When Sonoma Valley High School student Christian Ballard, ‘15, had no idea what college or career he wanted, he was about on par with many high school students these days.
He didn’t have a plan.
That is, until he found a way to wedge together his favorite hobby and his future career: golf.
Ballard, 21, is currently in his senior year in the professional golf management program at New Mexico State University. When he finishes, he will have a bachelor’s degree in marketing, with a specialization in golf management, and can apply to be a part of the Professional Golfers’ Association of America (PGA).
Ballard fell into golf as a boy, playing with his golf-loving father.
“I like that you’re always playing against yourself,” Ballard said. “It was something I could do whenever I wanted, unlike baseball.”
Ballard’s passion for the sport increased at SVHS, where he played on the team for four years, and was named MVP multiple times.
When the time came when every parent and adult starts asking high schoolers what they are going to do next, Ballard only knew he wanted to play golf.
“Christian did OK in high school,” said his mother, Felicia Ballard. “His grades were ‘fine’ but not stellar. He didn’t know where he wanted to go to college because he didn’t know what he wanted to study. We would suggest various schools and Christian would always respond with, ‘Well, I’d like to see where they play golf.’”
In their research, the family came across the golf-management program at New Mexico State and, after a quick trip there, Ballard knew the program was a hole in one.
Almost four years later, he is entering into his final year. The rigorous program requires the usual workload of a marketing degree, but with PGA bookwork on top. In order to graduate, the students also need to complete 16 months of golf internships. For Ballard, this is his favorite part.
“We have alumni all over the country, anywhere you want to go,” Ballard said. “They offer paid internships, too, so you get to go experience these new places, work at a golf course and get paid for it.”
So far in his program, Ballard has interned at Bayonet and Black Horse in Seaside, California; Chambers Bay in Tacoma, Washington; and Fircrest Golf Course also in Tacoma. After he graduates next May, he will complete his last seven months of work experience, and hopes to return to Washington for that.
When Ballard thinks back to his high school years, he said that SVHS golf coach Ian Albrecht and English teacher and baseball coach Don Lyons, who passed away last year, were influential in his career.
“Coach Lyons was very supportive of the golf thing while also trying to recruit me onto the baseball team every day,” he said. “While he didn’t know a lot about golf, if I wasn’t playing well, he knew the right questions to ask that made you realize why you were playing badly.”
Ballard recommends that any Sonoma students who don’t know what they want to do right now, not rule out the idea of turning their passion or hobby into a career.