| Florida Times-Union
Even after Monty Duncan had reached adulthood, his mother would gently admonish him for going to work — or an early tee time — on a Sunday morning at the St. Johns Golf Club.
“My mother would tell me I needed to be in church,” Duncan said. “I’d tell her that golf is my church … I’m in church every day I’m on the golf course. Early in the morning, late in the evening, when the sun is setting or rising, there’s no more beautiful place in the world than on a golf course.”
There was a time in Duncan’s life when he found beauty on the green rectangle of a football field, either under the Friday night lights at St. Augustine High School’s Foots Brumley Stadium, or running into The Swamp at the University of Florida on Saturday afternoons.
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But after a neck injury ended his football career in 1993, Duncan found solace and what he calls “a search for perfection,” on golf courses from Gainesville to Jacksonville.
Now, he’s made it his passion and his career.
More than 25 years later, Duncan is in a unique position, thanks to getting bit, and bit hard by the golf bug. For the last five years, he’s been the general manager of the Brentwood Golf Course near downtown Jacksonville, the only African-American general manager or head golf professional on the First Coast and the first since T.C. Newman ran the Mill Cove Golf Club (now Blue Sky) in 2012.
The course is owned by the city of Jacksonville and is on the site of a former 18-hole facility, the Brentwood Country Club, that was also owned by the city.
Ironically, Brentwood was sold in the 1960s after the Supreme Court refused to stay lower court rulings that the city had to make Brentwood and Hyde Park, two municipal courses, accessible to all rather than have select days for African-Americans.
The land eventually was purchased by the school board to build the A. Philip Randolph Academy. When The First Tee was formed by the World Golf Foundation, the nine-hole course was built and re-opened in 2000 under the direction of The First Tee.
Duncan is currently working towards his Class A PGA of America certification, which is not required to be a head golf pro but highly recommended since it brings with it an important stamp of approval from the nation’s organization that governs club and teaching professionals.
At 49 years old, Duncan understands that he began the process late in life. But he said it will be a validation of years of toiling at the St. Johns Golf Club, washing carts, tending the clubhouse bar, serving as a starter, and giving thousands of lessons, mostly to kids in the First Tee programs at two area facilities.
“Being a Class A professional means everything,” said Duncan, who estimates he’s about 18 months away from meeting the requirements. “You’ve been certified by the most important governing body in golf. PGA professionals teach the game and run the golf shops. Our job is to get people into the game, help them enjoy it and keep them in the game. It’s the A-plus brand. Being a PGA pro gives you instant credibility.”
Duncan jumped at the chance to come to Brentwood in 2015 after working at St. Johns for 14 years — even though it meant a drive of 45 minutes to an hour to and from work each day.
“You have to go to your opportunities,” he said. “They won’t come to you.”
But he’s earned this opportunity. Over the past 20 years, Duncan has established a reputation within the Northern Chapter PGA as one of hardest-working golf-course employees.
“I’m really proud of him for taking this step,” said St. Johns director of golf Wes Tucker. “I think Monty will do great things as a club pro. It’s unusual for a guy his age to be working towards his certification but it shows me where his heart is, and he’s got a huge heart.”
Boots Farley, the former director of The First Tee of North Florida, said Duncan’s special talent is reaching children and youth.
“He’s a great guy, a hard worker and has a personality suited for the golf business,” Farley said.
Black club pros a rarity
According to the National Golf Foundation, 18 percent of the nation’s golfers and 25 percent of junior golfers are minorities. Yet, three percent of all jobs at golf courses are held by African-Americans and Duncan is one of less than 200 head pros or general managers, out of 29,000 members of the PGA of America.
He’s less concerned with those numbers now than getting more African-American kids involved in golf. His reasoning: once they get the golf bug as he did, they may gravitate towards the sport, perhaps to play, perhaps to work in the industry.
Having Tiger Woods, Harold Varner III, Cameron Champ and Jonathan Bramlett as role models for African-American youth is all well and good but getting to the PGA Tour is hard for anyone, and year-to-year, there are only about 300 golfers making a decent living at playing.
“There are ways to be involved in the golf industry and make a living than playing on the PGA Tour,” Duncan said. “Tiger, Harold and Cameron aren’t really unique because there have been good African-American players on the PGA Tour for a long time. What we need are more African-Americans in pro shops and teaching.”
That goal is crucial if golf wants to expand its demographics. The club pro is the face of a golf course. He schedules tee times, checks players in, runs club tournaments, stocks the pro shop and gives lessons. In many cases, he also oversees food and beverage.
“Anyone worth his salt as a golf pro is going to be effective in reaching kids,” Farley said. “But certainly, kids on the Northside are going to feel comfortable with Monty. He’s was a good football player who became a good golfer and they’re going to identify with him.”
Duncan said reaching African-American kids with golf is difficult because they tend to gravitate towards team sports, and, like kids of any demographic, video games.
“The biggest challenge for black kids in golf is being able to see the light at the end of the tunnel,” he said. “They assume golf is going to be boring. They see it on TV and watch a guy swing the club, then walk behind the ball. In football, baseball or basketball, you can see the finish line early. That’s not the way it is in golf. You need patience.”
Duncan sees his job at getting kids to have that patience. He knows that one day it will be rewarded.
“When they hit a ball and it does what they wanted it to do,” Duncan said of the turning point in golf for kids. “Then you see them fall in love with the game.”
