While touring a suburban Buffalo golf course last October, a superintendent of a neighboring club left a message on my cellphone.
His voice was feeble, the message concerning. Scott Dodson was too sick to show me around Park Country Club, the middle stop on a three-tour day last October. I had never met Dodson, but he proved more than accommodating as I scheduled a fall swing through New York, agreeing to meet following my visit to nearby Brookfield Country Club. Park Country Club and Brookfield are five miles apart, a common separation distance between Buffalo-area clubs.
Welcoming superintendents and short distances between golf facilities make Western New York an ideal spot to visit courses. Natives call Buffalo “The City of Good Neighbors.” I quickly discovered no municipality boasts a more appropriate moniker. Buffalo residents are genuine, charitable, humble, approachable and eager to show visitors what makes their region unique.
Even in illness, Dodson demonstrated incredible hospitality, alerting assistant superintendent Jim Frey, general manager Brad Pollak and head professional Eddie Suchora of my visit. The trio provided a neighborly vibe, enthusiastically staging a memorable tour of a classic course undergoing a renovation led by architect Ian Andrew. Everything about Park Country Club left an indelible — and delectable — impression.
I visualized thousands of spectators sitting on the hillside between the 18th green and the gargantuan stone clubhouse 83 years earlier, cheering Paul Runyan to the first of his two PGA Championship triumphs. Park Country Club has become a modern club without losing its Golden Age appeal, a source of pride among generational members and longtime employees. Pollak added sweetness to the day, handing me a half-dozen warm chocolate chip cookies as I departed. Mysteriously, all six cookies disappeared by the time I reached The Kahkwa Club in Erie, Pa.
Still, something was missing from the experience: the opportunity to meet Park Country Club’s longtime and engaging superintendent. I learned during the tour the reason behind Dodson leaving work earlier that morning: he was suffering from kidney disease and awaiting a transplant. I also learned Brian Conn, the superintendent at nearby Transit Valley Country Club, was the donor.
A powerful story. But one I wasn’t prepared to tell. For starters, a confidential conversation revealed the looming donation. I place maintaining relationships above breaking stories, despite immense pressure, especially in the click-bait era, to be first. That philosophy has yielded access to personalities, places, information – and, yes, even a few scoops. Based on my experiences, quality relationships are the most important element to work success.
The patience was rewarded Jan. 23, when I returned to Park Country Club to meet Dodson and Conn, two weeks after the pair underwent a successful kidney transplant. The energetic tone in Dodson’s voice contrasted last October’s voicemail. The duo spoke for three hours about their lives before and after the procedure. Conn revealed to Dodson for the first time how a tragedy contributed to a personal metamorphosis that ultimately led to the donation.
I have interviewed hundreds, if not thousands, of subjects in my career for a variety of stories. Nothing has compared to sitting across from Dodson and Conn in Park Country Club’s empty Runyan Room. A pair of superintendents shared an inspirational story with a stranger because they want to help others.
Score one for humanity.