Passion for golf grows into career for Norwin grad Vonderkall
Sometimes all it takes is a tiny spark to launch a career path.
For 1996 Norwin grad Chris Vonderkall, the spark came early and caught fire. He let his passion for golf lead the way.
“As a kid, I was doing a book report and I did it on Arnold Palmer,” Vonderkall said. “I wrote Palmer and explained to him what I was doing and, a few weeks later, I received a folder with his autobiography and I had all of his material. Growing up in that area and having him as somebody who was an icon in the sport certainly played a role.”
After earning a degree in professional golf management and business from Penn State, Vonderkall chased his passion, paid his dues and is now the vice president of tournaments for U.S. Kids Golf.
“I’ve been very lucky with my (career) progression,” Vonderkall said.
Vonderkall’s interest in golf came early but he didn’t pick up the game until a he was 12. Dealing with bumps and bruises suffered from playing other sports, Vonderkall found he could play golf while recovering from those injuries. That’s when he caught the golf bug.
“I played every sport growing up,” Vonderkall said. “I tore my ACL a couple times and had to take some time off from playing basketball and soccer. I was able to golf when I was waiting for surgery, and I got hooked.
“Golf is a sport that I can still play at 41, still be pretty decent and play with my kid and my friends. They say it’s a game of a lifetime, and I tell you, it really is.”
Vonderkall is into giving kids and their families the golf experience of a lifetime. In his position, Vonderkall helps oversee the world’s leading organization for youth golf. The position comes with perks, such as living in golfing mecca Pinehurst, N.C.
Pinehurst is home to the US Kids Golf Championships. The 2019 world championships are being held Aug. 1-3 at courses in and around the Pinehurst community. Vonderkall will welcome more than 2,000 kids ages 5 to 14 years of age.
“Our local tours are the grass roots,” Vonderkall said. “State invites, regional championships, international events in Scotland, Venice and Australia all culminate over the these two weeks in the championships. We make our events more than just a golf event. We make it more of a family vacation.”
The U.S. Kids Foundation also owns and operates Longleaf Golf and Family Club in Southern Pines, N.C.
Vonderkall said the course acts as a “living laboratory” for new ideas to enhance the game.
In 2018, U.S. Kids Golf was recognized by the National Golf Foundation as one of the top 100 businesses in golf based on influence, innovation and social good among other criteria.
Vonderkall keeps an eye out for some black and gold wearing golfers and spectators while walking the grounds. Having been gone from the area for nearly 20 years, Vonderkall hasn’t forgotten his roots.
“I’ll go (and look at the rosters), and when I’m able, I’ll see some (families) that are from close to my hometown,” said Vonderkall. “A lot of times, they have Penn State and Steelers and Penguins (gear on), and I’ll walk up and say, ‘hello’.”
William Whalen is a freelance writer.