Back for more: Kevin Breen returns as GCSAA president

Breen, CGCS, is bringing a familiar to-do list and level of enthusiasm 
to a second year as president.


Kevin Breen
Kevin Breen, CGCS, during the Sunrise Celebration at last month’s GCSAA Conference and Trade Show in Orlando. Photo by Montana Pritchard

Going above and beyond in the name of industry service is nothing new to Kevin Breen, CGCS.

From serving on a student GCSAA chapter at Colorado State University to leadership roles at various affiliated chapters throughout the state of California and nearly a decade of service on GCSAA’s national board of directors that was to culminate with his year as GCSAA president in 2022, Breen has time and time again demonstrated his dedication to giving back to a business that has given him so much.

But even he’d admit the developments of the last six months have forced him to take that dedication to another level. Instead of easing into the final year of his GCSAA board service, Breen, the superintendent at La Rinconada Country Club in Los Gatos, Calif., is doubling down with a second consecutive year as GCSAA president. It makes Breen the first GCSAA member to serve two terms in the association’s top volunteer role since Marshall E. Farnham in 1946 and 1947, and one of just four to serve multiple years as president in association history.

The unusual back-to-back presidential years were set into motion when Kevin Sunderman, CGCS — who had been GCSAA vice president while working as the superintendent at Isla del Sol Yacht and Country Club in St. Petersburg, Fla. — took the job as GCSAA’s chief operating officer last October (see “Changing course” on Page 46 of the December 2022 edition of GCM). As a result, Breen ran for a second term as president, with Mark F. Jordan, CGCS, doing the same for the role as immediate past president. Both were elected to those posts at the annual meeting and election during the 2023 GCSAA Conference and Trade Show in Orlando last month.

GCM sat down with Breen to discuss the unusual circumstances behind his second year in office, what went into his decision to run again, what lessons he learned in Year One that will aid him during Year Two and what GCSAA members can expect from him and the board in the coming 12 months.

GCM: What were your initial thoughts when first approached about serving a second term as GCSAA president? What key questions did you have to answer before agreeing to run for office again and ultimately serve for another 12 months?

Kevin Breen: My initial feeling was enthusiasm to continue the work we began during COVID. A lot of hard decisions were made in that time period to keep the association strong, and to see those come to fruition as we came out of the pandemic was very compelling. The key questions for me were, first, my enthusiasm for another year. Second was my wife’s positive reaction to the idea, since your presidential year has a big impact on your family. Third was my employer, who has worked with me to build a structure where we are both successful during my service time. And fourth was my staff’s willingness to continue to take on additional duties that arise. All these entities stepped up for me to represent the superintendent profession and GCSAA. There is a lot of credit and thanks to spread around, and all these teams have made it work.

GCM: Are there advantages to having a former board member serving in a leadership role at GCSAA in terms of aligning the strategic work of the board and the day-to-day work of the staff?

KB: Kevin Sunderman was an outstanding board member who sacrificed his presidential year for a new professional milestone as COO. His talents and level of commitment will benefit the golf industry for many years to come, and I am very happy for him and his family. Having 20 years of experience as a superintendent, combined with his service to local, regional and national superintendent associations, is a big plus for GCSAA members and staff. We saw the impact that Shelia Finney had when she brought her superintendent perspective to GCSAA (as senior director, member programs), and no doubt Kevin will have a similar positive impact.

GCM: Will your priorities in Year Two match the ones that you brought into your first year in office? Any areas that will get increased attention now that you have the benefit of extra time?

KB: My priorities have remained the same, and they are pretty simple. Check the ego at the door, work collaboratively to make everyone successful, be proactive in our thinking, and deal with strategy and not operations. Now having said that, there are obvious initiatives that are underway that will get increased attention. The industry’s labor shortage is being addressed through our work with the FFA, our First Green program, our new relationship with the Warrior Alliance and Operation Double Eagle, our diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, and GCSAA education that facilitates staff members’ career advancement. We’re focused on resource retention through our memorandum of understanding with the EPA, the association’s government affairs work and the Grassroots Ambassador program, and participation in water summits throughout the drought-stricken West. We’re also promoting our profession through the message that the golf course maintenance staff is “essential” to the game of golf; we were deemed essential during COVID, and we are today. If we stick to facilities being, first and foremost, about golf, I believe we can retain players and keep net revenue strong. I could go on because there is so much to be done that I am passionate about, but these are the highlights for me this coming year.

GCM: What lessons did you learn during your first year in office that you think will inform and assist you this year as you lead the board and the association?

KB: In your presidential year, you are exposed to so many industry leaders who you begin to form relationships with, and then you go on your way. Rhett (Evans, GCSAA CEO) does an incredible job, and he is the rock of GCSAA around these relationships. My intention is to fortify those relationships alongside Rhett to elevate GCSAA and our shared industry initiatives. Too often, golf associations are not working together as well as they could — that doesn’t benefit the golf industry and the end user, the player. My hope is that I can help foster those relationships that benefit the industry, and not just superintendents, because if the industry is strong, then so are superintendents and GCSAA.

GCM: You are starting your ninth year of GCSAA board service. How have you seen the association and the industry change between that first year and today? What accomplishments are you most proud of in that time?

KB: Since I came onto the board in 2015, very little is the same. Our world has changed tremendously, with the significance of labor shortages and a new focus on work-life balance. This has not been an easy time to be a board member, and I am proud of the courageous decisions made to continue to invest in GCSAA. When revenues were not strong during COVID, investments in staff, programs and services were made that involved trust that GCSAA would grow members, and folks would come back to the conference and trade show. I am so happy that we made those decisions to invest, as membership numbers now approach 20,000, a milestone not reached since 2008. Also, the recently concluded GCSAA Conference and Trade Show numbers were near prepandemic marks. As for the biggest changes since I have been on the board, I think our investments in labor recruitment programs will pay off, but it is going to take some time. The work-life balance component is something that was overdue in our profession, and I think it will be key to attracting the next generations of superintendents.

GCM: You are not the only board member to commit to an additional year of service. Mark F. Jordan, CGCS, agreed to run for and serve a second term as immediate past president. How will you and the rest of the board utilize his experience and expertise in the coming year?

KB: Mark and I have always had a great relationship, and I am so happy to be serving another year alongside him. His detailed, thorough approach to problem-solving and his message of inclusion have been invaluable. He is unique in what he brings to the board, and I am so happy to have him continue. Having myself and Mark as seasoned veterans provides guidance through our experiences to the board members who came on during COVID, where they missed many of those experiences that are necessary before reaching the officer positions.

GCM: A year ago, a minor health issue prevented you from taking part in the festivities and pomp and circumstance that surround the election of the new GCSAA board in person. How rewarding was it to have the opportunity to experience all that this year in Orlando?

KB: I did not know how much I was missing last year until this year at the annual meeting, when I found myself a little emotional. That meeting is the culmination of 20 years of volunteer service, eight of those years as a GCSAA board member. While at the podium leading the meeting, I looked out at the delegates who trust me to represent them, the past presidents who have done it themselves, staff who make us all successful, and my wife, Lori, who has shared this journey … I was moved. Being escorted to the front of the stage by the past presidents after the election is something that I will never forget. I am a lucky man to have retained my eyesight and to come back to experience another year as president.