Throughout Dennis Satyshur’s 31 years as the only director of golf Caves Valley Golf Club has known, he’s spent each day working off of a list. It’s nothing special – just a sheet of paper with the names of the members who are expected to be visiting that day.
Satyshur doesn’t go home until he’s had a conversation with every one of them.
“There are stories all the time about someone who hasn’t been here for 10 years and Dennis will remember their name, where they went to college and who they root for in professional football,” said David Bannister, a longtime board member of the private club that is less than 20 miles north of Baltimore, Maryland. “He does it thoroughly, professionally and consciously, but he also does it naturally. It’s not fake. He’s the Jack Nicklaus of that.”
The perpetual desire to connect with people has been the cornerstone of Satyshur’s career, one that is coming to an end at the conclusion of this season as he steps down and allows protégé Matt Fuller to take his place. At 71 years old, the man they call “Football” as an ode to his past as the starting quarterback at Duke University, is fulfilled with the culture he’s guided at one of the nation’s most unique facilities.
Like he once did on the gridiron for the Blue Devils 50 years ago, Satyshur led his staff with confidence and displayed the type of intangibles that golfers value greatly but have a difficult time articulating.
“I wasn’t the best player on the team, but I could get everyone on the same page,” Satyshur said of his college football days. “I took that philosophy into my career. Collectively, people are very powerful. At Caves, we talk about leaving everything at the gate. All of your money, all of your titles … when you come in, it’s not about you. It’s about us.”
There was an alchemy between Satyshur and Caves Valley from the beginning.
The Tom Fazio-designed layout that recently hosted the BMW Championship came online in 1991 as a club of forward-thinkers. The facility’s mission statement declared intentions of hosting big championships and being a prominent figure in the Baltimore community. At the time, the city’s private courses were mainly segregated by religion, gender, type of wealth and other factors.
Caves Valley wanted something different. It would be a national club where two-thirds of the rounds were from non-members, many staying in one of the 50 guest rooms on site. It would be a walking golf club with a robust caddie program. Members would consider it the opposite of a “home club” where you can show up on an idle Tuesday and find a game. And more than anything, it would be inclusive to all who wanted to enjoy a full golf experience where the small details are neatly manicured just as much as the golf course.
“Many of the community leaders were saying, ‘We need a place that will have national recognition and prominence where you can join because you’re a good person,’ ” Bannister said. “‘You can be a man, a woman, black or white, but you just have to be successful and love the game of golf.’”
Not everyone would be ready to manage the golf operation at a facility where members call Caves Valley their second, third or fourth course they belong to, but Satyshur was an ideal fit.
Growing up in Erie, Pennsylvania, as one of seven children in a middle-class family, Satyshur played football, baseball and basketball before finding golf as a 13-year-old. Winning the 1968 Pennsylvania State High School Championship convinced him to continue with the game into college instead of solely playing football.
He captained the Duke football squad in 1971, winning his first start, 12-6, on the road at the University of Florida. That team started 4-0, also beating 10th-ranked Stanford on the road, before settling for a 6-5 record. It wouldn’t be possible today, but Satyshur played football in the fall and then half of a golf season in the spring after football practice had ended.
When Satyshur graduated in 1972, he was encouraged by Wake Forest golfer and eventual three-time PGA Tour winner Jim Simons that he should head to Tampa, Florida, to prepare for tour qualifying school. It was there that Satyshur met Tom Kite, who had just graduated from Texas.
Satyshur asked Kite if he wanted company as he practiced. Kite said no.
“Well, I’m coming, anyway,” Satyshur remembers replying. “And Tom said, ‘OK, meet me at Waffle House at 7 a.m.’ Well there are about 50 Waffle Houses in Tampa.”
Kite may have been begrudging at first, but a lifelong friendship began that summer. When Kite won the 1992 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, he spent the week before at Caves Valley practicing and spending time with Satyshur. There’s a picture of Kite holding the U.S. Open trophy that hangs in Satyshur’s office.
“Football, thanks for being such a large part of this,” Kite wrote on the picture. “Golf is not an individual sport.”
Kite felt so strongly about that sentiment that he would even make Satyshur a vice captain for the American side during the 1997 Ryder Cup. Satyshur probably will go down as the last club pro to hold that lofty position.
“He wanted someone he trusted who could stay ahead of things,” Satyshur said of Kite’s decision. “This is the outfit for tonight, this is the outfit for tomorrow, somebody forgot something at the hotel … just a guy who could do whatever needed to be done. I’m comfortable with people and Tom had seen me in a couple of different situations at different clubs. He liked my demeanor and ease of getting along with people.”
But well before that event, where a midwestern kid flew on the Concorde and was greeted by Spanish royalty, Satyshur had a meandering path to Caves Valley.
He missed out on qualifying school in two tries and went back to Duke as quarterbacks coach for three years. He missed golf, however, and felt compelled to get back into the game.
He started at Pinehurst Country Club and then worked three summers for Bill Strausbaugh at Columbia Country Club in Chevy Chase, Maryland, just north of Washington D.C.
Strausbaugh, who has an award named after him that recognizes PGA pros who have mentored others — Satyshur won it in 2009 — came to work each day in a tie and provided lessons that were foundational for Satyshur.
