By Eddie Southards
Brad Kocher took control of golf course and grounds management at Pinehurst Resort in 1984.
It was a tough time for the resort. It had just come out of bankruptcy with a new owner. Shag carpeting graced the once-proud Carolina Hotel, and Pinehurst No. 2 was just a shadow of its former self.
Since then, two highly rated golf courses, No. 7 and No. 8, have been added to the resort, and No. 2 has hosted two U.S. Opens and a U.S. Amateur. The maintenance staff has doubled to more than 200 people in the summer, and the annual maintenance budget is nearly $7 million.
Kocher, who played a major role in the turnaround, will retire Dec. 31 after 24 years on the job.
“It’s been very rewarding to help bring Pinehurst to the potential it had all along,” Kocher said. “Watching it grow from a property that struggled at times to a resort with an incredible golf development and resort operation gives me great satisfaction.”
The biggest challenge for Kocher at the start was restoring Pinehurst No. 2 to a world-class golf course.
“We had to hone in pretty quickly what the golf course needed when we came,” Kocher said. “We had to improve the grasses and the irrigation. The greens are a big deal and keeping the contours the way they were meant to be.”
But no major changes were needed to the jewel of Donald Ross designs. As Kocher likes to put it, “You don’t want to put a paintbrush to the Mona Lisa.”
When No. 2 was back in prime shape, the USGA was invited to take a look and consider the course as the site for a U.S. Open. The USGA liked what it saw and in 1999, Pinehurst hosted its first Open.
The event went so well that the Open returned just six years later in 2005. It will be back again in 2014.
“I felt pretty confident we would get an Open,” Kocher said. “I didn’t know one would come back so quickly. To have three in 15 years is pretty remarkable, if not unprecedented.
“The playability and design of No. 2 were always there,” he said. “We were able to improve the grass and get the conditioning right so that you could hold a major tournament in June.
“It’s very rewarding to watch today’s golfers come onto No. 2 and speak about it the way they do. We can test the best players in the world, and then we can turn it back into a course that members and guests can enjoy.”
Kocher, 60, has been in the golf business since he was 12 years old, when he worked at his father’s driving range. When he says goodbye next week, he prefers to call it “my graduation,” not a retirement.
“I’m just evolving into the next phase,” he said. “I’ve still got a lot of energy.”
He plans to continue teaching a course at Sandhills Community College in turf and golf course management. He’s also active in the Pinehurst community, serving on several committees.
One person who’s glad he’s retiring is his wife, Beth, who retired as the vice president at Pinehurst Resort in 2006.
“She’s happy and anxious that I’m retiring,” he said. “We’re going to live here. This is home to us. But now we’ll be able to spend more time with family in Florida and Ohio.”
There’s one more thing Kocher will take with him next week.
“There is a culture of pride at Pinehurst and it has been developed in me,” he said.