Explore Big Sky sat down with Greg Wagner, Director of Golf and Club Operations for Moonlight Basin, to discuss running a golf course on the side of a mountain, meeting Jack Nicklaus and what keeps him in the Treasure State.
After growing up in Vancouver, Washington, Wagner earned his bachelor’s in business marketing and PGA golf management from the University of Idaho. In May of 2014, Wagner moved to Big Sky to take on the role as Head PGA Professional at The Reserve, one of the most challenging golf courses in the nation. In his spare time, the recently turned 30-year-old enjoys fishing one of his favorite honey holes and hunting with his black lab Goose.
Explore Big Sky: How did you decide to take a job as a golf pro at The Reserve?
Greg Wagner: The job really found me. I was an Assistant Golf Professional at Sandpiper Golf Club in Santa Barbara, California, and was connected to Moonlight [Basin} through my job there. It was truly a dream opportunity and I owe it all to the people that took a chance on me as a young pro.
EBS: What makes The Reserve unique?
G.W.: Besides the scenery? I’d say it’s the culture we’ve created in the team that works there and the unique golf experience that the course and the staff provide.
EBS: Did you grow up playing golf? How did you fall in love with the game?
G.W.: Yes, I would go to the driving range with my dad as a kid and then started playing the course in fourth or fifth grade. It wasn’t until high school that I really developed a passion for the game.
EBS: Who is your favorite professional golfer?
G.W.: As a little kid I was a big fan of Payne Stewart. Then of course Tiger [Woods] became a spectacle and it was hard not to root for him. Now I enjoy watching all of the young players on tour getting their first victories.
EBS: What was it like to meet Jack Nicklaus when he came out to help celebrate the opening of the full 18?
G.W.: Meeting Jack was surreal. You can’t imagine all of the little details he sees and the ideas floating around in his head when he looks down a fairway from the tee box. It would have been amazing to see him play in his prime.
EBS: What is the biggest difficulty of operating a golf course in Big Sky?
G.W.: At the golf course, the biggest challenge we face is the weather. They say that in Montana if you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes. This summer in particular that was very true. The weather plays a big role in the maintenance practices we can implement at the course. We have an incredible team that keeps The Reserve in impeccable shape at 7,000’ of elevation, which is no easy task. Add in rain, snow, and lightning and it takes golf maintenance to a whole new level of difficulty.
EBS:What is one of the most memorable moments you have had as a golf educator?
G.W.: When teaching golf, there is nothing better than when a student has that “aha!” moment with something you are teaching them. Luckily, I’ve been able to get a few students to that moment and it’s always rewarding.
EBS: What’s the best piece of golf advice that you’ve received?
G.W.: When I was playing in a tournament in Arizona I met a 90-year-old woman that told me, “I just swing hard in case I hit it.” To this day that has been the funniest and most memorable piece of golf advice I’ve ever received.
EBS: Besides The Reserve, what is your favorite golf course that you’ve had a chance to tee up on?
G.W.: One of our Moonlight members was kind enough to host myself and another pro at Riviera Country Club in [Los Angeles] a few years ago. There is a lot of tradition there and it was my first time playing a course that I have seen the pros play on TV. To this day it is one of the most memorable rounds of golf I’ve played.
EBS: How do your work responsibilities change when the course is covered in snow?
G.W.: You will find me at the Moonlight Lodge assisting with the day-to-day operations of the club. I spend quite a bit of time planning for the next summer season during the winter as well.
EBS: If you weren’t a golf professional, what other career path could you see yourself in?
G.W.: I can’t imagine I would be working in such a cool playground like Big Sky had I gone down a different career path. It’s interesting the people you meet and the reasons for where we end up. I do know that if I was doing something different, I’d be trying to make a life work in a place like this.
EBS: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
G.W.: Hopefully still skiing off Lone Peak during the winter and fishing the rivers around Big Sky in the summer. It’s hard to beat the lifestyle here and I’m lucky to be a part of such a fun community.