Sunrise Celebration honors leaders and achievements in the golf industry

GCSAA’s Sunrise Celebration served as a chance to herald association members and some of their peers who shined last year.


Dottie Pepper
LPGA legend and broadcaster Dottie Pepper speaks onstage during the GCSAA Sunrise Celebration at the 2024 GCSAA Conference and Trade Show. Photos by Montana Pritchard

As he opened the proceedings this morning at the GCSAA Sunrise Celebration presented in partnership with Syngenta, GCSAA CEO Rhett Evans relayed the story about how Arizona is his home state. He graduated from his high school in Prescott, just 90 miles away, in 1986. In 1987, and unbeknownst to Evans at that time in his young life, GCSAA held its annual Conference and Trade Show in Phoenix. 37 years later, GCSAA finally returned to the Valley of the Sun for the first time since that show. The sun, by the way, has burned bright and warm this week.

“It’s so great to see all of your sunburned faces,” Evans says, which provoked some laughter from those in attendance inside the North Ballroom in the Phoenix Convention Center.

Following the sold out GCSAA Golf Championships. which kicked off this year’s Show this past weekend, the Sunrise Celebration was an opportunity to reconnect and celebrate the association’s successes. Michael Parkin, global head of solutions at Syngenta, mentioned that the Show is about making connections with those 20,000 association members who Syngenta vigorously champions. “We are proud to support GCSAA and invest in education and invest in your career,” Parkin said.

Those careers have gained increasing prominence, whether through televised interviews on outlets such as Golf Channel, Sirius XM radio, or International Thank a Superintendent Day, which totaled 18 million broadcast impressions in 2023. 

“We are elevating the recognition of our members,” Evans said, “for the significant role they play in maintaining golf courses.”

Bob Farren
Bob Farren, CGCS, director of golf & ground management for Pinehurst Resort and Country Club, receives the USGA Green Section Award from Rhett Evans and the USGA's Emily Palmer.

Among those recognized at the Sunrise Celebration was Bob Farren, CGCS, at Pinehurst Resort and Country Club in Pinehurst, N.C., where he is a 43-year GCSAA member. Emily Palmer of the USGA presented Farren with the USGA Green Section Award.

If there were an award for GCSAA presidential tenure, Kevin Breen, CGCS, would surely qualify. As he completes his service, Breen joins a small-but-distinguished class in association history. A 33-year GCSAA member and director of greens and grounds at La Rinconada Country Club in Los Gatos, Calif., Breen is only one of four GCSAA presidents to hold the position for more than one year, and the first since World War II. When Kevin Sunderman stepped down from the GCSAA Board of Directors to become GCSAA chief executive officer, Breen agreed to remain as president for another year after his original year in 2022. After initially considering the idea of being superintendent in back-to-back years, Breen says, “my first reaction was ‘I want to do this.’ It’s a lot of work, a lot of time, but when you have the support of your club and your family, it was an easy decision.”

Others singled out for their efforts include GCSAA Class A superintendent Seth Strickland from Miami Beach Golf Club, who won his sixth GCSAA Golf Championship national championship. Georgia GCSAA Executive Director Tenia Workman was presented with the GCSAA Outstanding Contribution Award. Workman, who’ll be retiring this year, said about her chapter, “They are my extended family. We all believe in each other and work for the good of the game.”

Kevin Breen and Lauren Thompson
Kevin Breen speaks about his career as GCSAA President with the Golf Channel's Lauren Thompson at the GCSAA Sunrise Celebration.

Last but not least, GCSAA Old Tom Morris Award recipient Dottie Pepper was in the house before heading to California for this week’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am as on-course commentator for CBS. The major champion says when she got the call that she had been chosen by GCSAA for the honor, the person who uses her voice for a living to talk was speechless. “I get paid for a living, and I couldn’t talk. It (the award) was quite a surprise,” Pepper said.

Pepper, from Saratoga Springs, N.Y., recalls hopping aboard a gang mower in her youth at the driving range built by her father. She blossomed into a standout golfer, winning 17 times on the LPGA Tour, including two majors. In 2020, Pepper made history when she became the first walking reporter on the grounds of Augusta National Golf Club for CBS’ coverage of the Masters.

Howard Richman is GCM’s associate editor.