Oakmont Country Club in Oakmont, Pennsylvania, is one of America’s top golf courses with a rich history, and a Maine man is the head golf professional there.
Devin Gee, 28, who grew up in Newport and graduated from Nokomis High, started working at Oakmont as a summer intern as part of his Professional Golf Management Program at Methodist College in Fayetteville, North Carolina, and has stayed there, gradually working his way up to his current position.
“It’s an opportunity of a lifetime,” said Gee, taking time for an interview on a busy Friday afternoon at Oakmont.
“I hope to be here for the rest of my career. If that happens, it would be a dream come true,” he said.
Gee has worked for longtime Oakmont head pro Bob Ford and also with him at Seminole Golf Club in Juno Beach, Florida, during the winter. When it was announced late last year that Ford, 60, who has been at Oakmont since 1979, was scaling back some of his duties with plans to retire following the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont, Gee replaced him as head professional while Ford was named director of golf.
“I’ve been very fortunate to have Bob Ford as a mentor and to follow him,” said Gee.
“I’m very lucky from a timing standpoint. The next couple of years will be a transition period.”
Gee played golf at Nokomis where he called himself “a better than average player.”
“I became a better player at Methodist and played on the team my junior and senior seasons,” said Gee.
Methodist is one of the top Division III programs in the country. It won nine out of 10 Division III national titles from 1990 to 1999.
In his first summer internship, Gee worked at the Falmouth Country Club. He moved to Oakmont the next summer.
“I really haven’t known any other place since leaving high school,” he said.
Gee said his duties at Oakmont are “really the same as any other head professional.”
“I run the entire golf operation at the club,” he said.
“It’s a very busy place with some very good players. It’s a country club so we have a lot families who are looking for a place for their kids to grow up. I do a lot of teaching and play a little with the members. We have a strong junior program.”
Gee also finds time to play competitively. He will play in his third PGA Professional National Championship in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, starting on June 22.
Oakmont, located just outside of Pittsburgh, has 450 golfing members. It has hosted 20 national championships, included an unprecedented eight men’s U.S. Opens. The ninth will be played in two years.
“We’ve had United States Golf Association officials on site. They won’t have to change much except adding length to the rough,” said Gee.
Gee will be in Pinehurst, North Carolina, on Sunday to observe preparations for next month’s Open. For the first time in history, the men’s and women’s Open will be held on the same course, Pinehurst’s No. 2, in back-to-back weeks.
“As soon as the 2015 U.S. Open ends, it really becomes our tournament,” said Gee.
Next year’s tournament will be played at Chambers Bay GC, near Tacoma, Washington.
Oakmont has always been regarded as one of the most challenging Open courses. The greens are extremely quick. Oakmont members like to say that they slow them down for the Open.
“I think it’s one of the most difficult driving courses and the fairway bunkers are the most penal in golf,” he said.
Oakmont has the famous Church Pews bunker between the third and fourth holes.
In the 2013-14 Golf Digest rankings of the 100 greatest courses in America, Oakmont is ranked fifth. It ranks 10th in the magazine’s top 100 courses in the world.
Oakmont is considered the back yard of Arnold Palmer, who grew up and still lives in nearby Latrobe, Pennsylvania. Gee said Palmer drops by Oakmont from time to time.
“He’s the greatest,” said Gee of Palmer.
“There’s no one like him and there will never be anyone like him. Arnie is the ambassador of golf,” he said.
Palmer chose Oakmont to be his last U.S. Open in 1994 and then had an emotional press conference following his final round.
TEE TO GREEN: The Maine Chapter of the New England PGA will hold a Family Golf Night Thursday at Hadlock Field before the Sea Dogs game. There will be a chipping contest on the field for children, with the winner throwing out the first pitch to start the baseball game. There will be a Taylor Made launch monitor for a long drive contest and representatives from area golf courses will have booths with information about their courses.
The Maine Junior Golf Initiative strives to inform junior golfers of playing opportunities in the state. The Maine State Golf Association, the Maine Chapter of the NEPGA and The First Tee of Maine have joined forces to form the program. Through the Junior Golf of Maine website, juniors (boys and girls) can find out about tournaments to play in, according to region and ability. The state is divided into eight regions for the program. There are also links to find out about qualifying sites for national tournaments, such as the Drive, Chip and Putt Championship – those finals were held this year at Augusta National Golf Club. The website is www.juniorgolfmaine.com.
The MSGA, the Maine Chapter and The First Tee of Maine are sponsoring Maine State Family Golf Day on Sunday, June 1, from noon to 5 p.m. Billed as a fun and free introductory golf experience, it gives newcomers a chance to play a few holes, putt and chip and get acclimated to the sport while finding out more about the golf course and meeting the golf pro and the staff. Activities include a free five-minute lesson from the golf pro, a putting contest, a chipping contest, a treasure hunt and a chance for a free round of golf.
Participating courses are Bangor Municipal, Boothbay Harbor GC, Dunegrass CC, Gorham CC, J.W. Parks GC, Natanis GC, Nonesuch River GC, Poland Springs GC, Purpoodock Club, Riverside GC, Sanford CC, Springbrook GC, Toddy Brook, The Ledges GC, Waterville CC and The Woodlands Club.
Dana Hinchliffe of Portland has been selected to represent Maine at The First Tee Life Skills and Leadership Academy in San Diego on July 23-29. Hinchliffe, an eighth-grader at King Middle School, has participated in The First Tee of Maine program at Riverside GC for the past four years. Hinchliffe applied for the Leadership Academy with others from The First Tee of Maine. They had to submit an essay on a golf- and community-related experience. He will join more than 90 junior golfers ages 13-17 at the national event. They will have the opportunity to develop and hone skills first learned at their First Tee chapters from the top coaches nationwide in the First Tee program.
The First Tee program uses golf to teach nine core values – honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility, perseverance, courtesy and judgment.
There are still openings for this summer’s First Tee program at Riverside GC and at other courses. For more information on statewide programs, go to www.thefirstteemaine.org. For the Riverside program, you can also go to www.portlandrec.com.
The entry deadline for the 95th men’s Maine Amateur Championship is June 5. The tournament is July 8-10 at The Woodlands Club in Falmouth. Players who are already in the tournament still have to submit an entry and a check for $140. There will be three qualifying tournaments to determine the rest of the field – June 19 at Biddeford-Saco CC, June 24 at Brunswick GC, and June 26 at Penobscot CC.
The entry fee for those trying to qualify is $55. Those who qualify must pay an extra $85 for the championship.
Staff Writer Tom Chard can be reached at 791-6419 or at: