Feature Interview with Sam MacKenzie
1. Who have been your mentors?
Like most folks, I have had an opportunity to work for a great many people over the course of my career. In some cases you learn good things and other situations are not so good. A person’s ability to know the difference and learn from them is crucial. Aside from my father (who undoubtedly had the greatest impact on my character), the first two Superintendents I worked for had the most influence on what type of a Superintendent I became.
My first job on a golf course was at Macomb Country Club, a little 9 hole golf course in west central Illinois. Don Shryack was its long time Superintendent and he managed a crew of four including himself. Don had a humbleness about him that I have never forgotten. He taught me just about every job at MCC with a kindness and patience like I have not seen before or since. These characteristics might also have been considered a fault because folks sometimes took advantage of him. However, my memories of Don are nothing but positive, mostly because he was the one who introduced me to the possibility that this could be a career.
My next job was an internship at Butler National Golf Club, at the time, the home of the Western Open. Oscar Miles was about as far removed from Don as someone might be. I arrived at Butler thinking I knew just about everything. Brother, I found out pretty fast, I didn’t know jack s***! Oscar was a taskmaster who demanded a lot from his staff. He was tough and autocratic, at times, because he had to be. At the time I didn’t realize it but I was exposed to things I never would have seen otherwise and I am a better Superintendent today because of it.
In the end, like most of us, it took me some time to find my own rhythm. Both men worked very hard and that did not go unnoticed. I think most days I try to be like Don, exhibiting as much patience with the staff and membership that I can but some days that just doesn’t cut it and I need to be more like Oscar!
2. Tell us about your first job in Indiana.
My first Superintendent’s job was at a club in Muncie, Indiana called Delaware Country Club. Delaware is a great member’s golf course in east central Indiana that offered a young Superintendent an opportunity to prove himself. In the eighties there was a battle going on between bentgrass and bluegrass as a fairway turf and bent was winning. So one of the bigger projects we accomplished was the conversion of the fairways to bentgrass. We also renovated bunkers, tees, completed a pond project and even upgraded the irrigation system. In those days we weren’t working with an architect so I did a lot of “freelancing” which was great fun for a young aggressive Superintendent. In the end it was s terrific experience for me and I will always be grateful to Larry Simmons, my first Grounds Chairman, for believing in me enough to hire me.
3. You went to Broadmoor Country Club outside of Indianapolis in 1995, a gem of a Ross course that still flies under the radar. Tell us about it.
I was very fortunate to have been introduced to classic golf course architecture on an unspoiled Donald Ross golf course. Broadmoor is one of only three Ross courses in the state of Indiana, so to have the opportunity to manage one of them for nearly 11 years was a great privilege. I also was fortunate enough to work with both Tom Doak and Bruce Hepner when we did some restoration work.
The club was founded in 1922 and as far as I know, the members were guilty of only two offenses, planting trees and removing two bunkers while adding three others. This golf course has never had another Architect or Grounds Chairman “modernize” it. Nearly all of Ross’s features are where they were originally placed. Things evolved at a slow pace on their own. The bunkers slowly gravitated towards the greens because of edging. The greens became smaller due to mowing patterns. The fairway corridors shrank due to the introduction of trees and irrigation.
Built in an era of limited travel, Donald Ross surely must have been on site due to the intricacy of many of the green complexes and the sheer number of bunkers built. It’s difficult for me to think that one of Ross’s construction Superintendents did all of this on his own. My recollection is that there were 135 bunkers, by comparison I manage only 139 at Olympia Fields on 36 holes. I also have been told that Pete Dye in his early days as an architect studied the greens for insight. When one looks at these greens closely it’s easy to see that shedding water while creating an interesting and dynamic putting surface was a top priority. There is hardly a flat spot on any of them and the bunkers connect to the putting surfaces very nicely. I’ll always remember a quote from Bruce Hepner after studying the greens, “These guys had fun building these greens.”
In 2002 Renaissance Golf was hired to develop the clubs first ever master plan. Items that were to be addressed included recapturing lost putting green space, bunker restoration, tee renovation, fairway re-contouring as well as drainage and irrigation work. One of the more ironic outcomes of this whole process was once the membership bought into the plan, a much less expensive renovation project sold the much more expensive irrigation system. At the time we had an antiquated 40 year old system that I had hoped to replace for some time. Once they understood that we were going to have to relocate heads to accommodate the green and fairway expansion they were much more willing to replace the irrigation system.
