Gene Siller was more than the ever-smiling face of Pinetree Country Club in Kennesaw, Georgia, a facility Bob Jones -- the icon of Georgia golf -- helped christen nearly six decades earlier.
Once Siller settled in as PGA Director of Golf in 2019, his office, just off the golf shop, was a “drive-through,” an unofficial forum for members filing by to the locker room or the grille.
“They would always tap on the door,” said Brian Panosian, a member of the Pinetree Board of Directors and Golf and Greens Chair. “ ‘Hey Gene, got a minute?’ He would never close his door.”
Siller made time for all visitors, stopping everything to watch a member demonstrate his putting woes or critique playing conditions.
“Any pro would have a challenge with nearly 550 members, but Gene was beloved,” said Panosian. “He not only attended to the members, but took care of the members’ guests. If you are going to create a demeanor for a golf professional, who has to deal with so many different personalities, Gene would be where you want to start.”
Siller died July 3, four days shy of his 47th birthday. He was killed while unknowingly stepping into the middle of a homicide that tragically invaded his home course.
Said PGA of America President Jim Richerson, “We are truly heartbroken for the senseless loss of PGA Member Gene Siller, a remarkable father and husband, who was an outstanding representative of our Association, Pinetree Country Club and the Georgia PGA Section. Gene left an indelible mark of caring and love for the game of golf, a legacy of friendship that will never diminish.”
PGA Professional Pat Day, Tournament Director for the Georgia PGA Section, who has known Siller for nearly a decade, said his friend’s loss “is hard to process, hard to fathom. He was the consummate golf professional. The other night, I read some of the comments on the GoFundMe page set up for Gene’s family.
“There were comments from PGA Professionals around the country - from New York to Florida, to California, who didn’t know Gene at all. They were there to help. I’ve heard it said before, ‘What does the PGA do for me?’ It gives you 28,000 brothers and sisters.”
“PGA Professionals take care of their own.”
Rob Waters of Woodstock, Georgia, a PGA Tour Manager for Cleveland Golf SRIXON, said the umbrella of care for the Siller family expanded two days after Siller’s death. Waters was on the practice range at last week’s John Deere Classic in Coal Valley, Illinois.”
The outreach from all the caddies, manufacturer reps and players was amazing,” said Waters. “The players got behind it to raise funds on social media. And, knowing that a future event will be raising money for Gene’s family, I went to all manufacturers to collect prizes. It’s a small network we have in this industry, but from the tour side, I was blown away.”
On May 24-25, Pinetree Country Club member and broadcaster Brian Katrek savored a rare treat on the first tee, taking a step into what he considered his “dream day” at his home course.
Competing in the Yamaha Atlanta Open, the state’s oldest golf tournament, the Emmy Award-winning Katrek said he couldn’t have imagined a better script.
“I was on my home course with my pro, Gene Siller, and joined by Sonny Skinner, a guy who days earlier competed in the PGA Championship,” recalled Katrek, co-host of SIRIUSXM’s PGA TOUR “Katrek and Maginnes on Tap” show.
“Gene was happy about the day and we were sharing a golf cart,” said Katrek. “I am a proud member of Pinetree and he was our pro. That’s a special bond.
“The club members all loved him,” said Katrek. “He turned the golf shop around. He had a particular flair for marketing and was a good merchandiser. His golf shop was a bright, cheery place with bright colors.”
During the Atlanta Open, Siller was struggling on one hole, according to Katrek, and hit a couple provisional balls -- one which was retrieved by Katrek, who returned to the golf cart.
“I asked Gene about the names he wrote on his golf ball,” said Katrek. “Those are my sons’ names,” Gene said, breaking into a big smile. Gene lit up, his shoulders were back. “That made an impact on me.”
Skinner, a PGA Life Member from Sylvester, Georgia, won four Senior PGA Professional and one PGA Professional Player of the Year awards. He recalled his lone round with Siller.
“Watching Gene interact with his shop staff and outside service staff that day, he was always concerned about the enjoyment of others,” said Skinner. “Gene conducted himself in a manner that would make any parent, spouse, child or friend proud he was their son, husband, dad, and friend. God bless his family.”
