A Heck of a ‘Utility Infielder’

Invaluable staffer Gerry Brown retiring after 26 years at the CGA
by Gary Baines

CGA executive director Ed Mate had to chuckle at the fitting symmetry of it all.

When Gerry Brown was hired at the CGA in 1992, he was asked to do the wiring for the first computer network at the association offices, though he was brought on board mainly to help run tournaments.

Twenty-six years later, as Brown’s career at the CGA was winding down leading up to his impending retirement, he found himself in much the same situation.

“Just to show how as a lot of things change, they also stay the same, there’s a phone in our huddle room (in the CGA offices) that wasn’t wired properly,” Mate recalled recently. “I said, ‘Gerry, do you want to do one more wiring job for us?’ Sure enough, he got the ladder and pulled the cable and got it done. So he started out pulling cable and he ended up pulling cable for us. But that’s Gerry.

“If you’re on a survival quest, you want people on your team that are resourceful, and that’s Gerry. No matter what it was, if you had a problem in the office — the copier won’t work, my computer is acting weird, my phone is not doing what it’s supposed to — call Gerry. He’d be there in two seconds. And not only was he willing to do it, he wanted to do it. It was almost like he would thank you for the opportunity to help you. He’s just an amazing human being.”

Indeed, as the year comes to a close, it’s the end of an era for the CGA staff. Over the last quarter-century, no one besides Brown has been continuously employed by the CGA. That even includes Mate, the CGA’s executive director since 2000 who also worked with Brown in an earlier stint with the association, but spent four years on the Colorado PGA staff in the late 1990s and early in 2000.

Brown is one of three key CGA staffers who have or will retire in the final four months or so of this year. Ann Bley, longtime director of finance for the CGA, departed at the end of August (READ MORE). And former CWGA executive director and current CGA managing director of membership and integration Laura Robinson (READ MORE) will join Brown in retiring at year’s end. A retirement party honoring the three will be held Wednesday at Pinehurst Country Club.

Brown was initially hired by the CGA to help Jim Topliff, who had had a quadruple heart bypass, with tournaments and to work with the Golf Handicap and Information Network tournament pairing program (TPP) that was just being released. As Brown noted with a laugh in 2012, “Jim was strictly — as he liked to call himself — ‘the out-house guy’ and I was the ‘in-house guy.'” Brown also served as the de facto information technology manager. But he’ll retire after being director of course rating and handicapping — or some variation of that title — since 2001. He’s also the managing director of club and facility services. As Mate said, he’s been a very valuable “utility infielder” for the organization.

(Brown, second from right, is pictured above recently at TPC Colorado with CGA course raters Laurie Steenrod and Dick Simpson, and CGA staffer Aaron Guereca.)

So how does it feel leaving a place where he’s worked since 1992?

“It’s extremely difficult,” Brown said in a phone interview last month. “I feel like I’m leaving so much of my hide — all the blood, sweat and tears we’ve put in over the years. To see how smoothly this office has been operating — I can’t attribute it all to me — but there’s been a lot of consistency with having one person, with that longevity, in there. Comparing to other golf associations, you just don’t see that.

“To me, each day was a new day. I never got bored with coming to work. It was always so much fun to come in and see what was happening with courses and with GHIN. GHIN always had their problems with their software; I always chuckled, thinking that’s job security (for me). I enjoyed waking up each day and coming to work. Each day had its pluses and minuses — and there were a lot more pluses. There was instant gratification when you could do something for a golf professional. The golf professionals here in Colorado treated me very well — as an equal and an authority for handicapping, tournament formats, software support, course rating. Whatever question they asked, if I didn’t have the right answer, I certainly got it for them. I think there was a large amount of respect.”

Indeed, to demonstrate as much, on Oct. 15, exactly 26 years after he started at the CGA, the Colorado PGA presented Brown with a Distinguished Service Award at its fall meeting.

“That was a very nice gesture on their part,” Brown said. “I’ve had a number of them call and say farewell; that’s been heartwarming and gratifying. I’m going to miss that.”

Paul Lobato, PGA head professional at Meridian Golf Club, was among those who sang Brown’s praises.

“Gerry is a golf pro’s best friend,” he said.

“Words can’t describe” what Gerry meant to the CGA, added Mate, who worked alongside Brown for more than 20 years. “He’d become the face of the organization in so many ways. I saw (Cherry Hills Country Club head professional) John Ogden recently and he can’t say enough positive things about Gerry Brown. Whenever a club needed something relative to handicapping or course rating, they would call Gerry. When those calls come up, they tend to be urgent — ‘We have a situation where our computer won’t work or we’re trying to set up a tournament for this weekend.’ Gerry would basically be on call 24/7 and had such an incredible way about him and willingness to help.”

Brown, who will turn 68 next month, has long been highly regarded in his work, to the point that he served on the USGA Course Rating Committee from 2011-18, which he calls “the high-water mark in my career.” In that capacity, he’s assisted the USGA staff with calibration seminars around the U.S. and overseas. At calibration seminars, USGA representatives make sure course raters do their work to consistent standards. Raters evaluate the playing difficulty of a course for scratch golfers and bogey golfers from the various tee boxes, based on yardage, effective playing length and obstacles. The idea behind both course rating and handicapping is to make the game equitable for golfers of all ability levels.

