by Jeff Shelley
Over my 32 years as a golf writer I’ve met hundreds of interesting people, some notable for their accomplishments and others for their charismatic personalities. They’ve ranged from the famous (Fred Couples, Tiger Woods, Arnold Palmer and Tom Doak, to name a few) to Northwest legends (Bill Tindall, Loren Lippert, Kent Myers, George Jonson, Anne Quast Sander, et al), and many unsung head pros and golf course superintendents who have become central figures in their local circles.
There also are those who always remember your name, perform their jobs ably and, justifiably, ascend the ranks of their chosen profession. These include rare birds like Brady Hatfield, who has not only influenced those closest to him but the people in his community. The general manager at Gamble Sands in north-central Washington somehow manages to wear three hats due to an impressive résumé that lists gigs as a head pro, superintendent and general manager at several notable golf facilities.
And he’s doing all this while trying to keep brain cancer at bay and stay alive.
The native of Augusta, Maine, was born into the golf profession. After working 40-plus years at Augusta Country Club, Brady’s father, Peter Hatfield, retired but still teaches at his home course. Hatfield senior is a member of the Maine Golf Hall of Fame and enjoys a lifetime membership at his club in homage to decades of service.
“He is the reason I aspired to become a golf professional, even though I didn’t fully commit until my senior year of high school,” Brady admits. “But I always looked up to him, and the way that he was appreciated and beloved by the membership. For a long time, I actually steered away from it, because I never thought I’d be able to fill the shoes of a golf professional like he did.”
But fit into those paternal shoes Brady has, starting when he went to work for OB Sports in 1992 at Angel Park in Las Vegas. That was followed by stints at Langdon Farms outside Portland, Trophy Lake in Port Orchard (which he opened), Sunriver (as an assistant superintendent), Alderbrook on Hood Canal (general manager), Suncadia near Cle Elum (which he also opened, and served as director of golf), and now Gamble Sands.
While having lunch at Gamble Sands’ Danny Boy Bar & Grill in mid-April 2019, Brady told me he learned golf course maintenance “on the fly” to help him manage people. “I wanted to be different than other general managers and sought to ‘speak’ intelligently with superintendents.”
He got the idea for learning the turf ropes from Sean Cracraft. “Sean is a good friend and the person responsible for hiring me at Angel Park. He joined our team at Langdon Farms, after me, as our superintendent. Sean had done something similar, and convinced me it would be beneficial to my career. I pitched the idea to Orrin Vincent (OB Sports’ founder), and he very much agreed and supported my decision to move to golf course maintenance.
“It was at Langdon Farms where I did that, and I fell in love with that side of the business. Had I had more time, and a turfgrass degree – although not a necessity but very valuable for superintendents – I would have probably gravitated toward that side of the business,” Brady added. “Another great friend of mine, Jared Jeffries, did the same thing without a turf degree. Now at Tumble Creek, Jared is one of the best superintendents I know. He has an accounting degree, but worked hard in the field acquiring turfgrass knowledge.”
Brady believes such breadth of golf knowledge has keyed his varied career. “I think it’s always important to distinguish yourself from your peers in a meaningful manner,” he said. “One that can be measurable, in some sense. The golf professional and superintendent do not always see eye to eye. What is great for the golf pro might be inconvenient for the super, and what is good for the super may be inconvenient for the pro. They are naturally at odds sometimes.
“Often, the director of golf or GM may have to mediate between the two and forge compromises. I felt the only way I could do that effectively would be to walk a day, a week, a month, and a few years in the superintendent’s shoes. And I fell in love with it. I am certainly not an expert,” Brady concedes. “But I learned enough to understand the challenges of both jobs, which has provided me with another tool to effectively lead these teams at one property.”
Brady, 50, is managing a fulfilling life and career while coping with brain cancer. “Two years ago, I was diagnosed with EMPNST, a rare form of cancer in the sarcoma family,” he told me. “It was located on my mandibular nerve in my lower right jaw. I had it removed surgically, then went through seven weeks of radiation, twice a day to treat the affected area. The cancer had spread along the nerve, all the way up inside the skull base, and that part could not be removed surgically. So they had to go after it hard with radiation.
“This type of cancer has a very high recurrence rate, even more so when it can’t be removed in its entirety with surgery, which mine couldn’t,” he continues. “It was treated aggressively with radiation, because any recurrence of the cancer would be basically untreatable at that point. Chemo is not historically effective with my condition, and radiation would be even more problematic.
