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Golf pro is ace in hole

Golf Pro01BIG CYPRESS — Two decades as a big sugar executive plus 13 years as Clewiston’s municipal golf director is an ace in the hole for the Seminole Tribe with the recent hire of a new Big Cypress golf instructor, Adolfo Pena.

“I’m part of the bigger plan to bring a casino and hotel here and to bring golf to the entire community, Tribal members and outsiders,” Pena said.

The “bigger plan” includes completing construction of a permanent, professional driving range on West Boundary Road not far from Billie Swamp Safari and moving forward with ideas to someday expand the range into a regulation PGA golf course. A golf repair and pro shop is also on the wish list.

Pena credited Big Cypress Councilman Mondo Tiger’s vision for Big Cypress as a destination location. The hotel and casino, destined for construction near Billy Swamp Safari, will hopefully attract affluent visitors to the reservation’s golf amenities.

Meanwhile, Pena is standing in for Ahfachkee School golf coach Amos Mazzant who is out because of medical reasons, and he will soon begin teaching the game to elders.

Pena said students learn how to play the game for competition while putting character-building lessons to work, such as patience, trust and teamwork. Elders benefit most from the low-impact physical movement that golf requires, such as walking hole to hole and swinging clubs.

“All Tribal members will have a place to enjoy a recreational activity that is ageless,” he said.

Of Cuban decent, Pena moved with his family to Clewiston at age 2. After graduating from Florida Atlantic University, he worked for U.S. Sugar Corp. first in accounting then in real estate and public relations. Eventually, his enthusiasm for golf turned his head from the high-powered corporate world to a job opening for a golf director at Clewiston Golf Course.

“Because golf is my passion, I took the city (Clewiston) up on the job. That’s how I met so many Seminole Tribe members,” Pena said.

Relationships formed on the golf course with some of Big Cypress’ notable residents who frequently use the municipal facility, including Councilman Tiger and Regional Housing manager Cicero Osceola.

But the Tribe’s vision for golf is not just about Big Cypress, Pena said. Part of his job entails creating a golf program that will also bring recognition to Seminole attractions in Brighton and Hollywood.

“And we hope to do it first class all the way,” Pena said.

For now, focus is on building interest for golf inside Seminole communities.  Ahfachkee School golfers and elders from all reservations make a good start. Pena is already familiar with some people from hosting clinics and fundraising tournaments at the Clewiston venue. His professional and personal contacts at Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) enable him to schedule special training and motivational events with Tribal students and FGCU head golf coach Brent Jensen.

“We’d love to feed our teen golfers into FGCU. First they should enjoy the game – the score doesn’t matter. But ultimately you want to be a good player, a competent player and someone who will go on the tour,” Pena said. “For the Seminole kids, we just have to look back in history to warriors doing the best they can with all they are given.”

Students must maintain a 2.5 GPA to participate. There are no requirements for elders.