It was like the Great Pyramids: Nobody knows how he built it. . . . What Tom managed to do by himself is a mystery."
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It was like the Great Pyramids: Nobody knows how he built it. . . . What Tom managed to do by himself is a mystery."
We had bentgrass at Isleworth. That's where I was introduced to white patch. I'd never heard of that before."
Leaders spend their lives inspiring others to strive for greatness, often against overwhelming odds.
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."
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.
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."
He challenged you every day. He'd always ask you quick questions and quiz you. It was the best place I could have worked.
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.
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.
When Palmer Maples Jr. walks into a room, superintendents still stand up and take notice. And when those same superintendents think the 84-year-old greenkeeping legend has left the building without saying good bye, they get up again and go looking for him.
Only when they find him hidden away in a back room of the clubhouse of an Atlanta golf course spinning tales of yesteryear to a reporter do they breathe a sigh of relief.
Whew, I thought you were gone, says one superintendent. Its always an honor to see you, utters another. Take care of that family, or see that they take care of you, says yet another.
Despite his age, Maples is as spry as most men 20 years his junior, and much of his outlook on greenkeeping still translates into todays world of hard, smooth and fast surfaces. Hes like that once-in-a-generation athlete who you look at, years after his prime has come and gone, and say to yourself dang, I bet he could still play today.
Maples spent parts of five decades as a superintendent in Georgia and North Carolina, and is part of the Maples family of Pinehurst that has spawned dozens of people across four generations working in the golf business. Now living in Kansas City, Missouri, Maples recently was back in Georgia to support former pupil Mark Hoban during the latters inaugural organic and native grasses field day at Rivermont Golf Club in Johns Creek.
They worked together in the 1970s at The Standard Club, where Maples was superintendent from 1970-76.
Im here mostly to support Mark, Maples said. There has been a time or two he has referenced what I did in my superintendent life, and I wanted to come back to support him today.
Considered a progressive superintendent and forward thinker for his era, Maples says much has changed in the golf business since he learned agronomy at the knee of people like Glenn Burton and Marv Ferguson.
Mostly the technology, Maples said. Its not only the equipment, but the personnel taking care of the equipment. When I started in the business, we had a three-quarter-inch hose and a sprinkler. Now, you can turn on a whole irrigation system with a phone.
Maples started in the business as a kid in the mid-1940s, right after World War II. He recalls mowing heights on greens in those days were as high as five-sixteenths of an inch.
When I started in the business, we had a three-quarter-inch hose and a sprinkler. Now, you can turn on a whole irrigation system with a phone...
Then it was one-quarter, then three-eighths, he said. Now, its ridiculous how close they shave it. Pretty soon, youll need shaving cream to mow greens.
Still, much of Maples philosophy toward agronomy still holds true today. He was years ahead of his time in maintaining open relationships with university researchers, budgeting and economics and the value of the lessons learned from a little dead turf now and then.
If youre not killing some grass now and then, youre not learning anything, he said. Youre not finding out what will work and what wont work, and you wont know the parameters of it.
If youre not killing some grass now and then, youre not learning anything...
One of the major challenges facing the golf business years ago still haunts the profession today: those who cannot recognize the difference between saving money and not wasting it. Maples said he learned that difference in the 1950s when a Wisconsin turf legend would visit Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton, where Maples earned a two-year degree.
The economics of O.J. Noer. He said the golf course is not a place to save money, its a place not to waste money, Maples said. If you want to save money on a golf course, then that is troublesome. But if you dont want to waste money, you take the resources you have and make the best application of those. Some areas are going to get more attention than others. You have to make that division and establish your priorities so you dont waste money.
If you want to save money on a golf course, then that is troublesome. But if you dont want to waste money, you take the resources you have and make the best application of those..."
That is what Hoban is doing with his organic and native grasses program that helps him establish aesthetically pleasing, low-input areas throughout Rivermont so he can focus his attention and resources on greens, tees and fairways.
Those native areas dont waste money, Maples said. They help Mark reduce the cost of maintaining them, which in turn allows him to have more money for high-priority areas. He still has the same amount of money, but he can use more of it on fine turf.
Such drastic projects, he said, require constant communication with club administration and members, and that always was one of Maples specialties.
That was especially true with the pro. The pro always had to know what I was doing and why I was doing it, he said.
I had to let members know what I anticipated doing to the course to present them with the playing conditions they wanted.
Maples had a career in turf management that spanned parts of five decades. He earned a two-year degree at Abraham Baldwin in Tifton, Georgia after being personally recruited by Dr. Glenn Burton, a geneticist at the USDA Coastal Plains Experiment Station (later co-opted by the University of Georgia). He later attended North Carolina State University and Texas A&M before his academic career was interrupted by the Korean War.
Maples career is peppered with accolades. He was the recipient of the 2000 USGA Green Section Award and was inducted into the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame in 2002. A former GCSAA president (1975), he also was president of the Carolinas GCSA, Maples also was the Georgia GCSA superintendent of the year winner in 1971.
Understand Maples pedigree, and all those awards, honors and recognition start to make sense.
Part of the Pinehurst Maples clan, he grew up playing No. 2 because his granddaddy worked for Donald Ross.
At Texas A&M he studied under Marv Ferguson, father of the USGA method for putting green construction. After the war, he finally settled on the University of Georgia to complete his studies because more of my credits transferred there than to anywhere else.
