By Mr. Matt Decker (Leonard Wood)May 26, 2016
Gary Groff knows golf. A member of the PGA for more than 28 years, he has run golf courses large and small -- both civilian and military -- in six different countries. And he says there is a lot to like about Piney Valley Golf Course.
"What I like about this course, personally, are the greens," Groff said. "The bent-grass greens offer the best putting surface, and the condition of the greens is really good."
Overall, PVGC offers competitors -- especially those new to the game -- a well-rounded experience, according to Groff.
"The fairways are great. The zoysia-grass fairways we have here, I hadn't worked with a lot. They're different, but they are in very good condition," he said. "It's a fair test of golf. The layout is very fair."
Groff, a certified professional in golf operations with the PGA, has been planning several improvements after taking over management of the course almost exactly one year ago.
The public has only recently been introduced to some of the changes, new events and activities that have been on Groff's drawing board for months, such as Wednesday Night Scramble competitions, "Get Golf Ready" clinics for new players, free golf lessons for active-duty service members and even a completely new sport -- FootGolf -- in which players play golf with soccer balls. All the new activities are not only an attempt to increase interest in the golf course, but also are run with Groff's overriding goal for each activity he manages:
"Making people happy," he said. "The world we live in today is crazy. When people spend money they expect things, and if I can deliver them a happy, enjoyable experience where they can forget about life and play a game, I've done my job."
Love of the game
A native of Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, Groff has had a lifelong love of golf that started when he picked up his first putter around the age of 4.
"My father would go play golf, and eventually he got me a couple of clubs," Groff said.
"What I remember best is that the parents would go to the golf course to have dinner. I would finish early and go down to putt on the practice putting green. I was just fascinated with putting the ball and making it go into the hole. It was just the coolest thing. I could entertain myself for hours," he said.
Although he had some early success as a teenage player, it was after high school and a brief stint in the Delaware Air National Guard that Groff's passion for golf and his professional life intertwined. Over the next 20-plus years, he worked, first as an assistant and then as a manager, at a variety of golf courses. Eventually, thanks to a fateful day in American history, Groff would find himself back on a military base.
"9/11 hit, and I called to see if I could re-enlist," he said. "They said, 'no, you're too old by a couple of years,' and that's when I decided that maybe I could serve as a golf professional. I had worked private, public and resort (golf courses). I had run the whole gamut, but I had never done military."
By early 2002, Groff found himself managing a golf course on a U.S. Marine Corps base in Japan. Four years later, he left to work at an Army golf course at Stuttgart, Germany. Before coming to Fort Leonard Wood, he worked for a Navy golf course at China Lake, California.
"I still haven't done the Air Force yet -- you never know," he said.
He has also managed courses in Indonesia, Malaysia and India.
Coming to Piney Valley Golf Course offered Groff both a chance to work on a course that exhibits both the natural beauty and wildlife of the Ozarks, and also provided a challenge.
"I've been under a test since I've been here," Groff said. "I enjoy a challenge, and that's why I took the job."
'An amazing sport'
Groff keeps a scrapbook in his office. It's filled with newspaper clippings, personal notes and mementos, all of which chronicle his professional golf career. Some are sports articles from his playing days; many are stories about his appointments to different courses. Others are letters from those he has inspired or those who have inspired him.
"The game of golf fascinates me for many reasons," Groff said. "It's social, it's competitive, it's relaxing, it's healthy because of the exercise involved, and it's outdoors. Other activities might offer one or two of those things, but not all of them."
"I can learn a lot about a person playing golf, and I think the game can develop character at any age," he continued. "All players have to play by a set of rules -- do they play by them, or do they break them? Do they cheat on their scorecard, or are they honest with their score? Are they courteous to other golfers? Do they help them look for the ball? There are so many aspects of life on the course. It's just an amazing sport."