From football to golf
Monty Duncan was a Bonafide star at St. Augustine High School in the late 1980s. A dynamic wide receiver and kick returner, he was a Times-Union Super 11 player in 1989 and one of the key signees in Steve Spurrier’s first recruiting class at Florida.
He became a role player for Spurrier’s “Fun ‘n Gun” offense, catching 20 passes for 231 yards and one touchdown in three seasons. But Duncan was a valuable special-teams performer, returning 53 punts in three years for an average of 6.5 yards per return.
He still shares the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl record for the most punt returns in one game, nine in the Gators’ 27-10 victory over N.C. State in 1992.
Duncan was set for his senior season in 1993 but developed a neck injury. Doctors recommended that he give up football and he spent that season as a graduate assistant coach while completing his degree in American History.
It was during that year that two friends, Josh Caputo and Tony Scarpitti, got him involved in golf. They spent long hours during the summer and fall months at the West End Golf Club in Gainesville, walking as many holes as they could for $10.
“A lot of golf for not much money,” Duncan said. “That worked for us.”
Duncan said that at first, golf was a way to bond with his friends.
“Tony said it was the one way we’d stay in contact with each other, no matter what the future held,” he said. “I got addicted. Being able to control a golf ball, make it do what I wanted, became my thing. I was trying to find perfection. You don’t find that very often in golf but it was my goal.”
Caputo decided to try and qualify for the 1993 U.S. Open and entered a local qualifier at Innisbrook, in Palm Harbor. He and Duncan practiced together for three months, and Duncan agreed to caddie for him.
While in the Innisbrook pro shop, Duncan saw a rate card for lessons: the top teacher at the resort was getting $240 an hour.
“I said, ‘man, that’s the job I want,'” Duncan said. “I found out that not every teacher makes $240 an hour.”
He began volunteering at the University of Florida’s Mark Bostick Golf Course, working as a starter and a marshal, and getting compensated by all the free golf and practice he could squeeze in early in the morning or late in the afternoon and evening.
Duncan’s passion for golf was such that he even took an interest in club repair, and soon learned how to re-grip and re-shaft clubs.
When he moved back to St. Augustine in 2001, Duncan worked a series of jobs but couldn’t shake the allure of working at a golf course.
At first, his goal was simple.
“I wanted to work somewhere so I could play for free,” he said.
The St. Johns Golf Club became that place.
Motivated by friendship
Tucker said Duncan was a hard worker, willing to do any task. His main reward was to be at the golf course every day he could, and to work on a game that was rapidly blossoming — and largely self-taught.
“Monty’s friends were, at first, way better than he was,” Tucker said. “But he worked at it. He was always long off the tee and a good ball-striker, but he was perceptive enough to know that he needed to work on his short game because, like most golfers, that was his weakness. He made himself into a good golfer. He asked for very little help but initially, it was borne out of a desire to beat his buddies.”
Duncan described his game at one time.
“I was very long and very uncontrolled,” he said.
But soon, he began coming close to the perfection for which he was striving. Duncan lowered his handicap to 2 and broke par for the first time at St. Johns.
To get a Class A PGA certification, candidates must go through a Playing Ability Test, where two rounds have to be posted, with target scores required, depending on the difficulty of the course. Duncan has gotten his PAT out of the way first, and after he passed a rules test, he became a PGA associate.
Now, it’s a matter of taking classes in areas such as merchandising and tournament operations. The COVID-19 pandemic has slowed the process down for many would-be Class A pros – especially those, like Duncan, who has a club to run.
In addition to his many duties at St. Johns, Duncan began teaching kids from the First Tee of St. Johns Country program. The chance to work at Brentwood opened up when former general manager Sean McGauley left to work at Fleming Island and Farley hired Duncan.
“Monty was already a great First Tee coach and knew the operations of a course,” Farley said. “He’s very compassionate and understanding with the kids.”
Russ Libby, owner of the Hidden Hills Golf Club, got to know Duncan as a member of the First Tee of North Florida board.
“I’m very excited for Monty,” Libby said. “He’s worked very hard to get to this position.”
After certification, what next?
Duncan will be 50 years old on Christmas Eve. He said almost any club professional has aspirations to work at posh resorts or stately private courses and said his ambitions are no different.
However, he said he also has a calling to be at Brentwood, where the First Tee programs bring about 80 kids per week for lessons, practice and playing the nine-hole course, plus adults who find solace in a morning or afternoon of golf, in the heart of the city.
He said the company brought in by the city of Jacksonville to manage the course, Indigo Golf Partners, is supportive of those efforts.
“We have to give back to the community if we want the community to be better,” he said about what Brentwood can mean to the urban core of Jacksonville.
“Anybody who is driven wants to go bigger and better and of course I see myself at an 18-hole course one day,” Duncan continued. “But it has to be one with ties to kids and one that brings diversity to the golf course.”
Duncan said that any kid who passes through Brentwood doesn’t even have to make golf a lifelong pursuit, as long as they remember the values that golf teaches and can be applied to everyday life.
“There are not many things you can do that equals life as much as golf does,” he said. “It teaches patience, etiquette, following rules, being on time and consideration for other people. If you teach a kid golf, you’re teaching that kid about life. You can’t put a price on how important that is, watching them grow up and take that knowledge and make themselves better.”
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