their rounds or are trying to attain a certain level of ability that allows them to play with their friends without embarrassing themselves.
“Nobody’s coming to me because they’re aspiring to quit their day job,’’ stated Jarvis. “They just want to have fun, and I feel comfortable teaching them.”
Jarvis, who also runs the Bangor Golf Classic and is president of the Hollywood Slots Greater Bangor Golf Tournament Committee, can understand his students because he was on the learning side of the golf curriculum almost 20 years ago.
After graduating from Bangor High School in ’94, Jarvis took a summer job as a starter at Bangor Muni during Austin Kelly’s final year as the longtime head pro.
Even with Kelly practicing his sharp wit on the newcomer Jarvis, as he did with most people, Jarvis was hooked.
“I liked the environment,” he said. “The next year I started with Brian (Enman, the longtime assistant pro who succeeded Kelly). I saw what he did and said, ‘I want to be like him.’”
Jarvis would have to start from nothing, though, because his only knowledge of golf — the game and the business — was what he had picked up in his first year.
“I didn’t even play until I started working here,” admitted Jarvis.
Learning the game
In addition to his starter duties, Kelly had Jarvis start picking the driving range balls. As Kelly watched him, said then-assistant pro Mark Hall, he told Jarvis to bunch them first. That means going down one side of the driving range, around the far end and up the other side, knocking balls toward the middle so the ball picking machine could be used more efficiently.
“He looked at Brian and me and said he didn’t know how to do that,” said Hall.
Enman and Hall, a longtime Bangor-area teaching pro, taught Jarvis.
“We showed him the grip and how to hit the ball, and after a while he got pretty good at it,” said Hall. “He fell in love with the game.”
Jarvis thought he was helped by his competitive athletic background, too.
Jarvis, who Kelly nicknamed “Too Tall,” was a 6-foot-6 forward and center during his varsity basketball career with the Rams, including winning a state championship in 1993.
“Having good eye-hand coordination from basketball has certainly helped me in golf,” he said.
In learning the game, and the business, he learned something else as well.
“I had a passion for it, but I was lucky I had a mentor in Brian. I learned a lot in a short period of time,” said Jarvis. “I get awards, but without him I wouldn’t get a lot of those things.”
Enman gave the credit right back to Jarvis.
“Not a lot of people apply themselves,” said Enman. “It’s a lot of work, and he has to take credit for that.”
In order to become a club professional, a golfer also has to take a player ability test. He or she has to match or better a predetermined score based on the difficulty of the course. It’s one of the harder parts of the program.
“It took him five tries to pass it,” said Hall, but Hall added that that isn’t unusual. “Only 16 percent of the people who take the PAT ever pass it.”
Enman also encouraged Jarvis to take a job as an assistant at a store called The Golfer’s Club in Fort Pierce, Fla., in the winter of 1996-97. The store owners had also been hired to manage a nine-hole par-3 golf course next door.
“Brian said, ‘Go down and try this. You’re a young guy,’” said Jarvis. “I did it and it worked.”
He went back in the winter of 1997-98 as the manager of the golf course and the golf shop, so that gave him even more practical experience during a two-year hiatus from college.
He had started studying marine biology at Saint Joseph’s College in Standish in 1994-95. He transferred to Husson University in Bangor the next year and studied finance, but he only stayed there a year, too. Eventually, Jarvis earned a marketing degree from the University of Maine in December 2000.
“How many certified pros are there?” Enman quizzed Jarvis, who holds certificates for both golf operations and general management.
“Probably a few hundred,” replied Jarvis.
“A few hundred certified professionals out of 22,000 (in the U.S.),” said Enman.
Jarvis is currently enrolled in the master professional program.
“There are only 300 in the world,” Enman pointed out.
“He’s come a long way,” said Hall.
Making it his life
Jarvis began teaching in 1999, but he started small.
“I got started doing (a couple of) group lessons and junior clinics,” he said. “I watched Brian, (assistant pro) Paul Dailey and Mark.”
He turned pro in 2000, just before getting his UMaine degree, and began teaching more. It has expanded over the years with his Bangor Golf School, and he has embraced computer technology as well to aid individuals.
“I was one of the first to (use) video technology,” said Jarvis. “I have my own website, and I run a variety of programs.”
He is also the Bangor High golf coach.
All of that factored into his Teacher of the Year award.
The awards committee checked his credentials and those of the other four nominees.
“I had to explain my teaching philosophy and how I promote the game,” Jarvis said. “They reviewed the submitted material and testimony from other pros.”
Jarvis was actually nominated for three awards, the other two being assistant of the year and junior golf leader of the year.
As the day approached for the April meeting where the winners would be announced, Jarvis had heard nothing.
“I figured I didn’t get it,” he said.
Then came the notice that he was voted Teacher of the Year.
“I found out two days before the meeting,” said Jarvis.
What’s in a future?
Jarvis plans to keep giving lessons, coaching and working at Bangor.
He also has learned how to build clubs, starting with changing grips. Now he can replace shafts, grind irons and more.
Golf legend Sam Snead was a frequent visitor to the club in Fort Pierce, Fla.
“He was really picky about his equipment,” said Jarvis. “It was interesting working with him.”
Jarvis proudly pointed out, “I actually built one of the drivers he hit as a ceremonial starter for the Masters.”
But it’s the teaching that comes first for Jarvis.
“I love what I do,” he said.
“I had the opportunity to go (to another club),” but he declined, said Jarvis. “I’m a public golf guy. I was a public school guy and a public college guy.”
And a career as a playing pro, which is the dream of many young pros, is not in his plans.
“I love golf, but I never got the sense that I could play full time,” he stated. “Not do that and live the life I wanted to live.”
That includes getting married in September to Jamie Cooke, the girls track coach at Bangor High.
“I’m lucky with her,” said a smiling Jarvis. “She understands what I do.”