Local golf pro hits the sweet spot on and off the course
It’s early morning and the sun is still hours away from rising. It’s time to tend to the horses, feed the chickens and let out the dogs (not just any old farm dogs, but we’ll get to them later).
This is not the schedule of the average golf professional on the Grand Strand, but Cyndi Graham is far from your average golf pro.
The first thing you notice when you are speaking to Graham is that the last thing she wants to talk about is herself. For her, it’s all about the kids she teaches in junior golf at The Dunes, the people she has aided with her “search and rescue” dogs, or the animals on the farm she maintains with her husband, George.
Graham grew up as the only daughter in a family of seven which helped her develop a competitive edge while still maintaining a gentle, giving spirit. She started playing golf at the age of 11 and by the time she turned 12, she had fallen in love with the game.
Finding her future in golf
Graham knew from then that golf was her future. Even though she was an accomplished player at Troy Athens High School in Michigan, Graham’s real desire leaned more toward the business and teaching side of golf rather than playing.
Still, she would go on to play college golf for the Wolfpack of North Carolina State University, all the while honing her skills by repairing and re-gripping clubs in her dorm room.
After graduation, Graham turned pro in 1986 and got her first job as the assistant professional at Bentwinds Country Club, a private golf, sporting and social club nestled in the tranquil landscape of southern Wake County, North Carolina.
After two years, Graham joined the Prestonwood Country Club in Cary, North Carolina, the host of many prominent, professional golf tournaments. This is where her interest in youth golf took root.
In March 1999, Graham took the job of Assistant Pro and PGA Golf Merchandiser at the prestigious Dunes Club in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
From the beginning, Graham was teaching junior golfers and building up the program.
Her day starts at 6 a.m., when she turns on the lights in the Pro Shop. Then, there’s lessons until about 10:30 a.m., followed by working on merchandising until it’s time for lessons again from 3 to 6 p.m.
In the world of golf, a half-day is 12 hours.
“Cyndi’s work ethic and dedication is a testament to her loyalty which you don’t often find in the golf industry,” says Dennis Nicholl, Head Golf Professional at the Dunes Club, a high compliment coming from an employer known for its career employees.
Graham broke the glass ceiling with the Carolinas PGA when she was the first woman to win any award, receiving the PGA Assistant Pro of the Year–twice.
Graham has also been recognized as the Top 100 women golf teachers in the U.S.A. by Golf Magazine.
Teaching young players
Even though she has built a reputation as a top-tier instructor for all ages, Graham’s heart remains with kids, as evidenced by her work with the Dunes PGA Junior League, where she is assisted by coach Holden Patterson.
In addition to the league, Graham also runs clinics and camps where big golf names such as Gary Player, Nick Faldo and Charlie Reimer have been known to show up to work with the kids.
On any given day, you might find Graham on the range working through the bag with her latest protégé, 11-year-old Carson Guyton. He has been taking lessons with her for four years.
When asked about future goals, he says: “A college golf scholarship, then the pros.” With a fluid swing and a deadly putter, he is well on his way by playing in the PGA Junior League and winning the Dunes Cub Junior Club Championship for his age group.
Finding missing people
If all of this were not enough, for the past 12 years Graham, with husband, George, by her side, has been spending her days off working with CUE, the Community United Effort for missing persons. This is a nationwide, all-volunteer organization consisting of over 15,000 members who assist with finding missing persons using a variety of methods.
Graham participated in the beginning by “ground pounding” on horseback, boats, ATVs or just plain feet on the ground. In July 2015, she purchased her first trained rescue dog, Katie, followed by a 5-week-old shepherd named Isa in December, and again in March 2018 with a dog named Cain.
Graham was taught how to train the dogs by the founder of CUE, Monica Caison, and is now a certified trainer for rescue dogs. She attends and participates in the national, three-day, yearly certification training held in Tennessee.
“Cyndi is a great asset. She is always willing to push through the tired and the pain anytime, anywhere,” Caison says.
CUE has a busy schedule because they believe that “everyone is important and needs to be found.” Nobody in the 501(c)3 organization takes a salary and they always welcome to new volunteers and donations.
When asked what motivates her to do all that she does, Graham simply replies, “I just have a heart for helping people.”