Jeff White on becoming GCSAA's 87th president

Fueled by compassion for others and a focus on the future, Jeff White, CGCS, plans to continue momentum during his year in leadership


Aerial view of Ghost Creek golf course
Jeff White, CGCS, was inducted as GCSAA's 87th president during the 2024 GCSAA Conference and Trade Show in Phoenix.Photos by Steve Puppe

If circumstances had played out differently for Jeff White, CGCS, golf course management’s loss would have been the architecture world’s gain.

Growing up in the small, south-central Iowa town of Osceola, White was far more enamored with drawing than he was with the game of golf. He built his own drafting table in his high school shop class that he used for years before later passing it along to his sister, Deb, who would put it to use in a professional setting when she and her husband, Mike, ran a small-town newspaper.

When he headed to Iowa State University for his freshman year of college, classes geared toward architecture filled his early schedule, not turfgrass management. It was in those classes, though, that he began to have second thoughts about his original career plans.

“I was seeing these students in their fourth and fifth years literally living in the studio,” says White, a 33-year GCSAA member who is the director of agronomy at Indian Hills Country Club in Mission Hills, Kan. “I still liked the fact that they got to do what they wanted to do, they got to use their creativity. That all appealed to me. But I could not get past the fact that they were inside all the time, which was not how I had grown up and was not how I wanted to spend my time.”

Indeed, White’s childhood had been filled with sports and outdoor activities. He hunted, fished, camped and hiked. He worked outside during a summer job for the city’s parks and recreation department, and he later started his own small lawn-mowing business. So, yeah, hours spent inside hunched over a drawing table seemed out of character.

He considered several other potential fields of study, but it wasn’t until he stumbled upon the horticulture and turfgrass management page while flipping through Iowa State’s curriculum guide that the lightbulb went off. “I went and met with the person who would become my adviser, Dr. Nick Christians, and he hooked me,” White says. “I got the bug almost immediately.”

Before he knew it, White was drawing up a lifelong career in turfgrass management instead of architecture. He traded time in the studio for hours studying research plots and learning the ins and outs of work on the golf course. Classroom work and internships soon transitioned into full-time work and an eventual move south to the Kansas City area. And at each step along the way, he was guided by trusted mentors who set not only an example on the golf course but also in ways he could give back to an industry that had become his own.

And now, nearly 30 years after that fateful switch from architecture to turfgrass management, White has reached another pinnacle moment in a career filled with them as he begins his year leading GCSAA as the association’s 87th president.

“Jeff is a people person who cares deeply about our members,” says Kevin Breen, CGCS, who preceded White in the role of president and has served with him on the GCSAA board since 2018. “He is one of our most hands-on board members. Being close to GCSAA headquarters has allowed him to be engaged with the operation and department leaders in a highly effective way that makes him unique. I have full faith that Jeff will keep the association’s mission and its members at the forefront in the coming year.”

Aerial view of Ghost Creek golf course
Indian Hills’ leadership team (from left): Robert Tibbetts, general manager/COO; Mike Ricket, golf professional; Heather Blacketer, board president; and White.

Family footsteps

Dig a bit deeper into White’s upbringing and you realize that a successful career in golf wasn’t as far-fetched as it might have once seemed.

That’s not because his parents — father Arden and mother Doris — lived and breathed the game of golf. “They played, but they didn’t play, if that makes any sense,” he says. “It was more of a social thing for them, my dad in particular. We had a little nine-hole country club in Osceola, $400 or $500 a year to be members, so we did spend time there.”

But what his parents lacked in golf acumen, they more than made up for with an unmatched work ethic, which they readily passed down to White and his four siblings. Arden White ran a fuel business that supplied a varied clientele — farmers, road construction crews, pilots — across south-central Iowa. When the orders rolled in, Arden delivered, and Jeff regularly went along for the ride.

“The calls would come on holidays, weekends, whenever. And the kids were free labor a lot of the time,” White says. “I know that’s where my work ethic comes from, just seeing how hard my dad worked and how dedicated he was to his customers.”

Those who know White well will tell you the same thing. John Newton, CGCS Retired, was one of White’s first mentors in golf course management, tutoring him and countless others over a 33-year run at Veenker Memorial Golf Course in Ames, Iowa. 

The 41-year GCSAA member and winner of the association’s Col. John Morley Award in 2023 says it was that work ethic that made White stand out from the crowd.

“He was a college kid, and he loved the college life,” Newton says. “But I remember him being very focused, too ... and one of the hardest workers I had been around. He wanted to get stuff done, and he wanted to work at a very high level. Not everyone we had was like that, so Jeff was a leader we could point to as the example of how to approach the job.”

