Karl Gross took his first ever golf lesson at the Tucson National Resort in Arizona at the age of 12.
Now, a couple of decades later, Gross is the head golf professional at Hard Labor Creek State Park in Rutledge, which is located in Morgan County right off I-20.
Throughout his lifetime, Gross has lived all over the United States, including stints in California and Florida.
“I left California many years ago to become a head professional in Florida,” Gross told the Lake Oconee News. “I was in Ft. Lauderdale, first of all, when my daughter was young. We were a very young family. Then, from there, we went to Pensacola. I was at Tiger Point Country Club Pensacola Beach for about five years. Which was actually prior for when I came to work in the state of Georgia.”
Gross added that he has been with the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) for nearly 20 years and has been working at Hard Labor Creek for nine. Prior to working in Morgan County, the California native said he spent some time at Highland Walk, which is a golf course a part of Victoria Bryant State Park in Royston.
“When I took the job at Highland Walk, which is a sister course of ours, it was looking for a head pro,” he said. “It had been fully renovated. It was a nine hole course for many years and then when it reopened as an 18-hole course, they were looking for a PGA professional. So, I came on-board with them. That was back in July of 2002.”
During that time at Highland Walk, Gross said he got involved with the Georgia Juniors Golf Tour, which is a statewide stint to promote all the state parks. Shortly after, he was pulled from the head professional job at Highland Walk, and was named the regional assistant for the state park courses.
“I was doing that position and running the state kids tour at the same time,” he said. “While that happened, the guy who was here prior to me at (Hard Labor Creek), he had some health issues. So, when he retired, I ended up moving over here.”
Despite being a resident of neighboring Oconee County, Gross said he loves where he works and thinks that Hard Labor Creek has a lot to offer the Lake Oconee community.
“We’re kind of on the cusp of Lake County here and there’s obviously all the courses there on the lake that get a draw,” he said. “But, being part of the state park system and being attached to Hard Labor, we’re more of a locally driven business. We have nine hole leagues after work, I’ve got memberships and daily play and golf package play.”
Gross added that Hard Labor Creek has a lot of family friendly activities and there are more options than just golf.
“That’s the appeal of the park system,” he said. “You can bring your family here. If there’s only two of you that play golf and the rest of them want something to do. Then, it’s a big park with stuff to do between the lake, renting a kayak, going hiking or mountain biking. It just depends on what you want to do. It makes it a popular draw, especially for folks coming out of Atlanta. I’d say that’s our biggest niche of folks looking for a quick get away.”
Gross said his experience teaching over the past 20 years has helped shape him into the professional he is today.
“I attended the San Diego Golf Academy,” he said, “...and I would equate it to a two-year technical or trade school. So, I graduated with a degree in small business management and learned how to teach while I was there.”
Currently, Gross teaches lessons at Hard Labor Creek and enjoys every second of it.
“My age ranges of teaching go from eight to 86,” he said. “I’ve got a couple of young ones that I have worked with that are friends of family and referrals. I’ve been doing this for a long time, so I am not actually teaching the kids that I grew up instructing around here.”
Gross said that it was something that his kids picked up at a young age.
“My daughter, Adele, who’s now 25, was a state champion at Athens Academy when she was in high school,” he said. “She played at Berry College, too. My son Connor is a senior at Oconee County High School and is going to attend Georgia Southern University next fall. He isn’t going to play golf there, but plans to get a part-time job at a course in Statesboro.”
Gross admitted that teaching isn’t his only responsibility at Hard Labor Creek.
“Well, part of the position is that I oversee a lot of the turf management,” he said. “I can meet with my superintendent and we will order chemicals and things to treat the property. We oversee equipment purchases, which is anything from a Bush Hog to a $50,000 fairway mowing unit. It just depends on the needs of the place at the time and what we can get approved.”
Gross wears many hats as the head professional, but still finds free time to play nine to 18 holes every so often.
“The great thing about my job is that I get to do something I enjoy,” he said. “I absolutely enjoy every minute of it.”
Gross is currently still teaching lessons at Hard Labor Creek. For adults, it’s $65 per hour, while kids are $45.