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Living Legends

Matt Shaffer: Gone fishin'

Posted 05 April 2018 · 855 views

In this episode of Living Legends, presented by the Nufarm Insider, host John Reitman has a wide-ranging chat with Matt Shaffer, recently retired from Merion Golf Club, host of the 2013 U.S. Open.


Matt's retrospective includes his Penn State education and mentors there... the Latshaw Connection interwoven through his career... pushing the agronomic envelope and living on the edge... the cost of obscurity and value of a pedigree... doors that exceeding expectations will open... having money and resources at your disposal, or not... learning from defeats and charging on to your next victory... how a great club membership makes a huge difference... never holding a grudge.


The compensation/aggravation ratio of being a superintendent... the physical toll of hosting a Major... finding work/life balance.


Spend 45 minutes with Matt Shaffer, who pulls no punches. A fascinating conversation.


Dr. Karl Danneberger of THE Ohio State University

Posted 28 February 2018 · 1,038 views

In this episode of Living Legends, presented by the Nufarm Insider, host John Reitman chats with Dr, Karl Danneberger of Ohio State about his knack for engaging an audience, telling stories, his love of the game of golf, a bit about the challenges facing people entering the industry, the turf team at Ohio State, and his special off-topic interest...


David Stone, of The Honors Course in Ooltewah, TN

Posted 19 October 2017 · 2,561 views

In this episode of Living Legends, presented by the Nufarm Insider, host John Reitman chats with David Stone, retired superintendent at The Honors Course in Ooltewah, TN. Stone had been at The Honors Course since construction in 1982 (that's 35 years for anyone counting) and until his retirement was the only superintendent The Honors Course had ever known.


Spend a half hour getting to know David and gain from his wisdom garnered over his career as a golf course superintendent.


Dick Bator: Mentor to many

Posted 25 August 2017 · 3,103 views

In this episode, host John Reitman chats with career superintendent, mentor-to-many and current "international agronomy consultant", Dick Bator.


Bator's superintendent career included stops at Pine Valley, Merion and Oakmont. Over those years he mentored -- some may say 'tormented' -- many assistants who went on to careers as head superintendents.


He shares with us some of what made him tick, and advice for today. Some takeaways:

  • I hired good people, but pushed them and taught them survival tactics
  • Know the importance of detail work
  • Learn to delegate
  • Work in the trenches; I always did
  • Know where youre weak; hire people to fill those gaps
  • Dont mess up your personal life like I did. Too many divorces (3). Personal and family life is more important than the job. Biggest disappointment of my life.
  • Always seek out help; never stop learning
  • Today, I learn from every superintendent that I do consulting work for; and many are former assistants.
Presented by the Nufarm Insider.

Tom Cook pioneered the turf program at Oregon State University

Posted 11 July 2017 · 2,173 views


During a 30-plus-year career at Oregon State University, Tom Cook was doing more than running one of the country's top turfgrass programs. He also viewed his job as part-time matchmaker.
"Looking back now, it's pretty funny. I thought what I did was run a dating service, matching personalities with golf courses," said Cook. "You have to get to know the students and their style and match them with the right superintendents so they could progress in the industry."
Cook, 67, took over the Oregon State program in 1977 when he was just 27 years old. During the next 31 years, until he retired in 2008, more than 300 students went through the program that Cook ran mostly as a one-man show. 
"I couldn't seem to accumulate enough funds to hire anyone until about six years before I retired," he said. "But I had lots of energy."
It wasn't until 2001, when he hired Brian McDonald as a research assistant that he had paid help.
"It was like the Great Pyramids: Nobody knows how he built it. Before I got there it was just him. What Tom managed to do by himself is a mystery," said McDonald, a former student under Cook who graduated from Oregon State in 2000 after a career as an accountant.
"The university never game him a dime more than his salary. When he started the turf farm, he was bringing his own lawn mower out there. That's how far it has come."
Of those 300 or so students, about 200 went into the golf business and 150 or so eventually became superintendents, Cook said.
His influence on the turf industry in the Pacific Northwest still reverberates today, said Tod Blankenship, CGCS, a former research assistant at OSU under Cook's successor, Rob Golembiewski, Ph.D.
"Tom is a legend here in the Northwest," said Blankenship, now a parks director for the city of Wilsonville, Oregon.
"You go to any golf course in the Northwest, and there's a pretty good chance that there's a Beaver running the show, or an assistant or someone in the ranks. It all starts with Tom. There really wasn't a program here before Tom."
Cook was unique among his peers across the country in that he never earned a doctorate degree, and thus never had a research appointment. That did nothing to diminish his work, or the effects of his extension work across the state. He spent about 75 percent of his time on the job teaching. He was the turfgrass extension agent for the entire state and still managed to do tons of research.
"A lot of his stuff didn't get published, but he had so much research that he'd done over the years," Blankenship said. "I think that foundation alone, the amount of research that went on that no one knows about, it laid the way for what they're doing (at Oregon State) now."
"It all goes back to Tom. There really wasn't a program before Tom."


