Golf Course Management

MAR 2015

Golf Course Management magazine is dedicated to advancing the golf course superintendent profession and helping GCSAA members achieve career success.

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52 GOLF COURSE MANAGEMENT 03.15 changed. A fnancial crisis of mammoth pro- portions affected people and businesses border to border. Golf was not immune. In a GCSAA board meeting at Penn State, O'Keefe vividly recalls the atmosphere inside. "We had the TV on monitoring the stock market and literally were on the phone with our brokers asking what we should do as we watched the market fall out of the sky. We were having to make some tough decisions," O'Keefe says. "It was really scary." As he embarks on his presidency, O'Keefe is confdent that GCSAA weathered the storm. Work still needs to be done and nothing is going to be taken for granted, he promises. "I'm proud of where we are, considering the limited budgets and what the staff has been able to do with them," O'Keefe says. "I'm one of (GCSAA's) headquarters' biggest cheerlead - ers. They're really great people there." Big Daddy If you are in O'Keefe's circle, you know that Big Daddy is his nickname. Todd Raisch, CGCS, at The Ridgewood Country Club in Paramus, N.J., bestowed the moniker on O'Keefe when the two of them and a few oth - ers in the business attended a Toro function in Abilene, Texas. "He was the leader of the group. The supe - rior. The oldest," Raisch says. "He can be an imposing fgure with that deep voice." Raisch believes those in the business should listen to what O'Keefe has to say. "The thing I appreciate about the deans of our industry, such as the Alonzi brothers (Joe and Bob), Mark Kuhns and John is that they continually try to learn and don't let egos get in the way," Raisch says. O'Keefe is thankful for the time he gets to spend with his family, who have also taken to calling him Big Daddy. Whether it's watching football (he is a New England Patriots fan) or college basketball, the O'Keefes enjoy just being together. He loves to travel, goes deep-sea fshing and gets to a NASCAR race whenever he can and, of course, golf is a big part of his downtime as well. O'Keefe is an avid foodie; he loves to cook and especially enjoys experiencing differ - ent restaurants with friends and family. When he can get away from the club for a day in the summer, his favorite place to go is the beautiful Jersey shore. These days, O'Keefe loves nothing more than seeing his frst grandson, 7-month-old J.T. Sharples. The J. stands for John. Yes, his daughter Maureen and her husband, Tom, named him after O'Keefe, who sat down and wept in the hospital upon learning his grand - son's name. "It was my husband's idea," Maureen Shar - ples says. "He really admires him. Dad is a great example that it doesn't matter what you do as long as you love it." Howard Richman ( is GCM 's asso- ciate editor. "He's always there to catch you when you're falling. I learned from him that you've got to be a jack-of-all-trades and a master of turf," As - pinall says. O'Keefe's tree of former assistants at Preak - ness Hills includes Scott Hall, who counts himself among the benefciaries of his mentor's skills. Hall, now the GCSAA Class A super - intendent at Raritan Valley Country Club in Bridgewater, N.J., says O'Keefe was an exem - plary role model and passed along traits that are helping in his job. "Everybody looked up to him, saw him as what a superintendent should be by how he carried himself," says Hall. "As much as he stayed true to his job, his ability to deal with membership on a daily basis and maintain the integrity of his work was impressive. He wasn't just a 'yes' man. If a problem arose, he could explain it to the membership and people at the club. I learned a lot about dealing with people from him." Road to the presidency Being president isn't anything new for O'Keefe. Prior to his GCSAA Board of Direc - tors service, he served as president of the Met- ropolitan GCSA, Tri-State Turfgrass Research Foundation and the GCSA of New Jersey. "The industry has been good to me and my family. It has developed a life for us," says O'Keefe, who at one point in his career served on three different boards simultaneously. "But when I fnished my presidency in New Jersey, I said, 'I'm done.' It was time for a break." A gentle push from none other than his daughter, Adrienne, changed his way of think - ing. Look where it got him. "While the girls were growing up, it was Barbiemania at our house," Margaret O'Keefe says. "John learned how to do ponytails and whatever else it took to be a good daddy." Later, when the girls were college bound, Adrienne put it best. "She said to John, 'Go for it. It's your turn, Dad.' He sat through all of the dance and piano recitals, cheerleading and feld hockey games. It was his time. It truly was his turn," Margaret O'Keefe says. In 2008, with his family's blessings, O'Keefe continued his climb through the ranks of the industry. He was appointed to the GCSAA Board of Directors that same year. For the most part, times still were good. "We were coming out of record attendance and trade show exhibitor space at the GIS (Golf Industry Show) in Orlando," O'Keefe says. Within a year, however, everything Preakness Hills CC President Peter von Halle (left) and green chairman Bryan Becker (right) meet with O'Keefe to discuss the scope of an upcoming bunker renovation project.

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