Other Sports

She mowed the rough at the PGA Championship. Now this retired nurse has a golf Grand Slam.

Kaye Pierson fills a mower with gas earlier this month. Pierson completed a golf Grand Slam after mowing the grass at the PGA Chamionship on Monday.
Kaye Pierson fills a mower with gas earlier this month. Pierson completed a golf Grand Slam after mowing the grass at the PGA Chamionship on Monday. calexander@newsobserver.com

For most, cutting the grass can be a hot, boring task.

But Kaye Pierson loves it. At 63, the retired nurse is a full-time member of the golf grounds crew at Pinehurst Resort and Country Club. She mows the grass several times a week and often has the riding mower cranked up when the sun is rising.

Pierson moved to Pinehurst from Maine with her husband a decade ago and found a job that she says is a pleasurable, stress-reducing way to fill her time – mowing fairways and greens, as a woman in a mostly man’s profession.

“I told my husband for years that my dream job was to be on a mower on a golf course,” Pierson said. “I never would have guessed it would be here.”

Or at the other places she’s worked like Augusta National and St. Andrews, Scotland.

This week, when Jordan Spieth is seeking to win the PGA Championship at Charlotte’s Quail Hollow Club and complete a career Grand Slam, Pierson will have completed her own Grand Slam by working at the British Open, U.S. Open, the Masters and now the PGA Championship.

“Off the bucket list,” she said.

At Augusta National Golf Club during the Masters, Pierson mowed perhaps the most famous set of greens in the world.

“When you’re mowing the 15th green at Augusta and you look up and there’s a thousand people staring at you at 8 o’clock in the morning, you just try to not think about that,” she said, laughing. “You’re mowing grass.”

She worked at Pinehurst No. 2 during the playing of the U.S. Open in 2014. Drawing on the contacts she made, she worked with the grounds crew at the Old Course in St. Andrews during the 2015 British Open.

The PGA Championship is the fourth major in golf’s Grand Slam. For Pierson, her Slam was accomplished late Monday afternoon when she mowed the Quail Hollow rough. As she said Monday night, “Right on!”

IMG_1576 (1)
Photo taken by Kaye Pierson at Pinehurst Resort and Country Club. Kaye Pierson

From Maine to Pinehurst

Pierson has that deep, bronzed tan that comes with hours spent in the sun. She’s also one of those people who have a perpetual smile, with a disposition to match.

“She’s such a dynamic lady,” Pinehurst president Tom Pashley said. “She has a great ability to win people over because of her easy going attitude, her charm.”

Working at other clubs during tournaments is common, and a matter of knowing the right people, doing the right networking. And being good at what you do. There is a precision that comes with mowing, having the blades at the right height and making your movements precise.

“I don’t think twice about trying anything,” Pierson said. “Usually, it’s quite the opposite. I’ll jump head-first into it and later say, ‘What am I doing?” and then, “Do it, keep going.’”

Golf maintenance workers often volunteer their services for major events. In Pierson’s case, she got a reference from Bob Farren, Pinehurst’s director of grounds and golf course maintenance, that helped her first get to Augusta National during Masters week.

She worked the Masters in 2013 and ’14. The first year, she met Gavin Neill, a deputy course manager at St. Andrews. A year later, it was Pierre Bechmann of France, a former captain of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews.

She was advised to join the British and International Golf Greenkeepers Association (BIGGA) and did that. That allowed her to join the grounds crews at St. Andrews in 2015.

“She’s persistent,” Pashley said.

And athletic. Growing up in Vermont, Pierson and her younger sister, Wendy, were active golfers and Kaye later was club champion at Bath Golf Club in Maine. Their parents were competitive badminton players, competing in the Senior Olympics, once reeling in Kaye for a tournament once she turned 50.

Kaye and Wendy Pierson came from Maine to attend the Pine Needles Golf Academy in 2001, meeting the late Peggy Kirk Bell, the Pine Needles matriarch. Kaye liked the area and she and husband, Paul Leonard, moved to Pinehurst in 2007 after she retired.

There would be family tragedy. Pierson’s father, John, died in April 2009 of heart problems. Wendy, diagnosed with a brain tumor, died a few months later at 52.

Those were sad, trying times for Kaye, who learned in 2013 that another close friend from Maine was dying of cancer.

One morning, her friend on her mind, she came to the Pinehurst club to find the sun rising and the setting beautifully serene. The iconic Putter Boy statue was bathed in the first rays of light. The only thing missing was the ghost of Donald Ross appearing out of the fog.

“It was a surreal moment,” Pierson said.

She took a photo with her phone. Liking it, she posted it on social media. The response was so immediate and overwhelming, prints soon were made entitled “First Light at Pinehurst.”

Proceeds from sales of the print, at Pierson’s request, were donated to The Healing Garden at the FirstHealth Hospice & Palliative Care campus in Pinehurst, which had helped her with counseling during that stressful time in her life.

“I first met Kaye because of the photo she took,” Pashley said. “The fact she used the proceeds to be donated to a charity, we use her as an example of teamwork throughout the company. She got this great photo and saw to it that it be used for a greater good.”

Look for her on a mower, maybe listening to Bonnie Raitt. Mowing grass. Loving it.

  Comments