Hamilton Lopes never dreamed his “dream job” would be serving on the grounds crew at Bethpage State Park, rising before the sun and manicuring one of five famed courses for a busy day of golf. He never dreamed he would play a major role in the preparation of Bethpage Black in Farmingdale, N.Y., for the 2009 U.S. Open Championship and the world’s finest golfers. The 24-year-old Lopes, known as Hammer to his colleagues, grew up in the Bronx, N.Y., with no green grass or back yard, certainly no affinity for agronomy, and no knowledge of golf or interest in the game. His only work experience was at a 7-Eleven convenience store. He acknowledges that a golf course is the last place he imagined himself working.
But in April 2002, golf found Lopes. As a 15-year-old sophomore at St. Raymond High School for Boys in the Bronx, Lopes met Greg Scott, his guidance counselor and a recruiter for GOLFWORKS, a student intern program for the Metropolitan Golf Association Foundation in New York. “Hamilton (Lopes) was my first GOLFWORKS recruit. I thought he would be a great candidate because he expressed interest in working outdoors and with machines,” says Scott.
After being assigned to head superintendent Erik Feldman at Mosholu Golf Course in the Bronx, Lopes recounts that his first day was not what he expected. “I figured I would just be asked to follow the superintendent around, not do lots of tough labor and get paid, but I was handed a weed whacker and put right to work. Before Mosholu, I had never been in a place that big and open, and up until that time for me, ‘grass was grass.’”
At the end of that first summer at Mosholu, Lopes had learned the ropes. He proved to his boss and co-workers that he could handle any task. “I got pretty good at all the different jobs and Erik offered me a chance to work on weekends while I was finishing high school. I guess I was doing something right.”
Lopes remained at Mosholu, which is also the home to The First Tee of Metropolitan New York, as a GOLFWORKS intern from 2002 until his graduation from high school in 2004. He quickly advanced to cutting tees and greens, a universal sign of trust from superintendents. “Erik gave me a lot of responsibility,” recalls Lopes. “I was his second-hand man. Pretty soon I was fertilizing, top-dressing, brushing, handwatering, you name it. I liked the challenge.”
After high school, Lopes set his sights on attending City College in Manhattan to pursue a career in Civil Engineering, a passion he had since he was a child building toy bridges. But golf again called, and Lopes returned to work as Feldman’s first assistant at Mosholu during the 2005 and ’06 seasons.
Feldman’s impressions of Lopes help sum up not only the kind of worker he is, but the type of person he strives to be and has evolved into. “Hamilton was a big part of what we were able to accomplish here at Mosholu,” says Feldman. “In the five years he worked for me, he never took a sick day. He started here as a 16-year-old GOLFWORKS intern who had never started an engine and finished as the first assistant superintendent during a complete course reconstruction.”
It was Feldman who introduced Lopes to Craig Currier, a 1993 graduate of SUNY Cobleskill (N.Y.) and head superintendent at Bethpage State Park, overseeing the famed facility’s five courses. With the advice and support of both Feldman and Currier, Lopes enrolled in the Turfgrass Management Program at Cobleskill, three hours away from the Bronx. After completing three years at Cobleskill, Lopes was offered the opportunity to intern for Currier in May of 2007. “I don’t think there is a job he hasn’t done since he’s been here,” says Currier.
When the U.S. Open came to Bethpage Black in 2009, Lopes supervised one of several 12-man crews, expertly managing the maintenance of bunkers, greens, teeing grounds and landing areas in his area of the course. His 12-man crew worked long, long hours to keep Bethpage Black playable amid a wave of inclement weather, a yeoman effort that drew raves from the USGA and the touring professionals from around the world.
With a U.S. Open under his belt, Lopes hopes to one day run a course of his own, maybe even try golf course design. For now, however, he is content working in his “dream job” at Bethpage State Park.