Carrying on for a cause: Prepping Pine Needles for the U.S. Women’s Open

As he steps in for a family member, Dwain McKinnon is determined to do him and others proud. 


Dwain McKinnon and Raymond Smith
Raymond Smith (right) with Dwain McKinnon accompanied by the championship trophy at the 2019 U.S. Senior Women’s Open at Pine Needles. Photo courtesy of Dwain McKinnon

Dwain McKinnon is dealing with heavy equipment — and a heavy heart.

McKinnon stepped in this year as lead equipment manager at Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club in Southern Pines, N.C., for this week’s U.S. Women’s Open presented by ProMedica. He is filling in for Raymond Smith, who suffered nearly fatal injuries from a head-on auto collision May 20. McKinnon, who is equipment manager at nearby Southern Pines Golf Club, says Smith is in stable condition. Smith suffered multiple fractures in his legs and arms, clavicle, sternum and incurred injuries to his lungs and small intestine. “Raymond and I and a couple other guys had just had lunch that day,” McKinnon says.

What makes this life-and-death matter even more personal for McKinnon is that Smith is more than just someone in the same trade. McKinnon and Smith are cousins. A few years ago, McKinnon worked at Pine Needles, side by side with Smith.

“I was his right-hand man, and he was mine,” McKinnon says.

Before his accident, Smith was in the midst of a comeback at Pine Needles, having previously worked there before moving to another course. When Smith returned to Pine Needles in January, his presence was welcomed by David Fruchte, CGCS, director of grounds for Pine Needles, Mid Pines Inn & Golf Club and Southern Pines GC as a major championship drew near.

“He is great. Great attitude, always smiling, laughing. Very good at what he does,” Fruchte says.

What McKinnon brings in Smith’s absence is critical, Fruchte says, because he knows the operations. McKinnon’s golf course experience, which stretches back to 1993, encompasses a variety of positions as equipment manager and in construction. Just down the road at Pinehurst Resort, McKinnon helped the course prep in the lead up to back-to-back women’s and men’s U.S. Opens at the No. 2 course in 2014.

Dwain McKinnon
Equipment manager Dwain McKinnon was called to duty at this week’s U.S. Women’s Open presented by ProMedica at Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club in Southern Pines, N.C., to fill in for his cousin, Raymond Smith, who suffered numerous life-threatening injuries from a car accident May 20 in North Carolina. Photo by Howard Richman

The main challenge McKinnon faced upon his recent return to Pine Needles was sorting through a large order of new equipment that arrived only a couple of weeks before the U.S. Open.

“He’s doing a great, job, has taken the bull by the horns, doing the best he can,” Fruchte says.

In 2019, McKinnon was by Smith’s side when Pine Needles hosted the U.S. Senior Women’s Open. McKinnon first worked at Pine Needles in 2012, and is familiar with the operations under Fruchte, who has been on site since 1990. McKinnon had been looking forward to reuniting with Smith to oversee the equipment area this week. Having to do it without Smith next to him saddens McKinnon, but it also inspires him to produce beyond expectations.

McKinnon is well-supported by his team at Pine Needles, including a mixture of full-time crew and volunteers. The group includes Randy Moore, Jesus Perez, Ya Garay Negron, Joey Bassett, Lynn Lane, Kayla Kipp, Jeff Davis, Erin Miller and Mac Cannon.

 “I was going to be here to be Raymond’s helper, take the load off of his shoulders. I know he was looking forward to this week,” McKinnon says. “Now, I want the team we have with us helping me to do the best we can not just for Raymond, but for everybody here at the club. You are trained here to take care of everything. That’s the way we do it here.”

All the while, McKinnon will have Smith in his heart and soul. “He’s got a lot of determination. He’s stubborn,” McKinnon says. “He’ll come through.”

Perez, who previously worked at Pine Needles and now is at Longleaf Golf & Family Club in Southern Pines, is convinced McKinnon will come through for Smith. “He works the same way as Raymond,” Perez says. “They’re the best.”

Howard Richman is GCM’s associate editor.