Road to success: Sandhill Crane Golf Club's Clinton Tingen, CGCS

Veteran and 12-year GCSAA member Clinton Tingen reflects on his career journey


Clinton Tingen
Clinton Tingen, CGCS, is a former U.S. Marine who now serves golfers at Sandhill Crane Golf Club in Florida. Photo by David L. Williams II

The dead-end dirt road where Clinton Tingen, CGCS, was raised served as a playground for him and his pals.

That was life in those days in what then was small-town Apex, N.C., where those friends were what he called “ornery boys” — himself included. Raised in a tobacco farm community of roughly 5,400 residents at that time, Tingen paid attention even early in life to all that was happening around him. “I gained respect for the land and the dirt,” he says.

What has transpired since that revelation as a boy to becoming a man is quite an intriguing story. His latest chapter highlights Tingen, a 12-year GCSAA member, in his current role serving as the director of agronomy for Sandhill Crane Golf Club in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. 

Previously, his path to this juncture of his life was, well, interesting.

In sixth grade, Tingen got quite a birthday present: a horse. His adventurous side became obvious when he first went to a rodeo and then immersed himself in the possibilities it offered. He got into calf roping and team roping. By the seventh grade, Tingen hopped aboard a bull as a rider. His prowess in that arena earned him a partial scholarship at Casper (Wyo.) College. Tingen spent one year there, departing in part due to the weather. “Nobody told me how cold it was. The morning that I decided to leave, it was 3 degrees, and the wind blew like 60 (mph),” he says.

It was crossroads time in his life. What next? Tingen worked at a gas station at night, but he yearned for something worthwhile to occupy his days. He found it. Tingen reached out to the armed forces and quickly received a reply from the U.S. Marines Corps. He enlisted, and two weeks later he boarded a bus headed for Parris Island in South Carolina to begin his recruit training. What a whirlwind. “It was a split decision. I thought it would be a good challenge,” Tingen says. “I got some direction.”

You probably remember where you were on 9/11. Tingen does. He spent 20 months in Okinawa, Japan, as part of an embassy evacuation team and then the anti-terrorism team, which placed him on a ship going to Indonesia for security duty. In October 2003, Tingen was dispatched to Kuwait and participated in Operation Iraqi Freedom as convoy commander. Talk about perilous. “I remember coming back with two holes in my truck that I didn’t have when I left. I don’t know where they came from,” he says.

Clinton Tingen
Tingen served his country during 9/11 and beyond. Photo courtesy of Clinton Tingen

Tingen joined the service at 19 and exited at 24. His post-military life brought Tingen back to his home state. He enjoyed golf and thought working at a golf course would be the ideal scenario. His passion to work at a facility and play in his spare time resulted in more than Tingen expected. “It led me on a different turn in my life, and I ended up there,” he says.

‘‘There’’ was Chapel Hill (N.C.) Country Club, learning the ins and outs of the industry from Craig Thompson, CGCS, who had met Tingen in the Apex days. At the time of their reunion, Thompson oversaw Tingen as a mature veteran eager to make a difference in the golf industry. “Great man, great to have on our team. For somebody coming to work for me, he was a little bit older starting out, but he was a lot more skilled than I was at his age,” says Thompson, a 31-year GCSAA member now an owner/operator for Virlina DryJect. “He makes an impression. He makes an impression on most people. He really loves what he does. He’s an up-and-comer who I thought would be good for the industry and could go far.”

It appears he’s been on his way for a while now. Besides attending North Carolina State University to improve his turfgrass management knowledge, Tingen signed up to be a grassroots ambassador for GCSAA. He joined the Triangle Turfgrass Association and is currently on the Palm Beach GCSA Board. He participated in renovations at the Polo Club of Boca Raton in Boca Raton, Fla., and later at Hobe Sound Golf Club in Hobe Sound, Fla. 

Nine years ago, Tingen landed his first superintendent job at The Golf Club of Chapel Ridge in Pittsboro, N.C. Two years ago, Tingen came to Sandhill Crane GC, a municipal course owned by the city of Palm Beach Gardens. Tingen was in on the action at Sandhill from the ground up. “It’s a vital part of the community. It’s great to have that support,” says Tingen. A favorite moment so far for Tingen was watching a father and son one day. His office is close to a par 3, and he took note of that moment. “It was seeing a dad teach his son how to play,” he says, “whoop and hollering, sharing their love, and a dad passing it down to the next generation.”

As for his goals, Tingen has many. “We’re working on becoming Audubon certified and hoping to host a First Green event. We have a lot of youth events here, and we want to spread the game of golf and keep it growing,” he says.

Since his youth, Tingen has seen Apex grow to more than 70,000 residents now, and asphalt replaced that dirt road he mentioned. His teeth, meanwhile, have improved since the time many years ago when he got tossed from a bull. 

“I broke some of them (his teeth) really bad. The EMT lady ran over to me with her flashlight and said, ‘You’re OK, but you’re going to have to see the dentist tonight.’ Most of them have been fixed,” Tingen says.

And as Southerners like him say, Tingen is fixing to keep on keeping on in the industry in which he has sunk his teeth (and, yes, he hung up his bull-riding spurs after trying it one more time in his mid-30s). “The attention to detail and pushing the limit piqued my interest in what I do now,” Tingen says. “Like when I became a CGCS, it was a personal and professional goal. It showed dedication to get everything out of the profession I have chosen.”

Howard Richman is GCM's associate editor