A minor traffic ticket that stymied his “career” at UPS started Steve Kealy down a new path that led to distinguished lifetime achievements at Glendale CC and as a representative of the superintendent profession.
In large part, it was a minor traﬃc ticket that set the course for Steve Kealy’s uber-successful career in golf.
While attending community college and in the few years upon graduation, Kealy moved from job to job. But the opportunity to advance from the sorting line to route driver for UPS appeared to be the break for which he was looking. However, the ticket would be a blemish on his record and prevent him from taking the position. It was back to the sorting line.
“I was going to have to wait a year for another chance to be a route driver. But I did not want to go back to the line,” Kealy said. “So I had a talk with myself and said it was time to do something else.”
That “something else” meant turning to an old friend: golf.
Kealy grew up around the game. His father played regularly, and he himself began working as a caddie at Seattle’s Broadmoor Golf Club as a seventh-grader. He advanced to the bag shop in ninth grade and then, just before attending college, spent some time on the golf course maintenance staﬀ . During that time, he was a solid player as a member of the three-time metro champion Bishop Blanchet High School golf team (for two of those years, his brother played on the team as well).
“I really liked working on the golf course, so I decided to go back to school to get a degree to be a golf course superintendent,” Kealy says. “I was single at the time, and my parents supported what I wanted to do. Washington State had a good program—so I enrolled and the rest is history, they say.”
And it has indeed been quite a history for the Seattle native. He parlayed a summer job at Glendale Country Club in nearby Bellevue, prior to his senior year at Washington State, into a 31-year run that began as an Assistant Superintendent in May 1987 and continued with his elevation to Superintendent in April 1990.
Since then, it has been full speed ahead—except when he is driving on the highway.
C&RB What is the history of Glendale Country Club?
Kealy It actually began as a nine-hole course about 20 miles away from where we are now, near the Seattle airport. It was a club for those of the Jewish faith. But they wanted to expand the course to 18 holes, so they bought the land for our present site, built an 18-hole course, and opened it up to everyone. It opened in 1959. The original golf course is still open and was renamed Glen Acres Country Club.
C&RB Who is your golf clientele and what makes the course enjoyable, yet a challenge to play?
Kealy The members of the club are predominantly families. We have a swimming pool, but really golf is it. We are surrounded by homes. We do host some outside outings and for a long time we hosted the Washington State Open. Our fairways are tree-lined, so you have to keep it in the fairway. If you don’t play down the middle you can get some sidehill lies. It’s easy to walk, so you don’t get beat up. Our greens are a little bit tricky. You have to pick your spots, or you can get in trouble.
C&RB Why have you stayed so long at Glendale Country Club?
Kealy This is home. I grew up here. My son went to the same grade school I did, and he’s going to the same high school I did. I like the people I work with. Our General Manager, Clint Whitney, is the nicest guy in the world. Kenney Boyd, our golf pro, is a good friend. The people I work with are like family. We have very little turnover. In the past four years, we had three retirees who had worked here 44, 35 and 34 years.
C&RB What have been the keys to your success?
Kealy I have learned a lot from my mistakes. Obviously, you have to present good playing conditions. You are only as good as the people you surround yourself with. I hire good people and get out of their way and let them do their jobs. I try to listen and not overreact. It sounds simple, but just don’t say something stupid. You also have to be willing to take advice from others.
I think something else that has helped me over the years was coaching youth sports for eight-plus years. I went from soccer to baseball to basketball each of those years. That’s 26 teams. I learned a lot about patience and dealing with people.
I also spend time with the members. I give credit to the guy I consider my mentor, Stan Hyatt. He was the golf pro when I got here. He steered me in the right direction, and taught
me a great deal.
C&RB What are your biggest course-management challenges?
Kealy We are fortunate to be in the perfect climate to manage Poa annua. It presents a great playing surface. Of course, the rainy season can cause some problems, but it is really about having your programs. The summers can be warm and dry, but we can control how much water we put on the course. We verticut greens every other week and sand lightly. We got rid of a lot of trees around our greens, to help provide sunlight and help air flow.
C&RB Do you play golf?
Kealy I try to spend time with the members. I’ll play with them. Kenney Boyd and I eat lunch together in the grill, and we pull several tables together and anyone can join us. I also play with my dad and my son. My dad is 84 and has shot his age three times in the last few years. It’s important for superintendents to play golf, in my opinion.
C&RB How is golf perceived in the Pacific Northwest in terms of the environment?
Kealy This is an environmentally sensitive area. I was on the Board of Directors from 1999–2008 for the Washington Friends of Farms and Forests. We joined forces to demonstrate how we go about working to protect the environment. Our golf course is also certified by the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program.
I think superintendents and our chapter, the Western Washington Golf Course Superintendents Association, do a very good job in showing the positive environmental attributes of golf courses. I think we have been successful in doing that. I do not sense the opposition that we used to have from the various environmental groups.
C&RB Can you tell us about your commercial on national television?
Kealy How about that? And I didn’t say a word. The United States Golf Association ran a commercial during their events for a few years that highlighted some of the programs they funded. This one was for the First Green. The commercial showed me leading a field trip for grade-school students around the golf course.
The name is a takeoff of the First Tee program that the industry started to introduce kids to the game. In 1998, Jeff Gullickson, who was Superintendent at Overlake Country Club at the time, and Bill Meyer, who was president of the Washington Junior Golf Association, started the First Green. I joined the Board shortly after that.
Our goal was to partner teachers and golf course superintendents, and bring students to the golf course. They could use the course as an outdoor learning lab to teach science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). I do about 100 field trips a year for students, and judge science fairs as well.
C&RB Why do you volunteer for so many activities in and out of golf?
Kealy I think it is important to have balance. This can be a tough job. But you have to expose yourself to different activities and people. Like I said, coaching youth sports was great. You really learn a lot about people in that setting.
I also think it is important to give back to our profession and the game. It’s such a great game. I also like being a superintendent. I feel I need to give back to others, because of what others gave to me.