Keith Clawson’s introduction to the world of golf wasn’t exactly action-packed. As a teenager, he lived down the street from Gulph Mills Golf Club in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. His parents encouraged him to head over and ask for a caddying job. “That was pretty daunting for a 13-year-old,” he says.
The head pro there appreciated Clawson’s courage and effort, so he promised to get him some work. By some, he meant very little. “There were not a lot of loops,” Clawson admits.
Gulph Mills wasn’t bustling during the summer months, so money was scarce. But there was one big perk: playing golf every Monday with other caddies. Even during the school year, if it was warm and dry enough, Clawson was on the course.
Over the next several years, he became a better player while also developing into a club professional with a bright future. The past six months have shown just how much promise Clawson has. In early January, he won the Philadelphia PGA Section’s Justin Riegel Assistant Golf Professional of the Year Award. In March, he moved from an assistant at Merion Golf Club to head pro at East Hampton Golf Club on Long Island, New York.
Not a bad half-year for anyone—much less a 30-year-old. “I’m really excited for it,” Clawson says. “Philly has always been my home, and I have so many good friends and people I’ve met here. But I’m excited for a new chapter.”
Clawson joined Merion’s staff in April 2020, when the place was shut down due to COVID protocols. Though it reopened for golf later in the spring, Clawson describes it as “a pretty difficult situation.” As he continued at Merion, he devoted himself to making the member experience as positive as possible. His efforts impressed head pro Scott Nye. When East Hampton GM Tony Sessa called looking for someone to run his club’s golf operation, Nye had no problem recommending Clawson. “He did a phenomenal job here for three years,” says Nye. “We’re in the service industry. His focus was delivering an exceptional golf experience for all the members, whether that was giving a lesson, organizing an event, helping in the golf shop or playing golf with someone.”
Justin Riegel had recently become director of golf at Philmont Country Club in Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania, when in the spring of 2020, he was putting golf carts into the barn next to the club’s pro shop during a violent storm. A large tree fell onto the shop and the barn, killing the 38-year-old. Riegel had worked at a number of clubs before Philmont, including Aronimink Golf Club and Gulph Mills. He’d been known as “a person that everybody liked,” as Philadelphia PGA Section president Geoff Surrette told the Philadelphia Inquirer.
The chapter named the Assistant Professional of the Year Award for Riegel not long after his death, and while Clawson is humbled by the honor, it means even more to him that Riegel’s name and legacy are attached to it. “To have a connection to him means a lot,” Clawson says.
Although Clawson played golf at Upper Merion High School, he wasn’t a member of the team at Florida Gulf Coast University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in PGA Golf Management. An internship at Waynesboro Country Club in Paoli, Pennsylvania, turned into an assistant pro job. He “did a little bit of everything” there for four-plus years before heading to Bidermann Golf Club in Wilmington.
Though the Bidermann vibe was not as lively as some other clubs, Clawson was able to work under Anthony Malizia, the head pro who’d also been an assistant at Gulph Mills when Clawson caddied there. He spent just over two years at Bidermann before moving to Merion, which brought him into a much different orbit. “Merion is kind of a bucket-list thing for a lot of people, and a round may be the only time they ever play there,” Clawson says. “Golfers are super excited to be there, and we’re there to make sure they have a good time.”
While Clawson was committed to his role at Merion, he harbored bigger dreams. Even Nye knew it. “One of the reasons he came here was to advance,” he says.
Now, it’s on to Long Island and its thriving, historic—and expensive—Hamptons golf scene. The club opened in 2000 and has a reported initiation fee of $400,000. “If I can be really focused on golfers’ needs and their experiences, that will pay off for me—and it will make for happy employees and members,” Clawson says. “I want to invest in people.”