Ryan Gordon, a native of Colorado Springs, Colo., and an Oregon State University alumnus, oversees golf course maintenance at The Club at Snoqualmie Ridge, located about 25 miles east of Seattle and host to the annual PGA Tour Champions’ Boeing Classic. Photo by David Phipps
Sometimes black bears roam the golf course at The Club at Snoqualmie Ridge in Washington state, so it’s imperative to be alert and, certainly, on guard. GCSAA Class A superintendent Ryan Gordon has more reason than most to be keenly aware of his surroundings.
“I was born with a 90 percent profound hearing loss, which, in other words, is deaf,” says Gordon, a 13-year association member.
Gordon, who will turn 35 on Aug. 13, has learned to use his residual hearing with the help of hearing aids. He can hear sounds and noises within a certain range, but not with clarity. “I cannot distinguish between different sounds of speech, mainly consonants such as ‘s’, ‘ch,’ ‘th,’ and so on,” he says. “Vowels are fairly easy for me to pick up on because they are lower sounds.”
He is fluent in sign language and has all but mastered lip reading. “I need to be able to see the face of the person that I am speaking to, and from there, it is like putting together a puzzle,” Gordon says. “I will catch maybe 60 to 70 percent of what a person says, and the rest is combining context, body language and common-sense guesswork to fill in the blanks.”
Born in Colorado Springs, Colo., Gordon credits his parents, Craig and Belinda, for their guidance and devotion. “So many of the decisions that they made gave me the tools that I need to navigate my way through society today,” says Gordon, whose parents and his three younger sisters are not deaf. “They found me speech therapists, teachers of the deaf, and didn’t shield me from the hearing world. I was put in mainstream classrooms during my entire schooling years, did well, built a social network, and had what I would consider a normal upbringing.
“That is not to say there haven’t been moments of uncertainty, frustration or simply isolation. So much of our world relies on the auditory sense, and there are times that not even the best lip-reading skills, sign-language interpreters or hearing aids can overcome the lack of access to information. There are always things like a dimly lit room, making it difficult to lip-read, or being around someone who tells a joke and you don’t catch the whole thing until everyone else is done laughing. It’s not so funny after that.”
Gordon earned his turfgrass management degree from Oregon State University. He has spent much of his professional career at Snoqualmie Ridge, which will host the PGA Tour Champions’ Boeing Classic Aug. 25-27. He started as an assistant there in July 2006, and became superintendent five years ago. Nothing prevented him from advancement, says Josh Heersink, who was a superintendent overseeing Gordon at Snoqualmie Ridge.
“One of his jobs was training new employees. If he had to, he’d go physically show them how it was done,” says Heersink, now a sales representative for WinField Solutions. “It (being deaf) could have been an issue, but he made sure it was not an issue. He had to overcome a lot of things, but he found a way to make it work, and not at the expense of anybody else.”
Snoqualmie Ridge assistant superintendent Cory Fadenrecht can count the ways Gordon impresses him. “He’s very detailed and he’s always thinking two steps ahead. He’s very involved with the crew, always wants us involved, makes sure everybody is in the know,” says Fadenrecht, a seven-year GCSAA member. “He tells me, and all of us, to speak clearly. It takes a few weeks to get used to Ryan and how he communicates; some things are a little harder to understand with his dialect. I tell our guys, ‘If you need to, ask him something twice. He isn’t going to be offended.’”
Snoqualmie Ridge is the only Jack Nicklaus Signature course in Washington. Paul Ramsdell, executive director of the Western Washington GCSA, admires Gordon’s work there.
“Not all Nicklaus courses are superintendent-friendly, but he does a good job making sure it’s well maintained,” says Ramsdell, adding that Gordon is a regular at chapter meetings. “He’s very social. I see him networking with six or eight people, in there with them and communicating.”
Gordon and his wife, Liz, have a son named Knox and a busy life away from Snoqualmie Ridge. “This past year, I have installed a new hot water heater and rebuilt my backyard fence,” he says.
Obviously, Gordon has built quite a following. “I’ve learned that nothing can stand in your way. No obstacle is too big,” Fadenrecht says.
Howard Richman is GCM’s associate editor.