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Joe Stefanick
2014 Most Valuable Technician

A place to call home

Joe Stefanick, GCM's 2014 Most Valuable Technician Award winner, has proved to be a valuable asset to Seven Lakes Golf and Tennis Community in Fort Myers, Fla. Stefanick is pictured with one of his most prized possessions — his grandfather's anvil.
Photos by Scott Hollister

Seven Lakes Golf and Tennis Community is a modest retirement neighborhood tucked alongside busy Highway 41 in Fort Myers, Fla., a little more than 10 miles from the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. And among a multitude of amenities available to its residents, Seven Lakes’ centerpiece is the 3,500-yard, par-60 golf course that winds its way through the 230-acre development.

While the course is thoughtfully cared for and impeccably maintained, even during the sweltering summers of southwest Florida, it’s not the kind of place you’d expect to find an equipment technician with a résumé filled with major-championship experience and stops at some of the most revered addresses in golf.

Yet, that’s exactly what Seven Lakes enjoys in the person of Joe Stefanick, the winner of GCM’s 2014 Most Valuable Technician Award, which is presented in partnership with Foley United. He’s worked multiple U.S. Opens, almost all of them at the special request of the host superintendent. He’s served as the full-time equipment tech at facilities such as PGA National, Merion and Olde Florida. He’s tended to the equipment fleets being used in the construction of countless new golf developments.

Despite all that, Stefanick insists that he’s never felt more at home in a job than he has since joining the team at Seven Lakes two years ago, embracing the freedom, the atmosphere and the challenges he’s found there.

“This is the kind of place you can grow some roots and stay with,” Stefanick says. “It’s not bubbling with money, but it sure is bubbling with pride, I can tell you that. It’s a very nice environment to work in, and I’m lucky to be here.”

Seven Lakes’ GCSAA Class A superintendent J.R. Irwin says he and the club are the real lucky ones.

“There are two things that are really big with me, and I learned both from Bill Snyder (longtime Kansas State football coach), who is one of my personal heroes,” says Irwin, a 17- year GCSAA member. “One is to try and get a little bit better every day, and the other is to try and surround yourself with people who want to make you better. And Joe has lived both of those things each and every day he’s been here.”

A Pennsylvania native who has spent most of his adult life in South Florida, Stefanick remains a decidedly old-school equipment technician despite a mastery of the cutting edge earned through years of experience in tournament prep, course construction and daily maintenance at the highest levels. One of his most prized possessions in the shop at Seven Lakes, for example, is an anvil used by his grandfather during his days as a mechanic, working on everything from Packards to Studebakers in the early years of the automotive industry.

“You can be having a bad day and go out and hit that thing with a hammer a few times, hear that ring, and it just brings back great memories of my granddad,” Stefanick says. “It can really turn a bad day good.”

Irwin gushes about the broad package of skills that Stefanick brings to the table, from preventive maintenance and fabrication to shop organization, the latter of which he demonstrated during a recent relocation of the shop within Seven Lakes’ maintenance facility. But Stefanick’s intangible qualities shine most brightly to those with whom he interacts every day.

“He’s got all the technical ability in the world, the ability to fix pretty much anything … but on top of that, he just gets along great with everybody,” Irwin says. “He doesn’t have an attitude, zero ego, zero mean streak. Whatever is going on, he just stops and takes the time to work with everyone. It’s more than I could ever ask for.”

For Stefanick, though, it’s all just part of the job, part of his true labor of love.

“I just love it,” he says. “I live for this stuff. I really do.”

Scott Hollister is GCM’s editor-in-chief.  
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