By Dave Smith
21st Space Wing Public Affairs staff writer
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — In years past you would find Jack O’Brien, Silver Spruce Golf Course professional, running around on a football field. Now you will find him, still running around, but on the Silver Spruce greens.
O’Brien is in his 11th year at Silver Spruce, where he is a golf instructor, professional and pro shop manager. He loves golf and it’s his life now, but it wasn’t always like that. In fact, he had aspirations for a professional football career before taking up golf later in life.
“I played my first round of golf 26 years ago,” O’Brien said. “I shot a 155, but I hit a five iron (well) and said, ‘this is what I want to do.’”
But when he was a student athlete at Cheyenne Mountain High School in Colorado Springs, he played football, basketball and baseball. Golf, he said, was not a macho sport at the time. In fact, his eye was on football after helping his team win its only state high school football championship in 1964. He went on to play defensive back for what was then known as Colorado State College, now University of Northern Colorado, where he was an Associated Press Small School All-American as a senior.
His football dreams continued when he had try outs with the Denver Broncos, Miami Dolphins and Dallas Cowboys. However, that path was not the one he would walk as he was cut from each team. The most memorable part of those experiences was getting to work with legendary coach Don Shula in Miami.
“I learned more in three months from Don Shula about leadership and communications than anywhere else,” O’Brien said. “I even got fired by him and learned from Don. I learned a ton from him, it was a fabulous experience.”
O’Brien says he’s had two careers. When he didn’t make it in football he began a 25-year career as a management consultant, which O’Brien enjoyed until he got tired of travelling. He decided to use his deep, resonant voice to become a talk radio host.
“I saved a year’s salary and figured the first resume I sent I would get hired,” said O’Brien. “But 102 resumes later… I didn’t make it.”
Needing work, O’Brien responded to an ad for a range ball picker at Valley Hi Golf Course and got the job. In a month’s time he was working various jobs at the facility, where he would remain for 10 years, eventually taking charge there and a second career began. Later he spent three years as the Colorado Springs Country Club teaching golf and loving the game more than ever.
It was the time spent at Valley Hi that eventually led to O’Brien coming to Silver Spruce. Larry Mullis, former Silver Spruce golf pro and current Peterson Bowling Alley manager, knew O’Brien from Valley Hi and hired him as a golf instructor.
O’Brien said he always enjoyed teaching, even entertaining the idea of becoming one after college. He decided it didn’t pay enough, however, and didn’t pursue that path.
“Ever since it seems like I have taught all of my life,” he said, referring to his time as a consultant and golf instructor.
Some of the best memories O’Brien has about his golf career up to this point are all about teaching. And having taught everyone from children to generals, O’Brien has a lot of memories. He recalled an 11-year-old girl who had no athletic skill coming to take lessons from him. She took to golf right away and went on to golf on a scholarship to Colorado State University.
“She turned into an excellent golfer,” he said. “I can’t take credit for her career, but I am happy to know I got her started.”
Another time he told of a friend who was grieving for his spouse who passed away. O’Brien called him and invited him to come and take golf lessons.
“I called him out for one week and taught him golf,” O’Brien said. “The other day he called me and told me he was starting is second round of 18 holes for the day. He makes his own clubs now, he just loves it.”
He likely caught the love of golf from O’Brien. Athletics have been a prominent part of his life, but there is still one thing about it he regrets.
“I wish I had always golfed,” said O’Brien. “I’ve had a wonderful athletic life. My only regret is that I wish I could hit like the people I teach.” But several joint replacements do not allow him that luxury.
But he said he will continue to learn more about golf for the rest of his life. It is something he can do alone, socially or even competitively. He plays with his wife, he competes with other members of the Silver Spruce staff and he grabs an occasional round at closing time when the setting is perfect.
“You get to play with a fun group of people, with all the sunshine and the green (landscape),” he said. “I get to see this beauty every day. What I get to spend every day with is heaven.”
As a man who loves to teach golf, there is one thing O’Brien finds puzzling. A couple of times each year he addresses new Airmen during sessions at the First Time Airmen’s Center. During that time he offers any of them the chance for a free golf lesson. All they have to do is get a group of four or five other people — who don’t have to be new Airmen — and sign up.
“I have made that offer 120 times and none have ever taken advantage,” O’Brien said.
Anyone looking for a great way to start a new hobby, or even career, can look no further than Silver Spruce Golf Course. Stop by and take a lesson from Jack O’Brien and his love of the game may just rub off.