Jordan Keshler, superintendent at Barker Brook Golf Club in Oriskany Falls, N.Y., joins his childhood friend foursome — from left, Corey Baker, Hunter Horton, Keshler and Kris Caraher — pose with the Payne Stewart statue near Pinehurst No. 2’s 18th green. Photos courtesy of Jordan Keshler
When Jordan Keshler first contacted the folks at the Round of a Lifetime Foundation, he simply wanted to thank them for their work, not benefit from it.
The foundation had other ideas.
“I just reached out to them to say thanks for doing this for heart awareness,” says Keshler, superintendent at Barker Brook Golf Club in Oriskany Falls, N.Y., and a 20-year GCSAA member. “I thought it was a great model. I told them who
I was and what I went through. They said, ‘Would you fill out and application for our organization?’ I said, ‘Sure, but that’s not the reason I reached out to you guys.’ They said they still wanted me to, so I did. A
while later, they reached out and said, ‘You really fit the model for our organization of who we’d like to choose. We’d like to pick you as our next winner.’ I was pretty ecstatic about being picked.”
That’s how Keshler found himself teeing off at venerable Pinehurst Resort, on its fabled No. 2 and its No. 7 courses, plus knocking it around The Cradle with three of his best friends. Round of a lifetime indeed.
“After we left, we were talking we’d all like to go back one day and bring our wives,” Keshler says. Besides the course, even the town was such a neat place. The manor, the inn … it really takes you back to the early 1900s
and just the simplicity. It was a great experience.”
Well, for the most part. Travel delays threatened his arrival in Pinehurst, N.C., and foundation officials worried they’d have to scramble.
“He was supposed to get in on Wednesday night (June 15), in time for nice relaxing dinner at Pinehurst, sleep in and still have time to get prepared for his tee time,” says Dan Igo, the nonprofit Round of a Lifetime Foundation’s secretary
and director of content. “Because of flight delays, he didn’t get to Pinehurst until 2 in the morning. Delays, delays, delays. We were worried he’d get stuck in Charlotte, and we’d have to find a different way to get him there.
Fortunately, he was a great sport about it and took everything in stride, and once he got on-site, it sounds like he had a great experience.”
Given all Keshler went through to qualify as a beneficiary of the foundation — which gives people suffering from congenital heart disease an all-expenses-paid round of golf at a dream destination — what’s a little travel hassle?
Medical hardships first beset Keshler, now 41, in 2012, when, coincidentally, he was in Tampa, Fla., to be with his father, David, after David’s heart procedure. The elder Keshler — also a former golf course superintendent and previous owner
of Barker Brook GC — had a Left Ventricular Assist Device (an LVAD; basically a heart pump) implanted at Tampa General Memorial, when the younger Keshler collapsed in a waiting room. Doctors found a clot in his heart and performed open-heart
surgery on the then-32-year-old. The Keshlers recovered in adjacent hospital rooms.
Two years later, in 2014, Jordan went back under the knife to have a pacemaker/defibrillator implanted — “Basically, as insurance in case something else happened to me, since my heart wasn’t getting much stronger,” Keshler says.
He continued his life and work at Barker Brook. One day in 2018, he was walking down a fairway when his defibrillator fired. “It knocked me to the ground,” Keshler recalls. “I didn’t even know anything was wrong. I felt totally
fine. I stood up, took a couple of paces, and it knocked me to the ground again.”
Keshler went to the hospital, where he learned he needed an LVAD, the same device his father had (David Keshler died Nov. 12, 2012, at 60, six months after his procedure). Jordan Keshler was told the LVAD would serve to assist his weakened heart in pumping
blood, but it was only a bridge until he received a heart transplant. He spent a month recovering in the hospital.
Living with the LVAD was an ordeal in itself. The device ran on 10-hour batteries that Keshler lugged around, tucked into cargo shorts or an inside-out football girdle with batteries in place of the pads. At night, he’d plug the pinky-finger-sized
cable coming out of his stomach into a wall outlet. He’d sleep or shuffle around the bedroom tethered by a 20-foot cord.
Still, Keshler worked at the course.
“I spent one season like that,” he says. “That was tough. I still showed up for the guys. I didn’t want to be a bum. I didn’t change cups. I didn’t want to bend over that much. But I was mowing, spraying — everything
else, I did. I wasn’t the fastest guy on the crew, but I worked.”
Jordan Keshler tees on Pinehurst No. 2’s first hole during his “round of a lifetime.”
Waiting … and waiting
That’s how Keshler lived and worked for 14 months, all the while on a heart-transplant list he was told could entail a waiting period of two to four years. His relatively rare Type O blood type likely added to the wait.
As he was waiting, Jordan and his wife Sonia had their first child, Charlee, June 27, 2019.
“We just had a daughter, and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to make a two- to four-year wait,” Jordan Keshler recalls.
Part of an online support group, Keshler learned of a clinical trial at nearby Massachusetts General Hospital for donor-after-cardiac-death (DCD) transplants. According to the Gift of Life Donor Program, DCD donors have suffered “devastating, non-survivable
neurologic injury” but do not meet formal brain-death criteria. Keshler reached out to Mass Gen and was told to make the four-hour drive down for tests to see if he was eligible. After two days of testing, he was added to the trial pool, at
which point it became a 50% chance whether he’d join the trial or not.
The coin flip fell is his favor.
