Molly O’Brien is where she wants to be at a place she loves, even though it took a journey of discovery to get there.
As a girl she attended golf camp at Smithtown Landing Country Club, the public course in her hometown. Now, the 29-year-old is the greens superintendent in charge of maintaining, and last year rescuing, the 27-hole facility.
“I love this golf course,” O’Brien said. “It was always like a second home to me and now it is my home.”
O’Brien graduated from Loyola University Maryland in 2013 with a degree in biopsychology and minors in classic civilization and studio art.
“Most people who were science majors ended up going premed, pre-dental and it was never something I had been interested in,” O’Brien said.
What she did know is she liked physical labor and being outdoors. A respected professor suggested she go to work at a friend’s farm in Georgia, which she did, but realized there wasn’t a career path there and returned to Smithtown and to Smithtown Landing working in the pro shop in the summer.
But working in the shop wasn’t what she was looking for either. Mike Hebron, the longtime director of golf at Smithtown Landing now in his 52nd year, thought she might like to do something else.
“I had a conversation with Mike,” O’Brien said. “He said ‘Maybe you would do better on a mower.’ I had not considered the grounds crew at all. I didn’t connect the dots between the farm, like animal husbandry, and golf. I said you are probably right. The superintendent at the time said come on board.”
A member of the grounds crew told her about the Turf Management program at Rutgers and Hebron encouraged her to enter it and helped her financially. She got the two-year certificate from Rutgers in 2018, graduating as the valedictorian of the class.
She became an intern at the iconic Baltusrol Golf Club in New Jersey, the site of multiple major championships. After spending nearly a year there, she joined one of Baltusrol’s superintendents in his move to the North Jersey Country Club. In the fall of 2019, Hebron offered her the head superintendent job at “Landing.”
“I loved my year at Baltusrol at the high, high end,” O’Brien said. “I had a great time and learned a lot. I really love the public level, and I love this golf course in particular.”
And Smithtown Landing needed a lot of love in 2020. There was a perfect storm of consequences that put her knowledge and skill to the test in an extremely stressful time.
The COVID-19 pandemic set in in March and with golf being one of the few activities perceived as being safe, play skyrocketed, and so did the use of carts. Under the protocols back then, single rider carts were mandated, so there were carts all over the place.
Plus there was an uneven spring of cold weather then hot, a localized drought in June and July where rain seemed be all around the course without even spilling a drop. There was a fungal outbreak. There was Tropical Storm Isaias at the beginning of August that brought rain but knocked out the power (and thus the irrigation system) for nearly a week.
O’Brien and her small, dedicated crew of upwards of seven was working essentially dusk to dawn hand watering the greens, spraying for the fungal outbreak and trying to accommodate golfers at the same time.
“It’s been a fast-paced journey from making the decision to go to Rutgers and then ending up in a superintendent’s position and it’s only been a couple years,” O’Brien said. “Everybody has been very supportive. They would say if you could get through  as your first year, the rest of it will be cake.”
Whether cake or not, Smithtown Landing was O’Brien’s calling.
“She caught a couple of diseases early that others haven’t seen,” Hebron said. “We would have been really hurt without her education and her background. And the golfers noticed it too, what a hard worker she is. She is very bright. It was the worst year for grass. We wouldn’t have rebounded as quickly without her.”
Rocco Carrullo, Eisenhower White No. 17, 177 yards, 3-wood
Joseph DiMeglio, Pine Hills No. 17, 140 yards, 8-iron
Joseph Giambalvo, Bethpage Yellow No. 11, 172 yards, 4-hybrid
Mike Hajek, Rock Hill No. 4, 150 yards, 5-iron
Rich Roulston, Eisenhower White No. 14, 122 yards, 8-iron
Tony Vivona, Eisenhower Blue No. 17, 130 yards, 26-degree hybrid
Aces and other golf news can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Aces can also be sent to email@example.com