The golf business offers nothing exactly like an MBA from Harvard, but it does have something pretty close. Once you have worked at Shinnecock Hills in Southampton, you know your way around a course and a clubhouse.
Members at one of the most prestigious, exclusive clubs in the country expect a certain level of service and a high degree of maintenance on one of the greatest layouts in the world. Brian Curtin and Dan Wolf, both alumni of the Shinnecock staff, believe public golfers deserve the same things.
Each thought he never would leave the classic club, one of the pioneers in American golf, but both wanted shots at doing something bigger. So Curtin became general manager at Great Rock Golf Club in Wading River at the end of 2008 and Wolf followed him as course superintendent late last year. Instead of working for a select few, they are working to invite as many people as possible to a course that is about 25 minutes away but a world apart from their old jobs.
"It's still customer service and for Dan it's still growing grass," said Curtin, who loved every minute of his seven seasons working in the kitchen, tending bar and managing banquets at Shinnecock.
The native of Sherrill, N.Y. (outside Syracuse) said Shinnecock never fit the stuffy private club stereotype. He speaks of the pride that every worker there has, even table servers who don't like golf.
"I had every intention of staying there my whole career," he said, adding that he saw an ad from Great Rock in a weekly paper. "I said what the heck. I instantly fell in love with it. I really wanted to get into the management side and this was a really great opportunity to jump in headfirst."
Wolf, who grew up in Mount Sinai playing all the public courses, interned at Bethpage during the 2002 U.S. Open then worked on Shinnecock superintendent Mark Michaud's crew for seven years. He relished preparing Shinnecock for the 2004 Open (and repairing it afterward). He became Michaud's top assistant, given the responsibility of supervising the crew and planning renovations.
"It was really a special feeling, just to pull up in my golf cart, driving past the clubhouse and seeing the sunrise there. Every day, the native grasses look different," he said. "It was really hard to leave that place because it was so special. But I needed the opportunity to be completely in charge, to have everything on my shoulders."
Like Curtin, he loved the look of Great Rock - especially the topography that offers almost no flat lies.
"It's definitely a challenge. Even on slow days, there are still over 100 rounds, whereas at Shinnecock, on a slow day, there might be three or four golfers out there," Wolf said.
Great Rock is grateful for every one of those customers. Curtin said he wants to treat all of them as if they were members arriving for dinner or a round of golf at Shinnecock.
"When someone pulls up, we have someone there to pick up their clubs," he said, noting that the latter "someone" is from pro Tim McAuley's staff. "People rave about the free coffee and muffin in the morning."
Wolf still talks with Michaud all the time. On Tuesday, in fact, he borrowed a Shinnecock sump pump to drain his flooded shop. The Great Rock superintendent believes he has carried more than a pump from Southampton: "Picking up broken tees, having fresh flagsticks, freshly raked bunkers. All the detail work. That's my mentality."