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USGA greenskeeper program helping create golf careers, help retention

USGA greenskeeper program helping create golf careers, help retention

PINEHURST, N.C. – During four tours of duty in Iraq as an operations officer for a logistics battalion, John Hurtado saw things he’ll never be able to unsee. He had days that weren’t easy and plenty of obstacles to overcome.

As the U.S. Open rolled into Pinehurst No. 2, Hurtado sat in the back of the media center — a large tent with massive scoreboards and screens — and marveled at how far he’s come.

“The last time I was in a tent like this, it was a map up there and I was in Iraq. It had secret stuff,” Hurtado said. “Really secret. UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) and all this stuff, all these computers. Each one was a different battlefield operating system. You had the Air Force, you had the Navy, you had media, you had well … you name it. It looks just like this in a divisional operation. Just like this.”

His new workplace is also part of a strategic maneuver, one that often leaves participants ranting and raving. But now, Hurtado, who moved to this golf haven in 2020, offers a little perspective to those who have let a simple sand hazard ruin a pristine backdrop.

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Hurtado’s first job at Pinehurst Resort was working at the Cradle, a nine-hole test of par-3 skills located near the main clubhouse, and he instantly took to the position.

“I’d be raking a bunker, smoothing it nice and perfect, and some guy would come up and he’d be irritated,” he explained. “He just put one in the bunker and he’s angry because he doesn’t want to be there. And I look over with a rake in my hand and say, ‘Hey good morning, how are you?’ I’ve got a big smile on my face and I say, ‘How do you like my office?’

“They get the biggest charge out of it. This is where it’s at, you know?”

A member of the Greenskeeper Apprentice Program puts water down on the golf course ahead of the 2024 U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2 in the Village of Pinehurst, North Carolina. (Photo: Kathryn Riley/USGA)

Indeed, Hurtado’s new gig is a sweet one, complete with all the fresh air one can breathe and gorgeous views one can soak in, but life as a greenskeeper isn’t easy as the hourly job has forced plenty of willing laborers into other lines of work.

With that in mind, the USGA created the Greenskeeper Apprentice Program (GAP), which provides tuition-free education to those who qualify for the program, all with the intent of promoting hourly employees into more lucrative careers. This year…


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