It was like the Great Pyramids: Nobody knows how he built it. . . . What Tom managed to do by himself is a mystery."


In the years since he left Oregon State, Cook has drifted away from golf somewhat and has developed a fondness for lawns and landscaping. He still lives in Corvallis with wife Marilyn in the house they've owned since 1984, where he has grown a yard that, as McDonald said, looks like it belongs on the cover of a magazine.
Shortly after he retired, Cook co-authored a book with Ann Marie VanDerZanden entitled Sustainable Landscape Management: Design, Construction and Maintenance (Wiley, 2010). Soon after, he went off the grid for a while, but has recently rekindled his interest in lawn and landscape management.
"I went into a fog for a while, but I'm kicking around an idea for another book," he said. 
"Lawns are fascinating. They are a cornucopia of plants, and grass is only one of them."
Throughout the duration of his career, Cook encountered changes in management practices, seed varieties, equipment and chemistries used to manage turfgrass pests.
"Things are different here in the Northwest than everywhere else. People had to make their own knowledge base," he said. "To keep up, I read everything I could get my hands on. And we had a lot of projects going on at the farm.
"For me, another pipeline was my former students. I spent a lot of time visiting golf courses and talking to superintendents. I learned from them. They're pretty innovative and creative and they would share with me and I would learn from their successes, or failures."
Cook loved turf and he loved his students.
"His favorite thing to do is mow," McDonald said. "Ii remember when I got to Oregon State as a student and would volunteer at the farm, and he would come out every Friday afternoon and mow. I thought we were failing because he was out there mowing, but it was just his way of keeping in touch with the turf and his down time where he could look at the turf and be by himself."


Jackson served industry as a superintendent and communicator

Posted 30 May 2017 · 1,861 views


For much of his career in golf, Joel Jackson almost seemed more like a media type than an industry insider.
As director of communications for the Florida GCSA for almost 15 years and editor of its magazine for 25, Jackson was by default the face of the association. 
Although his face and name are synonymous with trends relevant to turfgrass managers throughout Florida and the Southeast, many might forget that Jackson had a long career as a superintendent, too.
Jackson's five-decade career in golf also included 20 years as a superintendent for Disney Golf and three years at Orlando's posh Isleworth community. Jackson, who turns 75 in November, all but gave up golf cold turkey in 2015 when he and his wife, Susan, left the sun and fun of Central Florida for the sun and fun of Southern California in 2015. He's met plenty of folks who congregate regularly at nearby Balboa Golf Course, but despite urging from his wife, he can't muster the desire to join them.
"I played at chapter meetings. I'd stay and play after work at disney," said Jackson, who once played to a 10 handicap. "I'll go to the driving range at Balboa. Should I play? Yes. No. Yes. No. I just don't have the motivation.
"I exercise at a track. It's 3.1 miles out back. I don't try to hit 10,000 steps a day, or anything like that. I know I need to get back out and play golf. Mentally and physically, I know it's a good thing to do."
After all, it wasn't a retirement spent on the golf course that drew the Jacksons to SoCal, anyway. The reason they ventured west was to be close to their daughter, Jennifer, who works as a producer in the film industry.
When he's not hobnobbing with Hollywood insiders, Jackson spends time doing what he does best - meeting people, building new relationships and making new friends. And when you live in urban metro Los Angeles, there are a lot of places within walking distance where he can do that.
As much as he understands the place of effective communication for today's golf course superintendent, Jackson is a bit of a throwback, too.
He doesn't have a formal turf degree, and instead learned just about everything he needed to know on the job or in a seminar.
A native of Tampa, Jackson joined the Coast Guard after college. When he left the service, he earned a master's degree in geology from the University of South Florida, and spent some time early in his career teaching science in Apopka, a northwestern suburb of Orlando.
Teaching never scratched Jackson's itch, and he bopped around several clubs throughout Central and South Florida, picking up the trade before finally landing with Disney in 1977. 


