In 2008, Jacqueline Welch graduated from FGCU with a business major and a concentration in sports management. Today she serves as general manager of the Horseshoe Bend Country Club in Roswell, Georgia, one of two golf courses owned by her family. The second is the Golf Club of Georgia in Alpharetta. Clearly Welch is in her sweet spot. It has not always been thus.
Shortly after graduating, Welch took a position as assistant sports coordinator for the Sports Council of Collier County. She was delighted; her stepfather Ben Kenny was not. “My stepfather is an entrepreneur and at the time owned a company in the gas industry,” she explains. “He was very disappointed that I wasn’t coming home to work for him.”
The two engaged in several difficult conversations, says Welch, and she finally decided to return home to Atlanta to enter a six-month executive trainee program with her stepfather’s company.
“The work had absolutely nothing to do with my major,” Welch wryly observes, “but I learned a ton about administration, accounting and operations.”
The training quickly proved advantageous. Kenny was looking for new business opportunities, and Welch’s education in sports management – coupled with her brother’s interests in golf – convinced him that a golf course would be a good investment. In 2011, Kenny purchased Horseshoe Bend Country Club in foreclosure and put Welch to work.
“When we got the club, it required a lot of capital and renovations,” Welch says. “My stepfather committed $35 million to the project and put me in charge of rejuvenating the clubhouse as well as the tennis and swim complexes.” Despite having no prior experience, Welch successfully completed the project and in 2014, Kenny repeated the process, buying the Golf Club of Georgia in foreclosure and sinking more than $40 million into renovations.
Overseeing redevelopment of Horseshoe Bend was a huge responsibility, Welch says, but she got the job done thanks in large part to lessons learned at FGCU, inside and outside the classroom.
“My coursework was important, but I also learned an incredible amount through extra-curricular activities. I served as director of programming for Student Government my junior and senior years and worked with budgets, vendors, facilities and committees. I learned that when faced with something you haven’t done before, you buckle down and figure it out. You simply find a way.”
Welch and her family found a way to return Horseshoe Bend and the Golf Club of Georgia to profitability, and now Welch is paying it forward. Working with Tara McKenna, director of FGCU’s PGA Golf Management Program (PGM), she initiated an internship program that brings students from the program to work in Roswell and Alpharetta. She’s delighted with the results.
“Our first two interns, Noah Hedberg (’21) and Max Bancker (’21), were phenomenal – they exceeded our expectations at every turn,” Welch enthuses. “I hope I’ll have the opportunity to hire an FGCU grad soon.”
Welch has also established a $25,000 endowment through the FGCU Foundation to provide financial support to PGM students wishing to pursue a career in the golf industry. “It takes a certain personality to work in hospitality – it’s an industry that doesn’t necessarily pay well or give back, and your job is to make others happy. Because of that, I believe it’s important to give back to those who really want to be in this space and now that I can, I will. I’m so thankful I got to attend FGCU – proud to be an Eagle.”
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