Asked for a job description, Ben Taylor (above) smiles and says, "Uh...I play in the dirt?" That's because one day he's on a tractor, dragging a chain harrow over bumpy soil, and the next he's shoveling gravel with the greens crew. Taylor, 26, works about a $8-hour week for $8 an hour, shares a Gainesville apartment with two other course workers and goes to bed most nights so tired that he can hardly believe he gave up his old job: pro golfer. "I played golf all my life," says Taylor. "Golf was my life."
In 1992, as a junior at Nease High in St. Augustine, Fla., he won the state high school championship. He played for four years for coach Buddy Alexander at Florida, earning a bachelor's degree in finance in 1997, and turned pro in '98. Nearly three profitless seasons, mostly on the mini-tours of Georgia and Florida, however, convinced Taylor that he might do better designing courses than playing them. With a recommendation from Alexander, he landed an entry-level job with MacCurrach Golf Construction. His second assignment: the course he played as a collegian.
"This is a golden opportunity for me," says Taylor, who approaches his labors in the spirit of apprenticeship. No job is beneath him. He checks elevations with a laser level, drives an earthmover, rakes greens mix and listens intently when the course designers share their thoughts. "I can't imagine designing a course without doing this," he says. "You have to understand how a course is put together."
Meanwhile, an application for reinstatement as an amateur sits on Taylor's desk, waiting to be filled out. "I still ponder whether I want to play," he says. "I think about it all the time."