Las Vegas, Nev. (March 10, 2016)–About 25 years ago, current Las Vegas PGA of America professional Jim Neighbors had a chance encounter with high school buddie Jon Spatz at Las Vegas’ PGA TOUR event, the Las Vegas Invitational. Spatz, who is also now a PGA of America professional in Las Vegas who went to Las Vegas High School with Neighbors, had recently begun working at Palm Valley Golf Club and told his old buddie that more courses were coming soon and some additional help would be needed. A couple decades later and that fateful meeting has turned into a career in the golf business. Neighbors serves as the head professional at Las Vegas’ Highland Falls Golf Club, one of the three golf courses located in Golf Summerlin. –By Brian Hurlburt.
Shortly after going to work, Neighbors enrolled in the PGA of America business school and completed his overall studies quickly and in back-to-back sessions. He was officially elected into the PGA of America in November of 1997. Over the years Neighbors has served on the board of directors of the Southwest Section, Southern Nevada chapter and played in events on the tournament schedule.
But it has been his consistent presence at Highland Falls and Golf Summerlin that has highlighted his career in the golf industry. It has been a fast and interesting ride, says Neighbors, the father of three grown children (Allie, Michael, Brett) and recently married to elementary school teacher Sandi Walker, after a long engagement.
“There are so many wonderful memories from meeting and working with interesting and great people along the way, but what really stands out is watching how our courses have evolved and changed over the years,” says Neighbors. “We are dedicated to being good environmental partners and our courses have had a face lift since they debuted in the early nineties. We are very water conscious here and have taken out acres and acres of turf to conserve water while ensuring the quality and beauty of the courses remains in tact. Golf courses are so much more than just 150 acres of grass, and it’s cool to be a part of the overall process of operating a course.”
The three courses at Golf Summerlin–the other two are Palm Valley Golf Club and Eagle Crest Golf Club–were designed by the late golf course architect Greg Nash and the late World Golf Hall of Fame inductee Billy Casper. Following each course opening, Casper, the most under-rated golfer in the history of the game who won 51 PGA TOUR tournaments and three majors, would return and entertain VIPs and Sun City Summerlin residents.
“The coolest thing about Mr. Casper was that he was a character,” remembers Neighbors, who was front and center for several Casper driving range demonstrations. “He was an old school guy and had no pretense about him. He treated everybody so well whether it was the president of Del Webb or a young golf professional. His ability to entertain a crowd was also impressive. He would stand on the range, with hundreds of people watching, and take requests about what type of shots to hit. He would then execute each one perfectly, whether it was a low draw, high fade, extreme hook, or whatever. It was a truly a sight to behold.”
Neighbors remembers Casper inviting he and fellow young aspiring pro Mike Messner to dinner with several other people. Casper told stories for two hours and was a gracious host. Walking out of the dinner, Messner and Neighbors just looked at each other in amazement and said, “we just spent two hours with Billy Casper … one of the greatest golfers ever.” Messner is now the head professional at TPC Summerlin in Las Vegas.
Neighbors was more of a baseball player growing up, but remembers being a part of his father’s weekly golf game. Those memories helped drive him into the golf business.
“It’s pretty neat that I have had a long career in a game that my Dad loved,” says Neighbors. “It’s really been nice to be a part of this game and to have an office that includes fairways, greens and beautiful scenery. I’ve gotten to do something that I enjoy every day.”
The scenery Neighbors speaks about is, most of the time, Highland Falls Golf Club. The par 72, 6,512-yard course offers some of the sweetest views of the Las Vegas valley around. Neighbors loves the layout, especially the finishing holes on the course.
“I believe Highland Falls is the best 6,500-yard course in the state, and there’s not many better finishing holes on any course than holes 14-18 out here,” says Neighbors. “I’d put those holes up against the best of the best. What Mr. Nash and Mr. Casper accomplished is pretty special. We pride ourselves on the quality of the design and also offering quality conditions. Our overall director of agronomy, Brian Bagwell, and Highland Falls superintendent, Roger Knight, do a terrific job. The golf experience is only as good as the conditions and we work hard to maintain a high level of conditions out here.”
Neighbors has worked with a lot of good people over the years and credits several for his success, notably Las Vegas Golf Hall of Fame member Joe Kelly in addition to PGA of America professional Scotty Greer. He also mentions Doug Anderson, Spatz and some of his current contemporaries like Donnie Long and Shane Sanchez, realizing that when mentioning important people he would leave out some unintentionally. Neighbors also appreciates the Sun City board of directors for allowing him to work with them for so many years in addition to his own family for their support.
“It’s all gone by so quickly and there have been so many wonderful memories,” says Neighbors. “And I look forward to many more.”