The Villages, located in the heart of Florida, is a community unlike any other. It is the home to over a hundred thousand retirees, and is the culmination of what each citizen of The Villages has to offer. The Villages has numerous recreation centers, offering an endless variety of activities for the Villagers, three Village Center Squares, with nightly entertainment, an array of restaurants and countless shops lining the streets. Throughout the community, golf courses designed for every level of play, ensure that everyone is able to enjoy the sport.
The golf courses have come to be the lifeline of the community. Residents are entitled to “free” golf on the 36 executive courses and complimentary memberships at all of the 12 championship courses. With so many Villagers actively participating in the sport, every effort is made to maintain the courses in year-round, pristine condition.
We had the privilege of talking to Ken Creely, who gave us the story behind the Lake Sumter County Initiative, and the partnership golf has fostered:
“Almost two years ago, in conjunction with the Combat Veterans to Careers and The Villages Golf Administration, Golf Management Solutions recognized an opportunity to develop a career path for wounded veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. With all the resources already available in The Villages and the increasing need to find well-trained individuals to fill a variety of skilled positions in both golf course and landscape maintenance, this Program was a natural.
In addition, Lake Sumter College and Sumter County were just beginning to develop their own plan for a variety of career opportunities and training through a collective “initiative” located in Wildwood, at the southern tip of The Villages. When we approached them, they enthusiastically welcomed our Program into their Partnership. It was a win for everyone; the county, the college, the maintenance companies, The Villages, and most importantly, the veterans.
At the same time, the golf maintenance programs at the Lake City College had begun the migration of their Golf Course Maintenance Management Program from an on-campus program to primarily a distance learning program. Their program had, for many years, the reputation as the premier program in the industry. Their location and inability to connect their classroom education with local employment has taken its toll on student recruitment; the program longevity is not probable.
Our Golf Course and Landscape Maintenance Program uniquely provides the education and training required to take an individual from an entry level employee to a skilled and potentially “certified” employee. The Program offers the ability to simultaneously work in a paid, “apprentice” position, while attending classroom instruction. This Program will also provide connections to endless career possibilities including management positions and even entrepreneurial opportunities.
There are numerous residual benefits resulting from participation in the Sumter Workforce Partnership Initiative. Besides the Initiative providing excellent classroom facilities and equipment, support administration and management, program development assistance, student marketing and recruitment, connection to local/county/state agencies and program funding, the other partners in the Partnership provide for a wide variety of alternative careers for our veterans. They will now have numerous choices in other careers that parallel our Program and that will support our community.
“Ultimately, it is our intention that the veterans participating in our Program will be able to initiate similar program partnerships throughout the country and provide opportunities for other deserving veterans as they transition into civilian life“.