One of the unique things about a PGA Championship is that the Championship Director will move to the host site and live there for almost two years before the event. That person is the top representative of the PGA of America for any of the organization’s championships.
The Director becomes a part of the community in many ways. The bond with Rochester ends up so strong that, when Bryan Karns was re-assigned from the 2023 PGA to the event this year at Southern Hills, he was a little bit unhappy.
Even though Tulsa is his hometown.
“The first feeling I had was just sadness that I wasn’t going to go back to Rochester, I kid you not,” Karns said. “I saw a lot of the (Oak Hill) group last night (in Tulsa). I almost got emotional seeing them. I was just like, ‘I’m sorry!’.”
Karns is one of four men who have taken up residence in Rochester as a part of their job to conduct a major championship at Oak Hill. The others are Bob Jeffrey (2003 PGA Championship), Todd Alfred (2008 Senior PGA Championship) and Ryan Cannon (2013 PGA Championship).
The connection to Rochester manifests itself in a variety of memories.
“I lived up in Webster. I remember Wegmans. I miss Wegmans so much,” Jeffrey said. “You can’t duplicate that anywhere.”
“My wife and I had never been to Rochester. My wife was pregnant with our daughter Lucy and she was born at Strong,” Alfred said. “To this day, she still says, ‘dad, I’m a New Yorker’.”
“There’s a fraternity that talks about Thirsty’s and Oak Hill and playing and everything about that venue,” Karns said. “It’s such a special place and I just feel fortunate to have been there for two years.”
It’s not just Rochester that builds a bond. The membership at Oak Hill Country Club is incredibly welcoming. Each of the Championship Directors tell stories about members inviting their families to their homes for holidays, special meals at the club and how quickly they were embraced. Oak Hill often grants a membership for the Directors and they say that’s not something every club will do.
Usually, families come with the Directors to their new home while on a assignment. It can obviously be a difficult situation. Karns says there are situations that can make it a struggle to get up for work every day. Oak Hill is just the opposite.
“My favorite course in the world is actually Oak Hill East,” Jeffery said. “I love it. The design there is fantastic. The members are great. They made me feel like I was part of it and they made sure that me and my family were welcome to it.”
Oak Hill also impressed these PGA of America executives with the club’s drive.
“They push the envelope. They push hard and they’re passionate about their golf course. They’re the best in class,” Alfred said. “When I arrived in Rochester, they wanted to know how the event did last year and then, how they could do more.”
Even though Jeffrey was the only one of the group to live in Webster, each felt the people of Rochester very much made their two years of championship directing life worth living.
“They’re very genuine. We were so comfortable there. We were completely ingrained in the community. We would go to the Children’s Museum all the time. Dinosaur Barbecue,” Alfred said. “The (Oak Hill) leadership that’s still running the 2023 PGA, I consider them lifelong friends.”
All but Cannon still work for the PGA of America. That means all three will get a chance to renew all those friendships in person when the PGA Championship returns to Oak Hill next May.