The parts of the plan that were implemented during my tenure included the expansion of all of the putting greens and bunker restoration around the greens. We also added bunkers behind greens on several holes. These were hollowed out areas where drainage was installed but no sand ever placed. Bruce felt they were always intended to be bunkers but for economic reasons never completed.
Because of the nature of our project and the amount of funds available we did all of the work entirely in-house. The primary equipment used was a sod cutter, a shovel, a sod knife and the occasional trencher for a drain line. Along with a group of highly motivated Mexican staff members we started to uncover Ross’s work. All of the bunkers were hand excavated, grass lines re-established, drainage repaired and finally new sand was added. The greens were expanded back to the edge of the green pads using sod grown from plugs taken from the greens. The unfinished bunkers were excavated, drainage repaired and sand added. It took the better part of two seasons.
The pictures below illustrate how some of the work was completed:
While I wasn’t there to finish the job, it was a great experience, extremely rewarding, as well as a lot of fun! It’s awfully hard to get in trouble with a shovel or sod cutter, but I do appreciate the trust both Tom and Bruce extended to me. The work was completed slowly and methodically and Bruce and I were in contact with one another regularly in addition to his periodic visits.
4. How does the work at Broadmoor contrast with projects you’ve done on the North and South courses at Olympia Fields Country Club?
For one thing, most but not all of what was done on both courses during my tenure would not be considered true restoration. Over the span of 100 years, Olympia Fields has made changes to both courses that deviated from the intent of the original Architects. The same cannot be said about Broadmoor as most all of the original features the Architect placed are still there. Mark Mungeam is the Architect of the North Course and Steve Smyers is our South Course Architect. The work of both men has elements of restoration (we used old photos and documentation to help reference various features and changes) but for the most part they have made changes and improvements applying their own styles.
Opened for play in 1916 and designed by Tom Bendelow, it was the first of four golf courses built in the first eight years of the clubs existence. Along with the enormous clubhouse that was added two years later Olympia Fields became the largest country club in the nation in ten short years. From 1920 to 1933 the club hosted five major championships, the 1920, 1927, & 1933 Western Opens, the 1925 PGA Championship and the 1928 U.S. Open. After the Great Depression and World War II the club was forced to sell a good portion of the land occupied by courses two and three. Course one lost holes 5 and 6 in the land sale and they were replaced with the 1st and 18th holes of course two which became the present day holes 8 and 9. The back nine and all of course four were left intact. In 1959 course one was renamed the South and course 4 was renamed the North.
Since that time the South has always been considered the members course and unfortunately played second fiddle to the North. The North is where most of the championships have been played and consequently it received the greater portion of funds for upkeep. Club officials recognized the deficiency and in 2006 Steve Smyers along with his associate Patrick Andrews were hired to renovate the long-neglected South Course. Steve and Patrick’s plan addressed all of the South’s shortcomings. A complete renovation of bunkers was at the top of the list with the expansion and addition of tee space a close second. Other items addressed were: greens were restored to their original size, the fairways were re-grassed, the third hole was rebuilt, the practice facility was remodeled and drainage and irrigation issues were addressed.
The pictures below illustrate how some of the work was completed:
In the end Steve and Patrick drastically improved and elevated the stature of the South Course. Based on how the members use the course, it has been a huge hit. I think one of the best attributes of the work is how balanced the golf course became. They never forgot the average player and the golf course really offers a lot to all skill sets.
The North Course (course four) was the last of the golf courses built at Olympia and opened in 1923. The architect of record was Willie Park Jr., undoubtedly the most famous of all the architects used by the club. Park arrived from Scotland as not only an accomplished Architect, but a very good player, having won two Open Championships. The powerful golf course he built was as beautiful as it was challenging. It had an immediate impact on the club’s status as well as its fortunes just as it does today.
Mark Mungeam has been the consulting Architect for Olympia Fields for more than twenty years. He helped the club prepare for three USGA events (1997 U.S. Senior Open, 2003 U.S. Open and the 2015 U.S. Amateur). His latest assignment began as a bunker project but evolved into much more. Two of the major priorities were to enhance member experience and maintain the relevance of the golf course for world’s best players.
