by Ken MacLeod
Part of Dave Bryan’s professionalism and aura during his past 26 years as Southern Hills Country Club’s director of golf has always been his movie-star good looks and sharp, well-dressed and coiffed appearance. He looks the part of running one of the nation’s top clubs.
Long-time Southern Hills members and friends of Bryan may get a chuckle then, to learn how he showed up for his first job interview with legendary pro Joe Walser at Oklahoma City Golf and Country Club, fresh after graduating from the University of Oklahoma.
“Here comes this guy in an OU sweatshirt, ballcap, jeans and tennis shoes,” said Jack Haby, then an assistant to the late Walser and now a teaching pro at Cordillera Ranch near San Antonio. “I thought, ‘Jeez, he’s got no chance.’ But Joe said take him down to the range and see if he can hit a ball.
“He could really hit it. And he had a great smile. Joe gave him a chance and look what happened.”
Bryan will counter that an ice storm was responsible for his appearance on his first day in the business, but at any rate it didn’t take him long to learn how to dress for success. And his work ethic, people skills and business acumen became rapidly apparent in a meteoric career rise that saw him became a head professional at Milburn Country Club in Overland Park, Kan., at age 26 in 1975, then move on Oakwood CC in Enid in 1981 and Tulsa CC in 1985.
Although he loved Tulsa Country Club, Bryan had also put himself in an ideal spot when his dream job opened up just four years later when Jim Lucius went from Southern Hills to Olympic Club in San Francisco. He is not the only one to make that migration. Bryan estimates as many as 100 members of TCC in 1985 eventually became Southern Hills members.
“The first time I played at Southern Hills in 1972, I was coming up the 18th hole and I got a little sad, because I was going to have to leave,” Bryan said. “I said to myself, one of these days I’m going to be at a place like this and not have to leave.”
For 26 years, Bryan has not had to leave, but that is changing at the end of 2014. The club board announced in late September that Cary Cozby from Wichita Country Club would be Bryan’s successor beginning in 2015.
Bryan, 66, does not plan to retire, however. He said he is mulling over several opportunities to share his wealth of experiences in a new venture.
“If I do something, it’s going to be challenging and fun and I’ll be involved in the decision-making process,” Bryan said. “It will be a position where I’ll be able to use my wisdom and my experience and my failures and successes. And I’ll work with people that want the same things I want. If I can help somebody else be successful that will be very gratifying and rewarding.”
Bryan’s attention to detail and knack for customer service have helped many a young professional get established and go on to great careers. Some of his former assistants and the head professional jobs they went on to include John Phillips at Sherwood Country Club, Mark Meacham at Hallbrook CC in Leawood, Kan., Jeff King at Mission Hills (Kan.) CC, Cary Cozby at Wichita CC, Johnathan Tips at Country Club of Missouri, Ryan Johnson at Sunset CC in St. Louis, Bobby Jacks at Baton Rouge CC, Gideon Traub at Forest Hills CC in St. Louis and his son David Bryan, now director of golf at Cedar Ridge CC in Broken Arrow.
“It’s an old saying, but I’ve tried to teach these guys to treat people the way you would want to be treated,” Bryan said. “These guys take that philosophy to their new clubs and because of their skill set, service, friendliness and attitude of wanting to be the best, their new clubs really begin to flourish.”
The younger Bryan began to emulate his father as early as he can remember, spending entire summer days at Oakwood. He knew early on that he wanted to do what dad did.
“It’s definitely in my blood,” David said. “I went to college and got a degree, but never saw myself doing anything else and dad was a big part of that. I was destined to end up in this business.”
Nick Sidorakis, who has worked in tandem with Bryan for nearly two decades as general manager, said his partner will be missed.
“Dave has done an excellent, tremendous job in serving the membership over the last 26 years,” Sidorakis said. “He’s been a great ambassador for the club, and is well respected by the membership and the community. I’ve enjoyed working with Dave personally over these 19 years, trying to exceed the expectations of our membership. We wish him the best in all his future endeavors.”
Bryan has the respect of his contemporaries. Jerry Cozby, long-time head professional at Hillcrest Country Club in Bartlesville before retiring in 2009, sent his son, Cary, to train at Southern Hills while Bryan sent his son, David, to train under Cozby at Hillcrest. Cary and Dave have wound up at Southern Hills and Cedar Ridge, respectively.
“I’ve always regarded Dave as one of the best golf professionals I’ve known,” Jerry Cozby said. “If you look at all the club events and tournaments they have at Southern Hills, they are almost always full and with a waiting list. That is one way you really tell if a pro is doing a good job, by making those events fun and ones that the members want to play in.”
At Southern Hills, Bryan has had a front row seat – and often an instrumental role – in the history of the grand club. His tenure has included four major championships, including the 1994 PGA Championship, 2001 U.S. Open, 2007 PGA Championship and 2009 U.S. Amateur Championship, as well as the 1995 and 1996 PGA Tour Championships. He was there for major club renovations, including the addition of nine holes in 1991.
Many may not realize that it was a chance encounter Bryan had with Arnold Palmer at Bay Hill in 1993 that helped convince the legend to extend his run of PGA Championships one more year and make 1994 in Tulsa his final emotional appearance. Or that Bryan was the one assigned by Bill Warren to convince Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore to design the “West Nine” even though they were initially reluctant after seeing how the land was not as spectacular as what Perry Maxwell used on the original 18.
“That has been a blessing,” Bryan said. “It’s allowed our junior program to grow. The beginning women, the seniors, they can all go over there and have an easier time of it. It’s just been unbelievable. I don’t know what it would be like anymore not to have it.”
It was Bryan that former PGA of America Executive Director Jim Awtrey called when it became apparent that Oak Tree National was going to be unable to host the 1994 PGA Championship due to the Landmark fiasco, starting the wheels toward Southern Hills taking the event eventually won by Nick Price, with whom Bryan became close friends.
One of the lasting pleasures of working the championships was the opportunity to mingle with legends of the game such as Bryon Nelson. Bryan gave him a ride around the course during a practice round in 1994 and watched as a trail of pros stopped him to pay their respects to Nelson. Then in 2001, Nelson was again fidgeting around in the clubhouse.
“You know he’s not going to ask for anything,” Bryan said. “So I asked him if he would like to go out and sit on the first tee. ‘Could we?’ he said. So we got some big wing-backed chairs and set he and Peggy up on the first tee. Again to watch everyone come up and shake his hand, it was just great.”
Bryan is a die-hard OU fan, loves to read (mostly non-fiction) and an avid watcher of all sports “except soccer.” His two children are both involved in sports as a livelihood, David at Cedar Ridge and daughter Paige Millspaugh, a former All-America gymnast at Jenks and cheerleader at OU, now co-owner of Cross Fit T-Town. He and his wife of 43 years, Cindy, will spend more time with their four grandchildren and do some traveling. A very talented golfer who has won several PGA section events in the rarity that he finds time to play, including the SCPGA pro-assistant this summer, he’ll look to get the clubs out more often as well.
“I’ve always been a guy that looked through the front windshield,” Bryan said. “I’ve always looked ahead and never thought about what I’ve accomplished. Now that there’s an end to it, I’m looking back a little more. And I can see that we’ve done very well and accomplished a lot here.
“Southern Hills is a top 15 club in the country. There’s no doubt about that. A lot of the neat things that have happened to me are because I am here at Southern Hills, not because of Dave Bryan. But I’ve earned that as well. I’ve got to meet and greet a lot of great people. But I worked hard to get to spend time at a great place like this.”
Soon he can break out that OU sweatshirt and tennis shoes again.