Decades of service to the golf industry — including lengthy runs on the GCSA of New Jersey board and its Foundation — earned recently retired Bill Murray the 2024 Col. John Morley Award. Photo by Sam Sielen
First things first.
Yes, the real Bill Murray is fully aware there is an imposter about, cashing in on his good name and deep ties to the golf course management industry to boost his own personal clout.
And, no, the real Bill Murray doesn’t much seem to matter that sometimes folks forget — or fail to realize — it was he who, in the context of this profession, at least, predated the other Bill Murray, and not the other way around.
“I was in the business before ‘Caddyshack’ came out,” says Murray, GCSAA Class A retired superintendent and 27-year association member. “Once ‘Caddyshack’ came out, it was, ‘Bill Murray. Bill Murray. Bill
Murray.’ It’s actually pretty cool. Through the years, a lot of people have wanted to talk to me about ‘Caddyshack.’ It’s pretty neat.”
Oh, wait … you thought this would go the other way, that the quirky actor who portrayed assistant greenkeeper Carl Spackler in the hilarious yet polarizing 1980 comedy film was the standard by which all other Bill Murrays would be judged? Though
the actor came by the moniker first, having been born five years earlier than the superintendent, the younger Murray was 25 and well into his lifelong turf career before Spackler hunted his first varmint.
“People talk about me and the real Bill Murray,” says the retired for-real turf pro, “but I guess I’m the real Bill Murray.”
And here’s another distinction: The retired superintendent is the winner of GCSAA’s 2024 Col. John Morley Award, the distinguished service award that represents the highest honor given to a current or former association member who “has
made an outstanding contribution to the advancement of the golf course superintendent’s profession.”
Take that, Carl Spackler.
“I still can’t believe it,” Murray says. “When (GCSAA President) Kevin Breen called me and said I’d won the award, I said, ‘Me? I think you got the wrong guy.’ I don’t think I’ve done anything above
and beyond when compared to some other people. I’m still in awe of all this. It’s mind-blowing to me.”
Bill Murray on the Old Course at Lahinch Golf Club in Clare, Ireland, where he has been an overseas member for more than 20 years. Photos courtesy of Dave Mishkin
The start of Murray’s path into the golf maintenance profession is markedly more distinct than his route toward contributions back to it.
He clearly — and fondly — recalls tagging along with his father on trips to the course.
“When I was a little boy, dad took me out to hit golf balls at the local golf course where we lived,” said Murray, 68, who was born and reared in Lee, a small town in the Berkshires “about as far west as you can get in Massachusetts.”
“I always loved the game of golf after that. I thought, ‘I have to do something in this game. It’s what I like to do.’”
Though a lad’s first thought in those moments might not always run immediately from enjoying the game to wanting to toil upon the grounds on which it’s played, Murray’s did, and after graduating from high school, at 17, he enrolled at
the University of Massachusetts-Amherst Stockbridge School of Agriculture.
“Somewhere in high school, I decided I wanted to be a golf course superintendent or do something with computers,” Murray says. “Computers were just coming out. I liked tinkering with things and thought maybe I could fix computers. Maybe
I picked the wrong one. But I really enjoyed every moment in the turf industry.”
Murray, who with his pals has made overseas trips to Ireland an annual summer occurrence for years, tries his hand at revetted bunker maintenance.
He interned at Shore Haven Golf Club in Norwalk, Conn., collected his associate degree from Stockbridge, then spent two years in the Boston area. He returned to Shore Haven for three years as an assistant.
“Back then, assistant superintendent was a three-year gig,” Murray says. “You’d work three years as an assistant, then you had to leave, so I bounced around some.”
He bounced to Connecticut (where, at 25 or 26, he landed his first head superintendent job at a nine-hole, three-person-crew course outside of Hartford), New York and New Jersey, where, in the early 1980s, he crucially met a core group of connected salesmen
“who always took me under their wing.”
Part of that included taking the young Murray to regional industry meetings.
“Back in the day, assistants didn’t get to go to too many meetings with their superintendents,” Murray says. “These guys, now and then, they’d get a free one and took me along. It worked out nice, meeting new guys.”
Murray, third from left, and some lads in a pub in Portrush, Northern Ireland, during part of his 2019 trip in which he volunteered to work the Irish Open at Lahinch Golf Club, then headed to Royal Portrush for the Open Championship.
Though he did get out of the business shortly after that, spending seven years as a small-engine mechanic, he eventually returned, picking up new experience working for a golf course contractor, where he learned to run heavy equipment. “I liked
that, too,” he says. “I still haven’t grown up yet. I still like playing with toys.”
Before long, he was offered a job as a superintendent in the seven-course Monmouth County (N.J.) Park System, a position he held the final 26 years of his career. He was at Pine Brook Golf Course, an 18-hole executive course in Manalapan Township, when
he retired Dec. 31, 2022.
Somewhere in there, his love of the game and the industry, his fondness for industry meetings and get-togethers and his connections to those sage Garden State salesmen conspired to set him down the road to the Morley Award.
Murray served as the GCSANJ’s Chapter Delegate for 10 years, which necessitated yearly trips to the GCSAA Conference and Trade Show.
‘Why don’t you get involved?’
One of those mentors was Shaun Barry, a New Jerseyan to whom Murray long has referred as his “big brother.”
During one of their many golf-and-more trips to Ireland, the two were discussing their jobs, industry matters, the local chapter … and Murray started to grouse.