The course has always been difficult to play but in recent years it had become especially difficult for the members to navigate. Bunkers had become very deep for the U. S. Open and folks actually had a tough time getting in and out of them. Without dismantling them we created areas where they were easier to access. The length of the golf course was addressed for both the elite player and the average player, tees were added to both lengthen and shorten holes. Lastly, using historic photos and other documentation we were able to identify some of Parks original features and restored the ones that made sense by today’s standards.
Over the years Mark’s careful thought process and diligent work has served the club well. He has never forgotten the significance the North Course plays in the health and well-being of the club.
5. How has Green Keeping as a profession changed from 1979?
There are so many things that have changed that it is hard to choose what might have had the biggest impact. But, the overall quality and playability of putting surfaces during that time has drastically improved. So to keep this simple I thought I would choose two, how we mow and cultivate putting greens.
When I started in this business 3/16” (.18”) was probably the industry standard for putting green height and if yours was 5/32” (.15”) you were considered ultra-low. This was accomplished with a mower that had a rigid head, a standard thickness bed knife and an eight bladed reel. Today many courses mow at 7/64” (.10’) and others are approaching 3/32” (.09”). This wouldn’t be possible in many cases without a flexible cutting head to better follow contours, an ultra-thin bed knife that allows for a lower height with less drag, and a 14 bladed reel that increases the frequency of clip. Of course other factors such as cultivation, sand topdressing, and rolling all play their part in allowing us to mow this low. Needless to say, the height of cut we attain today along with the quality of cut, has made the biggest impact on both speed and smoothness of putting surfaces.
Putting green cultivation has always been a sore point with golfers. It is one of the more disruptive and undoubtedly the single most important maintenance practice we employ. In the not too distant past once maybe twice a season was the norm for most clubs. Over the past decade or so with the introduction of so many different methods of aerification we have dramatically increased the number of applications per season. We employ three different types of aerification: deep tine, water injection and conventional solid and hollow tines. Typically we will aerify greens 12-15 times a season with as many topdressing applications. Our goal is to make as many little holes as often as we can.
6. Describe the perfect Green Chairman.
I have had eight Chairman’s over the past 27 years as a Superintendent. They all have had a couple of distinguishing traits that I feel are important to fulfill the role. It certainly isn’t limited to these but they are pretty darn important.
First, the hardest trait and undoubtedly the most important is taking a world view of the golf course. We are all guilty of looking at the course from our own point of view and some Chairmen will try and put their stamp on it. Making improvements in and of itself is not wrong, but improvements that are made by an individual or a small group outside the context of a master plan that compromise the continuity and integrity of the golf course, should be avoided. Whenever improvements are considered a professional should be consulted and Chairman’s primary role be to guide the process and insure that the highest standards are met and the integrity of the golf course preserved.
Secondly, they all have supported me or been my best advocate. It’s easy when everything is going well, but we deal with Mother Nature who has a nasty habit of throwing curve balls at the wrong time of year. If Butterfield Creek comes out of its banks in the middle of July and we have fairway turf underwater for any length of time, we are going to lose some grass. That’s when a good Chairman earns his keep. Most members will understand, but some won’t. We do our best to communicate through emails, blog posts, etc., but sometimes that isn’t enough. A good chairman can help carry the load.
7. You have two courses at OFCC. Are there different maintenance practices? For instance, I know that the bunkers on the North are still hand raked.
Actually both courses are treated virtually the same. Our day to day maintenance practices are identical. For the longest time the South took a back seat to the North. However after the renovation in 2008 that changed. In fact, before the renovation we probably had 20%-25% more rounds played on the North and today they are nearly equal. The big difference is that most of our member play is on the South. So we try and maintain the South to the same standard as the North. About the only real difference is that we have started topdressing the North fairways and not the South.
8. ‘Brown is the new green’ was bandied about as a rallying cry. Tell us how you handle that message.
This is one of my favorite topics to talk about!
Quite frankly brown is easy, I learned that in the beginning. The first golf course I worked at had only irrigated greens and tees, no fairway irrigation. In July and August the place was brown as toast. You could survey the landscape and see only little green, irrigated oases scattered about the property. Those bluegrass fairways were dormant and rock hard. If the summer was wet we would be greener, if not, oh well. One of the nice things I remember is that there was very little annual bluegrass. Undoubtedly there was some in the low areas where it stayed moist, but otherwise the fairways were pretty clean. The same couldn’t be said for the greens and tees. The cost of maintaining those fairways must have been very reasonable, fertility and weed management was the extent of it.
