Mark Kuhns, CGCS, has had many spectacular moments on golf courses, and not all of them have come in his long run as a renowned superintendent.
“I shot a 74 and had an eagle on a par 4. My opponent threw down his club and his bag,” says Kuhns, who attended Ligonier Valley High School in Ligonier, Pa. “I was medalist that day. I had one of the best rounds of my life.”
Kuhns has devoted more than half his life to the golf industry, including the past 19 years overseeing Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, N.J., which, in the near future, will have a new appearance. It will also have a new superintendent.
Speaking with GCM on Sept. 20, Kuhns said he will leave Baltusrol on March 31, 2019, the day before his contract ends.
“It’s just good timing for both of us. They’ve got a lot of things going on here the next seven, eight years with renovations. I just decided to ask about an exit plan, and it worked out well,” Kuhns, 63, says.
The work expected to be done at Baltusrol is already in the planning stages and includes major restorations to Baltusrol’s Lower and Upper courses under the guidance of architect Gil Hanse. “The club knew I wasn’t going to be here throughout this major restoration. For me to leave during it, bring on somebody new and leave them (the club) hanging. ... The club really needs somebody to come in and work with him (Hanse). Everybody has been cordial about this, and that’s one of the nice things about Baltusrol. The people here have been so good and so nice to us. There’s just good people here. You don’t have that everywhere.”
Kuhns, a 38-year association member and Penn State University graduate who served as GCSAA president in 2009, says he hopes to remain in the industry. Earlier this week, he was already fielding emails about possible options after he departs Baltusrol, which has hosted seven U.S. Opens.
“I’m looking at companies, maybe working in marketing, promotions or sales. I’ll be an asset to that company. I’ve made a lot of friends and connections out there, whether it’s across the border or all around the world,” he says.
Kuhns has certainly been at the helm of events watched worldwide. The latest was the 2016 PGA Championship. Since becoming a superintendent for the first time in 1977 at Ligonier (Pa.) Country Club, where his salary was $8,000, Kuhns has hosted six major championships, including during his tenure at Oakmont (Pa.) Country Club. That was the site of the 1994 U.S. Open, which was the last Arnold Palmer played in. It was special for Kuhns, who has known the Palmer family for years. When Palmer arrived via helicopter that week at Oakmont, Kuhns picked him up and drove The King to the course.
Since 1999, Kuhns has been a staple at Baltusrol, where he hosted the U.S. Amateur 11 months after being hired. He says the restoration planned for the courses features bunker and green reconstruction with a sub-air system for the greens, which are slated to be restored to their original contours. Hanse began surveying Baltusrol last fall. The hope is for the first phase of the restoration to be done in time for the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship in 2023.
“The changes are going to restore the look of days gone by,” says Kuhns, who proudly states he never needed temporary greens at the club. “It is going to be helpful for drainage and bring more consistency to the golf courses.”
What will Kuhns not miss about being a superintendent? “You think about it (the golf course) night and day, 365 days a year, for the last 42 years,” he says. What he will miss? “To see what God has created and that you’ve given him a helping hand with it.”
Howard Richman is GCM’s associate editor.