Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Have you heard the one about the UT biochemist turned superintendent?

I am often amazed at the non-conventional and successful career paths of many superintendents in the South Central region. Last week, I was paired with GCSAA Class A member Donny Latham at a Central Texas GCSA event at Olympia Hills Golf Club in San Antonio. Although I had met Donny before and worked with him while he served on the CTGCSA Board of Directors, I didn't know him very well. I sure enjoyed getting to know him better and hearing about what he calls his "bizarre story" from biochemist to self-proclaimed "grass farmer." We all know there is no better way to get to know someone than to spend 18 holes and four hours together on the golf course!

In 2013, Donny accepted the position of director of golf course management at The Club at Sonterra, a 36-hole private facility managed by Century Golf. He is a native Texan and grew up in Little River – Academy, a very small town near Temple and one that only the most experienced Texas travelers would ever have heard of or visited. He headed south to Austin and earned a degree in biochemistry from the University of Texas. His career then took him to Seattle, Wash., where he worked in the biochemistry industry until he literally woke up one day and knew he needed a change in scenery and career path. He remembered that a close childhood friend, Justin White, had a degree from Texas A&M and was working in an industry that involved golf courses and growing grass. He checked into the details, and faster than a walking greensmower, he made a 180-degree change in careers.

Donny and his wife, Laurie, picked up from Seattle and headed south to Tucson, where he enrolled in the turf program at the University of Arizona. On his very first day in Tucson, another one of those bizarre twists happened when he met a golf member at The Gallery Golf Club while having dinner and watching the Holiday Bowl featuring the U of Texas and the U of Washington. The member introduced him to superintendent Paul Ellwood, who hired Donny despite his lack of experience or knowledge about golf course management. It turned out to be a great hire as Donny was instrumental in the building and opening of the South Course at The Gallery. Donny calls Ellwood a true professional superintendent and credits him with shaping his career.

From Arizona, Donny and his family made successful steps to the University of Texas Golf Club where he served as assistant superintendent under Rich Cope and then to his first superintendent position at The Republic Golf Club in San Antonio. Donny says he feels very fortunate to have worked with some great people along the way, which is evident in the way he talks about Ed Miller, with whom he had the privilege of working for at The Republic: "Ed is an amazing man who taught me so many things both professionally and personally. I only hope to someday positively affect the next generation of grass farmers in the way he influenced my career."
View of green of North Course at Sonterra GC

Donny and Laurie’s pride and joy are their children: Grace, age 10, and Blake age 3. Donny also volunteers his time and expertise at the San Antonio First Tee when he’s not at work or chasing the kiddos. Like all Central Texas GCSA members, he is very excited about the 2015 Golf Industry Show coming to San Antonio. Donny appreciates that his employer, Century Golf, is a huge supporter of participation and attendance at both local and national association events.

Hands down, the best part of my job is getting to know members on a personal basis. Thanks Donny, for a great day on the golf course and sharing your story. Hope you have a great 2014 season!