Jason Epstein, PGA: A Transformational Leader
By Keith Stewart, PGA
Much has been made of the recent transformation at Congressional Country Club. Andrew Green and his amazing architect team have reimagined one of golf’s most iconic championship layouts. Calling upon the course characteristics of years ago, we all cannot wait to see this stunning stage for the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship this week.
“I remember driving up and down River Road so many times. I was early for my interview and where else was I going to go? I had never been to Maryland before.” That’s Epstein recalling the moments leading up to his successful interview six years ago. The Miami kid who went to New Mexico and studied Professional Golf Management was about to transform his career in the Congressional board room.
We all have been through many changes over the past two years. Jason recalls these moments as more of an opportunity than a challenge. We closed to transform the golf course and that pause provided us a moment to get the job done. As a leader, we all look for opportunities to learn. Our world was off-balance, and we decided as a community to take advantage.
They no doubt did, and it is because of leaders like Jason that what we see this week will blow us away. Six years removed from that repeat loop up and down River Road next to the club, Epstein has transformed himself into a new ambassador for the game. In our interview, I asked how he would coach his team of ten PGA Professionals during such a momentous week.
Jason replied with a wonderful calmness, “I’m going to tell them to enjoy the moment. To have fun and make sure to appreciate all the hard work it took to get there. Whether it is the food and beverage team, course maintenance or my staff, they need to have fun this week.” I guess when your college roommate is PGA Championship winner Rich Beem you know how to have some fun from time to time.
Throughout my conversation with Jason, I was impressed by his macro view of the position he is in. His ability to subtly insert phrases like over communicate and pleased but never satisfied into a normal conversation is a unique quality. To those who know him, that’s Jason. He possesses all the great qualities a host must have. While he is organized behind the scenes out front, he’s welcoming and friendly.
Jason is the perfect guy to play golf with or have teach your children the most important aspects of the game. It never ceases to amaze me how a wonderful facility like Congressional Country Club always has a perfect paring with their lead golf ambassador. As I think about this partnership, I believe it goes even a little deeper. Congressional was not on the radar of golf’s governing bodies a decade ago for future championships. Leaders at the club needed to step up and transform the facility. A big part of that from a golf perspective came when they hired Jason. The consummate professional plays an important role in how a club is perceived by the greater community.
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Whether that is a local viewpoint or national one doesn’t really make a difference. What does make a difference is the way you connect. Jason’s ability to bond with a national audience is infectious. This isn’t hyperbole, but rather a statement about why hosting this week is an important culmination of that Congressional transformation.
In 2018, Jason along with nine other PGA Professionals ran the New York City marathon to support PGA Reach; the charitable arm of the PGA of America. Together they raised over $50,000 for charity. Congressional Country Club is a 36 hole facility just miles from the White House. It is an extremely busy club with a hundred activities every week. Jason is not only their Director of Golf, but also the Director of Athletics.
Most PGA Professionals consider the golf season to be a marathon and during the busiest days of the year he trained for one. This exemplifies my point of doing something to connect with your community no matter how large the audience is. Congressional is the host club for PGA HOPE’s National Week of Wellness. As a result of this macro approach to our golf ecosystem, their membership and team has been rewarded with nine major championships in the coming years.
None will be bigger than the 2036 Ryder Cup and the 2031 PGA Championship. When you talk to Jason, he’s quick to remind you of the 2022 and 2027 KPMG Women’s PGA Championships as well. That’s the essence of Jason. Epstein takes every opportunity to transform our view toward a better perspective. By the end of our interview, I felt my own sense of calmness.
Jason and his family had never been to Maryland before. Now they cannot see themselves being anywhere else in the world. How does a PGA Professional consistently maintain such a patient presence? I think it has a lot to do with his approach. Much like running that marathon, we talked about his preparation for hosting a major championship.
Jason knew there would be change. He empowered everyone by not just preparing for the Championship, but by also thinking their way through it. As part of the hard work his team plans to take on this week, he wants them to stay in the moment. Yes, they should enjoy the event, but at the same time they are also thinking about the future. Taking copious notes on how they can continue to grow because of this experience.
Most event hosts are only thinking about finishing the party. To Jason’s credit, he’s also trying to learn and teach his team for the next one. If that doesn’t transform your perspective on how to be a special host, I don’t know what else would. Jason jokes about those trips up and down River Road in preparation for his fateful moment in the interview room. After speaking with him, I don’t believe he was preparing for that moment. Instead, I think he was just getting to learn his commute for the rest of his career.