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People often ask me where I get my ideas for columns. It’s simple: many of them come from the folks who read Golf Gab regularly. I get phone calls and cards and letters and e-mails from my readers, who tip me off about possible stories in the world of golf.
I also discovered, early on, golfers are vitally interested in learning about golf courses and how they are built and maintained. After all, if a fungus attacks our greens, putting becomes difficult, if not impossible. If crabgrass and dollarweed are not controlled, fairways become cow pastures instead of lush green carpets. Without treatment, ponds can become covered with green and red algae.
Add in the weather (excessive heat, drought, rain, windstorms, hurricanes) and you can see what a complex job managing a golf course can be.
Golf course maintenance is an important job done by skilled men and women who have degrees in agronomy and turf management. An annual budget for a high-end 18-hole golf course can be more than $1 million annually.
While golf is a game for most of us, golf is a business for those who work in the industry, and the golf course superintendent is an important, featured player.
Each November, golf course superintendents gather in Myrtle Beach, S.C., for the Carolinas Golf Course Superintendents Association trade show. It’s a busy few days for the superintendents. There is a huge trade show with all kinds of equipment from mowers to fungus fighters, fertilizers, ball washers, golf carts, mulch and sod. Also on the schedule are continuing education classes (a necessity for certification), seminars, banquets and a golf tournament.
I go each year because I want to be knowledgeable about the care and nurture of golf courses, and the CGCSA allows me (a nonmember) to attend its classes free. In addition, it’s a great networking opportunity and, best of all, I get to play in its annual golf tournament. I always come home with enough information or leads for several columns.
The CGCSA tournament is huge, with more than 300 players scattered over three golf courses this year in the Pawley’s Island area. The courses were Litchfield Country Club, River Club and Wilbrook Plantation.
Obviously, if a superintendent is hosting a tournament of his peers, the course will be maintained in the most excellent way possible. I always have a vision of a superintendent crawling around on his hands and knees with tweezers, pulling out any weeds that might have the nerve to raise their ugly heads before a tournament of golf course superintendents showed up.
Each time I have played in this event, the courses were breathtakingly well maintained. Mulched flower beds, trimmed shrubs, swept cart paths, flawless fairways, pure white bunkers and velvety greens.
This year was no different when last Monday morning 100 men and I stepped forth onto the Litchfield Country Club in Pawleys Island. The course was achingly beautiful and I enjoyed every minute of the day.
Litchfield opened in 1966, the first course to be built in the Pawleys Island-Litchfield area. Ancient live oak trees and dark, still lakes line the fairways.
The course is a user-friendly 6,692 yards from the tips and a testy 5,252 yards from the forward tees. On many holes, there is an opening to the green, so a golfer has the opportunity to hit a bump-and run shot. Doglegs abound, and to navigate them over the huge trees, a golfer must hit to the far outside of the turn. Cutting the corner is extremely difficult on most of these holes, unless you are a long hitter.
The gentlemen who were teamed with me were a congenial and diverse group.
John Roberts was from the Atlanta Athletic Club, a prestigious old club founded in 1898. It was Bobby Jones’ home course. He served as president of the club and remained an active member until his death in 1972.
(Bobby Jones was one of the most famous amateur golfers of all time, winning the Grand Slam of Golf in 1930, which in those days consisted of the U.S. Open, the U.S. Amateur, the British Open and the British Amateur. The PGA Championship and the Masters were added later to the slam and the amateur tournaments were dropped.)
John was my cart partner and we chatted about the Atlanta Athletic Club and its long history as an icon of golf.
Next was Matt Lovell, the superintendent of the Rumbling Bald Resort on Lake Lure. This is a lakeside resort high in the mountains of western North Carolina with two courses, Bald Mountain and Apple Valley. Interestingly, “Dirty Dancing” was filmed there, one of my all-time favorite flicks.
The last member of our group was Mark Simpson, of H&H Farm Machine Co. in Indian Trail. H&H manufactures equipment for agriculture, landscaping, construction, experimental research, nurseries, poultry, livestock and recreation.
Like many who attend the CGCSA Show, Mark worked in the supply side of golf courses. In the convention center, there were dozens and dozens of booths and displays, which represented all the industries that make our golf courses possible.
The four of us had a great time, joking and laughing our way around 18 holes. None of us played particularly well, and I was not surprised to learn the three gentlemen in my foursome rarely had time to play golf.
“I play a few times a year, mostly at industry meetings and such,” John said.
Matt claimed he had played five or six times in the past year.
Although superintendents are highly educated professionals who oversee multimillion- dollar facilities, most of them do not get many chances to play golf.
“We spend our day at the course, often working 16-18 hours,” Roberts said. “When we have time off, we want to do something else, to think about something else. We want to fish or play with our kids or spend time with our families.”
So the next time you go out on the course, remember the golf course superintendent who makes it all possible.
Despite the long hours, budget cuts, staffing problems and the unpredictability of Mother Nature, I’ve learned most golf course superintendents love their jobs. They are consummate professionals who are outdoorsmen and farmers at heart.
Their product is the golf course and they are the bottom line of its success or failure.
GOLF GAB GROANER
One Saturday morning Alex and Roger go out for a round of golf. On the 13th fairway, a ball comes out of nowhere and hits Roger on the head. Dazed by the hit, Roger staggers around a bit, trying to regain his equilibrium.
After a minute or so, Alfred comes running up to apologize for his errant shot.
Roger wants none of it.
“You think you’re a golfer? Look what you just did to me,” he shouts. “I’m bleeding and probably have a concussion. I’m calling my lawyer as soon as I get back to the clubhouse. I’m going to sue you for $3 million.”
“But….but…” gasps Alfred in horror. “Didn’t you hear me? I shouted FORE!”
“OK,” Roger says. “I’ll take it.”
Elsa Bonstein is a golf columnist for the Beacon. Reach her at email@example.com.