I’ve been writing about golf for 40 years, almost all of it about golf courses and much of that involving maintenance. Through thousands of articles, nine books and hundreds of talks and PowerPoint presentations, I have learned a lot from the folks who spend their days (and nights) on the agronomic side of things.
My first awareness of superintendents came in 1968, as a 14-year-old caddie at the Woodmere Club on Long Island. That’s when I noticed the work that greenkeeper John Traynor and his mainly Italian crew of laborers were doing getting the course readied each day. As an early bird, I often arrived on weekends at dawn and got to see the choreography of labor that whipped the place into shape each morning. On Mondays, we were allowed to play the course, which gave me a greater appreciation of the more invasive work required to keep things going.
By my fourth year at Woodmere, I graduated to cart manager, collecting a weekly paycheck from Textron and engaging in the morning setup ritual of bringing up the carts from the charging station. There I shared quarters with Traynor and his crew, and was always careful to yield to their movements, whether in crossing a road or traveling down the narrow path between the tennis courts and the clubhouse.
I remember Traynor as very old school – gruff, hard-edged, not very communicative with the membership. I knew nothing of what he really knew about his job and he showed no interest in mine. I just knew that he spent a lot of time out there, and when he went on to take over maintenance at Westchester Country Club, I figured that was confirmation of his status in the industry.
I started writing about golf architecture a decade later. My first article, a study of strategic design for the Canadian magazine SCORE, involved a comparison of the all-or-nothing par-3 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass with a wonderfully complex hole of the same length at The Orchards in South Hadley, Massachusetts, that Donald Ross designed. It was there I first met a superintendent with whom I could walk and talk endlessly out on the grounds. Paul Jamrog proved to be a fount of information, and it was through him that I first appreciated what a difference a crack superintendent could make on taking an underfunded facility as far as it could go – and further. I “repaid” my debt to him in 1987 by arranging a surreptitious visit to the course by Ben Crenshaw, who was then playing in the nearby PGA Tour’s Canon Sammy Davis Jr.-Greater Hartford Open. When it became evident that the club’s resources only stretched so far, I helped Jamrog find his next job as superintendent at Metacomet Country Club in Rhode Island, where he remained for about two decades.
By then I was founding editor of a new biweekly magazine Superintendent News. We were desperate for editorial content. Among our freelance columnists was Frank Rossi, an energetic young turf professor from Cornell University. To this day, I have never met anyone so intense, so knowledgeable and so at ease in a lighthearted way conveying his knowing of agronomic science.
There have been so many inspiring people who have taught me how to translate technical turfgrass talk into an everyday idiom. Tom Bastis, formerly of California Golf Club of San Francisco and now a PGA Tour agronomist, was the first superintendent I saw take control of a members’ meeting and set the folks straight on what they needed to know about their forthcoming restoration. Chris Tritibaugh, whom I met at Northland Country Club in Duluth and have since visited at Hazeltine National outside Minneapolis, taught me the value of making constructive relations with his crew central to everyday operations.
Back home at the municipal course I helped create and now serve on the town’s golf committee, Wintonbury Golf Club’s Mark Mansur with Indigo Golf Partners (formerly Billy Casper Golf) has remained a model of how to do more with limited resources without sacrificing conditions. Over at Kennett Square Golf & Country Club south of Philadelphia, I’ve worked for 15 years with superintendent Paul Stead, constantly amazed how he finds ways to improve the property and make golf more enjoyable for the membership.
I could write a book about the superintendents I have met who have inspired me. Maybe someday I will. For now, I will simply say I know of no other business where nominal competitors work so collegially with each other and where they work so patiently with laymen like myself. To all those of you whom I have left out (for now), thank you.