Good times, bad times: Southern Hills assistant superintendent Doug Cocanour

The ability to thrive and survive tough times has made the 12-year GCSAA member a perfect fit at Southern Hills.


Southern Hills Country Club assistant superintendent Doug Cocanour
Doug Cocanour is one of three assistant superintendents at Southern Hills Country Club helping prepare the course for this week's PGA Championship. Photos by Scott Hollister

The old saying goes that what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. That’s certainly been the case for Doug Cocanour, one of three assistant superintendents at Southern Hills Country Club who are helping lead maintenance efforts at this week’s PGA Championship.

Throughout his career in golf course management, Cocanour says his most difficult moments, the ones that have tested him the most, have only served to deepen his love of the business that first hooked him at the age of 15.

“When you’re in the moment and everything is hitting you all at once, it’s tough not to think ‘I just need to walk away,’” says Cocanour, a 12-year GCSAA member. “You get to the course at 5 a.m., you’re there until 10 p.m., and it can all seem pretty insane.

“But when I leave work, and I get in my truck and start driving home, that's when I get excited. I know what it looked like before we started, I know what it looks like now, and I know all that went into getting it that way. There’s a pride in that, just an incredible feeling. You get chills when you leave the property and you know that the work you put in is really showing out there, and the members are loving it, and ... are thankful.”

Cocanour references two specific instances that both pushed him to the brink and connected him more deeply to what’s become his life’s work: the 2009 U.S. Open at Bethpage Black and last year’s Senior PGA Championship here at Southern Hills.

In 2009, Cocanour was an intern at Bethpage, one of 15 interns working the Black Course for the summer with then-superintendent Craig Currier. That championship would go down as one of the wettest in major championship history, and it required a nearly 24/7 effort from the maintenance team to produce playable conditions for the tournament.

“Seeing the camaraderie and everyone coming together to accomplish a common goal was something that really got me excited and made it clear to me that I had picked the right profession,” Cocanour says. “All of the interns were living really close to one another, I developed a ton of great friendships and we just destroyed it out there. It really got me motivated to move forward in this business.”

Then last year, Mother Nature again dealt Cocanour and his colleagues a bum hand in the form of widespread winterkill that required the resodding of nearly seven acres of turf with the Senior PGA right around the corner. It was a month-long, sunrise-to-sunset effort that continued well after the last roll of sod had been placed, thanks to crummy weather, slow green-up and even raccoons — yep, raccoons — who saw the freshly laid sod as an easy way to dig up a quick meal.

“That may have topped the ’09 Open,” Cocanour says. “With all of the obstacles we faced and how hard we had to work to ultimately pull it together for the Senior PGA ... I can’t imagine any of us will go through anything like that again in our careers.”

Southern Hills CC assistant superintendent Doug Cocanour with superintendent Russ Myers
Doug Cocanour and superintendent Russ Myers prepare the golf course at Southern Hills CC in Tulsa, Okla. for the upcoming PGA Championship.

Like many in golf course management, Cocanour credits a love of golf and the outdoors for his first foray into the job as a teenager in his home state of Illinois. He did two years at a local community college in search of another career path, but kept coming back to the golf course, and ultimately earned a turf degree from Southern Illinois University. He did several internships, including the one at Bethpage, and that connection with Currier ultimately led to his first assistant superintendent job at the Glen Oaks Club on Long Island, where Currier had moved after his time at Bethpage.

Currier also played a hand in ultimately connecting Cocanour with his current boss at Southern Hills, Russ Myers. Cocanour was looking for a move west, Currier and Myers were good friends, and the former recommended Cocanour to the latter when Myers was overseeing maintenance and a massive restoration project at Los Angeles Country Club. Cocanour took an assistant-in-training job at LACC, was later promoted to full assistant on the club’s South Course, and then followed Myers to Tulsa five years ago, where he now has a fiancée, Lynette, and a growing family, with a 9-month-old son.

As he did during much of the runup to this week’s PGA Championship, Cocanour is focusing the bulk of his attention on the front nine during championship week, while fellow assistant Blake Willems works the back nine and recently-promoted assistant Robert Frizzell leads efforts on bunker maintenance.

But like everything at Southern Hills, in good times and in bad, teamwork takes precedent over any kind of specialization for the PGA Championship. And that just reinforces everything that Cocanour has come to love about the industry and the atmosphere created by Myers.

“We all learn so much from Russ, whether that’s the attention to detail that we all focus on or the ability to have a positive attitude no matter what’s going on,” Cocanour says. “At a place like Southern Hills, you just never know what the next day is going to bring, so having someone to follow and learn from like Russ is just a perfect fit.”

Scott Hollister is GCM’s editor-in chief.