Justin DePippo at Bel-Air Country Club in Los Angeles, where he’s at work on a project to restore the course to its original 1926 design. Photos by April Rocha
Forbes covers finance. Industry. Technology. Science. Politics.
It also has its finger on the pulse of golf. Justin DePippo is proof.
DePippo — the director of golf course and grounds at star-studded (think actor Jack Nicholson) Bel-Air Country Club in Los Angeles — has been touted by the magazine as a rising star. Forbes included DePippo on the 2019 edition of its who’s-who list 30 Under 30: Sports, which spotlights 30 people under age 30 who represent the next generation of standouts. Others on the list are Milwaukee Bucks basketball star Giannis “The Greek Freak” Antetokounmpo, gold-medal gymnast Laurie Hernandez, and Cleveland Indians star shortstop Francisco Lindor.
Upon hearing he had been selected by Forbes, DePippo tells GCM the recognition was important to him in a few ways. “I was honored to be among Olympians, major champions and others who already have made an impact,” says DePippo, 29, a five-year GCSAA member. “I think it’s good for golf and the superintendent profession. It sheds light on our industry.”
This honor for DePippo comes as no surprise to superintendent John Gosselin, who oversaw DePippo at Aronimink Golf Club in Newtown Square, Pa. DePippo served as a student intern there while studying at Penn State University nine years ago, before becoming an assistant for one year under Gosselin, who quickly realized he had a budding star on his hands.
“Every now and then, you run into someone like that who makes the most of an opportunity. When he was an intern, Justin stood out among the crowd,” says Gosselin, a 33-year association member. “He didn’t even look like an intern. He was more mature-looking. In the summer, you could stay (at work) as much as you want. He was one who just stayed. He shadowed the assistants, soaked up everything from them like a sponge. As an assistant, he had a good demeanor and commanded respect. A lot of people sought his advice, which is the trait of a leader. He made a name for himself.”
Hear from Justin DePippo and take a tour of Bel-Air Country Club with GCSAA TV:
DePippo’s fiancée, Becca Sigal, nominated him for the Forbes list, after which the magazine sent him a questionnaire, asking things such as how he got started in his career, how he influences others, and who has been a role model. One of the judges for the list was Los Angeles Lakers controlling owner Jeanie Buss. “They reached out to me last July. I never heard anything back,” says DePippo, who is from Kennett Square, Pa., and the oldest of eight children.
On Nov. 13, 2018, DePippo finally did hear back. So did the world. “I saw it posted online. I never thought it would turn out like that,” he says.
Russ Myers, director of agronomy at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Okla., had an inkling that it would turn out like that. At Los Angeles Country Club, Myers had DePippo as an apprentice superintendent, then as an assistant superintendent, and later as North Course superintendent.
“I think he can go anywhere he wants to go,” says Myers, a 24-year GCSAA member, who returned to Southern Hills a few years ago for a second term. “He’s an unbelievably unique, special individual, and I’m fortunate that I got to work with him. He has a natural ability to solve problems and not ask for moral support along the way. He’d come up with options and bring them to you.
“The ironic thing about this honor is, Justin’s not an individual who’d seek publicity, but now he’s working at probably the most star-struck club on the planet.”
The examples that Myers set were invaluable for DePippo. “Russ kind of paved the way for me and was a huge part of preparing me for the next level,” DePippo says. “He was really good at being hands-off, doing everything from a flyover. He gave you enough responsibility, let you hold the reins, take control, figure things out by yourself.”
Bel-Air Country Club director of golf course and grounds Justin DePippo (second from right) with, from left, foreman Pablo Saucedo, assistant superintendent Manuel Zuniga and lead assistant superintendent Tony Cortes.
Among others who helped shape DePippo are former superintendent Eric Greytok, now at Macro-Sorb Technologies; Ryan Howard, then-superintendent at Hartefeld National in Avondale, Pa., who is now at Winters Run Golf Club in Bel Air, Md.; Paul Stead, CGCS, at Kennett Square (Pa.) Golf & Country Club; and industry veteran Tom Wait. “John, Russ, really all of them, taught me the importance of networking and helping young men and women in the industry to achieve their goals,” DePippo says.
There’s one more very special mentor: Darin Bevard, director of championship agronomy for the USGA Green Section, is DePippo’s stepfather. “He’s the reason I first stepped foot onto a golf course. He was a big influence, but he didn’t push me,” DePippo says. “When I was younger, I had a self-owned lawn company — even had a business card that I made on my own computer.”
It’s a busy time for DePippo at Bel-Air, which plays host to numerous member events and draws marquee names to the course as members, including actors Chris O’Donnell and Dennis Quaid and sportscaster Al Michaels. The club launched a massive project two months before DePippo started in December 2017, aiming to restore the original design of architect George Thomas. The work includes bunkers, tee complexes and regrassing of fairways. “We have the same goal every day. It’s all about the conditions, about the golf, allowing them to enjoy it,” DePippo says.
FYI: Another Justin made it into Forbes — major golf champion Justin Thomas. DePippo met Thomas at a dinner in the Los Angeles area last year, and when the news broke that both Justins had landed on the Forbes list, an email chain spread through Bel-Air. Thomas’ agent, Lance Young, had a hand in that email. “He said, ‘Look at our Justins.’ That was pretty cool,” DePippo says.
If anything, the Forbes merit motivates DePippo, who will turn 30 in August. “Everybody wants to accomplish more. It (Forbes list) pushes me to accomplish more,” DePippo says. “It also reminds me I’m still young in my career, and I’m just getting started here. You just can’t throw in the towel now. It doesn’t stop. I’ve still got to look for ways to continue achieving.”
Howard Richman is GCM’s associate editor.