Dylan Foster wins the 2023 GCSAA National Championship

Dylan Foster blitzed the field to earn a commanding victory in GCSAA's golf tournament. 


Dylan Foster
Dylan Foster, the assistant superintendent at The Verandah Club in Fort Myers, Fla., captured his first GCSAA National Championship at ChampionsGate Golf Club in Orlando.Photos by Montana Pritchard

To the victor go the spoils. And in the case of Dylan Foster, those spoils include one choice parking spot in front of the maintenance facility at The Verandah Club.

That’s probably not many folks’ idea of a memorable grand prize, but it’s a big deal to others, including Foster, the assistant superintendent at the Fort Myers, Fla., club. It clearly wasn’t the reason he signed up to take part in the 2023 GCSAA National Championship, presented by The Toro Co. But when he won the 2023 event contested at ChampionsGate Golf Club in Orlando in February, that reserved spot for his 2020 Ram 1500 — complete with a sign indicating the spot was “Reserved for GCSAA National Champion Dylan Foster” — turned into one heck of a perk.

“I had no idea they were doing that,” the four-year GCSAA member says. “I got back from the tournament and conference and show, and that was waiting for me in front of the maintenance facility. They also had a big party for me with cake and everything. It was pretty overwhelming.”

Overwhelming, but not necessarily surprising.

Foster had been receiving kudos from all over the golf course management industry since wrapping up a dominating five-shot tournament victory over a pack of contenders that included several past champions and a host of fellow Florida superintendents.

“My parents have probably been the proudest, which has been cool. My wife (Shannon) has been super proud. But it’s been crazy. I had a lot of people come up to me in Orlando to congratulate me. Got a lot of phone calls, a lot of texts. I didn’t realize that many people were paying attention, but they definitely were,” Foster says.

Perhaps the only person who wasn’t paying attention — at least as the moment was unfolding during the final round on ChampionsGate’s International Course — was Foster himself. To keep himself focused on the task at hand, he made a pledge to ignore any leaderboards during the final 18 holes, and for the most part, he stuck to it.

What he missed by employing that strategy was just how dominating his final-round performance was, one unmatched by any of his closest competitors. It turned a one-shot deficit at the start of the day into a five-shot cushion by the time the final putt dropped.

“I was entering our group’s scores into the (Golf Genius) app because I knew my mom was watching the leaderboard, my boss was watching. But I never looked at the scoreboard past that,” Foster says. “I figured something was up when all those people started following our group on 13 or 14. It was funny because when I asked Mike Kelly, who I was riding with, if they were going to follow us the rest of the way, he laughed and said, ‘Oh yeah, they’re going to keep following us.’”

Par-3 shootout
The Par-3 Shootout during the 19th Hole Reception at the Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate attracted big crowds and handed out equally big prizes to the two winners. In total, 504 competitors took part in at least some part of the GCSAA Golf Championships, presented by The Toro Co.

Late bloomer

Foster grew up in Tampa, just north of where he now calls home. His parents, mother LeeAnn and father Don, enjoyed getting out on the golf course, and their offspring dabbled in junior golf, but his real love was baseball, a sport he focused on throughout high school. In Florida, however, that sport requires a year-round commitment for those interested in playing at the college level, and that grind began to wear on Foster. So as a high school senior, he passed on playing fall baseball in favor of golf and quickly showed a propensity for the game, qualifying for the state tournament.

“I decided (golf) was way more interesting than trying to play college baseball somewhere, so that’s when I switched over and started focusing on golf,” he says.

That decision led him to the professional golf management program at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, where he graduated as a Class A PGA professional. He landed at Gulf Harbour Yacht and Country Club in Fort Myers and then tried his hand at tournament golf on a few mini tours in Florida, an experience that produced mixed results at best.

But those mini-tour days also introduced him to the next stage of his career. While playing tournament golf, Foster picked up part-time work with his brother Donnie’s landscaping company to make ends meet. He found he liked the work far more than the work he had been doing as a club pro, so when he finally put the mini tours behind him, he approached the superintendent at Gulf Harbour about switching sides, and the rest is history.

He earned a two-year turfgrass certificate through Penn State’s World Campus program, eventually rose to the position of second assistant at Gulf Harbour under Greg Ethridge, the GCSAA Class A superintendent there and a 23-year GCSAA member, and then moved south, first as an assistant at the Golf Club of the Everglades and a short while later at his current post at The Verandah Club.

Aerial view of Ghost Creek golf course
Foster (center) was joined by GCSAA President Kevin Breen, CGCS, (left) and association CEO Rhett Evans in celebrating his win in the GCSAA National Championship at ChampionsGate Golf Club in Orlando.

Gold-medal game plan

Orlando marked the third time that Foster had competed in the GCSAA National Championship. He had fared reasonably well in his previous tries but hadn’t officially announced himself as a legitimate contender until this year’s first round at ChampionsGate. His 2-over-par 74 put him one shot off the lead, shared by 2016 champion Shawn Westacott from Blessings Golf Club in Fayetteville, Ark., and Edward Martinez from Las Colinas Country Club in Irving, Texas. Also a stroke back following Day One was Adam Sauls, the assistant superintendent at Aurora Hills Golf Course in Aurora, Colo.

Right behind that foursome were several players with well-established championship pedigrees who all finished round one at 3-over-par 75. Among those were five-time winner and defending champion Seth Strickland from Miami Beach (Fla.) Golf Club and Deron Zendt with Fertigation Specialists in Boynton Beach, Fla., who won the crown in 2014 when the event was also contested at ChampionsGate.

