Hall of Fame Class of 2024 Spotlight: Chester "Red" Wender

Hall of Fame Class of 2024 Spotlight: Chester "Red" Wender

Above Photo: The Wender Family (Red Wender, lower right between children)

MARCH 28, 2024 - An exemplary turf professional and an even better family man, Chester “Red” Wender (1927-2020) was the golf course superintendent at Plainfield Country Club from 1952 through 1994.

“He was passionate about his work and he could be a little rough around the edges, but when it came to the whole life, it was a different story,’ Celeste Zelesnick, Wender’s daughter, explained. “It was all run by my mother. We had a great family. When both my parents passed away, that's all we could talk about was how great the life was that they both gave us.”

In those four decades as Plainfield’s superintendent, he established a national reputation for excellence, was known as the “go-to guy” for area golf course superintendents, and was considered an esteemed part of the Plainfield Country Club community.

In his role as superintendent, he led preparations for more than a dozen local, regional and national championships including the 1978 U.S. Amateur Championship, the 1987 U.S. Women’s Open Championship, the 1952, ’61, ’68, ’75 and 1990 NJSGA Open Championships, the 1965, ’70 and ’83 NJSGA Men’s Amateur Championships and the 1957, ’63 and ’79 Met Open Championships.

Some would say he was a perfectionist, making sure Plainfield was always in immaculate condition.

“He liked the prestige of hosting the tournaments, but he hated having all those people walk on his grass,” laughed Zelesnick. “It was nerve-wracking to him that all of this was going to be happening at his golf course and to have to put it back together again after everyone left because he kept it in such pristine condition all the time, and he wanted it that way all the time.”

A generous mentor to his staff, Wender boasts an impressive succession of former assistants who went on to superintendent positions at other clubs, including Brett Price (Metuchen Golf & Country Club), Greg James (Liberty National Golf Club), Jim Gilligan (Bedens Brook Club), Chuck DiFrancisco (Scotch Hills Golf Club), and Lance Rodgers, the current superintendent at Colonia Country Club.

Wender was always looking for ways to improve his craft and was known throughout the region for his best practices, knack for innovation, and willingness to share his knowledge. He cultivated relationships with turfgrass and construction firms and the nearby Rutgers University Turf Management programs to ensure that Plainfield was among the first clubs to benefit from new research into mowers, grass, pesticides, and herbicides. For example, Wender was among the first superintendents to use three watering lines per hole (versus the standard two lines).

“From six in the morning until five or six at night he spent at the course,” Celeste recalled. “Sometimes he’d come home for dinner and then we would all pile back in the car and go back to the course because we had to set the sprinklers.”

Wender made it clear to his staff that his standard was to always maintain the course at tournament-level quality. This extended as practicable to Plainfield’s sister course, the public West Nine, which was also Wender’s responsibility, and later the nearby Colonia Country Club, where Wender served as green superintendent for three years after leaving Plainfield. For his extraordinary career and achievements, Wender is recognized as the first golf course superintendent elected to the NJSGA Hall of Fame.

Hockenjos, Paluck, Ross and Wender have all had extraordinary careers as individuals in the New Jersey golf community. Exceptional golf, volunteerism, advancing the game, mentorship, standards, relationships… these contributions have helped make New Jersey one of the guiding lights in the world of golf.

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