We had bentgrass at Isleworth. That's where I was introduced to white patch. I'd never heard of that before."


After 14 years of tending the turf at Disney's Lake Buena Vista Course and helping prep for an annual PGA Tour event, Jackson left Disney when some guy in Orlando named Arnold Palmer convinced him to manage cool-season grass at Isleworth.
"We had bentgrass at Isleworth," Jackson said. "That's where I was introduced to white patch. I'd never heard of that before."
He returned to Disney three years later in 1991, taking over the reins at Osprey Ridge and finished out a 20-year career for the company in 1997.
It was during his years as a professional communicator where many in the industry had the chance to meet Jackson.
He began editing the Florida Green for the Florida GCSA in 1990 and was the association's director of communications from 1998 until he retired two years ago. He wrote, took photographs and even sketched his own editorial cartoons.
"Joel was the glue that held the association together and made it stronger," said Darren Davis, CGCS at Olde Florida Golf Club in Naples. "He kept us moving forward at all times. Having been a golf course superintendent, the editor of the Florida Green and a past president of the FGCSA, prior to becoming a full-time paid staff member, Joel had the knowledge and past history that enabled success. Joel was an icon in Florida and the association. His personality, his work ethic and his passion made him successful. It was a joy to work with Joel and he is missed in Florida."


Dick Rudolph: A lifetime of lessons

Posted 04 April 2017 · 2,099 views

Leaders spend their lives inspiring others to strive for greatness, often against overwhelming odds. 

As a superintendent for 40 years at multiple golf courses across California, Dick Rudolph, 71, knows the importance of encouraging and motivating others. It was a skill he learned as a noncommissioned officer in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War, where convincing others to do more than they thought was possible often could be the difference between life and death.
"I learned a lot about management in the military," Rudolph said. "People came from all walks of life, and you quickly learned who you could trust, especially in a combat environment."
Change came rapidly in the Army in the 1960s. After completing NCO training at Fort Benning, Georgia, Staff Sgt. Rudolph moved on to Fort Lewis, Washington where he trained his own men for battle.
Within 24 hours of being shipped out of Oakland, California, Rudolph and his men were on the ground in Vietnam for their first mission near the Gulf of Tonkin. Surprises and booby traps lay everywhere, and Rudolph still remembers trying to make sure his men were aware of them.
"It was a shock to my system to say the least," he said. "Sometimes, I was in charge of a full company. It was a job, and we had an assignment. My goal was to accomplish the mission and look after the people underneath me.
By the time Rudolph left the Army, some 30 men died under his command. Needless to say, the experience taught him a lot about people . . . and a lot about himself.
"The military helped me develop a leadership style to where I felt as though I could accomplish anything," he said. "It was never a time to say no. You always had to find a way to say yes."
"I think about that all the time, actually," Rudolph said. "We would plan in advance, and I would tell people 'look right before you go left.' Still, sometimes people didn't make it, and it was disappointing when things didn't go the way you planned.
"I was lucky. I made it back."
Since 1976, Rudolph has put that leadership experience to work as a superintendent, including stops at places like La Costa, the Four Seasons in San Diego and Aetna Springs Golf Course in Napa. A graduate of Cal State-Fresno, he has mentored dozens who have gone on to become head superintendents.
"He's one of those guys who just wants to help people," said Andy Magnasco, superintendent at Carmel Valley Ranch in Carmel, California. "He's touched so many people."



