Photo by Tessa Marie Images
Zimmaro, who powered through the pandemic to become Philadelphia PGA’s top teacher and coach, shares his methods with regional youth programs.
It was June 2020, and David Zimmaro was anything but happy as he headed to the Jersey Shore. Thanks to the pandemic, Overbrook Country Club saw no reason to keep a guy on the payroll to teach kids the game when no one was showing up to learn. Zimmaro had no idea what he was going to do, so he hopped in the car on a Friday with one thought: If he didn’t hear anything by the end of the day, he’d start looking for another job.
Then came the call.
“It was ‘game on,’” Zimmaro says. “I had to get a youth program together as fast as possible.”
Zimmaro instituted a pod system that allowed about 100 kids at the club to learn in small groups an hour at a time. He was simply reacting each day, trying to come up with a way to keep them safely occupied. The process worked—and it worked again last year. Zimmaro expects to continue with a variation of the plan this summer. “We didn’t know what the heck we were doing, but we came up with something unbelievable,” he says. “I gave the logistics of it to other pros in the area. It just took off.”
Zimmaro’s efforts at Overbrook and his work with blind golfers in the area earned him last year’s Philadelphia PGA Teacher & Coach of the Year Award. It’s a significant milepost in a career devoted to bringing the game to young people and nontraditional constituencies through innovative methods and plenty of hard work. “I have parents who come in and tell me their kids wake up and act like they’re going to Disney World because they’re spending a half hour with Coach Z,” says Overbrook head pro Eric Kennedy. “He’s one of those guys who’s always on. That’s impressive, because the golf season is long. He went from teaching kids a couple days a week to coaching kids every day of the week in the heat of summer. He’s always the same guy, and kids feed off his energy.”
Until Zimmaro reached Philadelphia’s Father Judge High School, it appeared as if his sports journey would take place primarily on the soccer field and baseball diamond. But in the spring of his freshman year, he tried out for the Crusaders’ golf team—much to the dismay of his baseball coaches. The game he’d picked up as a sixth-grader became his passion. “Golf just pulled me in,” he says.
Zimmaro went on to Penn State University and enrolled in the school’s professional golf management program. After graduating in 2009, he started working for First Tee of Philadelphia, an experience he describes as “life-changing.” Over the next seven years, Zimmaro introduced golf to a vast array of young people, including court-adjudicated youth. He began at Philadelphia’s Walnut Lane Golf Club with zero kids. After five years, he had more than 1,000 in the program. Zimmaro visited city schools and pitched after-school lessons. He also developed a relationship with the Pennsylvania Department of Justice to bring kids to the course as an alternative to serving time in a juvenile home. Though others at Walnut Lane weren’t as comfortable with those youngsters, Zimmaro had “seen some things” growing up in Northeast Philadelphia. “Some days, we’d finish work and just sit in the office not saying a word because we were so exhausted,” Zimmaro says. “But what we were doing was awesome.”
After five years at Walnut Lane, Zimmaro was promoted to run a First Tee facility at FDR Park in Philadelphia. Two years later, his application crossed Kennedy’s desk. The Overbrook pro was impressed. “He’d been nominated for awards, and I was on the awards committee for the Philadelphia PGA,” Kennedy says. “I’d been a fan of his.”
Still, the job offer gave Zimmaro pause. “I was a little nervous when Eric asked me to join Overbook,” Zimmaro says. “I’d been so sheltered in a bubble in Philly. I didn’t know what Overbrook was. There was a feeling-out process, but we hit it off.”
Those who know Zimmaro could’ve predicted that. His outgoing personality connects with people, no matter what their background. “He’s a gregarious person, a caring guy,” says Dave Smith, who was head pro during Zimmaro’s summer internship at Yardley Country Club. “He’s one of those people who fits in so well with youth development.”
Now director of player development at Makefield Highlands Golf Club in Yardley, Smith has plenty of great things to say about Zimmaro. “He brings positive leadership and collaboration with young people, not to mention that he’s a heck of a golf pro, as far as teaching goes,” says Smith. “There’s a fiduciary relationship between a parent, the teacher and children. They entrust their kids to him, and he bridges the gap between the adult and children.”
Zimmaro brings players from the Overbrook School for the Blind to the country club for a day of golf. Members’ kids don blindfolds, sit in wheelchairs or swing with one arm to create a more level playing field. Afterward, everybody hits the pool, followed by dinner. That’s the kind of creativity and commitment Zimmaro brings to his job—and it’s why he was honored.
“I never started off on this journey to get awards,” says Zimmaro, who’s been married for six years and has three kids of his own. “It’s amazing and humbling to be next to some of the best teachers in the area. They’re guys I look up to— it’s them and me. I thought, ‘They got that wrong.’”