The University of Massachusetts Amherst proudly claimed a major presence at this year’s U.S. Open. While none of the competing golfers was an alumnus, the man who made it all happen at the Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Southampton, New York, is. He’s Jon Jennings ’84S, ’86, the club’s superintendent since March 2012.
Jennings is a powerhouse in the industry, a maniacally focused overachiever believed to be the only superintendent to have worked at five USGA charter clubs. In addition to Shinnecock Hills, he has overseen the Chicago Golf Club in Wheaton, Illinois; St. Andrew’s Golf Club in Yonkers, New York.; the Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts; and the Newport (Rhode Island) Golf Club. Over the years, they and a number of other clubs have richly benefitted from Jennings’s energy, prowess, and eye for opportunity.
Once I had a clear direction and decided what I wanted to achieve, I became extremely focused on the path, getting there through effectiveness and doing what others wouldn’t.
Jon Jennings ’84S, 86
Those traits weren’t inborn. When hired as a high school senior at the Madison (Connecticut) Country Club, Jennings had a hard time mowing a straight line and being punctual. His boss, superintendent Mike Chrzanowski ’78S, saw something in the kid and managed to bring him around, if only at the “last warning” stage. The transformed Jennings was so dedicated that he made sure he was on time by sleeping in his mother’s car in the club’s parking lot nights before he needed to work.
After attending a club dinner at which he heard members sing Chrzanowski’s praises, Jennings asked the boss how he had gotten his job. The path, he learned, had started at UMass. Jennings promptly applied and was accepted.
On his first day on campus, Jennings heard Professor Joseph Troll offer his class a sobering challenge. “He spoke sternly to us,” Jennings recalls. “He said, ‘In five years, half of you won’t be in the golf business.’ That scared me to death. I was determined not to be part of that statistic. Once I had a clear direction and decided what I wanted to achieve, I became extremely focused on the path, getting there through effectiveness and doing what others wouldn’t.”
After earning an associate’s degree in golf course management and a bachelor’s degree in resource economics, and having a good time along the way, Jennings was out of the gate running. He hasn’t stopped since.