When Brandon Bittner was washing golf carts and tidying up every morning outside the pro shop at Cumberland Country Club in 2005, he never envisioned he’d appear in one of the premiere magazines in all of sport.Eighteen years later, Bittner will feature next month in Golf Digest, where he will be honored as one of the best young teachers in America.“Initially, I bawled like a baby,” said Bittner, who shared the news on Facebook last week. “I was getting ready to go walk upstairs, and I turned around and sat down and start crying. You don’t expect something like that. It’s hard to explain. It puts in perspective that the hard work that you put in, you work hard, it pays off.
“People tell you that if you love what you do, you don’t work a day in your life. That’s complete bullshit. If you love what you do, you work your tail off every day of your life. And you have great days, you have bad days. But regardless, it’s a learning opportunity to make you better.”Bittner, who turns 37 in April, is the director of instructors at Golf Made Simple, which is one of the top golf schools in the country.The 36-year-old’s resume includes 16,000-plus hours of coaching at GMS, which he started working for in 2014, instruction at 16 GMS locations around the globe, mentoring and training of over two dozen GMS instructors, a member of the So-Cal PGA Section Teaching Committee and host of Coaching Coaches, a golf instruction podcast.A 2004 graduate of Beall, Bittner didn’t play organized golf in high school, instead playing soccer, basketball and baseball.“I played golf in high school but it was more haphazardly, going out five, 10 times a year,” said Bittner, who after high school got a bachelor of science in sports medicine at Frostburg State. “I could hit the ball — I just didn’t know where it was going.”He started working at Cumberland Country Club in 2005 after his friend, Nathan Jackson, recommended him for a job.“It was good tip money and I started really liking it,” Bittner added, “and I got to play free golf and practice for free, which you can’t beat. So that’s really kind of where it all started in that I had access to a sport I couldn’t afford to play at that time, because golf is not cheap. So it was something where being there and getting to play as much as I did, I got addicted.”It culminated in to Bittner passing his Playing Ability Test for the PGA a little over a decade ago and turning pro in 2010. He became the assistant golf pro at Cumberland CC and, in 2012, was promoted to director of golf, a position he held until September 2014 when he was hired by GMS weeks after Bittner and Cumberland won the Boggs Cup in a 17-7 runaway over Maplehurst.Bittner was raised in Mount Savage, a town of less than 1,000 people, and has taken pieces of his hometown with him to California, where he moved to in 2016.“I think the biggest thing to me that comes from winning this award, it’s put in perspective that all the talk is true that you can come from a town of 900 people and make a name for yourself and do something great,” Bittner said. “The first thing I thought of was my nieces. To show them that you can do whatever you want. I mean, I don’t have any kids of my own. But to show my nieces, and then my little nephew doesn’t have a clue yet, that you can do whatever you want.“Anybody telling you that golf is just for people who are privileged and for people who are in the right place at the right time? Yeah, that can happen. But you can also make the right place and right time, it just takes effort and discipline. Obviously, I can improve in both those areas, but just from experience … it’s simple, hence Golf Made Simple. If you do the simple things and you stay true to your integrity and to have the best interests in mind of everyone that you come in contact with, you can then feel comfortable taking risks and then go out on a limb to move across the country or whatever it is that you want to do and be OK with the outcome.”
Although Golf Digest sent an email out to the awardees, that isn’t how Bittner was informed that he won the honor.GMS in California works out of Indian Wells Golf Resort, but the recent rainfalls across the West Coast have caused damage to the grounds GMS works out of and forced Bittner’s company to find a new course to work out of for the time being.Bittner, who said he knew he was nominated for the award back in October, reached out to an unnamed course to enquire about using their facilities.Bittner, at the time still not knowing that he won the honor, connected with the course’s director of golf, mentioning that the course came highly recommended through a company partner. The director of golf said, “Sure. It’s kind of a coincidence you and your company reach out to me. I just saw you were in Golf Digest.”“I was like, ‘Wait, what?’”, Bittner said, noting that golf courses get early copies of Golf Digest. “I got this phone call on — God rest her soul — my grandmother’s birthday. It was an accident because their director of golf had no idea that I didn’t know yet.”Golf is a sport plagued — self-inflicting, perhaps — by stereotypes. It’s only for people that grew up in the suburbs or people who come from ultra-wealthy families or for people who wear a five-piece suit to work.Regardless of how much truth there is in any of that, Bittner takes pride in looking back on his career path up to this point and, even more so, where he came from.“You go through memories and it’s even further locked into my brain that you can never forget where you came from,” Bittner said. “You could be born into a billionaire family, but within that family, there still are morals and there still are values and there still are customs that are passed down from family member to family member that help shape who you are. And that’s what Mount Savage is to me. My family, my friends there, they have shaped who I am and they’ve influenced who I am. They’ve influenced me to be a better coach in ways that no one could even understand.“I take those values into Golf Made Simple. And that’s what’s in front of Golf Made Simple golfers, day in and day out, is that Mount Savage, small-town feel. And I think that when people come through Mount Savage, they feel welcome. And I think that that feeling of being from Mount Savage and what it means, I think people feel that when they’re being coached by me, and it makes them feel like, ‘I’m safe, I’m comfortable. He’s not here to judge me. He’s not here to tell me that I’m a crappy golfer. He’s here to help.’ And that’s all coming back to my family and the values that they’ve instilled in me. My dad has he’s taught me everything that I know about coaching. He’s never taught a day of golf in his life. But what he’s taught me has helped shape me into the coach I am”Bittner noted that one big barrier that the sport needs to get past is the need for more women involved in the game.“Women not being able to go to the golf course and feel comfortable that people with people watching them, it’s a real problem,” he said. “When you go to the golf course, you’re out there, you’re exposed, eyes are on you. And it makes you feel self-conscious and nervous about your skills, because maybe you’re successful in your business or whatever you do for your job. But golf is so hard and if you’re not successful at it, it really makes people feel small and worried. So if we can find a way to help ladies feel more comfortable going to the golf course, that’s going to do wonders for the golf industry.Bittner finished by thanking his family and friends who have guided him along the way, and tying golf into life.”Golf is an embodiment of life, man,” Bittner said. “There are bumps every round and there’s adversity. There’s feeling awkward and being out of place. There’s feeling like you can’t get it and having to push through it and get it done. It is all life.”