Profile on John O’Keefe (Jul 27)

July 27, 2015 – For the last 29 years, John O’Keefe has devoted his professional life toward one goal: maintaining a world-class golf course at Preakness Hills Country Club.

“We’re always trying to be the best,” said O’Keefe, the director of golf course management at the Wayne club. “We try to treat every day like it’s member guest day.”

But these days, O’Keefe’s focus is much larger than Preakness Hills. In February, O’Keefe was elected as president of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America.

Ever since, O’Keefe has been traveling around the country, and the world, representing the nearly 20,000 worldwide members of the GCSAA.

He’s not just making sure the fairways and greens at Preakness Hills are flawless. He’s advocating, and spreading the message for, the people who are responsible for managing and maintaining the courses golfers enjoy: superintendents.

This year, O’Keefe will travel to all four men’s major golf championships – he just returned last week after attending the British Open at St. Andrews.

He’s also met with legislators in Washington – on National Golf Day – to talk about the future of the game, and traveled around the country to several shows, meetings and conferences to represent the members of the GCSAA.

O’Keefe’s story begins in Massachusetts, where he grew up and attended the Stockbridge School of Agriculture at the University of Massachusetts.

He earned a degree in turf-grass management and business administration, and after working in Connecticut and White Plains, N.Y., O’Keefe took over at Preakness Hills in 1986.

He ascended to the GCSAA presidency after first being elected to the board of directors in 2008.

One of O’Keefe’s chief roles as president of the GCSAA is to make sure people understand exactly what superintendents do and what their background is.

“I think probably the biggest misconception is how educated we all are,” O’Keefe said of golf course superintendents.

“A lot of people think we’re just the guy who cuts the grass out in the shed at the back. But just about in the 90-percentile range of all golf course superintendents have a degree in agronomy – some of them even have master’s degrees.”

Being a superintendent is about much more than cutting grass. They are dealing with a large number of variables, from managing water restrictions, plant protectors (more commonly known as pesticides), and ever-changing weather conditions.

That’s why one of the key tasks of the GCSAA is creating opportunities for future golf course superintendents. There are scholarships and student memberships.

“Education is one of our major priorities,” O’Keefe said.

There is also setting the course for the future of an ever-changing industry – one in which plant protectors are becoming less toxic, and golf courses will be forced to use less water.

With all the travel and extra responsibility of being president of the GCSAA, O’Keefe has had a lot to manage. But he’s had plenty of help, too. O’Keefe, who lives in Wayne, credits his family – his wife of 36 years, Margaret also works at the club – and the work of his staff.

“I’m very fortunate,” O’Keefe said. “We have a great staff, and when I’m traveling and away they take care of everything back here at home. The club has been very supportive; you couldn’t do this job without support from the club and your family.”

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