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Ben Ellis did something few of his peers would ever consider. He described the bad and good associated with his first superintendent job — and he put his name on it.

In strokes of candor rarely pursued in an industry filled with private conversations, Ellis opted to reveal the dynamics surroundings his first 100 days as a golf course superintendent in the most public way imaginable: a 316-page book. “The First Hundred Days” is Ellis’s highly personal account surrounding the start of his superintendent tenure at The Courses at Andrews on Joint Base Andrews, Maryland. A 54-hole facility when Ellis served as superintendent in 2017, The Courses at Andrews, which is owned by the Department of the Air Force and operates via non-appropriated funds, rests in the middle of the Transition Zone. Ellis received the job at 30 years old, replaced a longtime superintendent and had a maintenance budget of less than $1 million for three 18-hole courses.

The job at Andrews represented a tough gig. But tough makes for tremendous copy and Ellis produced a book every student should receive on the first day of turf school. Available at golfturfnerd.com, a website operated by Ellis, the book will inform and entertain anybody from an experienced superintendent to a curious golfer.

Now 35, Ellis has started his third season as the superintendent at Fort Belvoir Golf Club, a 36-hole, US. Army-owned facility operating via non-appropriated funds where he started his turf maintenance career in 2003. We spoke with Ellis about publishing a book with more blunt substance than fluff.

Why did you decide to write the book?

I felt it was a good story and I wanted to write it no matter where I was. The first 100 days of what it’s like to become a golf course superintendent was always kind of curious to me. Becoming a golf course superintendent is what I wanted in life. As nerdy as it is, it was like, ‘Yeah, that’s what I wanted to do.’ Then it just happened that I worked at Andrews, where Presidents played at one point. Then, the year I took over in 2017, it was a good analogy of the 100-day plan. I wrote it basically for me, but I wanted to get the story out and that’s why the book is self-published versus going out and trying to find an actual publisher. I had no interest in making money off it, I just wanted the story out there. I felt it was a neat story. I felt what I went through was unique in a way. But I know there are so many stories out there and I want to encourage those stories.

How did you find time to do it around the demands of your full-time job?

I took notes while I was at Andrews, so I would write notes almost every day. They were quick notes and they weren’t anything crazy. I referenced back to that. The notebook I have is filled with paper, scratch-paper sheets and scorecards of the notes that I took during that time. Pictures were a lot of it, too. When I left Andrews, I went to Paint Branch Golf Complex, which was a 9-hole golf course. I would arrive at 4 a.m. and I wouldn’t get out until 7 p.m. in the wintertime. I was working at the same time, but I also wrote. The entire winter months I was the only one there. I just sat down and wrote. During the weekends, I had headphones on even though there wasn’t any music playing. I just wrote. I can get lost in that.

How did you develop an explanatory writing style where you can describe situations such as a hydraulic leaks, dollar spot, budgets, herbicides and fertilizer in non-technical terms?

I basically had to paint the picture. The best thing was to look at it like a movie scene. How would I read the book? How would I watch a movie? I know what a 3500 D Sidewinder is, but how do I explain it to my wife? I wrote the book and then I rewrote it four or five times. Not a lot of people read it before I let them. The editor went through it at the very end. It wasn’t until the very end that anybody read it. It was taking the picture and painting it like a movie scene. How would you explain it to somebody who had no idea about turf? That was the goal.

The book is extremely candid. What went into the decision to take that ‘real’ direction?

It doesn’t do anybody any good to sugarcoat anything. Yes, a lot of the names are changed. Some of them aren’t and I asked for permission from those whose names who weren’t changed. The then-GM (at The Course at Andrews) knows about the book, but I haven’t discussed it with him. The crew knows the book is out there. I have given copies out. Most of the people in the book I have talked to. They knew I was going to write it. It was never a secret. It’s raw. This is what happened. It’s not good sometimes. And sometimes it’s good. I screwed up at times. I know it. My mother at first thought it was a good storybook with this happy ending. But it was, ‘Wait, do you remember how miserable he was there? Oh, it’s not a happy-ending book?’ It took me a while to get to a happy point.

Looking back on it, how tough was it managing a 54-hole facility with a limited budget as a first-time superintendent?

I really wouldn’t know a whole lot else. When I got the job at Fort Belvoir, it was like, ‘Well, it can’t be any worse than Andrews.’ I obviously felt like I had it worse than almost anybody can have it, because my employer didn’t understand that we were low budget. I honestly felt he believed we were on the higher end and that I was a high-paid superintendent. For maybe a 9-hole course? Sure. For an 18-hole course without overtime? Then, maybe, sure. But I don’t think they understood what it took until they saw me doing it and having to explain all of that. It was a whole different world.

The previous superintendent had drilled it into me so much that, ‘Hey, you don’t have this. The luxury is not there. You have to see it this way. You have to look at it this way or try this.’ We couldn’t do things necessarily the ‘textbook way.’ That’s where you think outside the box and create stuff. It was never dull.

Who is your intended audience? There are so many people who can benefit from this book. But, in my mind, it needs to be given to students on the first day of turf school.

I have heard that. I’m actually contemplating edition No. 2 to include lessons learned at the end of each chapter. I would love to revamp and redo it. But my audience was just the golfer who enjoys reading about golf, who might not know the ins and outs of every golf course, and who wants to learn more about golf, but sees it a completely different way. A lot of golf course superintendents have enjoyed it. They have read it. But I almost look at that like they have their own stories. Their stories might be different. Different people want to read and learn about different things. It might spark an interest somewhere outside the turf community.

How are things going for in your current job and how does that 100-day summer stretch now compare to what you experienced in the summer of 2017?

I got hired on Jan. 9, 2020, at Fort Belvoir and on March 23, 2020, we shut down. My staff completely left the golf course. I was the only one here for a month. I just felt that much more comfortable coming into a different job. I feel bad for saying this … but I have all the same sales rep and they’ll tell me, ‘Well, it’s not Andrews!’ I have had people tell me, ‘You look so much happier.’ People who see me once a year will tell me, ‘You look so much better, you look healthier, you look happier.’ I ask them, ‘Was I that unhappy?’ And they would say, ‘Yeah, you were that mentally exhausted.’ Well, that’s why I’m not there anymore.

Another completely different aspect is that Fort Belvoir is the golf course where I always wanted to be. Even if I were still at Andrews and was happy there, this was the golf course that I grew up on. There’s always that special place for you.

Guy Cipriano is Golf Course Industry’s editor-in-chief.