Bob Farren and Kevin Robinson put their faith to work at Pinehurst

On June 15, the final round of the men’s U.S. Open and the day before the first practice round of the women’s U.S. Open, Bob Farren will be busier than a Best Buy on Black Friday.

But Farren, the director of golf course and grounds management at Pinehurst Resort, site of the men’s and women’s U.S. Open Championships during back-to-back weeks in mid-June, won’t be too busy to attend church – it’s a Sunday after all.

Farren, a certified golf course superintendent, has one of the most prestigious and demanding jobs in golf course maintenance. As the overseer of eight Pinehurst golf courses, including the world-famous No. 2 Course, Farren is one of the best-known superintendents in the business. He came to Pinehurst in 1982, beginning his career as the assistant superintendent on the No. 4 Course. He assumed his current role in 2008. But Farren’s career at Pinehurst isn’t what drives his will to live and make a difference. His Christian faith, which he shares with his close-knit family, takes precedence over Pinehurst.

When the 56-year-old Farren leaves Pinehurst, his goal is to have it in better shape than when he arrived, but it’s more important for him to leave a favorable mark on the world when he’s gone.

What: Men’s and Women’s U.S. Opens

When: June 9-22

Where: Pinehurst No. 2

Length: Course will play 7,562 yards (par 70) for the men. Course will play 6,649 yards for the women (par 70).

Putting Surface: A-1/A-4 Bentgrass (but greens will be resurfaced with Champion ultradwarf bermudagrass soon after the tournaments end).

“I think we’re put here for a reason … to make an influence and help others,” Farren says.

Kevin Robinson, golf course superintendent of the No. 2 Course, shares Farren’s approach toward life and work, with God at the center. The 44-year-old Robinson has spent 22 years at Pinehurst, working his way up from foreman of the No. 7 Course to superintendent on No. 2. It’s no surprise that Robinson calls Farren his mentor.

“We’ve been through a lot together,” Robinson says.

Sitting in Farren’s office on a recent sun-splashed spring day, Farren and Robinson discuss their faith and how it intertwines with working at Pinehurst, where they spend so many of their waking hours. Two matted and framed photographs of Payne Stewart hang on Farren’s office wall, each showcasing rubber wristbands made popular by the late golfer, who won the U.S. Open at Pinehurst in 1996. One bracelet is engraved with the acronym WWJD, which stands for “What Would Jesus Do?” The other features the acronym GOLF, which stands for “God Offers Love and Forgiveness.”

Farren and Robinson keep these two sayings top of mind as they go about their daily work.

Praying for …

Farren and Robinson don’t wear their faith on their sleeves, but they’re open to talking about how faith has helped them persevere in their careers. The two say their faith helped during the much-publicized restoration of Course No. 2, when it underwent radical design and agronomic changes in 2011 to return the course back to the feel of the original Donald Ross design.

“There were a few times when the project was completely in the ditch,” Farren says. “It was one challenge after another.”

The greens renovation part of the project in particular caused Farren and Robinson anxiety. At first, only a few greens were going to be sodded, but then it was decided to resod all of them. The project couldn’t begin until the course closed in November, and it had to be completed by March since a tournament was scheduled. That didn’t give the new greens much time to get established, especially during a tough winter.

The Penn A-1/A-4 bentgrass sod was to be purchased from a farm in Pittsburgh, but an early snowstorm hit the area and covered the ground with snow. So Farren found a farm in New Jersey that offered the sod. It wasn’t snow-covered, but it was frozen.

Farren and Robinson don’t wear their faith on their sleeves, but they’re open to talking about how faith has helped them persevere in their careers. The two say their faith helped during the much-publicized restoration of Course No. 2, when it underwent radical design and agronomic changes in 2011 to return the course back to the feel of the original Donald Ross design.

The sod was trucked to Pinehurst and stored in the maintenance facility, where it could thaw. It was laid as soon as possible, but the weather was cold and the sod didn’t grow.

“You could pick it up off the green in late January,” Robinson notes.

Farren and Robinson didn’t get on their knees to pray that the sod would take root. They did, however, pray for strength, understanding and patience to get them through the stressful time.

“We don’t pray for results,” Farren and Robinson say.

