Master Greenkeeper 90: Brent Downs

11 June 2024 Feature Article

In May 2024, Brent Downs CGCS MG of Otter Creek in Columbus, Indiana, became the 90th BIGGA member to achieve the Master Greenkeeper certification.

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In May 2024 Otter Creek director of agronomy Brent Downs became the 90th Master Greenkeeper since the certification's inception in 1990.

In doing so, Brent, 43, became just the 36th person to possess both Master Greenkeeper and Certified Golf Course Superintendent classifications, two of the highest accolades available to experienced golf greenkeepers on either side of the Atlantic.

Of the moment he was told he had been successful in achieving Master Greenkeeper status, Brent said: “It was amazing and there were a lot of different emotions. I know the journey to get there and a lot of people have walked it before me, so it was equal parts shock and gratitude. The elation, thankfulness and introspection came later.”

Although a resident of Indiana in the Midwest United States, Brent attributes much of his success to experiences gained during spells in Austalia and the United Kingdom. Having interned at Loch Lomond Golf Club in 2007, Brent has become the fourth Master Greenkeeper to be associated with the Argyll & Bute course, following in the footsteps of Ken Siems, David Cole and Janne Lehto.

“Not a whole lot of people get the opportunity to intern in Scotland and Australia at the beginning of my career,” said Brent. That just changed my perspective and my worldview so much. It was the first time I ever heard about Master Greenkeeper, because even though there are only 90 of us, four of them are in some way tied to Loch Lomond Golf Club – Ken Siems and David Cole, who were my bosses at the time, and now Janne Lehto and me are Master Greenkeepers 89 and 90.”

After word of Brent’s achievement was circulated to his fellow Master Greenkeepers, he was flooded by congratulations.

“I’m proud of the part I played in this, but you don’t ever accomplish anything like this on your own,” said Brent. “It takes a village and I’m grateful for the Master Greenkeepers that mentored me, coached me and calmed down – they just kept encouraging me to stay with it.

“The minute Deb [Burnett, BIGGA Learning and Development Manager] sent out that email, I don’t think I’ve ever received so many congratulations. It was at that moment I realised what a community or family Master Greenkeeper is.”

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Otter Creek is a Robert Trent Jones course in Southern Indiana that opened in 1964


'It's very rare to pass the whole thing on the first try and I did go through a couple of misses, too'

Brent spoke to Greenkeeper International about his reaction to achieving Master Greenkeeper status.

It was amazing and there were a lot of different emotions. I got an email just before 5:30am from Deb Burnett [BIGGA Learning & Development Manager] asking when would be a good time to call. I knew she was going to give me the news but I wasn't sure which way it was going to go. When Deb first told me, I was pretty overcome in that moment. A minute or two after that I walked into one of the rooms in my house and kind of had my 'YES!' moment and fist pump. It was my private celebration of doing it and that was very special and very rewarding. I will definitely remember how I ran the fast gamut of emotions that morning.

I think it is very rare to pass the whole thing on the first try and I only know one person who did it. I did go through a couple of misses, too, but ultimately it's a story of perseverance.

I was thinking about my team and how much they jumped on board with me, just getting certain parts of it ready, reviewing some of my mock essays, things like that. I’m just really grateful, really proud, and hopefully everybody can take some agency in this that helped me along the way.

'The first person I reached out to was my Mum'

I left my mom a message and I did talk to her later that morning. I wanted to thank her for giving me the work ethic and the perseverance to never giving up, because you don't get through MG without perseverance.

I then let Matt Weitz and Justin Sims know as they're my superintendent mentors. Then it's funny, the first person I talked to was Matthew Wharton, who was more or less what I would call my MG mentor. Matthew was like, ‘Well, there's only one reason he's calling me at 5.45 in the morning’.

I didn't actually have to let that many people know - if they were in the Master Greenkeeper community, they got to me before I could thank them. The minute Deb sent out that email, I don't think I've ever received so many congratulations. It was at that moment I realised what a brotherhood, community or family it is.

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Otter Creek is a 27-hole public championship course

'I was like, alright I started this, so I'm gonna finish it'

I went through a major life change over the last few years and there was a time I had a list of accolades that I wanted to accomplish. Don't get me wrong, I still take a lot of satisfaction and I'm so proud of this, but I'm proud in a different way than I would have been several years ago. For me now, it’s the satisfaction of watching my team members go on to bigger things and go on to be better people, spouses or parents - that's where I get my satisfaction. At one point, it was, ‘What can I accomplish? What can I work toward?’ Now it's more of a, ‘Who can I help? Who can I serve?’ and that's really it for me.

With Master Greenkeeper, I went through a break in it because of the life changes I went through. When I came back to it, I thought, ‘Alright, I started this, I'm gonna finish it, but I'm gonna finish it for different reasons’. It was for the people who have invested in me and, yes, also my own personal satisfaction and validation, but it just felt different. I had always been wanting to kind of go my own way, a little bit of a loner, but in the second act I wanted it to be a village effort and I want everybody to take stock. That's where I think my career goes from here - who can I help?

Mitchell Eickhoff, our superintendent on the Otter Creek side, begins a CGCS this fall, and on the day he gets inspected, I will probably be more nervous than he is. That's where my career is now is, seeing how I can help others and if they become a little bit better and learn something for having known me, that that will be my greatest professional accomplishment.

'The journey is so worthwhile at the end'

To anyone thinking about doing Master Greenkeeper I'd say reach out to a previous MG. On the American side, Matthew Wharton, Matthew Gourlay, and Rick Tegtmeier really helped me. There were times I probably drove Rick nuts and I apologise for that. 

Mitchell Eickhoff was the first person I told in person and I thought that's how it should be. Mitchell and I have worked together for a long time through Victoria National when he was an intern and I was an assistant and then Augusta National. When I was promoted at Otter Creek and had the opportunity to hire a superintendent, there was only one name on my list and it was Mitchell. He was my sounding board, collaborator and every other type of work partnership you can imagine as I got through the Master Greenkeeper. I certainly don't MG without Mitch backing me up every step of the way.

On the UK side, David Cole, formerly of Loch Lomond, was my boss when I interned at Loch Lomond and maybe that's why Master Greenkeeper also meant so much to me. Having spent time in the UK in 2007 on an internship, I knew how big of a deal that was and it always stuck in the back of my mind that if I ever got the opportunity, that was something I hoped to accomplish. I should also thank Lee Strutt, David Langheim and Les Howkins.

For anybody thinking about it, I really have only two pieces of advice, and first one is: do it. The journey is so worthwhile at the end. It's funny, you don't appreciate the journey as much while you're in it, but GCSAA CEO Rhett Evans just scaled Everest for real and I guess this was me and my team's figurative Everest. You just look back and you appreciate all the moments, and man did I learn so much. There were times I could have given up and I chose not to and that's what you appreciate at the end.

The second thing is get a mentor who has already done it. There isn't one of the 90 of us on that list that wouldn't be willing to help anybody scale that mountain because we wouldn't have scaled it ourselves without those helping us.

 So, just talk to Debs, find out what you need to do and what you need to get prepared, and do it.

Find out more about achieving Master Greenkeeper here.


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Karl Hansell
BIGGA | Head of Marketing and Communications

Karl has been head of communications for BIGGA since March 2016. His duties include editing the monthly Greenkeeper International magazine, in addition to other communications activities for the association.


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