I played golf twice during a mid-April week at my local municipal course, once to say goodbye to our longtime superintendent, the next to welcome his replacement.
Mark Mansur had tended the fairways of municipally owned Wintonbury Hills Golf Course here in Bloomfield, Connecticut, a Pete Dye-Tim Liddy design that opened in 2004. Mansur arrived in 2006 and did not miss a beat. Technically, he was an employee of the management firm the town hired to run the place, Indigo Sports, the public golf arm of Troon Golf and the successor to Billy Casper Golf Management, the company we hired two decades ago.
If that seems complicated, it’s nothing compared to the way Mansur and the whole team at Wintonbury also were held accountable by the town’s golf committee (of which I am a member) and the Town Council as a whole. Part of my volunteer job was to run interference for Indigo to do its job. It was in this capacity, more than as just an occasional golfer at the course, that I would occasionally stop.
It is not easy running a nationally ranked municipal facility with a maintenance budget under $600,000. A succession of prominent consultants in agronomy, wetlands and irrigation helped along the way. But the real reason a visitor will find very little Poa annua out there and why the greens had a reputation equal to, if not better than, most of the private clubs in the area that cost two or three times more annually to play, is because of the daily dedication of Mansur and his small team.
Among other things, it meant his doing much of the daily morning setup himself. He liked to say it helped him know the ground better than if he or an assistant relied on the latest technology in measuring devices. Frankly, I do not know how he managed it all. And it’s only in the last few weeks that I fully understood how much time he devoted to making sure conditions were right and that a client base that drew from as far as New York and Boston was satisfied.
For 16 years, we had someone showing up daily who threw himself into the job and regularly turned out fine playing conditions. It was easy to forget how physically and emotionally taxing such a job is. Mansur and his peers in the municipal sector do not get the credit or the respect they deserve. That becomes obvious during job searches at private clubs, when those running the search regularly look askance at those in the public sector and prefer to favor those superintendents whose career breeding has been through the ranks of more elite private clubs or under the tutelage of one of the industry’s legendary sages. It must be frustrating to have to apply for more prestigious positions and face the subtle bias of such views.
In Mansur’s case, he opted for a private club with lots of lawn sports and grass fields but without a golf course. It’s a much better job in lots of ways and nobody in town seems to have begrudged his decision to leave.
Credit to Indigo Golf for putting together a full national search on short notice. The 30 or so applicants were quickly narrowed down to a handful. Site visits and interviews followed. Within a few weeks, the announcement was made of Wintonbury’s selection of a new superintendent, Dennis Petruzelli, CGCS. He’s a seasoned veteran of the New York/Connecticut golf scene and just so happens to love fiddling with irrigation systems. Good thing, because Wintonbury will need it.
On his first day on the job, the temperature hovered around 60 degrees but felt much colder due to winds of 20 to 25 mph. Petruzelli was all huddled up in cold-season gear. He was checking things out on his own after bird-dogging Mansur during his final days on site.
I tried focusing on my golf game but could not, noticing all sorts of things. The plethora of remnant divots in the fairway. Irrigation heads with broken or missing plastic caps. How, if we just altered the fairway-mowing pattern on a par 3, we could make ground-game access so much easier. A foursome with three carts. A blue flag (reserved for the back of the green) placed suspiciously close to the middle of the putting surface.
I kept quiet about all of this as I said hello to our new superintendent and simply wished him good luck. He’s got his hands full and does not need to listen to my list. My job now is to keep running interference where I can. And also to spread the word industrywide that municipal superintendents work a lot harder than most people know about.