Golf course maintenance and self maintenance

Fernando Fernandez made a career caring for his work, his education and his family


Fernando Fernandez
Fernando Fernandez Sr. served not just the golf course industry for decades; he also has been a husband and father who made an impact on bettering lives wherever he was stationed. Photo by Harry Harjabrata

The drive for this father and son covered hundreds of highway miles. It also uncovered feelings about what the journey of life represented.

Fernando Fernandez Sr. settled into the passenger seat as his son Hector manned the wheel. The trip from the upper Northeast to Texas was a chance to talk, reminisce and reflect. The revelations included one conversation that resonated for the son. It is a chat that likely has played out for other children, spouses and friends in a similar situation.

“He was struggling with what all the time he spent on the golf course and what it all meant, whether someone cared what he did,” Hector says.

At least two past GCSAA presidents certainly cared. More on them later. For now, though, the focus is on what the elder Fernandez achieved throughout multiple decades. Pretty much all of it was done in a way that those outside of his workplace never knew. Whether he was employed as a mechanic, crew member, assistant superintendent or superintendent, from Massachusetts to Illinois to New Mexico to New Hampshire, Fernandez truly was a caretaker of more than a golf course. His son Andres was born with complications at birth. He also had what is called intellectual disability and epilepsy. Andres was unable to speak, which never changed, and suffered multiple seizures. He could make sounds and facial expressions and attended a school for those with special needs. Fernando Fernandez and his wife, Maribel, who is a teacher’s aide and helps children with disabilities, took him to the Mayo Clinic three times.

Fernando Fernandez, a native of Mexico whose family moved to the Chicago area when he was 14, was a caddie at Skokie (Ill.) Country Club. Four years later, he landed a position on the grounds crew. “I thought it was pretty cool. The greens were beautiful,” he says. “I never expected to make it a career.”

Five decades later, it is evident that he sure did. A 37-year GCSAA member who was a certified golf course superintendent for 25 years, Fernando Fernandez was a superintendent in Illinois at Green Acres Country Club in Northbrook (where he spent more than 13 years and wrote a newsletter article titled “Team Concept Introduced Into Golf Course Management”) and Black Sheep Golf Club in Sugar Grove; Willowbend Country Club in Mashpee, Mass.; Albuquerque (New Mexico) Municipal Golf Courses, where he also was golf management division manager; and most recently Souhegan Woods Golf Club in Amherst, N.H., where he spent nearly 10 years. Being so far away from his wife and Andres during his time in spots like New Mexico was difficult. They stayed behind in Massachusetts to secure the best care for his son. “I knew he was being taken care of, but it was tough on him, tough on everybody,” Fernandez says. “Still, we were with him 24/7.”

Fernando Fernandez
This is one of the many golf courses that Fernandez led as a superintendent, Souhegan Woods Golf Club in Amherst, N.H.

Whether he realizes it or not, the time that Fernandez amassed in his work was applauded. “He was a neighbor of mine in the Chicago area. At the time we had maybe three Hispanic superintendents. For somebody like he did to rise through the ranks was pretty phenomenal,” says Bruce Williams, CGCS, GCSAA president in 1996, owner of Bruce Williams Consulting and 47-year association member. “He maintained the golf course, was well regarded by superintendents in our area. He had a son with challenges. Children that have special needs require special attention, and that means special time. You can’t lay it all on the mother. Superintendents are gone before sunrise, get home after dark. It puts a strain on you. It made it a little more challenging for Fernando. He was up to the challenge in his job and his family.”

Besides supplementing his career by taking night classes and earning a two-year degree in horticulture and turfgrass management from Harper College in Palatine, Ill., Fernandez absorbed all he could from superintendents in that area, such as Williams, brothers Peter and Paul Voykin and Tommy Witt, CGCS. “I got to learn from them about growing grass,” Fernandez says, “and if I had a penny for every time he (Williams) saved my butt, I would be a billionaire.”

Witt, a 42-year association member who was GCSAA president in 2001, had Fernandez on his staff only for a short time, but his effort made an impact. “He did what he had to do for his family — put them above jobs or places he might have wanted to go, put them and others first. He’s a giving guy,” Witt says.

He’s a stand-up father, too. “Dad took the time to teach me and my brother (Fernando Jr.) baseball and how to throw correctly,” says Hector, “and he taught us what it takes to succeed. Both me and Fernando (Jr.) graduated from college. They (parents) took out loans to help pay for it. They provided for us.”

After retiring last October, Fernando Fernandez and his wife moved to Forney, Texas. The adjustment, mentioned by Hector, hasn’t been easy. “When spring comes, an internal clock of 50 years says it’s time to go back to the golf course,” Fernando Fernandez says. “I’ve been doing some things — side jobs, working on fences. There are some golf courses around here. Maybe I can find something there and teach some people what I learned, maybe do some mechanics or change cups.”

Time marches on. The Fernandez family has moved forward without their son Andres, who passed away in 2016 at 30. Their memories of him never fade. The family takes the day off on his birthday in his honor. “Hector and Fernando (Jr.) are better people because of him. They’re more patient and understanding. So is my wife and me. I don’t think we did anything for him that most people wouldn’t have done. We did what we had to do for him. My son had no choice,” Fernando Fernandez says.

And maybe, just maybe, in time the father will come to see that his golf life really did have value according to those who knew him best. If anything, Fernando Fernandez took his best shot at it. “I’m proud of what I’ve done. I loved what I did, sticking with it. I didn’t do it to get a medal,” he says.

Howard Richman is GCM's associate editor