But therein lies one of the many problems, those unirrigated bluegrass fairways were highly susceptible to all kinds of malady, especially weeds. Once turf goes dormant any number of weed species, like clover, dandelions, crabgrass and goosegrass have an opening. Mother Nature doesn’t like a void! She’ll put something there whether you like it or not. Walk into any natural setting and you will be hard-pressed to find bare soil. The number one strategy for keeping weeds at bay is maintaining healthy, actively growing turf. Dormant turf may be healthy, but it isn’t actively growing.
When asked most people will tell you “a little brown doesn’t bother me”. I always reply ‘how much brown is ok’? When pressed most folks have no concept of what would be acceptable, they can’t visualize it. Some years back long before the concept of “brown is the new green” came about, I was playing golf at Broadmoor with three members in group that included a low handicap golfer and two average golfers from the club. The focus of our discussion began with the firmness of the fairways and turned into a discussion of how much brown is tolerable. The low handicap golfer was driving the discussion and the other guys were doing a lot more listening. I turned the conversation around by stating that the firmer the fairways got the drier they would be and as a consequence would probably be more brown (remember: unirrigated fairways, rock hard, brown as toast). So I asked the question, ‘How much brown is ok?’ They all agreed that greens and tees should not have any brown turf. So we turned our attention to the fairways, which is where we could save some significant money and aggravation because of all the hand watering we did. None of them could come up with an answer, so I suggested 10% brown turf. It would be spread out over all of the fairways and 90% would be green. We happened to be standing on the 17th hole which is the longest hole at Broadmoor with the biggest fairway. As I recall we had almost 28 acres of fairway turf overall and the 17th was about 2.8 acres. Needless to say that got their attention, so I suggested 5%. Well the 7th hole ran just to our west and it happened to be 1.4 acres….hmmm maybe not that much either! In the end, what I learned was that most people don’t really know how much brown is ok and really don’t want to see much brown.
The grasses we grow at Olympia in the fairways are a mix that is dominated by bentgrass and annual bluegrass, we do have a little Kentucky bluegrass and ryegrass. The microclimates in which these grasses grow dictate which one will be dominant. For example, low, wet shady areas tend to let annual bluegrass rule while high, dry and sunny is better for bent. Under very dry conditions, the perennial turf will survive but the annual bluegrass will not. In fact let’s be blunt: brown annual bluegrass is most likely dead bluegrass.
This was illustrated to our Grounds Committee in the summer of 2008 during construction of the South Course. We thought it might be a great opportunity to gauge the group’s willingness and tolerance for brown turf. We were going to re-grass the fairways as part of the project and the old irrigation system was shut down. Three dry weeks later the condition of those fairways was totally unacceptable, even to me. The night before our first meeting we got half an inch of rain and the next morning they were remarkably better. All of the perennial grasses were standing up and very much alive but the same could not be said for the annual bluegrass; it was toast. Later that day we had our meeting and asked the group what they thought, long story short, it met with disapproval.
Every year at the Masters we see a major championship played on one of the greenest golf courses. The last two U.S. Opens have been played on two of the browner golf courses you’ll see. On opposite ends of the color spectrum both seem impractical for most facilities. There must be something in the middle that make sense for the masses. Something that is profitable and sustainable because at its core golf is a business.
Sustainability is a great buzz word these days, but to me it means, staying afloat and keeping the doors open. Brown is much less expensive than green but can you attract patrons? Can you get folks to walk through the door and plunk down that green fee or pay that initiation fee?
9. So … how do you find the proper balance between people’s love of green grass and trees versus firm playing conditions?!
Firm conditions and green grass, that’s the trick isn’t it?
That’s what we try and produce every day at Olympia Fields and it’s not easy. Finding the proper balance to allow the turf to survive what Mother Nature throws at it and meet the golfers’ expectations is a pretty tall order. As long as we have control of the water, it is fairly straightforward, but when it falls from the sky we can quickly lose control. We grow a mix of grasses at Olympia on heavy soils that when wet will be soft. During the spring and early summer soft conditions are more prevalent but from mid-summer on it can be much more predictable.