“I was selected for the trial,” Keshler recalls. “At that point, they said to return home, and they’d call if a heart became available. I remember talking to my doctor, and I was curious. I said, ‘I know you can’t know
this, but what are you talking about for a timeline?’ He said, ‘I’m optimistic I could have a heart for you in a week or so.’ I went from two to four years to a week.”
It didn’t take even that long. Four days after returning home, in February 2020, he was dozing on the couch when he was awakened by Sonia.
“She was yelling at me, telling me they had a heart for me,” Keshler says.
Eleven days later, Keshler was back home with a donor heart in his chest.
“Since then, I haven’t had one setback,” he says. “I was back at work April 1. I live in New York, so that’s our (golf) season — April to November. I never had to miss any work.”
Sharing his story
Keshler spoke about his experience in testimony to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration during hearings with TransMedics Group — the medical technology company that ran the trials that included Keshler — about expanding approval for DCD donations
to include heart transplants. The FDA had granted premarket approval to TransMedics for donors after brain death in September 2021. In April 2022, the FDA granted an extension to TransMedics for DCD donors as well, opening a much larger potential
“I figured I was lucky to be able to do the trial,” Keshler says. “That’s why I was speaking for them at the FDA. If we didn’t have these people, I don’t know where I’d be. That’s why I’m an advocate
for (nonprofit donation organization) Donate Life. One donor can save basically eight other people. I figure, hey, pay it forward. What does it take? Nothing, really. The more awareness you get out there, the better.”
Some of that motivation, Keshler admits, is personal. His family has a history of congential heart disease — he is the third generation with evidence of it; his sister is in the process of work-ups for a heart transplant of her own. With Charlee
(who is just days away from her third birthday) and another daughter due this fall, Keshler can’t help but worry about his own kids.
“There was a point where my wife and I were trying for three years, going IVF (in vitro fertilization) and all that,” he says. “At that point, you think maybe this is somebody trying to tell you you shouldn’t have a child so you
don’t pass down your bad genes. I had long talks with my heart team about passing down bad genes, and they reassure you, ‘Medicine is changing every day.’ Obviously, the trial I did was a big step. That should open it up for others.”
Keshler hooked up with Round of a Lifetime (roundofalifetime.org) through his advocacy. That organization — formed in memory of Andrew Maciey, a fraternity brother of the founders who died of congenital heart disease at 24 — uses a golf tournament
as a major fundraiser. Because that event was scuttled by the pandemic in 2020, Round of a Lifetime teamed with another pandemic-formed charity, Member for a Day, that auctions once-in-a-lifetime golf excursions (to dream destinations, or rounds with
celebrities — like Bill Murray, Bo Jackson and Ken Griffey Jr.) and donates those funds to other charities.
Keshler initially contacted Round of a Lifetime last year to thank it for its work with Member for a Day.
“We told him he seemed like a perfect candidate,” Round of a Lifetime’s Igo says of Keshler, the foundation’s 12th beneficiary. “He wrote a great application. It was an easy vote for us. Many of our previous recipients had
been athletes until they found out they couldn’t play contact sports anymore. That’s how they found golf, which is such a great outlet for competitive people who want to be outside and can’t participate in some other sports. Jordan
was one of our first recipients who has dedicated his life to golf. His father was a superintendent. He’s a superintendent. Golf runs in his blood. We wanted his trip specifically to be a little different. Usually it’s just one round —
a round at TPC Sawgrass, a round at Congressional. We wanted him to have more of an experience.”
From left, Hunter Horton, Keshler, Corey Baker and Kris Caraher pose before their round on Pinehurst No. 2.
The Pinehurst experience
After the travel travails, the friend foursome — Keshler; Hunter Horton, also a superintendent, at Alexandria Bay (N.Y.) Municipal Golf Course; and high school friends Corey Baker and Kris Caraher — played a round at Pinehurst’s famed
No. 2 on Friday, June 17, then another 18 on No. 7 the following day, plus some playtime on The Cradle, Pinehurst’s nine-hole short course, before Keshler returned home to be with Charlee and Sonia for Father’s Day.
“All said, The Cradle is the most fun we had the whole time,” Keshler says. “There’s music playing out there. There’s a bar … it’s pretty great. A train even came through while we were playing.”
An avid golfer with a handicap of around 2, Keshler knew about Pinehurst’s place in American golf lore. He researched the place a bit more before visiting and was tickled to learn it was bankrolled in 1895 by James Walker Tufts, a successful tableware
and soda magnate from … Boston.
“That was a neat little connection,” Keshler says of the city where he received his donor heart. “Going through YouTube and reading things about the course, it was just great to get to see it all in person, just to stand there and think
about what I read and saw and all the people who had played there. And to get to play with three childhood friends, that was probably the best part.”
Not that he’s complaining, but, yes, there was a worst part.
“It was hot,” Keshler says with a laugh. “When we were playing No. 2, I looked, and it was 101 degrees. The rangers said they had three calls for heat stroke and had to call for ambulances three times. They had a ranger on every hole
offering water. I’d never seen that. But it was just so neat being on No. 2. The other superintendent and I were talking. I’ve played Oak Hill, Fishers Island, Bethpage. The greens … I’d never seen greens like that. Their
greens just didn’t have any blemishes on them. We’d never seen anything like it.”
Andrew Hartsock is GCM’s senior managing editor.