Golf course guru Pat O’Brien told the Forsyth Monroe County Kiwanis Club on Sept. 29 that Forsyth’s public course meets the tenets he’s been preaching for years.
“Forsyth is one of my favorite public courses. Reece Brunson (the course’s superintendent) is one of the best agronomists I know. Public courses don’t have a lot of money, so they have to figure out ways to be economically efficient. Golf should be affordable for everyone and that’s what’s great about Forsyth.”
O’Brien was born and raised in Pittsburg, about seven and a half miles south of the Ohio River and remains a Steelers fan to this day. After graduating high school, O’Brien enrolled at Georgia Tech and studied in the field of Biochemistry.
“I was really nervous when I first arrived at Tech. I remember the president giving a speech at orientation and saying look to your right, look to your left, two of you aren’t going to be here in a year. The university was set on weeding out anyone who wasn’t up to snuff.”
Lucky for O’Brien, his roommate / cousin was top of their class and made sure he didn’t fail out. O’Brien wound up successfully graduating and soon after, started looking for grad schools that had degree programs in golf course management, due to his love for the game. Unfortunately, there weren’t really any courses for that at the time, so O’Brien wound up studying pastures and foliage at West Virginia University.
After graduating, O’Brien reached out to an old buddy and former golf-pro, William Campbell, who got him an introduction with the United States Golf Association (USGA).
“I got called out to an interview in Cleveland, Ohio. The interviewers I met with didn’t ask me anything about turf or golf course management. We just had lunch at the club, and they watched me to make sure I knew how to hold a fork and act like a gentleman. Afterwards, they hired me on the spot.”
In his time with the USGA, O’Brien was visiting over 200 golf courses a year. He worked in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio, Georgia, Carolina, Alabama and Tennessee. Over the years, he wrote over a thousand peer-reviewed articles on golf course management and spoke at numerous grass conferences.
“I’ve been everywhere. Went to Europe many times. I was an agronomist consultant at the Augusta Nationals. What they don’t tell you is they paint the grass green! I was always candid with golf course managers. When I left your club after a day, you’d know what to do. Often, it’s just an issue of priorities. Courses will focus on showy projects and forget to maintain the quality of their fairways and greens. Owners liked me because I wasn’t a salesman. I had no ulterior motive.” O’Brien got to be so proficient that he could arrive at a golf course and within an hour, tell the owners what works and doesn’t work.
O’Brien retired last year and lives in Macon. He claims he can count on his hand the number of days he hasn’t played golf since retiring. O’Brian says of all the courses he’s been to, his favorite is Yeamans Hall in Hanahan, South Carolina. He also enjoys taking an annual trip to Long Island with some buddies, where there are over 300 courses to choose from.
O’Brian ended his speech by offering a bit of advice when it comes to picking the right grass for your lawn.
“Most people here use Bermuda and Centipede grass, which is a mistake. Those types of grass have zero shade tolerance and brown easily. I recommend Zoysia grass, which is more expensive but fares better in a Georgia climate. At the end of the day, it’s not the grass but the management that matters most. I’ll leave it at that.”