Brian Stiehler had a normal, trouble-free childhood, with one
exception: He was hooked on grass, an addiction that began when
he was five. That's when Brian, with the assistance of his
father, John, first mowed the Stiehlers' 30,000-square-foot yard
in Reading, Pa. At 13 Brian took up golf and the next summer got
a job at Exeter Golf Club, a public track in Reading. He liked
the work so much that he brought it home. Using sprinklers,
mowers and an aeration machine, Brian turned his family's lawn
into a showplace, replete with double-cut, diagonally striped
patterns. In the 10th grade Brian told his parents that he wanted
to become a golf course superintendent. "You want to do what?"
shrieked his father, an electrical engineer. "There is no way you
can make a living cutting grass."
Almost a decade later John Stiehler has happily eaten his words.
Superintendents at top clubs can earn more than $200,000 a year,
and Brian, the green-thumbed prodigy, is recognized as a hot
prospect in the intensely competitive superintendent industry.
"Brian has separated himself with a do-whatever-it-takes work
ethic," says Brad Owen, the super at Augusta National, where
Brian has worked as an intern since January. "He has all the
ingredients to reach the pinnacle of this profession."
Stiehler, 22, is a senior in Penn State's turfgrass science
program with a 3.8 GPA. Outside the classroom he has built a
glittering resume. He spent the summer after his senior year of
high school as a member of the grounds crew at Reading Country
Club. To secure his next position, Stiehler drove 275 miles to
Oakmont Country Club near Pittsburgh and showed up, unannounced,
at the office of the superintendent, Mark Kuhns. Stiehler went
home with a job, which he held during the summers of 1997 and
During his second summer at Oakmont, Stiehler again became
restless, so he made a list of 10 top courses and sent a resume
to each. Augusta and St. Andrews both offered him half-year
internships. In May 1999, after he began a year's leave of
absence from Penn State, Stiehler and Hilary Folk, then his
fiancee and now his wife, flew to Scotland. The 14 members of the
crew at St. Andrews adopted Stiehler as one of their own, and
Hilary found work as a waitress and maid at the St. Andrews
Hotel. The couple also fell in love with the quaint village.
Stiehler was shocked by the ancient maintenance methods employed
at St. Andrews. Instead of cleaning greens with motorized
blowers, the St. Andrews crew uses wood-handled, straw-bladed
"witches brooms" exactly like those used by Old Tom Morris 135
years ago. Also, sand for top-dressing the greens comes not from
prepackaged bags but from West Sands beach, seashells and all.
Stiehler's most important task was to assist in rebuilding the
Old Course's 112 bunkers in preparation for next week's British
Open. Stiehler and deputy greenkeeper Billy Nicol were assigned
the 2nd, 6th and 17th holes, and reconstructing the famous bunker
on the left side of the green at the Road Hole took three days.
"It'll be bittersweet watching the Open on TV," Stiehler says. "I
poured my heart into that course. I wish I had enough money to go
back and work the tournament."
Stiehler's stint at Augusta has been as rewarding as his tenure
at St. Andrews, but much different. There's nothing informal
about the National, where the 55-person crew adheres to a dress
code--khakis and collared shirts--and proper diction is required.
"I once asked a member if I should mow the rough," says Stiehler.
"He replied, 'No, but you can do the second cut.'"
During the Masters, Stiehler mowed greens on the front nine. That
gave him a glimpse of the public's obsession with the National.
One day after he had cut the 2nd green, a man asked Stiehler if
he could take a cup full of grass clippings, and while Steihler
was mowing the 4th green, another man scurried into a bunker and
filled his pocket with sand. "I felt like telling him a big pile
of sand was in the parking lot," says Stiehler, "but he wouldn't
have appreciated it."
Between work and school Stiehler hasn't had much downtime, but he
doesn't care. "Heck, we just had employee day at Augusta, and I
played 63 holes with my dad. We did Amen Corner three times," he
says. "The way I see it, my life is a vacation."
COLOR PHOTO: GREG FOSTER Stiehler's dream job: course superintendent.