Pinetree Country Club is where two-time PGA Champion Larry Nelson began his golf career as an assistant professional. It’s also been the site of two Georgia Opens, two Atlanta Opens, a State Amateur and numerous premier events. “They love competition at the club,” said Katrek, “and Gene was there to run to it, handling it masterfully.”
Though Siller lived at least an hour from Pinetree, he didn’t move closer to work. “Ashley and the kids were secure and he didn’t want to uproot them,” said Katrek.
Said Panosian, who will give one of four eulogies at Siller’s funeral: “Ashley shared that when Gene got the job at Pinetree, he absolutely couldn’t wait to get up in the morning to go to work. He would take time off on Sunday and Monday to be with his boys. She said, ‘It was great for the marriage and for the boys. You don’t know how much Pinetree meant to him professionally, but also to us as a family.’”
Siller was born in Cincinnati and went on to attend Purdue University, graduating with a mechanical engineering degree before entering the golf industry. Pinetree PGA General Manager Brad Nycum went to Florida State University on a golf scholarship. He was on the same Seminoles golf team as future PGA Champion Paul Azinger.
Nycum said his hiring of Siller was a perfect fit for a complex job.
“It takes a talented person to handle today’s PGA Professional job,” said Nycum. “Gene was able to handle the stress of a member-guest so well. It’s high-stress and takes a special person. When this job opened in 2019, Gene was the first person I thought of.”
During the most difficult week at Pinetree Country Club, Nycum had a special delivery.
“One of Gene’s favorite things was taking his boys to the golf club to play in the afternoon,” said Nycum. “After (the tragedy), Ashley brought a couple of pictures that the boys had drawn to the club. One showed Gene on the (10th) green, with the truck and the bad guy. I didn’t know which son drew it, but it said, ‘My Dad is a hero.’
“We have that picture, drawn in crayon, on the bulletin board. I will never forget it.”
Ryan Joyce, like Gene Siller, is a native Ohioan. Joyce, the PGA Head Professional at Hawks Ridge Golf Club in Ball Ground, Georgia, was born in Wellington, a suburb southwest of Cleveland, and 15 months older than Siller.
Joyce was a PGA Golf Management graduate of Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Michigan, and elected to PGA Membership in 1997. Siller became a PGA Member in 2012.
The twosome would ultimately meet in the suburb of Cumming, Georgia, living some 10 minutes apart and playing countless golf rounds together. Siller would ask Joyce to participate in his wedding.
“His wife, and my wife really hit it off, and we shared a lot of family nights together. He had his boys out to play golf at my course. I have two daughters who spent a lot of time at their house, and they would come to our house for pizza nights,” said Joyce. “We talked for 10 years about winning the Pro-Pro Championship in the Section, but never got it done. We went to the PGA Merchandise Show together and hung out a lot together at many events.
“The outpouring of support for his family is amazing. The PGA family is really showing through.”
Gene Siller is survived by his wife, Ashley Bouknight Siller, and sons, Beau, 7, and Banks, 5. He is also survived by his parents, Sharon and Eugene Siller; sister, Kristy Verticchio (Tony), and their three daughters, sister, Kimberly Goodstein (Ryan), and their three sons.
A funeral service is scheduled Monday, July 12, at Dunwoody United Methodist Church at 11 a.m. ET, followed by a private family burial. Pinetree Country Club also will host a Celebration of Life event Monday.
In lieu of flowers, the Siller family requested donations be made to the Gene Siller Memorial Grant at https://go.rallyup.com/georgiapgafoundation.
The Gene Siller Memorial Grant was created through the generosity of the Georgia PGA Foundation in order to honor Gene’s life and passion for junior golf. The grant will provide financial assistance to competitive junior golfers in need throughout the state of Georgia.
Check also may be made payable to:
Georgia PGA Foundation
Memo: Gene Siller Memorial Grant
2205 Northside Drive NW, Suite 140, Atlanta, GA 30305