Cade Cutchen has a tendency to be early.
He wrapped up his high school classes when he was 16. He finished college when he was 20. He was working in the golf course maintenance industry full time by then, too, balancing course work with the real world. Married in his early 20s, he and his wife, Lili, have one cross-country move to their credit — a major accomplishment for any couple — from Florida to California. He was the first turf pro in his state to complete the GCSAA Assistant Superintendent Certification Series. He was the first in his region to apply to be a GCSAA Grassroots Ambassador, lobbying politicians for the industry. Heck, if you forget all about time zones and absentmindedly call him before the sun is rising, odds are good he is already awake, alert and ready to talk.
“I like to focus on what’s in front of me,” he says.
Right now, that means full days at The Olympic Club in San Francisco, where he has worked since May 2019 as a second assistant superintendent, primarily on the Ocean Course with superintendent Andrew Crawford and the 9-hole Cliffs Course. It also means receiving the 2020 Stanley Zontek Memorial Scholarship presented by Golf Course Industry.
Cutchen edged an impressive field of applicants for the scholarship, an unrestricted $2,500 grant that supports a turf student with a passion for the game and honors Stanley J. Zontek, the former director of the USGA Green Section’s Mid-Atlantic Region, who died in 2012.
Cutchen was still in high school then, just young enough to have missed out on meeting Zontek. His supervisor, Troy Flanagan, the director of golf maintenance at The Olympic Club, has plenty of memories of the man, though, and passed along some when Cutchen raised the topic earlier this year: When Flanagan was still an intern at DuPont Country Club in Wilmington, Delaware, Zontek was called in to provide perspective in advance of an LPGA Tour event. Flanagan remembers Zontek as “calm, supportive and caring, always available and ready to help another superintendent get through a difficult situation.”
“Superintendents form a special community of teamwork and fellowship,” Cutchen wrote in his application essay. “Stanley Zontek embodied that attitude and, throughout his career, inspired generations of superintendents.”
Count Cutchen among those inspired. Now in his fourth year in the industry, he logged stints at Wildwood Golf & RV Resort in Crawfordville, Florida, and Capital City Country Club in Tallahassee, before heading west.
At Wildwood, he originally planned to use his finance degree to “kind of keep track of their books.” That lasted until he started to pitch in on maintenance during weekends. “The first time I got on a tractor,” he says, “I wanted to be on a golf course the rest of my life. I wanted to be outside, working with my hands and working with a team of guys on the golf course.”
At Capital City, he worked with superintendent Chase Brown, who he credits with keeping him in the industry. “He’s a young superintendent who did everything he could possibly do to get me learning,” Cutchen says. “Most guys, if they had a good assistant working under them, will try to keep them. They can be possessive. They want you on their staff because you’re making their staff better. He was completely different than that. He encouraged me to go see something new, to go learn, and to go see what this industry has to offer. I still talk with him every couple of weeks and touch base on what’s going on there.”
Now at The Olympic Club, Cutchen is packing his days with more education on and off the course. He sprinted through the assistant superintendent certification before applying to be a grassroots ambassador, for which he is tasked with talking a couple times each year with his local Congressional representative — who happens to be Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. The 2021 U.S. Women’s Open, scheduled for next June 3-6, looms less than a year away, followed immediately by a course redesign with Gil Hanse — “and how can you not be excited about working with someone like Gil?” Cutchen asks. And after that: a scheduled irrigation system overhaul, “something any turf manager would love to experience,” he says. “This is somewhere you can always be learning.”
Who knows what the future holds for any 23-year-old, even those with ambition, passion and more than a foot in the door. But Flanagan thinks plenty of Cutchen — as he does of all six of his current managers.
“I can’t sit here and say he’s cured polio, but he picks things up extremely well, he loves new challenges and he’s just a phenomenal person,” Flanagan says. “That means so much to me when I have good people working for me. He’s one of those guys, you look at him — and I’m pretty fortunate in that everybody on my team has high potential — and you think, some day, he’s going to be in a position like mine if that’s what he wants. That’s the best way I can put it. You can just tell. He has that look in his eye.”
Tartan Talks No. 49
Give David Whelchel a forum and just joyfully listen.
Whelchel spins stories about reinventing his career multiple times, memorable projects, bunker evolution and fascinating co-workers ranging from golf industry legend Dr. Michael Hurdzan to college football icon Frank Broyles on the Tartan Talks podcast.
These days, Whelchel describes himself as “semi-retired,” though he still helps clubs and fellow architects solve bunker challenges. When he’s not traveling — and his travel has been less frequent because of the COVID-19 pandemic — Whelchel spends his days playing golf with friends in Arkansas, the state where he taught himself the game as a student at the University of Arkansas.
Upon graduation, Whelchel entered the agriculture sales business. He experienced a major career metamorphosis when Broyles, the football coach-turned-athletic director, hired him to become the Razorbacks’ men’s golf coach in 1980. Whelchel, a 15-hadicapper the year before he was hired by Broyles, left coaching in 1983 to work in golf course construction. He parlayed the field experiences into a design position with Hurdzan’s Ohio-based firm.
“I had the nerve or wherewithal — and I’m not sure what the word is — to say yes to change my career path four different times and moved to do it,” says Whelchel, who has changed addresses 15 times in a 49-year marriage to his wife, Jean. “And it has been a great ride.”
Enter bitly.com/DavidWhelchel in your web browser to learn more about Whelchel’s career.
Remembering James Pursell
Industry innovator James “Jimmy” Pursell died earlier this summer at age 89. Pursell is responsible for advancing golf course maintenance by developing the controlled-release fertilizer POLYON.
Pursell entered the fertilizer business via an invitation from his father-in-law and he ascended to the leadership position of Parker Fertilizer Co. in 1966. He created a second branch of the company, Pursell Industries, in the 1980s and oversaw the construction and operation of a sulfur-coated urea plant in Sylacauga, Alabama.
He formed Pursell Technologies in the 1990s to concentrate on the professional golf course and ornamental nursery markets. His family opened FarmLinks Golf Club as a research and demonstration golf course to entertain customers in 2003. FarmLinks hosted 1,200 superintendents in its first four years and remains one of the top golf courses in Alabama.
A 2018 inductee into the Alabama Business Hall of Fame, Pursell is survived by this sons, Taylor and David, daughter, Chris, and 10 grandchildren.
Turfheads Take Over:
Tell a personal story about 2020
Writing can be therapeutic and rewarding. It can also be the ideal way to honor and describe the wit and grit displayed by your team in 2020.
Turfheads Take Over returns in December and we’re seeking article submissions from superintendents, assistant superintendents and other industry professionals looking to tell first-person stories about 2020. Submissions, of course, aren’t just limited to the events and challenges of this year. The fifth annual Turfheads Take Over features the same guidelines as its predecessors: you can submit an article or idea about any industry topic you feel is relevant. Topics covered in 2019 included personnel management, beginning a new job, mental health, longevity and what assistant superintendents seek in a boss.
Articles of 600 words or more with accompanying images can be emailed to editors Guy Cipriano (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Matt LaWell (email@example.com). Nervous about writing for a national audience of your peers? Our editors are easily accessible and available to guide you through the writing, editing and publishing process.
The deadline for submissions is Friday, Nov. 6.