The military helped me develop a leadership style to where I felt as though I could accomplish anything. It was never a time to say no. You always had to find a way to say yes."


Rudolph has had to heed some of his own advice about being tough in the face of adversity last year when he was squeezed out by a management company last year at Aetna Springs. He now is working for superintendent Matt Wade at Birdwood Golf Course at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.
"My aspiration was to work as a superintendent until I was 75. I'm coming up on 72. The goal was 2020, but that didn't work out," Rudolph said. 
"It was slightly depressing after all these years not going to work as a superintendent. Not to have that position was disheartening."
Still, the course at UVA has been a positive change for Rudolph, who says Wade's philosophy of giving employees a task and the freedom - as well as the responsibility and accountability - to complete it is much like his own.
"He delegates and allows you to do your job the way you think is best. It's a nice transition for me," Rudolph said. 
"I'm still active and hop to be working in golf for many years to come."
Rudolph only started playing golf while in high school, but picked up the game quickly and became a pretty fair amateur player. Before transferring to Fresno, he was an engineering student at Cal Poly where he also played on the golf team. There he went face-to-face with some of the game's best, including a former Stanford standout by the name of Tom Watson.
As a true golfing superintendent, Rudolph is able to see the course from a player's perspective. 
Although he always expected the same attention to detail from his employees on the golf course that he demanded from his men during Vietnam, Rudolph also recognized that he had to take a different route to reach that goal on the golf course.
"I always demanded a lot and expected them to have an attention to detail," he said of life on the golf course. "I empowered them to do a job, but I never stood over them. I knew they didn't make enough to be whipped. Because of this, I felt as though they respected me, and I forged some good relationships with many of them."

Frank Dobie: Redefining success after more than 50 years

Posted 01 March 2017 · 2,474 views

Don't bother checking an episode of America's Most Wanted to locate Frank Dobie, and there is no need to scan those posters hanging on the wall in the post office, either. As a matter of fact, Dobie just might be the easiest person to locate in all of golf.

Dobie, 76, is the country's longest-tenured golf course superintendent. He has been a greenkeeper since 1961 when JFK still was in the White House. And he has worked at his current job, as superintendent and general manager of Sharon Golf Club in Sharon Center, Ohio, since construction began on the George Cobb design in 1964. 
For some added perspective, in 1964: Ford first unveiled the Mustang, the average cost of a gallon of gas was 30 cents, the Dow Jones Industrial Average had a year-end close of 874, President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, the U.S. Congress formally authorized the war against North Vietnam, and The Beatles came to America for the first time and had the year's top song with I Want to Hold Your Hand.
Just how does someone survive 56 years in the same industry and 53 years at the same job?
Simple, says Dobie.
"You have to create advocates every year, people who will back you up, be proactive and positive," Dobie said. "There is always someone who doesn't like you. I have my detractors, I've had them all these years, but the advocates drown them out. Our membership police that, so I don't have to defend myself."
Dobie never had a greater advocate at Sharon than the late M.G. O'Neil, the former General Tire and Rubber executive who was the club's president for 46 years until he died in 2009. 
"He told me 'I don't want to talk to a bunch of people. I want you in charge of the whole program: general manager and superintendent,' " Dobie said. "I was general manager from Day 1 at age 24. I didn't know finance or food service. He asked me 'Can you grow grass.' I said 'yes,' and he told me 'we'll teach you all you need to know about the other things.' "
O'Neil's finance lessons were simple: "Don't spend more money than what you have to spend," Dobie said.
It sounds simple, but being frugal has helped Sharon remain healthy financially during troubled times.
"Every year since 1966 when it opened, the club always made a profit," he said. "There has never been an assessment on members, never been a deficit.
"We waited for stuff. We didn't pave the parking lot for the first 17 years. It evolved slowly, but we were always fiscally sound, and it's one of the reasons why to this day we have a full membership."


I've always said the only way I'd leave was if I was not being paid enough, I didn't like the people I work with or if I was not being challenged. I'm still getting all those things."