White also had a family connection to the business that paid dividends as he wrapped up his college days. His older brother, Ron, 14 years his senior, owned a veterinarian practice in Ottumwa, Iowa, and was friends with Gary Twedt, CGCS Retired, who at that time was the superintendent at Ottumwa Country Club. When White went looking for his first internship, he landed at Ottumwa CC and lived with his brother.

That arrangement meant White not only picked up lessons from one of Iowa’s most respected superintendents but also learned a little about animal care along the way. “I’d do the normal day-to-day work on the golf course ... but if my brother got a late-night call, I’d go with him to help out. That was my rent,” he says. “If we had to go pull a calf in the middle of the night, that’s what we did. Then I would get up at 5 and go to work on the golf course.”

Aerial view of Ghost Creek golf course
White (center) has been a fixture in the Midwest golf scene since starting his career at Alvamar G&CC in Lawrence, Kan. His tenure in charge of maintenance at Indian Hills will reach 11 years next month. He’s flanked here on the club’s 18th green by Ryker Smith (left), an assistant-in-training, and Derek Banwart, course superintendent.

Sunflower shift

Before graduating from Iowa State, White would tackle another internship — minus the late-night cattle calls — at Alvamar Golf and Country Club in Lawrence, Kan. (now known as The Jayhawk Club). It was a perfect situation for the soon-to-be graduate; the superintendent there, Dick Stuntz, CGCS, was a fellow Iowa Stater, and the then 45-hole property with one public course, one private course and an executive nine-hole facility featured both warm- and cool-season turfgrasses. Learning to manage both, White figured, would give him a broader skill set and plenty of options once his full-time employment began.

Instead, though, he ended up staying right where he was. “A job came up at Alvamar that just happened to coincide with my graduation date,” he says. “So, for the last half of my last semester, I commuted between Ames and Lawrence and then became the assistant on the public course upon graduation.”

He’s been in the Sunflower State ever since. After Alvamar, he moved to Lake Quivira (Kan.) Country Club to work for superintendent Pat Finlen, CGCS. When Finlen left for the West Coast and, eventually, a job overseeing The Olympic Club, White stepped into the superintendent role there. 

Amid golf’s big boom in the early 2000s and drawn by the allure of working for a multicourse operator, White left Lake Quivira for a regional superintendent role with Kemper Sports in November 2000, a job that included primary oversight of Falcon Ridge Golf Club in Lenexa, Kan. That boom ended after 9/11 and the many societal challenges that came along with it, but White stuck with Kemper until 2005, when he jumped at the opportunity to return to Lake Quivira. He spent another eight years there before moving to Mission Hills and Indian Hills CC, and his tenure there will reach its 11th year next month.

Throughout White’s professional journey, both Stuntz and Finlen have been trusted sources of counsel and guidance, in much the same way as Newton was during his college days. Finlen also shares some striking career similarities with White — both did two separate stints in the superintendent’s seat at Lake Quivira, and now both have served as GCSAA president (Finlen held that distinction in 2013).

And like Newton before him, Finlen sensed something special about White not long after he hired him during his second tour of duty at Lake Quivira.

“Jeff always worked hard, and he still works hard,” says Finlen, a 39-year GCSAA member who now lives in Missoula, Mont., and is the executive vice president of Denehy Club Thinking Partners, an executive search and management consulting firm. “It was easy to see that he was willing to take on challenges, which I always admired about him. When I left there to go west, he was just the natural choice to take over.”

Aerial view of Ghost Creek golf course
The maintenance team at Indian Hills is led by (from left) Smith; Nick Hunter, assistant superintendent; White; Banwart; and Noe Hernandez, landscape manager.

Serving by example

Service to the industry didn’t come quite as naturally to White, even when proximity and familiarity would have suggested otherwise.

“I never really had much of a connection to GCSAA early on, even though I worked in the city with the headquarters,” he says. “I mean, when I was at Alvamar, the headquarters was on property, right off the 16th hole of the public course. I’d see it literally every day but never really considered what that meant.”

Gradually, though, that began to change, even after the headquarters moved off the golf course to a new building a mile and a half west of Alvamar. As the closest layout to the national offices, Stuntz often hosted GCSAA committees or day-in-the-life events for new GCSAA staff members at Alvamar, giving White his first true glimpse into the association and the role that it played in the broader business of golf.

The connection grew when he went to Lake Quivira and began working for Finlen, who was already deeply rooted in association involvement. “Pat would host chapter meetings at the club, he would teach seminars at the conference, he’d introduce me to people and just get me out in front of others in the industry,” White says. “That rubbed off on me. I began to accept that serving and giving back was all a part of being successful in this business.”

He put those lessons into practice after stepping into the head superintendent position at Lake Quivira following Finlen’s departure. He dived into volunteer service with his local chapter, the Heart of America GCSA, first on committees, then as a member of its board of directors and then as chapter president in 2005. His national profile began to grow as a representative at five GCSAA Chapter Delegates Meetings, and then in 2018, he was elected to the national board of directors.

