Gaughan decides it’s time to be gone

By |  June 6, 2018 0 Comments
Chris Gaughan on the course

Chris Gaughan

Since 1975, Chris Gaughan, CGCS, has been working at Eugene (Ore.) Country Club, emerging as a legend of Oregon golf along the way.

That 43-year run comes to an end this month, when Gaughan retires and hands the keys to the maintenance shop to Tim Cloninger, previously superintendent at Shadow Creek Golf Club in Las Vegas.

Gaughan (pronounced Gone) will retire two weeks shy of a 44-year career at Eugene CC. He wants his streak to end at 43 years in reverence to World War II veteran Wendell Wood, who holds the record for working at ECC — 44 years as the club pro.

“I began weed-wacking all day long in 1975 at the age of 16,” he recalls. “I got so good at it that I was named the 1976 Olympic Gold medalist in weed-wacking. The GM noticed this kid who kept coming back to edge bunkers and do various other jobs, and he asked me if I’d like to be superintendent someday. Back then, you could walk on the ponds, they had so much aquatic vegetation…”

The walk-on-water days are long past Eugene CC today, as it is now perennially among Golf Digest’s Top 100 courses. Eugene CC is in the regular rotation to host the Pacific Coast Amateur Championship and hosted the 2016 NCAA Championship, won by the Oregon Ducks. (The course hosts the USGA Senior Amateur in August, but as Gaughan says, “that’s Tim’s problem.”)

Early in his career, Gaughan spent time on the LPGA Tour, caddying for his sister Cathy Mant, now head women’s golf coach at Georgia State in Atlanta. It was this time, visiting a new city each week, that taught him how to socialize and gave him his sense of sarcasm.

“I remember once Betsy King’s caddie asked me if I was tired of hanging out with all those clowns,” Gaughan says. “We used to mess with the local caddies. We’d set the bags on top of sprinklers so they couldn’t find yardage markers. We’d tie up the flags so they couldn’t read the wind direction.”

When Gaughan was ready to take his turf career to the next level, he sought the advice of John Zoller, who was a superintendent as well as his godfather. Zoller told him to either go work at the best course possible or for the best superintendent he could find. He went with both options and spent a year with John’s son Bob Zoller at Monterey Peninsula CC in Pebble Beach, Calif., and a year with Dick Fluter at Oswego Lake CC in Lake Oswego, Ore. Add in a year at Oregon State University’s turf program studying under Tom Cook, and Gaughan was set to succeed.

Gaughan credits his success to his ability to socialize, his game (he’s a 2-handicap) and being a good listener. He also says he’s in one of the top three places on the planet to grow Poa annua greens.

“New Zealand, Australia and the Pacific Northwest,” Gaughan says. “Getting them smooth, firm and fast is not a challenge.”

His favorite thing about the job is also his least favorite thing about the job: people.

“Employees have changed. They used to stay for decades, now they stay for a month,” he says. “You take the time to educate them and then they pull out to work for a landscaping company. Dealing with Millennials, everyone thinks they deserve a trophy, while I’m still waiting for that Olympic gold for weed-wacking.”

What awaits Gaughan in retirement? He hints that he won’t be able to sit still for long. His wife, two daughters and three grandchildren will see him more. But don’t be surprised if the lure of the golf course is too much for Gaughan to stay gone.

“I’m Type-A, I’ll be bored in two days,” Gaughan says. “I like doing the same thing every night. I like walking greens and hitting putts to see how the greens are. I’ll miss those times.”

Photo: Chris Gaughan

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