Incidentally, the sun began to shine during the last three weeks of February, the sod took hold, and the greens were ready for the early March tournament. Neither Farren nor Robinson credited God for the turnabout in the weather. Sure, they were thankful, but they both know God has more important things to deal with than growing in turf.

The discussion turned to God’s role in the weather and natural disasters. At the time, the mudslide in Oso, Wash., was making headlines. More than 30 people died in the tragedy.

How could God let it happen?

“I don’t ask that question,” Farren says. “I don’t know why I don’t ask it. I don’t think God intentionally does it. It’s beyond our realm of understanding.”

Robinson doesn’t believe that God creates devastating storms to punish people for their sins. Like Farren, God’s role in the weather, if He has one, remains a mystery to Robinson, who makes it a point to say he has the utmost respect for Mother Nature.

“It takes about two weeks to get the course looking just right,” Robinson says, “but it only takes about two hours [for the weather to] destroy it. … No matter what we do in preparation for the U.S. Opens, it’s all going to come down to weather, which we have no control over.”

Managing by the golden rule

“Do unto others as you would have others do unto you” is a verse from Matthew 7:12 in the Bible.

Farren and Robinson try to live by this golden rule.

Farren aims to treat everyone with the same fairness and respect, from Pinehurst President Don Padgett to the guy emptying the trashcans on the clubhouse porch behind the 18th green on Course No. 2. While it’s the right thing to do, Farren also knows that treating people with respect is the best form of leadership. He tries to help other employees shoulder the burden when they’re challenged.

“I don’t have the answers for everything, but I certainly try to help them find the answers,” Farren says.

Respecting others is a reflection of his faith and upbringing, Robinson says.

“I try to understand what the guys on my crew are going through,” he adds.

Even though they may come from different backgrounds, Robinson strives to empathize with them and aims to treat them with dignity.

Farren and Robinson often deal with people outside the maintenance department, and sometimes things don’t get done as quickly as they would like. That’s when they have to remind themselves to be patient, another component of their faith.

“Pinehurst is a big ship with a lot of moving parts,” Robinson says.

While wanting to be fair and respectful, Farren and Robinson also realize that they must sometimes be demanding with employees. It’s Pinehurst after all, a mecca of golf, and people travel from all over the world to visit and spend a lot of money playing there. Farren and Robinson realize it’s on them to deliver the finest conditions possible, and they need their employees’ cooperation to do so.

“Every task has a standard to meet,” Robinson says.

Family matters

The walls in Farren’s office are dominated with photographs, mostly of his family. Seated at his desk, Farren cranes his neck and points to a family photo that includes Kathy, his wife of nearly 30 years, his daughter, Kristin, and son, Casey, and two others, whom Farren calls his “Belarusian son and daughter.” Their names are Roma and Lara. Farren and his wife adopted them as part of the American Belarussian Relief Organization (ABRO).

Belarus, a small country that was part of the former Soviet Union, received about 70 percent of the radiation damage from the April 26, 1986, Chernobyl nuclear power plant meltdown. The explosion released 90 times as much radiation as the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima during World War II. The radiation damaged the immune systems of the country’s people, especially children.

ABRO was formed so families in the U.S. could adopt children from Belarus for several weeks a year and provide them with clean food and a safe living environment so their immune systems could strengthen and the level of radiation in their bodies could subside.

For eight years, the Farrens welcomed Roma and Lara, a brother and sister, into their home for about two months each year. Lara is now 26, and Roma is 23.

“It was important for them to come here and eat our food, which they loved,” Farren says. “But we still don’t know if the radiation has affected them.”

Robinson is also a family man. His wife, Laura, is Pinehurst’s director of retail. The couple has three children, ages 15, 13 and 11. Knowing how important his family is to him, Farren wants Robinson and Pinehurst’s other superintendents to take time off to be with their families and not worry about it. This especially holds true for the two weeks the tournaments will be held. Families offer support, which every working person needs, Farren says.

With his wife working full time, Robinson admits that balancing career and family is a juggling act. But that’s where an empathetic boss makes an impact.

“Bob is very understanding. He knows there are kids’ events that you need to attend, and he’s very supportive of that,” Robinson says.

Robinson takes the same approach with his crew. He encourages them not to miss their kids’ games and other family functions, even if it means leaving work early.

And, if his crew members are so inclined, Robinson will welcome them to attend church on the Sunday that is the final round of the men’s U.S. Open.