SIMS: FSU ALUM OWES HIS LIFE, CAREER TO FAYETTEVILLE STATE
SIMS: FSU ALUM OWES HIS LIFE, CAREER TO FAYETTEVILLE STATE
For three-time CIAA golf champion, one moment one fateful day changed his life’s direction
BY ALEX PODLOGAR
FSU Sports Information
TAMPA, FL - The van pulled into the parking lot. To that point, it was hardly noticeable to Kennie Sims.
Sims was busy doing exactly what he did most days when he wasn’t in school. He was a cart boy at Rogers Park Golf Course, and with play picking up, he had carts to wash and prepare for another round of golfers coming through. It really was a rinse, lather, repeat cycle.
But when those van doors opened, Sims stopped dead in his tracks. He couldn’t believe what he saw. Perhaps his eyes were betraying him, because this was something he had never seen before.
Inside of him, though, Sims knew it was real. So real that he can recall the memory vividly some 30 years later.
That’s what happens when your life changes in an instant.
Sims was essentially given the game of golf. His father picked the game up while he was in the army. At 8, Sims himself began playing the game alongside his father.
But Sims was a kid from 1960s Harlem, N.Y. There was little thought that golf could be anything more than a recreational diversion. A career from golf? Hardly.
That was the thought, anyway. Strange how perception can be forged into reality.
Except that wasn’t the case. Maybe it never was. Or maybe that perception as reality is indeed the case if one doesn’t have any reason to know better.
And Sims never had a reason to think otherwise. But he never stopped loving the game. And he could play, too. So when his family relocated to Florida and Sims had a chance to be a cart boy at one of the city’s municipal golf courses, he jumped at it. Working at Rogers Park meant long hours and daily battles with oppressive humidity. But it brought golf, too.
“I was washing carts just to be able to play golf there,” Sims says now.
It was while washing those carts that Sims saw the van pull into the lot.
The doors opened ? and time stopped. The Fayetteville State golf team had arrived.
Kennie Sims has been a muni guy his entire life. He’s been the head golf professional at two of Tampa’s munis ? his beloved Rogers Park and Babe Zaharius Golf Course ? twice. He’s the quintessential hometown guy made good, rising from those early days as a cart boy to eventually running the shop as the pro.
Sims may have moved around the area’s munis, but he never stopped moving up, either. In 2008, he ascended to his current position as the Director of Golf Operations for the Tampa Sports Authority.
But he’s never forgotten about that one day. It was then that everything, in an instant, seemed possible. The roadmap to his future may not have been drawn, but he was given the pen, and the direction.
His road would go through Fayetteville.
Ron Terry was the head pro at Rogers Park when Sims was washing carts. His younger brother, Tony, played golf collegiately at Fayetteville State. So when the Broncos were headed to Miami for a tournament, Ron made sure the team stopped in Tampa on their way through for some R&R and to catch up.
Sims found himself in the middle of the reunion. And he was awestruck.
“I never knew there was such a thing as a black college golf team,” says Sims from his office in Tampa. “I had no idea. When the van unloaded, I was in complete shock. Not only were the kids black, not only were they college golfers, but it was amazing how good they were.”
Suddenly, a kid with a lot of game but little else to satisfy his youthful appetites had found a path.
“It changed my life,” he says, his calm voice turning firm. “I was ready right then to pack up and go with them.”
Not long after, he did.
Sims had three different golf coaches in his time at Fayetteville State. But the constant change did nothing to impede his growth as a player.
Sims went on to become one of the CIAA’s most decorated golfers in its history. He won three straight individual league championships in the early-to-mid 1980s and is one of the principal reasons why Fayetteville State has the golf legacy it enjoys.
But the University gave Sims more than a game.
“I was the prototypical troubled kid,” Sims recalls. “I had a lot to learn about life, a lot to learn about responsibility. But so many people (at FSU) helped me.”
Still, what happened inside the ropes enabled Sims to quickly grab the reins of his own life. Doors immediately began opening for him. He found lending hands, warm smiles and sacrifices made on his behalf. Golf did that.
“No bones about it, (because) I was the best golfer in the CIAA, people looked at me in a different light,” says Sims.
“I learned that people had a different level of respect for me because of the success I had as a golfer. I was looked at through a different lens because of my success as a golfer.
“That’s what HBCUs do ? they take you into their arms and they help you when you are not ready to do it for yourself. I was definitely a recipient of that generous love.”
Those looks gave Sims hope. They gave him the confidence to chase golf as a profession. While he took a shot at various minitours upon graduating from Fayetteville State, Sims knew where he was headed.
Kennie Sims, who graduated in 1988, says he owes everything he has to Fayetteville State and the direction and life lessons it gave him. That’s why, he says, it’s so important for him to find ways to give back.
In conjunction with the First Tee program, Sims and the Tampa Sports Authority have worked to give young African-Americans more exposure to the game of golf. In May, Sims escorted a group of Tampa middle school students to the PGA National Minority Golf Tournament in Port St. Lucie, Fla.
The idea is an extension of Sims’ own epiphany. In leading interactions between young black kids and collegiate golf programs, he hopes to open doors that otherwise might not have even been approached. Sims has done this kind of thing for a long time, dating back to when he drove a collection of young golfers to Cleveland when the PGA Minority was held there several years ago.
Sims knows it only takes one moment to foster a dream.
“Based on where I’ve made it in the golf business, I attribute most of my success to the opportunities given to me by Fayetteville State,” he explains.
“I know how important something like that can mean to someone at the right time.”
Sims could tell the kids were impressed. Plus, he could boast a little, too. Fayetteville State’s John Cole was beginning what would turn out to be a winning performance in the Division-II tournament.
And though the Broncos were midway through one of their rounds, deep into the throes of competition, he took a shot anyway. Sims brought the kids up close to meet with some of the Fayetteville State players and legendary coach Ray McDougal.
What Sims witnessed was perhaps the most impressive moment of the trip. Despite being in the midst of competition, several of the Broncos’ student-athletes took time out of their rounds to speak with the kids, to engage with them, to offer a quick lesson here and there.
That made an impact on Sims.
“(The Broncos) were everything we could’ve ever wanted them to be,” says Sims. “They represented Fayetteville state so well.
“That meant a lot to us. That was a pretty special day.”
Take it from Sims.
He knows a lot about special days.