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Living Legends

Frank Dobie: Redefining success after more than 50 years

Posted 01 March 2017 · 1,216 views

Don't bother checking an episode of America's Most Wanted to locate Frank Dobie, and there is no need to scan those posters hanging on the wall in the post office, either. As a matter of fact, Dobie just might be the easiest person to locate in all of golf.

 
Dobie, 76, is the country's longest-tenured golf course superintendent. He has been a greenkeeper since 1961 when JFK still was in the White House. And he has worked at his current job, as superintendent and general manager of Sharon Golf Club in Sharon Center, Ohio, since construction began on the George Cobb design in 1964. 
 
For some added perspective, in 1964: Ford first unveiled the Mustang, the average cost of a gallon of gas was 30 cents, the Dow Jones Industrial Average had a year-end close of 874, President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, the U.S. Congress formally authorized the war against North Vietnam, and The Beatles came to America for the first time and had the year's top song with I Want to Hold Your Hand.
 
Just how does someone survive 56 years in the same industry and 53 years at the same job?
 
Simple, says Dobie.
 
"You have to create advocates every year, people who will back you up, be proactive and positive," Dobie said. "There is always someone who doesn't like you. I have my detractors, I've had them all these years, but the advocates drown them out. Our membership police that, so I don't have to defend myself."
 
Dobie never had a greater advocate at Sharon than the late M.G. O'Neil, the former General Tire and Rubber executive who was the club's president for 46 years until he died in 2009. 
 
"He told me 'I don't want to talk to a bunch of people. I want you in charge of the whole program: general manager and superintendent,' " Dobie said. "I was general manager from Day 1 at age 24. I didn't know finance or food service. He asked me 'Can you grow grass.' I said 'yes,' and he told me 'we'll teach you all you need to know about the other things.' "
 
O'Neil's finance lessons were simple: "Don't spend more money than what you have to spend," Dobie said.
 
It sounds simple, but being frugal has helped Sharon remain healthy financially during troubled times.
 
"Every year since 1966 when it opened, the club always made a profit," he said. "There has never been an assessment on members, never been a deficit.
 
"We waited for stuff. We didn't pave the parking lot for the first 17 years. It evolved slowly, but we were always fiscally sound, and it's one of the reasons why to this day we have a full membership."

 

I've always said the only way I'd leave was if I was not being paid enough, I didn't like the people I work with or if I was not being challenged. I'm still getting all those things."

 

O'Neil was more than just a mentor to Dobie.
 
"He always told board members not to get involved in operations. Their job was to establish club policy, raise dues, and things like that," Dobie said. "He always told me that one of his biggest jobs was watching my back," he said.
 
A 1960 graduate of Penn State's two-year turfgrass management program, Dobie counts Joe Duich, Ph.D., and former Bob O'Link superintendent Bob Williams, among his mentors. Ironically, Williams's son, Bruce Williams, CGCS, in turn, was one of Dobie's former interns.
 
Dobie has been giving back to his profession almost since the day he started at Sharon. He's been on the board of directors of the Musser International Turfgrass Foundation since 1969, and has been its president since 1988.
 
To further illustrate just how long Dobie's career at Sharon has been, he recently hired a retired teacher who used to work on his crew decades ago, to tend bar.
 
Dobie has had plenty of opportunities to find greener fairways elsewhere, including a job offer from Augusta National.
 
"I've always said the only way I'd leave was if I was not being paid enough, I didn't like the people I work with or if I was not being challenged," he said. "I'm still getting all those things."

 

He challenged you every day. He'd always ask you quick questions and quiz you. It was the best place I could have worked.

 

Being challenged was why Jason Mahl chose Sharon for his internship after he graduated from Ohio State ATI in 2000. He had offers from bigger clubs, with more staff, but he chose Sharon because of the lower superintendent-to-intern ratio.
 
"He was well known, but I knew all about him, because we took a field trip there when I was at ATI," Mahl said. "It was always in the back of my head that it would be a good place to go and learn.
 
"He challenged you every day. He'd always ask you quick questions and quiz you. It was the best place I could have worked."
 
Frank Dobie's bunker construction method has been working for him since the 1960s.
A true innovator, Dobie developed his own bunker construction method in 1967 and says he is the first superintendent to use a bunker liner. Any changes to bunkers at Sharon since it opened have been either to enlarge, shrink add or remove them. None have been rebuilt due to failure of his system, In fact, a fairway bunker on No. 18 is the original bunker Dobie built in 1967.
 
Dobie also has been an innovator of nutrition, which, he says, has helped him prolong his career.
 
He eats only organic foods, never takes any sort of medication, "not even aspirin," and takes about 14 vitamins and supplements each day, including things like krill oil (for Omega 3 fatty acids), alfalfa (to ward off arthritis) and coral calcium for overall plant, err, bone and joint health.
 
He views supplements the same way superintendents look at some of the products they apply to turf.
 
"When the turf is calcium or potassium deficient, you add things that make the plant healthier and less susceptible to disease," he said. 
 
"I can't prove it works, but when I take them, I'm healthier and less prone to disease."
 
More than 50 years of success don't lie.

 



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