Turf & Rec

Features Profiles
The most valuable employee on the course


February 9, 2015
By Mike Jiggens


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Over the past year, I have attended several education sessions, field outings and other presentations that have provided highly-detailed accounts of just how bad the winter of 2013-14 was for many golf courses in Ontario as they dealt with the so-called polar vortex. I’ve actually lost count of how many of these things I attended.

The one recurring thought which came to mind from each of these presentations was, “I’m glad I’m not a golf course superintendent.”

And then in December, I heard Markland Wood Golf Club superintendent Owen Russell’s account of not only what he went through in 2014, but the year before as well.

I had completely forgotten about the previous year during which his golf course was flooded over following an early summer deluge. The damage to the golf course was actually more pronounced in 2013 than it was in 2014.

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Here’s a guy who was dealt a formidable one-two punch in back-to-back years, got back up after righting those wrongs, and continued to do his job with his sanity intact.

After seeing several photographs of the impact the flood and the polar vortex had on Russell’s golf course, I thought, “This guy’s a pretty thick-skinned individual.”

One of the speakers at the recent Ontario Golf Superintendents Association conference—it may have been Pat Jones, publisher of Golf Course Industry—remarked the golf course superintendent is easily the most valuable employee at a golf course, noting a club can function without a pro, a chef or virtually any other higher-up employee.

A golf club’s chief product is the course itself, and the pro shop, food and beverage, and everything else are mere accessories. A golfer may enjoy a beer and a meal afterward in the clubhouse and might make a purchase in the pro shop, but his primary reason for being at the golf course is to play golf. He expects to play on well-maintained grounds to reap full satisfaction of his experience. It’s not the pro or food and beverage manager who are responsible for the golfer’s quality of experience, although they might make a notable contribution as an add-on.

It has been my opinion that the superintendent has been largely overworked and underappreciated over the years. But there have been some indications of late that this might be changing, at least in the appreciation department. Club members seem more informed today about some of the science involved in golf course management than they once were. One area where they seem to be “getting it” is the impact trees have on golf courses. At one time, it was almost blasphemous to cut a tree on a golf course, but golfers today for the most part understand that trees hinder sunlight penetration, especially on greens, and their removal is beneficial to both turf health and the bottom line. When it comes to the bottom line, club members tend to be more attentive.

Lines of communication between the superintendent’s office and club members are better today than they used to be. Whether it’s a website blog, the impact of social media or just good, old-fashioned face-to-face conversation, it seems to be working.

This, at least, is one area where it can be argued the game is growing.