Article Published by The Virginian-Pilot
By ABBY STEWART | PUBLISHED: May 29, 2023 at 11:30 a.m. | UPDATED: May 30, 2023 at 8:56 p.m.
When Glen Pierce was 9 years old, his father introduced him to the game of golf in the field next to his childhood home, and by age 14, he was riding his bike to Kempsville Meadows Golf Course for work, where he picked up balls at the driving range.
Today, Pierce is the PGA director of golf at Virginia Beach National and Heron Ridge golf clubs, both in Virginia Beach.
But 17 years ago, life threw him a major curveball as he was being promoted to take on his current roles. With a wife and baby at home and a transitional period underway at work, Pierce was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a chronic, often progressive, disease involving damage to nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord.
“At the time, there wasn’t a whole lot to be learned about MS,” Pierce said in a telephone interview about his life and work. “There were some medications out, but I didn’t know anybody with it. I didn’t know anybody who had been affected by it, so it was a little scary.”
Pierce recalled the uncertainty of the times, not knowing what would happen to his health, his family or his career.
“It took me a year or two to get my feet up under me to realize ‘I’m going to be all right,’” he said.
Golf and MS shape career
Pierce, who played on the golf team at Campbell University from 1987 to 1992, graduated with a sport and fitness management degree and went on to become a golf professional in 1993. He was ultimately elected to PGA membership in 1995 before becoming head professional at Heron Ridge Golf Club in 1999.
“When I got out of college, I realized I was not going to make my living playing golf, but I wanted to stay involved in golf, which kind of got me down the golf professional range — not the professional golf range,” he said.
After his diagnosis in 2007, Pierce became actively involved in the Multiple Sclerosis Society, serving as a board member for the Virginia/West Virginia chapter from 2013 to 2018, earning Board Member of the Year in 2016. From 2012 through 2022, he received the chapter’s Top Fundraiser recognition for Bike MS, which opened his eyes and more doors to raising money for multiple sclerosis.
The philanthropic way in which he chose to navigate his circumstances and conduct himself as a leader in the golf profession and in the community has been admirable. As a result, Pierce was recently honored with the prestigious President’s Award by the Middle Atlantic Section of the PGA of America.
This award “bestows special recognition on an individual whose tireless effort, unwavering dedication and exceptional contributions to the game of golf result in significant benefit to the Middle Atlantic Section, its members and apprentices, and to the entire golf community,” according to the organization’s announcement.
“It was a surprise,” Pierce said about receiving the award. “I’ve been a golf professional for 26 years now and I’ve never won any awards for it. It’s special because I don’t think I would have won it without the MS piece. The fundraising for MS is what I think got noticed as far as doing my regular job along with raising the money for the MS Society.”
Cycling leads to deeper fundraising
Little did Pierce know when he was riding his bike to the golf course at 14, that he would one day institute a charity of his own, bringing in thousands of dollars by cycling for a good cause.
Pierce was approached in 2007 by someone asking for donations for an MS 150, a two-day cycling event covering 150 miles to raise money for multiple sclerosis, not knowing that Pierce, himself, has MS. Pierce had never heard of the countrywide event before, but after donating to the cause, he researched the race and turned to his wife one day and asked, “What do you think about doing this next year? It might just be the two of us, but we could probably have fun, raise some money and ride bikes,” he recalled. Of course, she agreed and the rest is history.
Pierce started his own MSBike Team charity ride in 2008, leading to an annual MSGolf charity event that just celebrated its 15th golf tournament this year. To date, the charity ride and tournament have raised more than $800,000 for the National MS Society and Multiple Sclerosis Foundation.
“It was easier for me to incorporate something I was good at,” Pierce said about starting the golf tournament. “I have friends and people who play golf and I knew what was successful in other events, so I just took that knowledge and I ran with it,” he said.
Grateful for his role models
Throughout his career, Pierce has collected a handful of notable lessons that he brings to work with him every day.
“I try to treat everybody equally. As far as the memberships go, I try not to play favorites with anybody,” he said. When it comes to being a leader, Pierce said he asks of everybody the same thing: “I’m not willing to ask anybody to do something that I’m not willing to do myself or that I’ve done myself earlier on in my career.”
Pierce attributes his success to a little luck and a lot of faith and trust from others.
“I’ve worked for some amazing golf course owners who have given me enough leash to do my own thing,” Pierce said. “And when my ideas didn’t work, they would pull me back in, but I’ve had good direction from my owners here and it’s really created a win-win situation for us,” he said.
Pierce is grateful for the mentors he has had along the way, primarily his father.
“My dad has always been my best friend and role model,” Pierce said.
As far as the golf business, Pierce began working under Andy Giles, a local professional. “He was the guy who got me started. There’s not many days that go by where I don’t find myself using one of his lines or thinking about something he said.”
Positive outlook for the future
Pierce has a positive outlook for his health, his family and his career field for the future. His two daughters are now 15 and 18 years old, and along with he and his wife, they enjoy cycling together as a family and taking vacations to the Outer Banks.
As far as the golf forecast goes, “It looks pretty good right now,” Pierce said. “There has certainly been a recharge in enthusiasm since COVID hit the golf industry,” he said. “It’s really had a boom. It was one of the only things that people could safely do during that, and we were able to stay open and it just really drew a lot of people in and we were the main beneficiaries of it. And, thankfully, everybody has continued to play. They’re still hanging out at the golf course and they’re enjoying it.”