Following that first-round performance, Foster was the talk of the rental house he was sharing with eight other Florida superintendents who were also playing in the tournament. He wasn’t the only one in contention for the national title, though, so a consensus emerged that while it didn’t matter exactly who, someone from the house needed to take home the trophy.

“I kept thinking about those conversations and what it would take to win, and I decided that if I just shot even par for the day, that might just get me there,” Foster says. “I just tried to focus on hitting the fairway, hitting the green, two putts and making par. That was my mindset, and I think I did a pretty good job of sticking to that all day during the second round.”

Walk-off win

There was just one catch to turning that plan into reality — Foster was playing way too well to settle for pars. A red-hot putter turned those planned two-putt pars into birdies on the par-5 third hole, the par-4 seventh and the par-5 eighth, which left him at 3 under for the day and 1 under for the tournament at the turn. It wasn’t part of his original plan, to be sure, but he wasn’t about to complain.

And because he was sticking to his vow of not checking the final-round leaderboard, he was unaware that at the same time he was moving forward, the rest of the contenders were racing in the other direction. Among those who entered the day with legitimate championship hopes, Foster was the only one who carded an under-par round on the front nine, meaning the one-shot deficit he faced entering the day had ballooned to a six-shot lead as he entered the back nine, even if Foster didn’t know anything about it.

“I had breakfast with Bryce Koch (CGCS at Cypress Lake Golf Club in Fort Myers and the current president of the Florida GCSA) that morning. He’s a good buddy of mine, a really good player himself, and we were talking about how we approach things, what we think about in a tournament like this one,” Foster says.

“And I really try to not think about anything. I just want to stick to my plan, focus on the next shot and not get too ahead of myself. When I start straying away from that is when I get into trouble. For me, it was just keeping each shot in play then going and hitting it again.”

For the most part, that’s how the final nine holes played out. He wobbled slightly with bogeys on the par-4 10th and par-4 13th but got one of those back with a birdie on the par-5 11th, and with the planned-for pars on the final five holes of the tournament — he lipped out for birdie on 18, which would have given him birdies on all four of the par 5s in the final round — he coasted to his first GCSAA crown.

“By the time we got to 18, I had a pretty good idea I was in the lead, but I had no idea it was five shots,” Foster says. “It was a really cool experience.”

Cornhole game at tournament reception
The networking opportunities during the 2023 GCSAA Golf Championships were just as prominent as the competition, with players enjoying two receptions, the four-ball competition and a scramble tournament.

Chapter champions

Foster didn’t limit his winnings to just the individual crown in the GCSAA Golf Championships. His strong performance helped propel the Florida GCSA No. 1 team to the title in the chapter team gross division competition. Foster was joined by Nathan Carter from White Oak Conservation in Callahan; Walter Chavez from Hollybrook Golf and Tennis Club in Pembroke Pines; and Scott MacPhee from Sailfish Point Golf Club in Palm City in securing that win.

In the net division of the chapter competition, the No. 1 team from the Mid-Atlantic Association of GCS walked away with the crown. Team members were Christopher Harriman from Hermitage Country Club in Manakin Sabot, Va.; Christopher Hinesley, CGCS, from Loudon Golf and Country Club in Leesburg, Va.; Michael Augustin from Belle Haven Country Club in Alexandria, Va.; and Michael King from Army Navy Country Club Arlington (Va.).

The 2023 edition of the GCSAA Golf Championships — presented by Toro for the 29th consecutive year — featured one of the largest fields in the event’s history, with 504 competitors taking part in some or all of the festivities. In addition to the National Championships, the event that preceded the GCSAA Conference and Trade Show included a four-ball competition, scramble and flighted play in the Golf Classic.

Hosting duties for the event were shared by the two courses at ChampionsGate, where Joshua Newman, an eight-year GCSAA member, serves as the GCSAA Class A superintendent, and the Panther Lake and Crooked Cat courses at Orange County National Golf Center and Lodge, where Jason Morris, a 24-year member of the association, is the GCSAA Class A superintendent.

The 2024 GCSAA Golf Championships head to Phoenix Jan. 27-29 in advance of the GCSAA Conference and Trade Show at the Phoenix Convention Center.

Par-3 payoffs

A pair of GCSAA members took home a little something extra from the 2023 GCSAA Golf Championships, presented by The Toro Co., after the Toro Par-3 Shootout, which took place during the 19th Hole Reception on Sunday of tournament week.

Kyle Moses, the superintendent at Tower Tee Golf in St. Louis, won a new Toro Workman GTX Lithium in the main closest-to-the-pin contest with a shot that finished 7 feet from the pin. He qualified to participate in the shootout by pulling off a similar closest-to-the-pin feat during his tournament round earlier Sunday.

In a separate closest-to-the-pin contest for entrants who donated to the GCSAA Foundation, retired superintendent John Newton — who was honored with GCSAA’s Col. John Morley Award later in the week — took home a $500 prize with his 100-yard shot that landed 4 feet, 11 inches from the hole.

Editor’s note: Complete results from the 2023 GCSAA Golf Championships — from the Four-Ball Competition to individual flights and chapter team results — can be viewed online.

Scott Hollister (shollister@gcsaa.org) is GCM’s editor-in-chief.