There are certain agronomic procedures that we employ to help better manage water. Aerification is one method. Among its many benefits, it opens the soil allowing better penetration of both air and water. The use of wetting agents is also helpful because of their ability to help water infiltrate and more uniformly moisten the soil. But the most important thing I can do is manage watering when I am in control. There is no agronomic benefit to keeping the soil saturated. Soils that are on the dry side allow better air exchange which helps rooting. This is not to say we let the soil completely dry out; we try and keep an optimal amount of moisture for turf health and good playing conditions.
The two go hand-in-hand, healthy turf always produces a superior playing surface.
10. Having said that, how do you approach irrigating the golf courses?
If I could wish for one thing, it would be to get about a half to three quarters of an inch of rain every Sunday night throughout the growing season. A little less in the spring and possibly a little more in the summer and fall. If this happened I would hardly need to use sprinklers. As we know, rain usually shows up in quantities we don’t like!
That said, rain is the best way to water the course and if we can mimic its uniformity we are better off. Irrigation systems have come a long way from the early days, when watering a golf course meant a person was running around in the dark changing sprinklers. As systems became automated, the ease of watering improved, but the consistency and uniformity still left a lot to be desired. By contrast, today’s irrigation systems offer the best way to manage the amount of water applied to the golf course. The advances of sprinkler and particularly nozzle technology have made automated irrigation close to mimicking rain.
Years ago we watered by time, but the problem was that each sprinkler delivered its own rate. Three minutes on one head might be more like five on another. Today three minutes on one head is truly three minutes on the next. We now think in terms of how we measure rain, we apply water by the hundredth of an inch. We use evapotranspiration readings to determine how much water has evaporated and needs to be replaced, (for our soils we generally replace about half of what is lost). We also utilize moisture meters on the greens to determine the percentage of moisture in the soil.
What I am trying to do is manage the amount of water applied by using site specific techniques. While it’s true we can apply a lot of water in a short period of time there is no agronomic or playability reason to do so. Each day we supply what is necessary, including water, to grow healthy turfgrass that produces a great playing surface. The irrigation system I use today is truly a tool used solely to supplement what Mother Nature doesn’t provide.
11. Drainage is a topic rarely discussed. Let’s do so! How well does the North Course drain versus the South? Is there any difference?
Since my arrival in 2006, it didn’t take me to long to figure out one of the reasons the North had always enjoyed more love than the South: It just drains better. There are eleven holes on the South where Butterfield Creek is a heavy influence but on the North there are only six. This relationship with the creek coupled with much heavier soils makes for a wetter golf course when rain is prevalent. During heavy rain events the South will flood more easily and the creek takes longer to recede.
Something that seems counterintuitive is that when we do dry out the South, it actually gets firmer and drier than the North. This has a lot to do with soil structure. The South is predominantly clay with a small cap layer of topsoil. Water doesn’t really penetrate the clay and once the top soil is soaked we have to wait for it to evaporate. Evaporation takes a while, but once it occurs the course gets very firm. By contrast the North’s soil is predominantly loam that is much thicker and holds more water before becoming saturated. It certainly does dry out and become firm but it seems that the South gets a little firmer.
12. What actions have you taken over your tenure at OFCC to improve drainage?
Drainage truly is the flip side of irrigation; the two allow us to properly manage water on the course.
We know there are times when the golf course will be too wet as well as times when things are too dry. Having too much water is as bad as not having enough when your goal is healthy turf but the problems are just different. If I were building a course today, I would spend as much time planning the drainage system as the irrigation system. Infrastructure for these two are the more expensive parts of any golf construction project and harder to modify once the golf course is grown in.
That said, here at Olympia we are dealing with two golf courses that are nearly 100 years old with functioning drainage on each course of the same age. Over the years drainage projects have been updated and improved. Examples of this are all the drainage installed and enhanced during bunker construction. Of course, any green that has been rebuilt has had internal drainage installed.
We are constantly identifying areas where tile needs to be added. Quite a bit of the drainage installed today improves turf health as well as playing conditions and dries the course faster so we can get golf carts out (a problem with which Willie Park Jr. didn’t have to contend!). We also have been deep tine-aerifing our wettest fairways to create deep channels for the surface water to find. A fairway topdressing program has been started on the North that over time will help dry the surface of the fairways quicker after heavy rain.
13. Apart from controlling water, what are other crucial aspects to proper turf management?
We’ve talked quite a bit about proper water management and its role in producing healthy cool season grasses. The flip side of this coin is proper growth management.
