Observations from a three-day whirlwind through North Carolina’s Research Triangle…
Old Chatham Golf Club is a Rees Jones-designed course opened in 2001. The club rests on 400 secluded, wooded acres in Durham, N.C. New housing developments creep toward the gates, yet once on property, a clubhouse and guest cottage are the only visible structures.
Brian Powell, a second generation, North Carolina-bred superintendent, arrived before the first tee shot was struck on Sept. 8, 2001. The world changed three days later.
The world around Old Chatham has changed. The Research Triangle’s population hovered around 1.1 million in 2000. The total has swelled past 2 million. Compared to everything around it, Old Chatham’s changes are subtle, although Champion Bermudagrass replaced bentgrass greens in 2012 and pleasing native areas have supplanted eight acres of mowed turf. Powell and his team create repeatable and pleasurable golf experiences. Fairway and rough heights, and yes, even green speeds, are no secrets because they are stated on the club’s website.
Powell is a past Carolinas GCSA President. Director of golf John Marino is the current Carolinas PGA President. Both are widely respected. Both have worked at Old Chatham since its inception.
Day 1 conclusion: Consistency separates elite clubs from middling facilities. Old Chatham offers a template for green committees and board of directors. Hire and strive to retain quality leaders. Tell them what you want to become. Let them execute their jobs and give them the tools to do it.
Bayer golf business manager David Wells opened the educational portion of the 11th annual Green Start Academy with a cheerful proclamation. “I think the golf industry has a bright future,” he told a room filled with 52 assistant superintendents.
Spend a few days with a group of assistant superintendents, and it’s hard not to get excited about the future. A savvy, determined, well-trained and increasingly patient group descended upon Research Triangle Park for Green Start Academy.
Job candidates are spending an average of 4 ½ years as assistant superintendents before becoming superintendents, according to GCSAA research. The average age of a superintendent is 46 years old. The average time spent as a superintendent is 16 years.
The talent glut means some facilities boast two and perhaps three professionals ready to lead a maintenance operation. By carrying larger roles for extended periods, assistant superintendents are more prepared than ever to succeed when landing a head position. Waiting to fulfill career goals is tough. But patient assistant superintendents are making the industry stronger.
Day 2 conclusion: It’s too bad outsiders with lukewarm views on the industry don’t receive an opportunity to attend an event like Green Start Academy and meet its participants. They’d be bullish on golf too.
One is the general physician. The other is the specialist.
Lee Butler and Dr. Jim Kerns, along with their NC State colleagues, provide a tremendous service. Their diagnostic work drives research. If superintendents are sending an abundance of samples infected with pythium, they increase pythium research.
One day Butler and Kerns might receive a sample from a superintendent at a top 100 club in a different time zone; the next day a local superintendent might personally drop off a sample. There’s no room for error. A misdiagnosis could put a career in peril.
Trust is a major component of plant pathology, and funding concerns create uneasiness about the future of reputable turfgrass research and diagnosis. NC State is in a fortuitous spot because it rests in the epicenter of a region where personal interactions don’t require plane tickets and key industry stakeholders in the Carolinas understand the value of collaboration.
After visiting NC State’s plots and labs, we met with Hope Valley Country Club’s David Lee, a rare superintendent with a PhD. Lee maintains a turf nursery where trials are performed between the second and third holes. When you’re touring the course with plant pathologists, you can’t miss it.
Day 3 conclusion: Get to know the Butler and Kerns of your region. Support what they do. If possible, establish a nursery at your course that permits research. Not only will you sleep better when something doesn’t look right. You will help the next person with a turf issue.