“I was fine for about a year and a half. But last October (2018) during the PNW PGA Pro-Am, I started to notice some physical deterioration in a number of areas. I lost some hand-eye coordination. I literally couldn’t hit a golf ball at all and feared whiffing it.
“I have been on a treatment program since December that consists of a series of infusions to try to reduce and repair the damage created by the radiation,” he notes. “On May 7, 2019, I will wrap up the second series of six infusions, and have an MRI to see how successful the treatments have been. The problem with the treatment is it takes a bigger toll on my body, and worsens as we progress through the series. Towards the end of each series, the side effects are almost worse than the symptoms created by the brain damage.
“In summary, the hope is that the treatments will reduce the damage to the brain so I can rehab my way to some normalcy. I can work, but it is a grind. I get up, go to work, and come home and lie in bed. If I work, I don’t do much else. If I have a day off, I can go for about 10 hours or so, and I’m done. The hope is that my current poor conditioning is a result of the side-effects of the treatment, and when I’m finished with the series, I will rehab my way back. I am currently in speech and swallow therapy, vision rehab, and physical rehab to improve my gait and large motor skills.
“I have some level of confidence that I can have some success, because between my first and second series I was starting to feel the best I had felt since October. I am staying positive that there are better days ahead,” he confided. “Because if the treatments don’t reap some kind of benefit and directly improve my quality of life, there is no point in continuing them.”
Jeffries, who met Brady during his final year of college in 1995 while he played golf for the University of Washington, believes that his good friend has the right make-up to get through this ordeal.
“Brady is tough,” said Jeffries, the superintendent at Suncadia’s private Tumble Creek since it opened in 2005. “He’s known for his sharp wit and eloquent writing and that hasn’t changed. He’s sharp as always, but the effects have hampered his speech and movement. His ability to move and have his brain tell his body how to move have really become limiting. He battles not only for himself but for his amazing wife and his two sons.”
Jeffries’ personal respect and friendship extends well off the golf course. “I held both of Brady’s kids the day they were born,” he said. “Sarah is the secretary at the school my children attend. We have a special-needs little one who goes there and Sarah is instrumental in looking after her and my young son. I trust no one more than I do the Hatfields – they are the greatest people you will ever meet. They are fixtures in the Ellensburg community around the high school and school district. In the high school’s annual Coaches vs. Cancer basketball game, the outpouring of support for Brady, who was recognized during halftime, was nothing short of amazing. That lets you know how much everyone thinks of them.”
Brady has also received plenty of support at work throughout this ordeal. “OB Sports and the owners of Gamble Sands, the Gebbers family, could not possibly be more supportive of my journey. I am truly blessed to be working for such incredible people, and I mean that wholeheartedly,” he said. “Not a day goes by that I don’t harbor some feelings of guilt that I haven’t always been 100 percent, but they have provided a lot of flexibility for me to progress through treatments and appointments. It’s just not in my nature to pace myself and not throw myself into my work. I always seem to be getting out over my skis at some point during the day, and I pay dearly for it. Both of them try to remind me that this is a marathon and not a sprint. But when the gun goes off, I tend to go 100 mph.”
Brady discussed the highlights of his diversified career: “Professionally, I would clearly say it’s working here at Gamble Sands. To be part of a project that is nationally recognized as one of the best in its class is very exciting, rewarding, and challenging. Personally, any chance I get to play golf with my dad ranks at the top of the list. We live thousands of miles apart and I only get to see him about once every year or two, so I cherish the opportunity to play with him. He’s 79 this year, and regularly shoots his age each season, so he hasn’t really lost a step.”
Closer to home, Brady’s family time is particularly special. “Spending a day at the golf course playing with my two sons while my wife drives the cart is probably one of my favorite pastimes. My wife does not play golf at all but, ironically, our first date was on a golf course at an employee tournament at Langdon Farms. She was a trooper, and decided to come along, even though she had never swung a club. I was so impressed, I asked her to marry me.”
Brady Hatfield said that last part with a twinkle in his eye, one that his co-workers and many friends know very well.
May that light shine for many years to come.
Jeff Shelley has written and published nine books, including three editions of Golf Courses of the Pacific Northwest, and co-wrote Championships & Friendships: The First 100 Years of the Pacific Northwest Golf Association.