By Tony Regina
John Byrne’s wake-up call turned into a career awakening for his sons, Brendan and Greg.
“My dad wanted us to get to work, and he was like, ‘Why don’t you try to caddie? So, I started caddying at Rolling Green (Golf Club) because we could walk from our house in Springfield,” Brendan, 49, of Broomall, Pa., said. “Then my dad said, ‘You need to get some more steady work than caddying,’ so I tried to get a job in the clubhouse. They said, ‘No, but we are looking for greenkeepers.’ And here I am. I walked down, got a job, and before I knew it, I started going to school for [agronomy].”
“It was a Saturday morning and he said [to our brother Kevin and me], ‘Get up. I’m taking you to the golf course. You guys are going to caddie today,’” Greg, 56, of New Hope, Pa., added. “I had no idea what he was talking about. I didn’t know what a caddie did. When you’re a brand-new caddie, you sit in the caddie shack and don’t get a loop. We stayed until about noon and went back home. We didn’t get a loop. We got a round the next day and made $20 each. I thought, ‘This is cool.’ But I was very fascinated with the golf course.”
Brendan and Greg launched their greenkeeping careers at Rolling Green. Today, they both oversee a pair of GAP Member Clubs. Brendan is entering his 21st season as COO of External Activities/Golf Course Superintendent at Llanerch Country Club. Greg is in his fourth season as Cherry Valley Country Club’s superintendent.
The two talk “ag” — that is agronomy — throughout the golf season.
“There are times when he and I just call each other and go, ‘Hey man. What are you seeing? What do you have going on?’,” Brendan said. “Even though his microenvironment is cooler than mine, I can usually tip him off because we’re a little bit ahead of him, if that makes sense. If I start seeing insects or anything, I’ll give him a heads up and say, ‘You’re probably a week or two away.’ Not that he needs it; It’s more of a conversation piece.”
“We bounce stuff off each other a lot. His weather is a little different than mine. We talk about how we’re handling it,” Greg said. “It’s really important in this industry. You can’t be out on an island. You have to have people to talk to about what’s going on at your golf course, and you have to have people who understand. It’s a little bit more personal because it’s your brother.”
Life and career paths made these conversations strictly long-distance phone calls for nearly a decade. Following stops at Aronimink Golf Club, Merion Golf Club and Hartefeld National, Brendan worked in North Carolina and Massachusetts. Greg, during his youth, didn’t share the same greenkeeping conviction as his brother. He considered a teaching career while studying economics at the University of Montana. Climbing, fishing, hiking, hunting and kayaking occupied his time out west. All therapeutic, none the singular focus needed. Given his golf fondness, Greg enrolled in a turf management program in Bend, Ore. He worked at Broken Top Club and Widgi Creek Golf Club.
Bend, Ore. to Brookline, Mass.: 2,973 miles. Cherry Valley to Llanerch: 58.4 miles.
“It’s cool having him back in the neighborhood,” Brendan, a North Carolina State University alum, said. “Greg definitely has high intellect. He’s a very cerebral person. He’s very quick to learn. He’s physically a hard worker, but definitely very gifted mentally.”
“Brendan manages to pull a lot of information into one spot and make very good decisions,” Greg said. “He’s very thoughtful. When he got the job at Llanerch, I went over to look at it with him. I said, ‘Oh my God. You sure you want to do this?’ He looked at me and said, ‘I can only make it better.’ He took that golf course, and it’s truly one of the gems of the Philadelphia area. If you want to see a great golf course, you go see my brother. It’s not because it’s my brother’s course; it’s because he’s done a great job there.”
Golf, however, is strictly an “on the clock” bond between the two. Brendan and Greg never played a round together. Neither keeps golf course photos or memorabilia on display at home.
“When we see each other for holidays, we never talk about greenkeeping. Never. We don’t talk about golf,” Brendan said. “As you well know, greenkeeping, especially at the superintendent level, is all encompassing. It doesn’t matter whether you’re on property or not; It’s always with you. And that’s fine. I don’t look at it as my job. I find it to be my vocation. But it’s also so time consuming that when you’re with your family, I would just rather talk about how the kids are doing and how the family’s doing.”
“I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about what has to happen on the golf course today. I’m in the shower and thinking about what needs to be done. I’m driving home from work thinking about what needs to be done,” Greg added. “It’s 12 days on, maybe two days off if you’re lucky. When we’re not at work. if we’re with each other, having a barbecue at each other’s house, then we don’t talk about golf.”
The grill (or kitchen), by the way, is a popular meeting spot for Brendan and Greg.
“We both love cooking. We’re both trying to outdo each other,” the latter said. “We’ve done seafood fests where we’re constantly cooking fish. We surprise each other all of the time with what we pull off. He’s trying French cooking now, which is a little dangerous.”
Back to their greenkeeping appetizer, Rolling Green. Kevin Byrne, he middle brother of the three and an avid golfer, also worked alongside Brendan and Greg; He didn’t pursue turf management as a career. He works in telecommunications for Fox News yet shares a trait emblematic of the Byrne brothers: work ethic.
“We’re all hard workers. We took a lot of pride in what we did at Rolling Green,” Greg said. “If one of us was mowing greens and the lines weren’t straight, you were going to hear about it from your brothers. We really took it seriously. Everything had to be right.”
Seems like John’s advice resonated with his sons: “A rich person is a person who does what they love to do, no matter what they make for money.”
Brendan and Greg enjoy a different kind of green.
“We pretty much look at each other as equals,” Brendan said. “I respect my brother. He’s a good man. Most people in the business like him more than they like me. He’s the nicer of the two of us, I’ve been told.”
“We both love what we do,” Greg added. “He’s one of the best. I love talking to him because I know I’m talking to one of the best.”
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