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McKinley's quest: 1,800 holes of golf at country's top-rated courses

mckinley family

Every guy’s got to a have a goal, even in retirement.


Those who know Sean McKinley ’63 would not be surprised by the fact that he set a goal, and achieved it. What they might be surprised about was the scope of his quest. But then again, knowing his planning skills, maybe not. 

As McKinley was preparing for his first retirement in 1999, his children presented him with one of those “coffee table” books, a pictorial essay on the “The Top 100 Courses You Can Play” by Brian McCallen, editor of Golf Magazine.

That started McKinley on an 11-year journey to play each and every course cited in the book. Why? 

“Everybody has to have goals and objectives,” he explained simply.

“I had originally planned to complete it in 10 years,” said McKinley, but a side trip one year to play top-rated courses in Scotland with his sons delayed completion by a year.

mckinleysHe began with rounds at Spyglass and Pebble Beach at Pebble Beach, the top ranked course featured in the book, on Labor Day 2000, and he putted in at his 1,800th hole on Aug. 31, 2011, at Spanish Bay, another of the Pebble Beach courses. He was accompanied on the final round by his sons and Ray Manza ’69.

To mark the occasion, the Spanish Bay bagpiper piped him in, and the gang was there to celebrate with him; his wife, Martha Brewster McKinley ’66; son Sean Jr. ’94, daughter Leigh ’99 and son Kevin; their families and Ray Manza ’69. 

As the roster indicates there’s a “long history of Alfred” connection for the McKinley family. Both Seans – father and son – received their degrees in ceramic engineering; both are proud members of Klan Alpine fraternity. Sean Sr.’s wife, Marti, is an alumna,earning her BS and RN degrees, a sister of Sigma Chi Nu, and her father, Edwin Brewster, was a member of the Class of 1936 and also a Klan brother.  Leigh, who was a member of the women’s lacrosse team at AU and its captain for three years, earned her degree in business administration and was a member of Sigma Chi Nu as well.  (Son Kevin somehow ended up at Virginia Tech.)

klan brothersAlthough McKinley and Manza are both AU alumni and both Klan brothers, they didn’t know each other until they met at a Baltimore-area AU alumni event in the 1990s. They’ve become friends and golf partners; it was Manza who provided hats emblazoned with “McKinley’s Golf March, 1800 holes” and a flag with an 18 in the middle on the front, and “2000-2011” on the back for everyone to wear as McKinley played his final round. 

A planner, McKinley plotted his trips so that he could play 10 courses a year, dividing the country into sections, and spending a week or two on each jaunt to play the courses in that area.

He didn’t keep track of the miles he logged to complete his goal, but he did make 11 separate trips from his home in Delaware to the West Coast – San Diego twice; Hawaii, Phoenix, Tucson, Seattle, Portland, Tahoe/Reno, Las Vegas, Palm Springs, and Newport Beach, CA.

He created a map with pins marking the locations of the courses for planning purposes, as he played them, he’d replace the pin with a flag denoting the date, the score, the name and number (in the book) of the course. He has a cabinet where he has displayed the logo golf balls from each of the courses. He filled six, three-ring binders with detailed information and his pictures on each of the courses, including his scores on each. 

“These were courses I’d never seen, never played before,” he said, so he researched each and every one online, checking layouts, maps, and photos, and buying yardage guides for each. “I wanted to know what was what” before playing. 

An 18-handicap golfer, McKinley said his average score on the 100 courses was 94.4.  He’d also planned to complete his quest by his 70th birthday and only missed that goal by one year, even with the year’s hiatus when he went to Scotland.

While most of the trips were made solo, his sons and his brother occasionally accompanied him as their schedules permitted.

McKinley found Bethpage Black, one of the five courses at Bethpage State Park on Long Island, to be the toughest, and he ranks Spyglass, the first one he played and one of the four courses at Pebble Beach, as his favorite. “But really, I enjoyed them all,” he said.

Remarkably, not once was one of his scheduled rounds of golf rained out. “I must have done something right,” McKinley said. 

“I would really encourage any one who had the opportunity to play a really good course to take it,” said McKinley. “It’s fun. It’s challenging.”

An engineer at Ferro Corporation for 20 years, McKinley left to start the first of several companies he’s founded and subsequently sold, ranging from one that imported and sold titanium dioxide, to one that conducts clinical trials for drug companies  

After his second retirement, he taught international management and strategic planning at the Wilmington, DE, campus of  Wesley (Dover, DE) College’s MBA program.  
So what’s the next goal for McKinley? 

More golf, probably. “I will have to find some courses where I can shoot my age – 70,” he said.
More Alfred, definitely.  He and three Klan Alpine pledge brothers and their wives gathered in Cancun last fall for a mini-reunion. Joining Sean and Marti were Richard ’63 and Ronnie Suchman ’64 Klein; Richard ’63 and MaryBeth Sigal; and Russell “Wayne” ’63 and Ann Perkins ‘65 Anderson.  “Seven of the eight are AU,” McKinley noted. Brought together on “tapping night” as Klan pledges, they’ve remained in touch since leaving Alfred.

This year they are headed for Taos, NM, to tell more Alfred stories and have another great time.
That 50th AU Reunion Year is rapidly approaching, too. And there’s plenty of planning to be done!



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