Those who knew Jon (J.C.) Wright during his youth and college years might be rather surprised to discover what he is doing these days.
Since the fall of 2014, Wright, who grew up on South Dakota’s Rosebud Indian Reservation, has been working as the Director of Golf at the Lookout Mountain Golf Club in Phoenix, Arizona. The club, located at the Pointe Hilton Tapatio Cliffs Resort, is also the flagship location for the Hilton Golf Academy. That’s right, Wright is successfully working in the golf business. That’s even though he didn’t play the sport in high school or college (South Dakota’s Black Hills State University). In fact, Wright only took up golf after college. Upon returning home, he was working at a casino. But his cousin’s father had bought a local golf course and he was fortunate enough to play there on a regular basis, albeit with no teaching and with some second-hand clubs that were far too short for his 6-foot-5 frame.
“Not only was I self-taught but I was using clubs that weren’t designed for me,” Wright says.
By 2000, Wright, who seemed to be a natural at the sport, had become a scratch golfer. Some friends persuaded him to head west and attend the Golf Academy of America in Phoenix.
After plenty of research and securing grant money to attend the golf school, Wright found himself at the Arizona facility. Making it that far was an accomplishment in itself for Wright, the youngest of four children who was raised on a reservation solely by his mother. “It was a challenge but she supported it every way she could,” he says of his mother and his aspirations to make it in the golf business.
After his time in Arizona, Wright played professionally, but wasn’t able to land a lucrative tournament payday. “I tried to play competitively and it just didn’t work out. It was a great experience but I was quick to figure out what I needed. A big portion of that was financial support and that’s what I didn’t have.”
But Wright did not abandon his hopes of working in the golf industry. His focus turned to the business side of the sport and by 2009 he had secured his PGA membership card, enabling him to continue working in the sport as a teaching pro.
“The golf business is great but it doesn’t mean you have to play it,” Wright said. “There’s a lot of other opportunities out there.”
Prior to landing his current gig, Wright worked as a golf pro at four other Arizona courses, including Ak-Chin Southern Dunes Golf Club , We-Ko-Pa Golf Club and the Whirlwind Golf Club, all Native-owned.
“It has always been my goal to work for Native American-owned properties in that capacity, or the general manager’s capacity, so that I can continue to grow the game in Native American communities,” he said. “ I still have that desire to in some way, shape or form get back to a Native American community.”
Wright praises PGA officials for their attempts to introduce and support Native American youth with their golf efforts. “I think they do a great job working with Native American golf courses and properties.”
As an example, back in 2006, Wright was fortunate to help out at a PGA camp which included 100 Native American youth golfers in Albuquerque, N.M.
Wright, however, says there is still plenty of work to be done to get more Native youth into the sport. “I think it starts at the tribal government level,” he said. “And I encourage the leaders and the government officials to work with the operators to dive in head-first and really work in the communities and push the game and work with the kids and be compassionate and empathetic.
Most don’t know what they have to deal with every day and every night. I think it’s a little sad when you walk into some of these properties and there are no Native Americans or tribal members enrolled.”
Wright also has some advice for Native youth. “You don’t have to be a golfer to be in golf.” He’s proof the sport can lead to a successful career and fulfilling life.
“Where I’m at today is all due to golf,” he says. “Everything I’ve done and seen and visited is all due to golf. I try to promote that aspect of it.”