“Bill was upset with the way things were going,” recalls Barry, who is something of a legend around the GCSA of New Jersey — he was its first Member of the Year Award winner (in 1996), and GCSANJ’s Distinguished Service Award is
now the Shaun M. Barry DSA (which he won in 2005). “Bill was complaining. So I said, ‘Why don’t you get involved? Why don’t you do something? You’re smart enough. You can’t complain if you don’t do this.’
I could tell he thought about it. He didn’t make any declaration, but he did get involved.”
Not right away, he didn’t — though he tried.
The first time Murray ran for the GCSANJ board of directors, he lost. Murray tried again the following year and won, starting a run of 17 years he served on the GCSANJ board, six of which were on the executive board and two he spent as president.
Murray compiling Stimpmeter readings at the 2019 Irish Open.
He played a huge role in the 1994 formation of the GCSANJ Foundation, the chapter’s philanthropic arm that provides scholarships and disaster relief, funds research and spearheads various charity events. He’s still a Foundation trustee.
And his run through the chairs on the chapter board eventually resulted in Murray becoming Jersey’s GCSAA Chapter Delegate, his self-proclaimed favorite role, which he held for a decade — a role that entailed yearly visits to GCSAA headquarters
in Lawrence, Kan., for the annual Chapter Delegates Meeting and the yearly Conference and Trade Show.
He also served on just about every chapter committee available, plus several task groups and committees at the national level. Murray followed in the footsteps of his “big brother,” too, when he landed the GSCANJ Member of the Year Award in
2009 and the Shaun Barry Distinguished Service Award in 2019.
“Bill was always ready to help,” says Barry, a 33-year AFR member. “And he took a lot of money out of his own pocket to do all he did.”
Murray won GCSANJ’s Shaun Barry Distinguished Service Award in 2019 and its Member of the Year Award in 2009.
One of Murray’s nearly yearly trips to Ireland reflected another side of him.
A regular volunteer at events local and regional, Murray also has volunteered at LPGA and PGA Tour events, but his 2019 trip to Ireland was especially epic.
An “overseas member” at Lahinch Golf Club, Murray found a way to turn that year’s trip to the Emerald Isle into a volunteering tour de force. Murray and two other Jersey lads — Barry and Dave Mishkin, GCSAA Class A superintendent
at Howell Park Golf Course, another Monmouth County course — volunteered to work the Irish Open at Lahinch and, the following week, worked the days leading up to the 2019 Open Championship at Royal Portrush Golf Club in Northern Ireland.
“Words can’t describe how good that trip was, just really fantastic,” says Mishkin, a 27-year GCSAA member and former roommate of Murray’s who also has volunteered with his old roomie for a decade or so at the ShopRite LPGA Classic
at Seaview in Galloway, N.J. “We met so many superintendents from all over the world, really — Scotland, England, Spain, guys from Australia.”
Mishkin marvels at Murray’s reach.
“I don’t know anybody who has donated more of their time, who’s more passionate about golf, than Bill,” Mishkin says. “I don’t know anybody who has been a better representative of our industry than Bill. When he was
president (of GCSANJ), he went to every single state event, every state open, every state publinx, women’s open … he’d go there and give the superintendent a plaque as a show of thanks from the association. I mean, he did it right.”
Among the many philanthropic endeavors the GCSANJ Foundation has undertaken over the years is its annual Toys for Tots toy drive. Photos by Shaun Barry
“(Murray) epitomizes what it means to be a member of the green industry and is a prime example of how we should all strive to give back to the associations that support us,” adds Keith Bennett, CGCS, the current GCSANJ Foundation president
and 22-year association member.
“His dedication and kindness have enabled him to build lasting friendships around the world, furthering recognition of the profession and putting a spotlight on what we do.”
That Murray was able to do so while spending the bulk of his career working in a county parks system impresses Barry even more.
“He wasn’t at a Baltusrol or Pine Valley,” Barry says. “You look at when awards are given out, and a lot of those guys have unlimited budgets. Then you look at a guy like Bill, who’s done what he did with nothing. That should
inspire everybody else. Here’s a guy who truly got involved, who never asked for anything, who did what he did just because he thought it was right.”
Murray (front row, third from left) and the crew at the 2019 Irish Open. Photo courtesy of Dave Mishkin
A stranger sidling up to Murray for a frosty pint at the local pub might not believe this, but he’s not the most outgoing sort.
“I’m not a big talker,” he says.
Nonsense, says Barry.
“I wouldn’t say he’s a shy guy,” Barry says. “I’d say he’s gotten a lot better with it. He’s not going to give you a 30-minute speech. When he got the Distinguished Service Award from New Jersey, he talked
for a minute and a half. That was probably all that was necessary at the time. But you could tell how enthused he was. He can be very vocal. He’s just not big about preaching to people. He’s not going to get in your face, but he’s
not afraid to speak up. When his opinion comes out of him, you know it comes from within. You know the person you’re talking to is really a good person. He’ll do whatever’s necessary to speak or get something done.”
During his years working with the GCSANJ Foundation, Murray (left) made a habit of handing out big checks to folks in need, whether locally or as far away as North Carolina. Photo by Shaun Barry
Murray’s never been married, and he says that might have given him some freedom to pursue his passions — both professional and personal.
“I do have a little spare time. I’m a single man, so I can do things without getting in trouble at home,” he says with a laugh. “But I’ve just always loved getting involved. This award … I’m still in awe. I’m
not quite sure how I got it. I figure I did what a lot of people in this industry do, which is get involved. It’s the best industry in the world.”
Murray will be presented his Col. John Morley Award on Feb. 1 during the Send-off Celebration at the GSCAA Conference and Trade Show in Phoenix.
Andrew Hartsock (firstname.lastname@example.org) is GCM’s senior managing editor.