“He was a role model without saying much,” Satyshur said. “He showed you what he wanted you to do.”
Satyshur then spent a winter at Pine Tree Golf Club in Boynton Beach, Florida, where he met architect Joe Lee, a prolific designer of Florida courses. Lee led Satyshur to Bent Pine, a course Lee built in Vero Beach, Florida, and he started his first head pro job there in 1979. Five years later, Satyshur took the head pro job at Baltimore Country Club where he would stay for six years.
That’s when Caves Valley hired him away, selling Satyshur on an idea.
“Baltimore Country Club was the Queen Mary and Caves Valley was like the Niña, Pinta and Santa María,” Satyshur cracked. “The guys at Caves, they were kind of dreamers. They were going to have a great caddie program, host national events and get involved with the economic development of the city … I thought if they were able to do it, I would match up better with them. I was 40 years old and it was the right time in my life to take a chance.”
“Dennis is among the best in the business. He’s a leader, a hall of famer. No one has done it all better than Dennis Satyshur.”
Satyshur’s networking abilities and travel made him an ideal ambassador to sell others on this dream that Caves Valley started. With Kite, Satyshur has attended the Masters 23 times. During the pandemic, Satyshur went to Pine Valley with his son, Michael, and played golf with Gary Player. He’s had interactions with Barack Obama and George H.W. Bush. The latter wrote him a thank-you note using Air Force One stationary after visiting Caves Valley, a memento Satyshur has framed.
He’s fortunate to be incredibly connected, but it comes from a place where golfers are attracted to Satyshur’s love of golf and people. For him, Caves Valley was always about relationship building, and that has shown up in the smallest of details. A great example is that Satyshur employs a brilliant tactic when play becomes sluggish as foursomes clog up his course; rather than chastise the slower groups, he will go tell stories to the faster ones. Sometimes he may even bring his clubs and play a hole with them.
When the round is over, no request is too small to be denied.
“Dennis has built a culture of ‘yes’ at Caves,” said Caves Valley chairman Steve Fader. “The answer is ‘yes’ at every level. He’s recognized that when people come off the course, it’s about the full experience. It’s not just how quick the greens are running that day.”
Among Satyshur’s greatest accomplishments is his ability to recruit and retain a talented staff around him. More than 30 of his former assistants have gone on to leading roles at other clubs, whether as a head pro, director of instruction or another capacity.
Like Strausbaugh before him, that leadership has been by example. Satyshur believes that the modern-day club pro has moved outside, playing more golf with members, giving lessons and promoting the brand of a club as an ambassador. In that respect, Satyshur is in the same sentence as friends Bob Ford, Gene Mattare, Mike Harmon and others.
“Dennis’ passion for Caves Valley is extraordinary,” said Ford, the iconic former head professional at Oakmont and Seminole. “In my travels, no one represents their facility better than ‘Football.’ He is the quintessential host. He loves people, speaking with people and sharing his stories with people. People seek Dennis out when they come to Caves. He makes everyone feel so welcome and he is someone who really cares. In my opinion, Dennis is among the best in the business. He’s a leader, a hall of famer. No one has done it all better than Dennis Satyshur. I wish him and his family all the best retirement has to offer.”
The final summer of Satyshur’s career was a special one. Caves Valley underwent considerable renovations and the membership sacrificed a great deal in preparation for the BMW Championship, where Patrick Cantlay defeated Bryson DeChambeau in an epic six-hole playoff.
Satyshur had been waiting for this moment where the PGA Tour came to Baltimore for the first time in some 60 years.
“I told Dennis, we’re going to have a party for you with about 125,000 people celebrating your retirement,” Fader said. “That tournament for him was really a wonderful cap to his career.”
The golf was special, but there were more profound results than Cantlay rolling home putts all over the property. More than $10 million in hospitality was sold, breaking the previous event record by $3 million. Proceeds from the tournament have helped with the creation of the Caves Valley Evans Scholars House at the University of Maryland’s College Park campus. The first two Evans Scholars — high-achieving caddies who come from limited financial means and receive full-tuition and housing scholarships for college — are starting at Maryland this fall.
One of the girls who is attending, Varada Maulkhan, came to the game through the First Tee of Greater Baltimore. Satyshur has been heavily involved with that program as well, being a member of the board since its inception.
Moments like these make every day of his career worth it. Even though Fuller has been training to take over the director of golf position for 15 years and is more than capable, it will be the end of an era when Satyshur leaves his current role.
“It’s like replacing Brooks Robinson at third base,” Bannister said, referencing the former Baltimore Oriole who won 16 Gold Gloves and was a first-ballot hall of famer. “He has a legacy that will live past him through his successors.”
Of course, Satyshur won’t be going too far. He has a trip to Scotland planned next year with some Caves Valley members. He’ll be playing more golf, much of it as his club, while going down to his Vero Beach home during the winter.
“I’m going to ride this wave right into the beach and see what drink is waiting there for me,” Satyshur joked.
He can put down that paper now, but it’s a safe bet he’ll never forget the names.
Top: Dennis Satyshur