In 1986, when 21-year-old Brian Gerard packed his belongings from Western Illinois University and pointed his car toward South Carolina, his life ambitions were strictly short range: serve a required internship at a Southern golf resort with a goal of landing a job as a full-time assistant professional. After that … who knew?
“I’d never been to South Carolina, didn’t know anything about it,” Gerard said more than three decades later. “I just wanted to get my foot in the door in the golf business.”
He had his choice of two internship sites: Amelia Island in Florida or Kiawah Island, a relatively new resort with two golf courses—Marsh (now Cougar) Point designed by PGA TOUR star Gary Player and Turtle Point, by an up-and-coming architect named Tom Fazio.
Why go to Kiawah? The 54-year-old Gerard, now director of golf and activities at South Carolina’s world-renowned resort, attributes it to fate—and the late Tommy Cuthbert.
“I called Tommy and he said, ‘Sure, come on down, we’ll put you to work,’” Gerard recalled of the conversation with Kiawah’s then-director of golf. “He was a true Southern gentleman, and you got that sense from him on the phone. The way he treated me—that never changed.”
It didn’t hurt that Gerard’s hometown minister knew a church colleague in Charleston, who provided him with a place to stay in exchange for golf lessons. Thus began six months of transporting golf bags between Turtle Point and Marsh Point and duty in the pro shops—six months that turned into a lifetime.
Today, Kiawah Island Resort is home to five courses, including the famed Ocean Course, host of the 1991 Ryder Cup, 2007 Senior PGA Championship, 2012 PGA Championship and, in 2021, will be the site of the PGA’s return visit. And Gerard has been around for all that history, overseeing a must-play destination for golfing tourists worldwide on a daily basis, as well as working on some of the biggest competitions in the sport.
Meanwhile, Gerard’s career at Kiawah always has been on an upward arc—one reason he’s still around.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine being here 33 years later,” he said. “I figured I’d move up from assistant, move on to become a head professional. But early on (after four years), I had achieved one of my goals,” being named first assistant at Turtle Point.
An early disappointment—another assistant was named head pro at the new Ocean Course in 1989 instead of him — led a year later to Gerard becoming head pro at Turtle Point. Five years later, when the Ocean Course top job opened again, he got it. Eleven years after that, in 2006, he was tapped as director of golf for all five courses.
“It’s always been that the next opportunity for me was right here,” Gerard said.
Along the way, he met and married wife Lynn, a native of nearby Ravenel. After that, “when other jobs came up," he said, "I’d ask, ‘Is that better than what I’m doing? Will I be happier?' The answer’s always been no. It’s never even been close.”
Gerard gets ringing endorsements on his career at Kiawah from Roger Warren, the resort’s longtime president.
“Brian has proven to be the consummate director of golf and activities for the Kiawah Island Golf Resort,” Warren said. “His attention to detail, high standards and strong leadership have been responsible for creating a world-class experience for our guests. I couldn’t be more proud of him and the team of professionals he leads.”
It also doesn’t hurt that while Kiawah retains its pastoral, low-key vibe, the golf world keeps showing up on Gerard’s doorstep. The Ocean Course’s Ryder Cup debut brought introductions to some of the world’s top players, as well as to course architect Pete Dye. He also connected with Player, Fazio and Osprey Point architect Jack Nicklaus, some of the biggest names in golf.
“I’ve had the most interaction with Pete from working at the Ocean Course,” Gerard said. Walking the course with the 90-something icon when Dye would return for course upgrades was like learning golf design from the master.
“He’d come into the shop and say, ‘Brian, let’s go,’ and I’d say okay, not knowing where we were going,” Gerard recalled. He’d watch Dye’s hands-on genius up close as he reshaped and tweaked bunkers, tees and greens on the spot. “The vision Pete had in what he wanted to create visually, he’s the best of all time in my opinion.”
That brilliance has brought the three biggest golf events in South Carolina history to Kiawah. The latest, the 2021 PGA, is looming on Gerard’s horizon. He expects the lessons of the 2012 PGA to make this one smoother.
“(The first time) you don’t really know what to expect,” he said. “When you see all the behind-the-scenes (work), what it takes to get to that week … one time through is the most valuable experience you can have. We’re in so much better a position now.”
That’s in part because virtually all the Kiawah personnel who worked in 2012 are still on staff. “Having that knowledge is invaluable,” he said.
But there’s much more to running things at Kiawah than just the major events. Every day operating a popular tourist attraction means new challenges. Over four years, Gerard has overseen the renovation of one of the resort’s courses each year. Other projects—a new clubhouse at Cougar Point, 10 new tennis courts at East Beach, redoing the nature center at Night Heron Park, adding cottages at the Ocean Course—all fall under his purview.
Still, it’s what he always wanted to be doing, even back in his intern days. The demands of a multi-course resort require not just one man but a team that he trusts, Gerard said. The fact that many on his staff have been there almost as many years as he has makes things hum.
“Working together is enjoyable and very cohesive," he said. "We know our goals and how we want to get to those. We work together—they don’t work ‘for’ me, but ‘with’ me—so well.”
Many long-ago duties—teaching golf, handling merchandising, servicing guests—are now in the hands of trusted staff, among them Director of Instruction Ronnie Miller, superintendent Jeff Stone and Director of Retail Ashley Agapion. Gerard’s days now are filled with meetings, projects and the like, though he still likes to drop in at one of Kiawah’s courses each day, just to keep in touch.
Gerard, after all, is ultimately responsible for all the details that make Kiawah a success.
“When a group of guests comes for five days, plays five rounds of golf, we want them to leave and say, ‘That’s the best experience I’ve ever had,’” he said. “When they’ve spent their money and go, what are the guests saying? That’s what we all need to think about, what matters, why we’re here.”
Gerard chuckles. “The No. 1 thing to keep in perspective is, this is my job,” he said. “That’s just what I do,” and has done for a long time.