In his course rating capacity, Brown has been sent to Scotland (to help instruct the Europe golf associations), the Dominican Republic and Japan.

In fact, Brown has made enough of an impression that he’ll likely continue to help the USGA on the course rating front — but on a volunteer basis, with some expenses paid.

“I think (the USGA) is going to want to keep me as someone to assist with training — and somebody who can travel,” he said. “There’s a lot of small countries and areas with only one or two golf courses so to have a formal course rating group in these areas does not always make sense. The USGA feels comfortable sending me to teach in areas like the Dominican Republican or the islands of the Caribbean. They don’t have any one group that will rate all of these courses. They’re talking about sending me and a team from Colorado to rate the courses as needed. Typically, they only do it every 10 years. … For a larger group like the Japan Golf Association, I’ll continue to do training (through) calibration seminars.”

Brown said he’ll also volunteer to rate courses in Colorado, though now Aaron Guereca, who’s become the CGA’s manager of club and facility services, will do the coordination and the setups. Brown has had Guereca, a former CWGA staffer, “on his shoulder” for 2 1/2 months in the late summer and fall to learn the ropes of the job.

Still, demonstrating his devotion to the CGA and the game, Brown said, “I’ve told Aaron I’m always just a phone call away. If I’m not doing anything, I don’t mind coming in and volunteering an hour or two of time to help him or show him how to do things.”

For a guy who was hired without any background in golf administration — he and his wife Cathey were in the publishing business with their offices located directly above those of the CGA and the CWGA in the early 1990s — Brown has certainly made a name for himself in the business.

“Just the fact that I got this job, given the way golf associations hire staff …,” said Brown, who considered himself a “self-taught computer geek.” “I was in my (early 40s) when I came here and had very little or any golf experience. I was just an avid golfer. But I brought a need to them. I helped them network the office for the very first time and got them onto a singular piece of software. I’ve still kind of hung on to my IT roots and assist with equipment and bits and pieces with the network here in the office.”

But it was in his primary job the last 17 years that Brown especially has made an impression.

“Course rating and handicapping is a very small niche in the golf industry,” he said. “There’s probably not more than five people in the entire United States that did course rating AND handicapping the way that I did. They go hand in hand in my opinion. One feeds the other. It’s been a natural and easy process for me.”

Combine that with Brown’s general helpfulness, and you have one valuable staffer.

“I’ve never met anybody that is as willing to help as Gerry Brown. That’s just his DNA,” Mate said. “I’m not kidding, if I called him and said I have a personal issue, he would drop everything he’s doing. You’d barely get the question out and he’d be there.

“One of my favorite stories about Gerry Brown: Early in my tenure as executive director, I had a tree in my back yard that I wanted to cut down. I had a little get-together at my house for the CGA staff — this was in wintertime around George Washington’s birthday, and I said, ‘We’re going to have a George Washington birthday party.’ People didn’t know why and I said we’re going to cut down a tree. Gerry, who just had shoulder surgery or was just about to, jumped in with both feet, was climbing the tree and doing all the work. I have video of the tree coming down and Gerry being halfway up it. That’s Gerry; he just wants to help people. I’ve never met somebody so willing. He and Dustin (Jensen, the former CGA managing director of operations) have that same quality. That showed every day. When people called, he was like, ‘What can I do to help?’

“On the other hand, he wasn’t a pushover. If a club called and said we don’t like our course rating, can you change it?, he’d say no, absolutely not, that’s not the way that works.”

Coincidentally, Brown’s first course rating came on Sept. 11, 2001 — at Spring Valley Golf Club in Elizabeth.

“I was standing there watching the television with the head professional, and we’re just jaws down to the floor” in seeing what had happened with the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers in New York and the Pentagon, and in Shanksville, Pa. “The (rating) team drove up from Colorado Springs and had left before the disaster and had no idea what was going on.”

Seventeen years after that first course rating, Brown is considered a national expert in the field. Which means it certainly won’t be easy to replace him. But you can’t accuse Brown of not giving Mate fair warning about his retirement. Indeed, he first told Mate of his plans early in 2016. And early the next year he reminded Mate by saying, “two years”.

While the powers that be kicked around the idea that Brown’s duties might be better distributed among two people, the CGA’s unification with the CWGA at the beginning of 2018 helped partly solve the matter. That’s when Guereca was tagged to start working with Brown, learning tournament software, handicap issues, course rating, software support, etc.

As for Brown moving forward, the fourth-generation Colorado native and wife Cathey plan to do some traveling. Among the destinations on their bucket list is South America — Machu Picchu, the Galapagos Islands and perhaps a trip to the Amazon River Basin.

But barring the unforeseen, the Parker resident will continue to call Colorado home for the foreseeable future.

“I have no desire to leave these Rocky Mountains,” he said. “My heart is in Colorado.”