Just like over-watering, over-fertilization of turf is detrimental, but when the two are combined it can be catastrophic. Like watering techniques, fertility management has changed over the years. The amounts applied, the type and formulations have changed radically. When we think about the brown vs. green debate, fertilization plays a key role.
Like watering, I would like to think we provide the optimum amount of fertilizer that matches the needs of the plant. If you opened a textbook on turfgrass management 30 years ago, you would find annual recommendation rates much higher than what most Superintendents use today. My primary method is to apply light and frequent applications of liquid fertilizers. Our rates are low which allows us the flexibility to adjust rates based on the condition of the grass. A little more can be applied if we don’t like what we see or a little less if we are happy. Our goal is to keep growth at a constant rate with no surges. The amount of waste is minimal because the plant uses almost all the product applied. Using this method we end up applying much less on an annual basis without a decline in turf quality.
This method eliminates luxury consumption of fertilizer that has a tendency to overstimulate growth that adversely affects plant health and playing conditions. The problem with granular fertilizers is they can’t be accurately applied in small quantities. The larger amounts needed to properly apply them have a bad habit of becoming available at the wrong time. Similar to when you sit down for Thanksgiving dinner and overeat, grass plants will over consume fertilizer if it’s readily available. Plants become fat, weak and from a playability stand point, slow. They also become susceptible to some of the worst diseases we fight. Combined with too much rain or irrigation at the wrong time, it has the potential of being disastrous.
14. What is the single biggest challenge of hosting a major tournament like the 2015 U.S. Amateur? How long is the prep? How about the recovery?
Looking back with the luxury of hindsight, preparing for the U.S. Amateur was not as difficult as outside observers might think. The day to day conditions that the members experience are not that far removed from that championship play. The biggest challenge was growing the rough. Since both courses are maintained at virtually the same level, they both took about the same time and effort to prepare.
We started growing the bunker faces in late June, 6 weeks ahead of the championship, and the rough was started mid-July. Our normal cut is 2.5”, both attained a height of 4”+, (in fact, during Match Play the North probably was nearer six inches). Green speeds were increased from the 11’-11.5’ normal speed to 13’+ and that was addressed during advance week. Even with the wet conditions that were prevalent that week, spectators did little damage to the course and our recovery time was minimal. It actually took longer to get the rough back under control.
That said, the preparation was not without its own problems and setbacks. About six weeks from the event we were well short of our goal for volunteers. Attracting enough help for an event in Chicago in August around four other events in the area was a huge concern. There were three professional events and one other amateur event to contend with. We advertised with three Superintendents Associations, and every turf school we could think of. We had written three work schedules based on three scenarios for volunteer numbers, hoping for the best but planning for the worst. Fortunately, we were able to attract enough quality volunteers. I’m not sure what we would have done without these folks, considering all the rain we had.
When I think back to all of the things running through my mind leading up to the event, only one kept me up at night, the weather. It was the one thing I had absolutely no control over. The weather in August is typically not conducive to push cool season turfgrasses to the limit. Fortunately, the first half of season was relatively mild and moist. The second half of July and early August was nearly perfect with the driest weather of the year. Both courses dried down nicely and we were very happy heading into advance week.
Unfortunately staying dry was not in the cards. Starting the first day of advance week and by the end of stroke play, we had received nearly 3.5” of rain. At this point our concerns turned to the possibility of flooding. Thankfully that didn’t occur even though we had plenty of squeegees and bodies to man them. On the final day, once we thought we were done, another .5” fell during the final match. It added insult to injury, because we were all running on empty.
In retrospect it was a great event. The USGA was very happy with how everything worked out. The one exception – the wet conditions which were out of anyone’s control – resulted in a softer golf course than anyone wanted. That said, I believe it was a great week for the club and especially the members. They got to see their club in a favorable spotlight and member pride was at a fever pitch.
15. What speed were the greens for the Amateur? Was that for both courses?
The spec for the North Course was between 12.5 and 13.5, while the South was 11.5 to 12.5. These speeds were attained by multiple daily mowings and rolling. Since the South was going to only be used for stroke play there was no need to push them further. The USGA was more concerned with moving 312 players around in two days, so both courses were somewhere around 12’ to 12’.5” for stroke play. Once match play began we pushed the North to an average of 13’+ for the balance of the championship.