“He might not say this, but I think all this was a little predestined,” says White’s wife of 13 years, LeAnn. “His passion for the industry and the people in it was pretty evident from almost Day One of our relationship. Jeff really cares about the people in the industry and making sure the association is serving their needs and lifting them up.”

That’s not lost on those who work with White, either, including Kurt Lading, Indian Hills’ equipment manager and a 10-year GCSAA member. “He really is just one of the nicest people I’ve ever met,” Lading says. “He treats people the right way, and it makes you want to do the same thing. I feel really blessed that I found a situation like this with Jeff.”

Aerial view of Ghost Creek golf course
White relied upon several trusted mentors during his career and tries to pass on similar lessons in his role as Indian Hills’ director of agronomy. Here, he chats with Dani McFadden, a crew member at Indian Hills who is pursuing a doctorate at Kansas State University.

Heart of the matter

While mentors such as Finlen and Stuntz (who served as the president of the National Golf Course Owners Association in 2018) certainly played a role in White’s increased industry involvement, do not discount the influence of his home chapter in accelerating his desire to give back.

Despite being a relatively small chapter, “The Heart” has historically played an oversized role on the national scene. White is the seventh GCSAA president with roots in the Heart of America GCSA, joining Bill Maynard, CGCS, (2017); Finlen; Sandy Queen, CGCS, (2012); Dave Fearis, CGCS, (1999); Gary Grigg, CGCS, (1995); and Chester Mendenhall (1948).

“It’s just a great group of people who are friends, who support each other professionally and bring each other up in terms of service to the industry,” White says. “I know Bill and Pat were always looking for the next person to follow them, and I know I am actively doing the same thing now. We just seem to have a common interest in the good of the game, the good of the organization, and that’s always helped guide us.”

“The Heart trains people to become leaders, not just at their facilities or within the chapter, but within the overall industry,” Finlen says. “And the fact that we’re so close to GCSAA headquarters probably heightens the interest in giving back.”

Aerial view of Ghost Creek golf course
Kurt Lading (left), the equipment manager at Indian Hills CC, calls White “one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. He treats people the right way, and it makes you want to do the same thing. I feel really blessed that I found a situation like this with Jeff.”

Midwest nice

While others might not be surprised that White has risen to the position he finds himself in today, the man himself doesn’t exactly share that sentiment. “Never in a million years did I think that this punk kid from small-town Iowa would lead a national association,” he says, only halfway joking.

The reality, though, is that White’s upbringing and career trajectory have armed him with skills and experiences that make him a near-ideal fit for the GCSAA presidency. He has small-town sensibilities mixed with varied work experiences at public, private and multicourse operations to go along with six years (and counting) of board service, helping govern the association and guide the industry. Taken in that context, White is truly a man for all seasons ... and all members.

“He’s just a regular guy, like a lot of GCSAA presidents,” LeAnn White says. “But he’s been afforded some great opportunities in his career and during his time on the board that are going to help him. 

“He can identify with members from all different kinds of facilities because he’s been in all of their shoes. And underneath it all is this layer of compassion for people. Everything he does is rooted in that. You might not see it unless you really dig down, but we (LeAnn and Jeff’s two daughters, Maddie and Elle) see it all the time.”

And even with all the demands that have been placed on White’s time, he has not missed a beat in his real job overseeing maintenance at Indian Hills. “He still puts in the time here. He’s here all the time,” says assistant superintendent Nick Hunter, a four-year member of GCSAA who first began working for White as a 16-year-old during his time at Lake Quivira. “But even when he can’t be here, he’s built a team that he trusts and that he knows can do the job even if his attention is elsewhere.”

The culture White has cultivated at Indian Hills is like few others in the business, according to his top lieutenant in the maintenance department, 12-year GCSAA member Derek Banwart, at least if annual performance reviews are any indication.

“We’ll ask them the normal questions about how much longer they see themselves working here or where they see themselves in five years, and they’ll say, ‘I’m not leaving here until Jeff leaves here,’” Banwart says. “It’s pretty amazing to hear that from people in positions that can be pretty transient at times.”

The song remains the same among two of White’s colleagues in the clubhouse, head golf professional Mike Ricket and general manager/COO Robert Tibbetts. Both identified White’s ability to communicate at a high level as a quality that serves him well at Indian Hills and will serve him equally well in the role of GCSAA president.

“He is as good as any superintendent I’ve worked with at communicating with the pro shop and with the members to identify anything on the golf course that might seem out of the ordinary,” says Ricket, who has been a fixture at Indian Hills for 42 years. “There are no secrets about the golf course when it comes to Jeff, and I know our members appreciate that.”

Tibbetts has a particularly informed view of the work White does and how that will translate to the national stage. He double-majored in turf management and hotel/restaurant management at Kansas State, so has always had a soft spot for the superintendents he has worked with throughout his career.

