Skaneateles Country Club begins with a par 3 playing parallel to Skaneateles Lake, the highest and cleanest of New York’s Finger Lakes. Wind whips off the lake on an early October afternoon, making it challenging to hear Alan Hammond speak during a greenside conversation.
Only three weeks remain in Hammond’s shorter-than-expected tenure as the club’s golf course superintendent. During his four years in the Finger Lakes, he molded a team into a high-energy unit, meshed with the membership, created environments for firm Poa annua/bentgrass playing surfaces, and opened sweeping views of the lake.
The conversation at the hole where members begin rounds is about an ending. Hammond’s final day at Skaneateles Country is Oct. 22. He’s heading to another course on a larger body of water in a larger city where the wind whips much faster. Hammond is returning to his native Ireland to begin a dream job as links manager at The Royal Dublin Golf Club.
Hammond visited Royal Dublin this past summer to interview for a job vacated by the retirement of head greenkeeper Paddy Keeling. Upon reaching the first green of the 146-year-old club’s Harry Colt-designed course, he turned around and stared into Dublin Bay. The south Dublin neighborhood of his youth lurked across choppy waters. “It was a full circle moment in my career,” he says. “I thought, ‘If I get this job, I’m going to take it.’”
Royal Dublin offered Hammond the job in late July. He accepted it. He then needed to tell Skaneateles Country Club general manager and personal friend Zach Maslyn he was leaving a great job for a dream job. Hammond’s wife, Rachel, urged him to speak with Maslyn and submit his resignation letter immediately. Hammond approached Maslyn after his team finished preparing the course for the first day of the club’s member-guest tournament.
“It killed me,” Hammond says. “I’m a sentimental kind of guy. I care a lot about what people think and what they think of me. I know I was respected here at the club, and to drop that on them. Rachel told me, ‘You’re going to dwell on it, you just have to do it.’ I brought them my letter and Zach was shocked. At the end of the conversation, he said, ‘I’m really disappointed in the situation, but I’m not disappointed in you.’ He couldn’t have said it any better. He didn’t want me to leave, but at the same time he understood that you’re trying to better yourself.”
Returning to Ireland will reunite Hammond with his parents, Nick and Sandra, and three brothers. Nick’s words were a big factor behind Hammond uprooting multiple times to advance his career. “My dad always told us that complacency is a disease,” Hammond says. “If you are complacent, you are finished. It makes sense. Now that I look back, he was so right.”
Hammond fell for golf course maintenance as a teenager, working as the lone teenager on a four-person crew at Foxrock Golf Club, a 9-holer in Dublin. He positioned himself for a quick ascent by earning a turfgrass management degree from Harper Adams University in the United Kingdom, spending a year as an intern at Berkeley Hall in Bluffton, South Carolina, and landing his first fulltime job at Ireland’s highly regarded Adare Manor. After three years as a greenkeeper at Adare Manor, Hammond realized he wanted more than what the club offered.
“It came down to a ceiling there,” he says. “I was asking more questions, I wanted to come in earlier, I wanted to stay later, and it was basically, ‘You have a role here.’ Reading between the lines, if you wanted more, you had to go somewhere else.”
The career development and advancement opportunities Hammond sought resided in a different country. He enrolled in Ohio State’s international program managed by Mike O’Keefe and moved to the United States as 26-year-old to work at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, New York. Oak Hill featured 36 holes, a major championship pedigree and Poa annua/bentgrass playing surfaces. Manager of golf courses and grounds Jeff Corcoran’s demanding and fulfilling turf program was designed to produce high-level conditions and future leaders.
“My life changed at that moment,” says Hammond, who lived in employee housing in nearby Fairport. “The first day I was at Oak Hill, I was like, ‘This is an actual real professional. These guys care so much. They are bringing everything. They are into it.’ I hadn’t seen that, and I loved that.”
Hammond’s life also changed off the course. He met Rachel while working at Oak Hill. Hammond moved to suburban Cleveland to become one of former Oak Hill co-worker Mike LoPresti’s assistant superintendents at Canterbury Golf Club. Rachel moved with him to Northeast Ohio and the couple got married and had their first child. Skaneateles Country Club hired Hammond in late 2017 and Rachel gave birth to the couple’s second child last year. Her hometown of Victor, New York, is 50 miles from Skaneateles. Hammond emphasized to Rachel he wasn’t aggressively seeking a new job. Fewer than 70 courses worldwide hold a “Royal” designation, including just two in Ireland. Opportunities at clubs with reputations comparable to Royal Dublin are rare.
“Rachel knows if I’m happy at work, then our family is happy,” Hammond says. “She knows how passionate I am about it, how energetic I am, and I that I don’t want to work somewhere just for a job, because that’s going to affect the family. She’ asked, ‘Is this what you want?’ I told her, ‘This is what I want.’ She said, ‘Then, there’s no decision to make. I will follow you wherever you want to go.’”
The family begins a new life next month. There will be adjustments away from the course — Dublin is more crowded and has a higher cost of living — but Hammond is excited about his parents getting to know their grandkids. On the course, Hammond must learn a new team, reacclimate himself to fescue playing surfaces and prepare for a bunker renovation. He reports to Royal Dublin as an employee for the first time Nov. 1.
“I’m going to be proud,” he says. “I left Dublin 18 years ago to basically try and get a job like this.”
Guy Cipriano is Golf Course Industry’s editor-in-chief.