Mission Hills’ David Hay prepares for final act of storied career

The club’s director of agronomy and a fixture in desert golf for almost 40 years reflects on his time in the industry as he readies for retirement.


Filed to: California

Mission Hills Country Club
Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, Calif., where 38-year GCSAA member David Hay will conclude his career in golf course management next spring. Photo courtesy of Mission Hills Country Club

David Hay has been a fixture in the golf course management community in and around Palm Springs, Calif., for nearly four decades. But in just about 12 months’ time, the director of agronomy at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, Calif., will ride off into the sunset and a well-deserved retirement after the final putt drops on the LPGA Tour’s 2020 ANA Inspiration.

“It’ll be time. It’ll just be time,” says Hay, a 38-year GCSAA member. “Things are good here, the kid (meaning Jared Taylor, the superintendent on Mission Hills’ Dinah Shore Tournament Course) is figuring it out, so the timing is right.”

But as Hay will tell anyone who asks, it’s been one heck of a ride.

He has led preparations for an array of professional events (“This is my fourth ANA, I did seven Bob Hopes, a bunch of Frank Sinatra Celebrity Classics ...”), did a 20-year stint in charge of operations at nearby Indian Wells Country Club (during which time he also served as a regional superintendent for ClubCorp), and now has three years under his belt during his current run at Mission Hills.

“Not many people get to have the opportunities that I’ve had in my career, so I feel blessed,” Hay says. “Also got to grow a lot of good turf along the way, which is really what it’s all about.”

Originally, a career in turf wasn’t in Hay’s plans. The Colorado native earned a two-year business degree and wanted to go to Colorado State University for a degree in forestry. But in the early 1970s, Hay’s path took him into the military. “I played a lot of golf when I was in the military and just fell in love with it, with being outdoors,” he says.

Although Hay never earned a formal turf degree, it wasn’t because he lacked a thirst for knowledge. He was a valedictorian in the school of hard knocks, read everything he could about the business, and wasted few opportunities to dive into classes and education at the annual Golf Industry Show. It was a passion that eventually led to him to achieving Certified Golf Course Superintendent status in 1988, which he maintained until this past December.

David Hay superintendent
David Hay (second from right) with Dinah Shore Tournament Course superintendent Jared Taylor (far right) during preparations for the 2019 ANA Inspiration. Photo by Scott Hollister

Hay’s first head superintendent opportunity came at Apple Valley (Calif.) Golf Course, where the budget might have been limited but the opportunities weren’t. He still falls back on lessons learned during that time, especially when mentoring those working under him, such as Taylor.

“At the end of the day, I think I was really fortunate that at Apple Valley, I didn’t have any money. I just had to figure out how to get it done,” he says. “You learn some lessons along the way, and then when you do have a few more resources, you really can apply those lessons in the best way possible.

“I’ve tried to mentor the young folks who’ve worked for me like Jared that not everything had to be over-the-top and that you didn’t have to spend all this money. You can do awesome things and have great conditions even when you don’t have all the money in the world.”

During this year’s ANA Inspiration, Hay joked several times that as soon as Sunday morning prep for next year’s tournament is complete, he and his wife are loading up the truck and heading to southern Utah, near St. George, where Hay owns land and plans to build a home.

In reality, Hay’s departure won’t be all that abrupt. “We’ll just take it as it comes, man. We’ll put the house up for sale in December or January. If it sells fast for the price that we want, I’ll commute for a while. We’ll figure it out.”

Just like he’s always done.

“This is a great profession with great, great people in it,” Hay says. “That’s what I’ll miss most — the people — but really, I won’t have to miss too many of them. I can’t tell you how many people have told me they were coming to see me in Utah, going to keep in touch. And I’ll still be around. They can’t get rid of me that easily.”

Scott Hollister is GCM’s editor-in-chief.