By Mike Jiggens
“I quickly realized my golf game wasn’t consistent enough to play at that level day in, day out,” said Adam Zubek, superintendent at the Mississaugua Golf & Country Club, reflecting on his one-time dream of becoming a golf professional.
“I started to learn more about the role of a golf course superintendent and club management and became very interested in agronomy and realized it would be a great way to be around the game. I found a job on the grounds crew at The Royal Montreal Golf Club and immediately fell in love with the industry.”
The following year he ended up at Nicklaus North in Whistler, B.C. for a summer and then completed the short turfgrass course at the University of Massachusettes. That combined experience helped him get into Penn State University’s preeminent turfgrass program and also landed him an internship at legendary Baltrusol Golf Club in New Jersey.
He took his first job working at Westwood Plateau Golf & Country Club outside of Vancouver, a 27-hole course set into the hillside of a mountain—a surprisingly difficult place to grow grass.
After a year at Westwood, Zubek’s dream job opened up at Capilano Golf and Country Club, one of the top courses in North America. He landed the assistant position and soon after took the head job after legendary superintendent Dennis Pellrene retired.
“Although I worked on some very high profile courses at a young age, Baltrusol was the catapult for my career,” said Zubek. “The course was going through a managerial transition at the time and I ended serving in more of an assistant’s capacity than an intern’s role; it was like winning the lottery for where I was in my career. The number one thing I took away from Baltrusol was attention to detail. We were constantly striving to make the best even better. It’s like the Disney philosophy that it’s what people don’t notice that matters.”
Mississaugua Golf and Country Club has long been known for its tradition and rich history in hosting championship golf. The course extends over 240 acres and is located in the scenic Credit River valley. The club is among the top 50 in Canada and proudly hosted the Canadian Open six times. Other prestigious tournaments include the AT&T Canada Senior Open in 2001; the Ontario Amateur Championship in 2003; and the Canadian Amateur Championship in 2006.
A higher level of quality comes at a cost and, as Zubek says, is hard to sustain.
“It’s a very competitive market here in the Greater Toronto Area, and cost is becoming a bigger and bigger factor when people choose a club. Moving forward, it’s going to be difficult to stay competitive in the marketplace while providing a great golf experience that’s cost sensitive.”
Competition aside, the biggest challenge Zubek faces is constant traffic and challenging growing environments. The course gets between 25,000 and 27,000 rounds during the short 200-day season.
“You can do everything from extra maintenance, fertilizer, etc., but you can’t control golfer traffic and it’s inevitably going to hurt you,” he said.
Arriving at the course four years ago, one of Zubek’s first priorities was investing in new equipment.
“When I arrived, our shop and fleet were in dire need of an overhaul or complete replacement,” he said. “The members want a great golf course they can be proud of that is consistently in good condition and, in order to achieve this, we had to make an investment in the tools to deliver the results.”
Mississaugua invested in a new fleet of Jacobsen equipment to address its needs. Zubek said he has been able to mow his fairways, due to the light weight of the machines, on occasions when he previously couldn’t.
“As a result, the density of the grass exploded,” said Zubek. “We stripe in summer and use a split cut in the spring and fall to indicate to members that our staffing levels have changed.”
Mississaugua’s use of walking greens mowers has also made a significant impact on the golf course, he added.
“The quality of cut is second to none. We’re using the mowers’ frequency-of-clip settings to keep our speeds up, even at higher heights of cut. We don’t get much below .125 inches and still manage speeds that are acceptable for daily member play. I like dialing back the FOC to get the equivalent of a double cut; it reduces stress on the collars and turning areas while achieving the speeds that we strive for. We’ve also done some experimenting with greens brushing and will do more of that this year.
“Looking back, I think I made the right decision going into the turf side as opposed to becoming a golf pro,” said Zubek. “I like that I can have such an impact on the golf experience through the course and grounds. The experience of managing multi-million-dollar projects is a real challenge that will prepare me for more opportunities down the road.”