Back in the day, that being the late 1990s and early 2000s, the closest Steve Burkowski usually got to the PGA Tour was attending the annual media day at the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing, or hosting his weekly golf radio show, “The 19th Hole,” with Columbia teaching professional George Bryan III, father of the now-famous “Bryan Brothers,” golf trick-shot artists.
But the Florida native, then working for Columbia’s WVOC-AM 560 and SportsRadio 1400, often dreamed of reaching his ideal career: working for Golf Channel. In fact, that dream started shortly after legend Arnold Palmer began the all-golf network in 1995.
“I had no backup plan,” Burkowski – “Burkie” to his friends – says now with a laugh. “I used to tell (co-worker) Gary Barboza that, and he’d say, ‘What if that doesn’t happen?’ And I had no answer for him.”
Then, after years of letter-writing and making applications, Burkowski was hired in 2000 as a production assistant – the bottom-rung, beginner’s job. But his ambitions had not been satisfied, far from it.
In 2002, he helped create College Central, GC’s vehicle to cover college golf. Having become friendly with such top coaches as Clemson’s Larry Penley and South Carolina’s Puggy Blackmon, Burkowski was a natural, helping make the show a regular part of the network’s coverage.
It also helped that, along the way, he met young college players who would become top players on the PGA Tour. Players such as Jordan Spieth, the 2015 Masters and US Open winner, whom Burkowski met when Spieth was a freshman at Texas; the two remain friendly today.
Such contacts have proven invaluable as Burkowski, now a fixture on Golf Channel, continues to climb the company ladder. He works as both an on-course and booth reporter, and also serves as an in-studio host for Golf Central. Golf Channel’s ties with parent company NBC also assure him of working such events as the US Open, British Open and Ryder Cup.
For all of that, though, “Burkie” maintains his friendships with colleagues he knew in Columbia, in radio, TV and newspapers. He’s also stayed friends with the Bryans; brother Wesley Bryan in 2016 became one of the top performers on the Web.com Tour and was guaranteed a spot on the PGA Tour in 2017.
When the two run into each other these days, and in the future, they can share stories of long-ago dreams – Bryan’s to make the big tour, Burkowski’s to cover those events – and how those came true for both.
“I still pinch myself,” Burkowski says. “I’m fortunate how my career has been on an upward trajectory since (2000). It’s mind-boggling, really.”
But nothing, really, that he didn’t imagine all those years ago.
Hometown: New York City; grew up in Westfield, NJ Currently lives in Windermere, Fla.
Bio: University of Florida 1994 graduate; worked at WVOC-AM 560 and SportsRadio 1400 in Columbia until 2000 when he joined Golf Channel as a production assistant; was lead producer and co-host for Golf Channel’s College Central from 2003-06; reporter and producer for Golf Central, GC’s daily news program, covering college golf, select USGA events, the Web.com Tour; field producer for PGA Tour events, studio host for European Tour coverage.
Highlights: Was the voice of Lady Gamecock basketball and co-host of “The Wake-Up Call” and “The Cheap Seats” shows for SportsRadio 1400; pregame reporter for USC football and basketball; hosted “The 19th Hole” golf show; at Golf Channel, helped create College Central program; still covers college golf including the NCAA Finals, as well as PGA Tour and Web.com Tour.
Where I play: “Start with Harbour Town Golf Links; it’s so easy to have this place on my list. I was very fortunate to play this course on a yearly basis in the 1990s while working at WVOC, and fell in love with it. You don’t have to hit it 300 plus yards off the tee, in fact position and accuracy are everything here. My wife Kate and I played back in 2011 when we were dating, and she too thought it was something special.
“Northwoods (now The Spur at Northwoods) is probably the course I played the most while I lived in Columbia from 1995-2000. I easily logged 100-plus rounds here. I met a ton of great people there, and created some friendships I have still have today. (The Golf Club of South Carolina at) Crickentree was another great test and fun layout I enjoyed playing in the Midlands. In fact, I recall a weekly game that (former Columbia TV sports director) Terry Chick and I had there for a couple of years. At Forest Lake Club, I was very fortunate to have known a couple of members who were nice enough to invite me to play in the member-guest for a few years. I have fond memories of those, but back then I could play this game a little better than I do now; that’s what having two little boys will do to your game.”
Where I eat: “In Columbia, I loved the variety of the menu at Blue Marlin. For me, it was a big-time meal, especially for a kid just out of college who wasn’t making a whole bunch of money. I absolutely love seafood, so any place from Columbia to Charleston to Hilton Head, if you find me a great seafood restaurant, I will be a regular patron.”
What I do for fun: “For outdoor activities, I will always circle back to Hilton Head, one of my favorite places in the world, from the beach to biking to a simple walk around the Quarterdeck. From the moment I first visited more than 20 years ago, I always said if I hit the lottery and disappeared, you would likely find me there. After our trip there in 2011, Kate and I could see us spending more and more time there in the years ahead.”