“Jeff always defaults on the side of making sure everybody’s aware of what’s happening on the golf course and being as transparent as possible,” Tibbetts says. “I think that’s one of his best qualities ... and that’s certainly going to help him in his role with GCSAA.”

Aerial view of Ghost Creek golf course
The White family in a photo taken at the wedding last year of his older daughter, Maddie. Pictured from left are his other daughter, Elle; Jeff; Maddie; son-in-law Tanner; and wife, LeAnn.

Home on the range

For all the changes and growth that White has experienced throughout his life and career, he has never strayed all that far from those roots in small-town Iowa.

So much so that he and LeAnn recently bought a small tract of land tucked between Kansas City and Lawrence that he calls his “hobby farm.” It’s an ode to not only his upbringing but also his wife’s — LeAnn grew up on a cattle farm in rural Kansas.

“It’s not a big piece of land, but it’s enough to keep us both busy and give us a bit of a release from all the other stuff,” White says. “Something we can do together ... and leave something for the girls whenever that time comes around.”

Naturally, family also holds a high priority in White’s life. Both daughters graduated from nursing school this past year — on the same weekend, no less;  — and Maddie got married to now-son-in-law Tanner Bracken a few weeks before that.

“What I have with them, with LeAnn, is very important to me,” he says. “I know what they’ve sacrificed along the way, and I’m looking forward to them coming along for the ride with me the next couple of years.”

And if he can do a bit of the same thing with the members of GCSAA during his year as association president, he will consider all he’s done in the business and on the board of directors a success.

“This board has had a plan for a lot of years, and collectively, we think we’re in a really good spot,” White says. “We’re making good progress. Now we just need to keep that up, keep our focus on GCSAA’s mision and make sure we’re taking those next steps.”

Aerial view of Ghost Creek golf course
The golf course at Indian Hills CC was designed by the legendary A.W. Tillinghast and sits on the same 130 acres of land in suburban Kansas City that club members first purchased in 1926.

Keeping the line moving

As Jeff White’s year as GCSAA’s 87th president has drawn closer, he has been asked more frequently about his “legacy” and the things he hopes to accomplish during his 12 months in office.

As one prepares to assume national office, that kind of interest is natural, of course, so the Certified Golf Course Superintendent at Indian Hills Country Club in Mission Hills, Kan., has politely answered the questions and acknowledged the comments. But privately, he scoffs ever so slightly at the notion that his time in the association’s top seat can produce any sort of seismic change. Nor does he really want it to.

“I’m not even thinking about turning this battleship. As long as I don’t sink it, I’m going to be happy,” he says with a laugh.

“Honestly, I don’t feel any kind of need to leave a mark, and I don’t need to change the world. I just want to leave this year knowing that we’ve maintained an atmosphere that the board members coming behind me can build on, the same way that things were left for me by those who came before. We really are guided by the association’s mission to serve members, advance the profession and enhance the game of golf. Sticking to that has helped create a lot of momentum for the association, and I’d like to continue that momentum in a sensible way this coming year. If we’re able to do that, that’s all the legacy I need.”

That doesn’t mean there aren’t particular programs and initiatives that White wants to help push forward during the coming year, ranging from advocacy and environmental programs to GCSAA’s recently launched workforce development initiative and the First Green program.

On the former, White says, “I think there are ‘have-tos’ and ‘want-tos,’ and right now, our government affairs work and what we’re doing with BMPs are definite have-tos. We need to continue to demonstrate that superintendents are environmental stewards, that we do things the right way, and that we’re willing to work with agencies to help keep things moving in the right direction, to help create common-sense rules and regulations.”

When it comes to the latter, White says he feels fortunate to be landing in GCSAA’s presidential seat at a time when the association’s focus on labor and the expansion of First Green are taking important steps forward.

“The pieces of the puzzle are coming together,” he says. “I feel fortunate that they’ve fallen into my lap right when they’re ready to take off. The work that was done in the last six, seven, eight years has gotten us to this point. These programs are going to produce tools that help our members train employees, retain employees and recruit employees. Labor has been one of the top issues in our industry ... and these efforts are going to make a difference.”

Beyond specific programs, White is also excited about the role GCSAA plays among golf’s other allied associations and how those relationships can boost the recognition of superintendents and the role they play in the game.

“Some might think that GCSAA is ‘The Little Engine that Could’ compared to the resources of our allies such as the USGA, the PGA of America and the PGA Tour, but we’re right there with those organizations, and we have strong, healthy relationships with them,” White says. “I want to focus on strengthening those relationships and ways that the board and I can help in that process. That would be a great accomplishment if those relationships were better when my time as president ends than when it started.”

Scott Hollister ( is GCM’s editor-in-chief.