Justin Riegel loved being a golf professional, and not just because he could play. He was always there with a helping hand, aiding the members at Philmont Country Club or the Philadelphia Section PGA with whatever was needed.
“Whether it was for the section or the club or anyone, he was the first guy to volunteer for anything,” Bryan Kienke, a close friend and a former colleague in the Philadelphia Section, said Friday. “At work he was the first one to roll up his sleeves and jump into something. He would never ask you to do something that he wouldn’t get in there and do himself.”
Kienke and PGA professionals, locally and across the country, are mourning the death of Riegel, 38, the director of golf at Philmont, who was killed Wednesday when a tree crashed down into the pro shop and cart barn at the club during a violent thunderstorm.
Lower Moreland Township police reported it had responded to a call at 12:26 p.m. of a tree falling into the building. Riegel apparently was helping get golf carts out of the rain and into the barn.
“The tree came down onto the building, then most of the building came down on the golf cart area where this gentleman was at,” Bob Scholly Jr., the township’s emergency management coordinator, told 6ABC News.
Riegel grew up in Chalfont and graduated from Lansdale Catholic High School. He took part in Penn State’s PGA Golf Management program from 2000 to 2004.
He worked as an assistant pro at Aronimink Golf Club, Wilmington Country Club and Gulph Mills Golf Club before becoming head pro at French Creek Golf Club. He moved on to Philmont in March 2019 as head pro and was promoted to director of golf last January. He lived in Conshohocken.
Geoff Surrette, executive director of the Philadelphia Section PGA, called Riegel “a person that everybody liked.”
“He was professional and friendly,” Surrette said. “If you knew Justin, you were his friend. He was a great golf professional. He was very involved with the section and with other golf professionals, just a really good person.”
At French Creek, Riegel met Kate Hannon, the club’s banquet events manager, and the two became a couple. They were excited about the upcoming birth of their first child, a boy, due in about two weeks, Kienke said.
“He was so excited to become a father,” he said. “I have two little boys and every time he saw my kids, he was that uncle that would come in and play with them. So for him not to have the opportunity to meet his son is just crushing.”
Riegel’s family has experienced its share of tragedy. His father died just as he was about to enter Penn State, and his brother was killed in a motorcycle accident.
“He didn’t want to go after any jobs outside the Philly area because he wanted to be there for his mom,” Kienke said. “My heart breaks for her. No one person should have to endure what she’s endured, losing two sons and her husband.”
Funeral arrangements have not been announced. Kienke, the head pro at Cohasset (Mass.) Golf Club, has set up a GoFundMe page to help Riegel’s girlfriend and soon-to-be newborn son.