By Tony Regina
It’s a colorful irony that isn’t lost on the Brown brothers: Bob, Mark, and Jason.
Not only do the Brown brothers work as golf course superintendents; they all helm grounds departments at GAP Member Clubs within a 15-mile radius. Bob at Shadowbrook Inn & Resort, Mark at StoneHedge Golf Course and Jason at Emanon Country Club.
“In general, we all love being outside,” Bob, 46, of Tunkhannock, Pa., said. “We’re all laid back and very easy to get along with. I think at the courses that we’re at, you need it to be that way. We all really care about what we do for a living. We love golf. We try to do the best job we can.”
Bob, 46, is the eldest of the trio. He isn’t, however, the forerunner of the family’s turf track. Their uncle, Dennis Watkins, a former superintendent of Philadelphia Country Club and Lords Valley Country Club, flipped the agronomical switch. Watkins is the owner of Lakewood Golf Club in Statesville, N.C.
“I had the fortune to do a lot of consulting with [golf course architect] Jim Blaukovitch. I ended up helping him build StoneHedge [in Tunkhannock, Pa.], where my nephews lived. They got the bug watching what was happening,” Watkins, 67, of Statesville, N.C., said. “If I’ve made any impression on them at all, they saw how much effort I put into my job. That’s why they’re successful. The conversations I had with them, I said, ‘It’s 10 percent inspiration, 90 percent perspiration.’ That’s not my saying. That’s what the business is. It’s hard work, and they followed in that footstep.”
The Brown brothers cut their turf teeth at StoneHedge.
“After work every day, we would golf until dark. It’s something we fell in love with,” Jason, 40, of Tunkhannock, Pa., said. “Growing up in the area, we already knew a lot of the members at StoneHedge. It was a great time, working and playing golf every day.”
As the oldest, Bob first set sail in the turf industry. He worked at Huntsville Golf Club during its construction in 1992. Bob then interned at Glen Oak Country Club before becoming assistant superintendent of Fox Hill Country Club in 1997, under the wings of the reputable Ron Garrison.
Here’s where Mark intwines with the familial turf fray. He interned at Fox Hill, Garrison and big brother his supervisors.
“I learned pretty much half of what I know in the industry from those two. It was a great experience,” Mark, 42, of Falls, Pa., said.
Jason, too, is connected to Fox Hill. He served as an assistant superintendent there before moving on to Berwick Golf Club for a decade. As the youngest, Jason naturally felt reticent to follow in the turf footsteps of not one, but two older brothers. He attended East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania, major undecided, while working on the grounds crew at Shawnee Inn & Golf Resort.
“I didn’t want to go into turf because my two older brothers were in the turf industry. But I always loved working at Shawnee,” Jason, who’s in his eighth season at Emanon, said. “My boss, Steve Taggart, talked me into going to [Rutgers Professional Golf Turf Management School], and that was it. I think a lot of other people figured that’s what I would do since [Bob and Mark] were doing it. I guess eventually I did.”
That eventuality is akin to Mark’s eventual homecoming. He returned to StoneHedge, his home of the last 14 years, following stints at Berwick and Glen Oak. Bob’s grounds journey, in a sense, also came full circle. He served as Shadowbrook’s superintendent from 2000-03. Nearly a decade later, Bob toed the club industry boundary as an independent consultant and landscaper. He returned to Shadowbrook in 2012 as part of an irrigation pipeline project. The club asked for a full-time reunion. Bob happily obliged.
Now a distance-friendly collaboration among brothers nears a decade.
“We have a great relationship,” Mark, StoneHedge’s superintendent of 14 years, said. “When we do talk at family parties, we kind of pick each other’s brains at what’s going on at each other’s courses. We don’t compete against each other, even though we are close together. We borrow machines and go to each other’s courses once in a while to take a look at things. It works well for us.”
“We kind of see the same issues now. At times, things pop up where you’ll go check out your brother’s course and maybe see something that he’s not seeing every day,” Jason added.
It’s not a pack a bag, prep your podcasts kind of drive, either. It’s a 20-minute drive, tops, for the Brown brothers.
“We help each other. If someone has a problem aerifying or whatever, we’re close enough were we can always help out,” Bob, of Tunkhannock, Pa., said. “We trade golf carts back and forth for big tournaments. We have a hotel and restaurant here at Shadowbrook, so we do quite a few golf groups throughout the year. We can set up events [with Emanon and StoneHedge]. It gives us a lot of flexibility to work with the other courses.”
Golf is the obvious link that connects the Brown brothers. A close second is hunting and fishing.
“If we do have a free moment, that’s pretty much what we’re doing,” Mark said. “It’s neat. Our family is very close.”
Jason lauds Bob’s dedication. Mark cites Jason’s dedication as his greatest strength. Bob admires the personability of his younger brothers. And both he and Jason agree; Mark is the best golfer of the three, though brotherly rounds are as allusive as Bigfoot these days.
But even Bigfoot wouldn’t spook the Brown brothers.
“We don’t really freak out about anything because we’re dealing with nature. And when you’re dealing with nature, you kind of have to go with the flow,” Mark said. “We’re a close-knit family. It’s almost like having three superintendents at each course. If we have a problem, we’re not afraid to ask for help.”