Joe Saylor Memorial Tournament honors beloved superintendent

The Virginia Golf Course Superintendents Association's annual tournament combines charity and fun.


Filed to: Chapters, Virginia

Marines and members of VGCSA at a Toys for Tots donation table
The Virginia GCSA uses their annual Joe Saylor Memorial Tournament to support Toys for Tots. Photo courtesy of the Virginia Golf Course Superintendents Assocation

Joe Saylor acted as a devoted servant to his profession. Those who were touched by his spirit have done their part to keep his name alive.

Each year since 2005 (except for one because of the pandemic) essentially has served largely as a tribute to Saylor — and to disadvantaged youth. In September 2023, the annual Virginia GCSA’s Joe Saylor Memorial Tournament was held. It took place at Cutalong at Lake Anna in Mineral, Va., where eight-year GCSAA member Jimmy Pierson is the GCSAA Class A director of golf course & grounds.

A full field of 104 golfers attended. They were armed with more than clubs. Each entrant arrived with an unwrapped toy or monetary donation. Those gifts were disseminated to children in the region by U.S. Marines as part of their yearly Toys for Tots drive. The Joe Saylor event was initiated by the Tidewater (Va.) Turfgrass Association; Saylor was once its president. “We thought it was a way to honor Joe. He was a mentor to many superintendents in the area,” says GCSAA Class A superintendent Jeffrey Yarborough from Lakeside Park Club in Richmond, who at the time was president of the Tidewater association and spearheaded the concept for the Joe Saylor Memorial. “It started in part as a golf tourney/chili cookoff. People brought their recipes, and we had a contest. Bison, venison, shrimp, ground beef … it was interesting to see the variety of food flair. The Marines became part of the event. Other chapter associations got involved, too. It took off.”

It certainly did. After the Joe Saylor expanded to a statewide event (Envu is the lead sponsor), the VGCSA began to oversee it. Guiding it isn’t taken lightly. “Much of it is the patriotic aspect of it, Marines being there, dressed in blues, collecting toys,” says David Norman, executive director of the VGCSA who leads the charge to secure the Marines’ attendance. “It’s not easy to gather them (the Marines), track them down. It’s not like you can just call a Marine on the telephone. They’re on duty. But we never miss. It’s a camaraderie.”

VGCSA chapter president and GCSAA Class A superintendent Mike Mueller, a 27-year association member at Herndon Centennial Golf Course in Herndon, says, “It means a lot. It’s something that honors Joe and what he did in the industry and gives back to kids who don’t have a lot. It’s great to carry on the tradition. To have all the superintendents take the time out of their busy schedules and to give back to a great charity … who better to partner with than the armed services? To hear their (Marines’) stories and learn from them is a pretty special and humbling experience. And for kids having a tough time, and to be able to open something Christmas day, that’s what it’s all about.”

Jeff Whitmire, CGCS, a 28-year GCSAA member at Williamsburg Golf Club, recalls the first Joe Saylor at Kingsmill Resort in Williamsburg. It meant even more to him because Saylor, who also started the Old Dominion chapter, was instrumental in his career. “You have a huge military community in Tidewater. It is fulfilling,” says Whitmire, who six years ago hosted the event at his facility. “He helped so many young superintendents in this area, including me. I was up against him for the job here. He was a finalist. In his interview, he told them (the club) they should hire me. To this day, I don’t know what he said. I owe him a lot. He’s a class act. Joe cared about people first. I think that’s why he had such a successful career. He was well ahead of his time. Joe was everywhere. Every state’s got one like him. He was ours in Virginia.”

Saylor left Pennsylvania in 1967 for Virginia and stayed for the rest of his career. He was an assistant superintendent at James River Country Club in Newport News and six months later was promoted to superintendent at a place he spent 19 years. Saylor helped in the construction of Honey Bee Golf Club in Virginia Beach, where he stayed as superintendent. He moved on to Ocean View Golf Course in Norfolk, where he retired in 2003. Yarborough remembers bringing a Joe Saylor Memorial Tournament hat to Saylor’s wife, Ada, and his daughter. “She was tearful, appreciative,” Yarborough says about Ada. “Just seeing people from across the state you don’t see more than once a year and come to this event in his honor puts a smile on my face. The Saylor just tends to bring them out.”

Howard Richman is GCM's associate editor.