16. At what speed do you start to lose some of your best hole locations?
It appears that somewhere above 13 is where trouble begins. That was the speed where the USGA got nervous, even in match play, about hole locations. The desired speed might have been a little slower had it been a stroke play championship or maybe they would have chosen more conservative hole locations.
17. What were your takeaways from watching the best amateurs compete over the two courses for a week? Did any particular hole or feature confound them and/or surprise you?
Four inches of rain fell during the two week time frame the USGA was on site and both courses were softer than anyone would have liked. That said, both courses seemed to hold up during stroke play as no course records were broken. In fact, scoring averages were fairly typical for similar amateur events we’ve had in the past.
Our 5th hole on the North, championship 14, was probably the most entertaining hole to watch golf on all week. It played as a 419 yard straight away par 4 during stroke play, but after match play began it was moved up to 320 yards. The newly restored Willie Park Jr. cross bunker was perfectly positioned at 290 off the tee to force players to make a decision. The approach just beyond the bunker and a green, firmer than most even when wet, added to the fun.
During stroke play on the North, championship 3, our 12th hole, played the fourth hardest of the week. Twelve is only a 375 yard par four but Butterfield Creek and the tightly tree lined dog-leg right fairway make it an awkward driving hole for good players. If the fairway is missed, it is a lot more difficult to find the green. The hole had the third fewest birdies and the most “others”.
18. How do you split your time – outdoors on the courses vs. management, book-keeping, meetings?
Many of the day to day tasks are delegated to the two Superintendents that run each course. We discuss what I would like accomplished and they decide who, what, when and how to complete the day’s work. Their responsibilities include, but are not limited to, the supervision of the crew, inspection of the course for defects as well as checking the moisture content of greens and watering as needed. I spend quite a lot of my day outside on both courses. I wish I could see everything but that is almost impossible. I try to concentrate on whatever the “big” project of the day might be and then see as much of each course as possible. In the morning I get on as many greens as I can and do a little putting. Most of the office work is saved for later in the day when the staff has gone home.
There are two things that I have never delegated to anyone, watering the golf course and deciding what plant protectants and fertility we apply. Even after all of these years I am still learning how to water. I take input from my senior staff t0 formulate our plan for watering. With regards to plant protectants and fertility, too many things can go wrong when mixing products together and if a mistake is made it’s going to be mine, not one of my subordinates. The health and well-being of the courses as well as their playability are heavily influenced by both and I never want to be out of touch with either.
19. If you had an unlimited budget how would you allocate that money?
Improve drainage!! OFCC is 100 years old and undoubtedly has some tile that dates back to then. Though it still works, the problem is that much of it is under-sized which slows the time it takes to drain the course after a rain event. I also would add internal drainage to all of the push-up greens using a system sold by XGD Systems, to help speed the dry down of greens. Like all things technology has improved drainage, so updating and improving our drainage system is an ongoing proposition.
20. How do you utilize/retain key employees in the off season?
Most of our full time staff consists of people who do this for a living. The Assistants are looking to move up and mechanics are in this as a career. I think what most people want to know is what do we do in the winter? After all there is no grass to mow. In our part of the world snow removal is a top priority, but we also have three areas that make up the bulk of our winter work.
First is tree work, with the onset of Emerald Ash Borer the amount of trees we remove on an annual basis has dramatically increased. Frozen ground allows us to get heavy equipment out on the golf course to remove trees as well as complete normal tree trimming maintenance.
Secondly, we spend the winter servicing all of our equipment. Each piece is thoroughly inspected and serviced. All mowers are completely overhauled and sharpened.
Lastly, we thoroughly clean and paint all of the golf course accessories, tee markers, benches, etc.
21. When you visit a golf course, what do you notice first? What are the best indicators of a well-maintained course?
One of the easiest and least expensive things I do is take care of weeds. They are also one of the few things golfers can easily identify as a problem. Everybody knows what a dandelion looks like because they have them in their own yard. There are other items like edging, sprinklers, cart path edges and bunkers, but these things require labor that a lower budget operation can not enable. On the scale of things weeds are one of the simplest to take care of.
22. What myths about green keeping would you like to dispel?
That I play a lot of golf, that’s the last thing I want to do. It wasn’t always that way but the older I get the harder it gets. I love to play golf – just not my own course. I have a lot more fun on someone else’s course where I’m strictly there to play golf and enjoy myself.