Rob Wagner (red jacket), director of grounds at Trump National Golf Club Bedminster in Bedminster, N.J., has been volunteering at this week’s PGA Championship. In 2022, it will be Wagner’s turn to host. Photos by Howard Richman
Three years from now, Rob Wagner will host the PGA Championship. Unlike this week’s PGA Championship at Bethpage Black — where Wagner is volunteering — Wagner won’t have just one golf course to manage, though. He’ll have two.
Wagner is the director of grounds at Trump National Golf Club Bedminster in Bedminster, N.J., which in 2022 will be the home of the PGA Championship. Wagner says that, in a step that’s rare for a major, both the facility’s New Course and Old Course will serve as composite routing for the championship. That means the courses will be blended to make for an 18-hole contest, but he is not currently at liberty to divulge which holes will be used on each of the two courses.
“Basically, it will be like prepping 36 holes,” Wagner says. “We do it day to day anyway.”
The Old Course opened in 2004, and the New Course followed in 2008, which is the year Wagner was hired by the club. He remembers how, in those days, President Donald Trump (long before he was in the White House) had a keen interest in the maintenance team. “He’d support us and help us,” says Wagner, a GCSAA Class A superintendent and 13-year member of the association. “He’d be out there with a paint gun. He’s a builder. He wanted championships.”
One year later, in 2009, Wagner was the New Course superintendent when it hosted the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship, an event that employed both courses.
“Every single one of these, I learn something,” says Wagner of volunteering at events at other facilities. “You always can be learning.”
Wagner certainly seemed destined for this career. As a youth in Orange, Conn., nine holes of Race Brook Country Club sat practically outside the back door of his family’s home. Oh, and GCSAA Class A superintendent John Gallagher of Race Brook lived right across the street. As a teen, Wagner worked for Gallagher, a 35-year association member, and developed an interest in the industry.
“He always was a calm leader. Just had a way about him,” Wagner says of Gallagher. “He motivated without fear. You wanted to do right by him.”
Wagner worked alongside Race Brook’s Tom Pepe, who was then an assistant to Gallagher. Eventually, Pepe was the grow-in superintendent at Trump National GC Bedminster at a time when Wagner was working in Maryland. Pepe coaxed Wagner to come work as an assistant at Trump National. When Pepe became director of grounds (he since has left), Wagner was promoted to superintendent of the New Course. In 2017, the club hosted the U.S. Women’s Open, so the 2022 major championship challenge will be nothing new for Wagner, a Penn State graduate.
When the PGA Championship comes his way, Wagner will depend on New Course superintendent Alex DeHaven and Old Course superintendent Nate Spence. What does Wagner like most about the big event in 2022? “I like it (composite routing) because it showcases the property,” he says. In the meantime, though, there’s a key event coming this summer. “We host the New Jersey Open in July,” Wagner says.
Howard Richman is GCM’s associate editor.