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About 15 months ago, I wrote about the Brunswick Community College Horticulture and Turfgrass Management Program and their new, on-campus facility.
This past week, I revisited BCC and talked again with Dean Bennett, director of the program, and Jace Myers, turfgrass instructor. My interest had been piqued because students from the turf school had been at Cinghiale Creek (home of The First Tee of Brunswick County) since January building a huge new bunker next to the south green.
A curious mix of folks worked on the project: students just out of high school, successful landscapers, assistant superintendents who need credits for certification, master gardeners and retired businessmen pursuing a second career.
Last Friday, the group enthusiastically wielded shovels and rakes as the bunker project drew to a close with the delivery of two huge truckloads of sand. Around midday, as their hard work finally materialized in the form of a 1,305 square-foot greenside bunker, there were smiles and congratulations all around.
“Our students did everything from design to execution,” Myers said. “They designed it, moved sod, dug the ground, laid the pipes for drainage, installed the lining and finally put in the sand. The front end of the bunker is low and can be used to practice fairway bunker shots; the back end of it is like a regular greenside bunker. Six or eight people can use it at the same time for practice.”
The turf school at BCC is a vigorous combination of classroom learning, field trips and hands-on projects. According to Bennett, the age differences between the students can be a real plus.
“The older students bring a wealth of knowledge to the table,” he said. “They have often had careers in other fields and can mentor the younger students who are just starting out. The younger students add vigor and enthusiasm to the group. It all works well.”
“Age diversity in our classes is a challenge, but also a blessing to our students and instructors,” Myers said. “They start out as strangers, but as they get to know each other through various experiences in the school, they begin to mesh together. It’s really cool to see it happening.”
The students are together all day long, several days a week, and take field trips to various places during their course of study.
According to Myers, “Sometimes the students learn as they go, working on various projects in classes that require critical thought and reflection. Other classes are factual, like our pesticides classes. These are serious chemicals that are governed by laws. Our students must learn those facts. There is no room for speculation.”
BCC schedules many field trips for its turfgrass students. Each year, a few students are selected to attend a two day Future Superintendent’s Environmental Seminar at the Bayer Environmental Science Research Department in Clay. The seminar is sponsored by Smith Turf and Irrigation.
A regular event on the BCC turf students’ calendar is a trip to Pinehurst, where they meet superintendents from the famous numbered golf courses there. Last year, they met Paul Jett, superintendent of Pinehurst No. 2, which hosted the U.S. Open in 2005 and the U.S. Amateur in 2008.
The trip is in January. During that time of year, Pinehurst No. 8 is closed from Mondays to Thursdays.
“This year, our students walked the course with Jeff Hill, the superintendent, asking questions and generally picking his brain,” Jace said, “What a great opportunity.”
The students also travel to the North Carolina Department of Agriculture Soils and Samples Lab in Raleigh.
“It’s a nice trips for them,” Jace said. “We do the lab in the morning and then tour the five-acre gardens at the Governor’s Mansion in the afternoon. For lunch, we take the students to N.C. State, where they get to see the atmosphere of a big university.”
BCC students often interact with folks from the County Extension Service. Al Hight, the director, teaches occasional classes at BCC, as does David Barkley, the horticulture agent for the Extension Service.
According to Bennett, local golf course superintendents are very involved with the program, especially with the big projects at Cinghiale Creek.
“The Board of Directors at The First Tee allows us to use Cinghiale Creek as a living laboratory,” he said. “Our students are able to gain hands-on experience at a real golf facility. They get experience with mowers and other equipment there. They can calibrate sprayers and do soil sampling. This past winter, they spray-painted the greens, and in January, they started the bunker project.”
Students from BCC do not maintain the golf course; that is done by a cadre of volunteers.
In addition to the willing hands of local golf course superintendents, agriculture establishments and nurseries are very supportive of their program.
“They give us help and donations that allow us to work with our students,” Dean said. “This morning we got a shipment of trees from one of our local nurseries. We couldn’t exist without community support.”
As an old farmer’s daughter, I loved hearing about all the doings at BCC turf and horticulture school, but I wondered what the job prospects were for graduates. I asked Bennett what kind of job market their graduates would face later this spring.
“Despite the economy, there are jobs out there for our grads,” he said. We had seven to nine calls last week, looking for students in entry-level positions as assistant superintendents, landscapers or in other turf management jobs.”
Myers explained that many of his older students are retirees who are looking for a second career that will bring in additional income or allow them to do a job they love.
“Many of them have had other careers, often in the business world, but now they want to do what they’ve always wanted to do: work outside with plants and living things.”
Several years ago, a local superintendent told me he had a former bank president on his payroll. This gentleman had had a successful career but now wanted to work outdoors. His specialty was cutting fairways.
When asked why he did this job when he didn’t really need to work anymore, the former bank president explained: “When I worked in the business world, I would go to work in the morning and come home at night, and very often, I did not know what I had accomplished that day. Now, when I ride my tractor down the fairway, I just look backwards and I can see what I’ve accomplished. I like that.”
GOLF GAB GROANER:
Gunther, a very talkative golfer, complained to a friend one day about a rude gentleman who was in the clubhouse with him.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Gunther said. “The guy must have yawned four or five times while I was talking.”
“Maybe he wasn’t yawning,” the friend opined. “Maybe he was trying to say something.”