O'Neil was more than just a mentor to Dobie.
"He always told board members not to get involved in operations. Their job was to establish club policy, raise dues, and things like that," Dobie said. "He always told me that one of his biggest jobs was watching my back," he said.
A 1960 graduate of Penn State's two-year turfgrass management program, Dobie counts Joe Duich, Ph.D., and former Bob O'Link superintendent Bob Williams, among his mentors. Ironically, Williams's son, Bruce Williams, CGCS, in turn, was one of Dobie's former interns.
Dobie has been giving back to his profession almost since the day he started at Sharon. He's been on the board of directors of the Musser International Turfgrass Foundation since 1969, and has been its president since 1988.
To further illustrate just how long Dobie's career at Sharon has been, he recently hired a retired teacher who used to work on his crew decades ago, to tend bar.
Dobie has had plenty of opportunities to find greener fairways elsewhere, including a job offer from Augusta National.
"I've always said the only way I'd leave was if I was not being paid enough, I didn't like the people I work with or if I was not being challenged," he said. "I'm still getting all those things."


He challenged you every day. He'd always ask you quick questions and quiz you. It was the best place I could have worked.


Being challenged was why Jason Mahl chose Sharon for his internship after he graduated from Ohio State ATI in 2000. He had offers from bigger clubs, with more staff, but he chose Sharon because of the lower superintendent-to-intern ratio.
"He was well known, but I knew all about him, because we took a field trip there when I was at ATI," Mahl said. "It was always in the back of my head that it would be a good place to go and learn.
"He challenged you every day. He'd always ask you quick questions and quiz you. It was the best place I could have worked."
Frank Dobie's bunker construction method has been working for him since the 1960s.
A true innovator, Dobie developed his own bunker construction method in 1967 and says he is the first superintendent to use a bunker liner. Any changes to bunkers at Sharon since it opened have been either to enlarge, shrink add or remove them. None have been rebuilt due to failure of his system, In fact, a fairway bunker on No. 18 is the original bunker Dobie built in 1967.
Dobie also has been an innovator of nutrition, which, he says, has helped him prolong his career.
He eats only organic foods, never takes any sort of medication, "not even aspirin," and takes about 14 vitamins and supplements each day, including things like krill oil (for Omega 3 fatty acids), alfalfa (to ward off arthritis) and coral calcium for overall plant, err, bone and joint health.
He views supplements the same way superintendents look at some of the products they apply to turf.
"When the turf is calcium or potassium deficient, you add things that make the plant healthier and less susceptible to disease," he said. 
"I can't prove it works, but when I take them, I'm healthier and less prone to disease."
More than 50 years of success don't lie.


Audiocast: Joe Alonzi, CGCS... Career superintendent, mentor to many

Posted 13 January 2017 · 1,520 views

In this episode of Living Legends, Where Are They Now?, host John Reitman chats with Joe Alonzi, CGCS, who retired in 2014 after 22 years at the storied Westchester Country Club. A superintendent for over 40 years, Alonzi is well known for having mentored many assistants who went on to successful head superintendent jobs in their own right.


Straddling the villages of Harrison and Rye, just north of New York City, Westchester Country Club is on the top shelf of golf course superintendent jobs. It boasts 36 holes designed by Walter Travis, a nine-hole executive course, and a history that rivals just about any other club in the country. It was a PGA Tour site for more than 30 years, and past members include names like Johnny Carson and Jackie Gleason.


With a hotel, an Olympic-sized saltwater pool, squash and tennis facilities, more than 6 miles of roads and a beach club located 5 miles away from the main clubhouse, Westchester is more like a small city than a mere country club.



Living Legends is presented by Nufarm. Check out the Nufarm Insider for the latest news from Nufarm.

Audiocast: Ted Horton, from UMass to Pebble Beach

Posted 08 December 2016 · 2,055 views

In this first audiocast in our Living Legends series on retired superintendents who made a difference, John Reitman chats with Ted Horton about his days from UMass to Winged Foot, Westchester CC and Pebble Beach... and the impact he had across the industry.


Presented by Nufarm. Visit NufarmInsider.com to get all the latest information on golf course management products from Nufarm.


Living Legends: Where are they now? is presented by Nufarm US.

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