During his days in the field at places like Charlotte Country Club in North Carolina and upper crust Georgia properties that rivaled Tara, Maples recognized the value of research, education and sharing knowledge with others. For those reasons, clubs at which he worked always had areas that doubled as university research plots, either for North Carolina State or the University of Georgia.
Any course I worked at, I always opened the door to trial work, he said.
In the late 1950s, he was hired as superintendent at Charlotte to oversee a bold, new project - regrassing the greens with a new warm-season turf, Tifgreen Bermudagrass, commonly known as 328.
Released in 1956 and developed at the Tifton experiment station, 328 is a cross between Cynodon dactylon (common Bermudagrass) taken in the 1940s from the No. 4 green at Charlotte CC and Cynodon transvaalensis (African Bermudagrass).
I took the mother of 328 off the greens at Charlotte Country Club and put the baby on, he said.
Early in his career, Maples developed a formula for producing superb putting conditions on Bermudagrass, especially going into tournaments.
One thing I would do was go to management and say these ARE the three dates that I am going to aerify greens, he said. They cant live without oxygen just like you cant walk around and shut up your nose without breathing. The grass has to breathe.
One thing I would do was go to management and say these ARE the three dates that I am going to aerify greens,
On Bermuda greens, Id put down a little sand every two to three weeks. Ten days after a good verticut and topdressing is when the best leaf surface was there. So Id back up from a tournament and do that, and we always had good greens.
His formula worked up until his retirement in 1997 from Summit Chase Country Club in Snellville, Georgia.
Before departing Rivermont, Maples left a few simple words of advice that helped him through a 38-year career as a superintendent.
Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a present, he said. Today is the present you have. Make the most of it.
More timeless advice from a timeless legend.
If confirmation is needed that George Thompson is a man from a different era, one need only look back to his first job as a superintendent.
Columbia Country Club in Chevy Chase, Maryland, was fiercely loyal to its employees when Thompson worked at the Washington, D.C.-area club from 1963 to 1982. The way Thompson, now 78, recalls it, "the starter had been there 53 years, and three locker room attendants had 150 years of service between them. There were assistant pros who had been there for 30 years."
Then there was longtime club pro Fred McLeod.
A Scottish golf pro who won the 1908 U.S. Open at Myopia Hunt Club in Massachusetts, McLeod also logged more than 50 years as the club pro at Columbia. An honorary starter at the Masters for 14 years beginning in 1963, McLeod was so beloved by Columbia's members he was buried on the club's grounds after his death in 1976.
Those were the good ole days.
"I was the youngest employee there," Thompson said.
"In those days in the 60s, if you did your job to the best of your abilities, treated your employer and employees with honor and respect, you had a job forever as long as you could get along with people."
A Massachusetts native and a protege of the legendary Joe Troll, Ph.D., at the UMass Stockbridge School of Agriculture, Thompson retired in 2001 from the Country Club of North Carolina after a 39-year career as a greenkeeper that began in 1962 as an intern at Ravisloe Country Club in Homewood, Illinois. Thompson hardly has been idle since "retiring."
Today, Thompson, 78, still works one day a week at a sod farm, does some consulting and for the past 15 years has worked with Mike Ventola, teaching turf management at Sandhills Community College in Pinehurst, where he shares his vast knowledge with would-be greenkeepers. He approaches his second career with the same hard-nosed style that made him a success as a superintendent.
"This is a good program, and I really like the way Mike has it set up," Thompson said. "Most of our graduates do pretty well after five years. We weed out those who aren't serious before a superintendent has to do it.
"They really have to enjoy this business, or it's not for them. If you don't like it you have to find something else to do, because this is not an easy business."
Most of our graduates do pretty well after five years. We weed out those who aren't serious before a superintendent has to do it...
Thompson had a no-nonsense approach as a superintendent.
"I wasn't a nice person to work for. I couldn't stand it if someone was late. I couldn't wait around all day to see if someone was going to show up for work or not," he said. "I'd give someone one or two warnings, and after that I'd just fire them."
He suffers no fools in the classroom, either.
"George is from that John Wayne era," said Sandhill's Ventola. "He's a man's man, and people respect him. He gets people to buy in and commit and want to work for him."
In hindsight, Thompson was well prepared for a second career as a college instructor, because that is how he approached his job as a superintendent for nearly 40 years. He's left a long line of former assistants who now are superintendents at courses all across the country, including Doug Lowe.
Lowe was an assistant at James River Country Club in Virginia from 1988-2001 when he left to take the same position at the Country Club of North Carolina.
"I took a lateral job at CCNC to work for who I thought was one of the best superintendents in our region to continue to learn the trade and be the best I could be," said Lowe, director of course and grounds at Greensboro Country Club.
"George's leadership style was the perfect combination of delegation and training. His many years of experience both at CCNC and his previous high profile courses in the Mid-Atlantic brought a lot of knowledge and experience to the table, which he graciously shared with those of us were seeking how to learn to be successful in this business. I can't imagine a better person to work for during that particular phase of my career and am forever grateful he gave me the opportunity."
George Thompson (right), during a Sandhills field trip with his students to Preston Woods in Raleigh, NC.
Thompson graduated from UMass at a time when not a lot of superintendents were college educated. Mowing heights then were not nearly as low as they are today and thus many of the low-mow-induced diseases that plague contemporary superintendents were not an issue in the 1960s. Weeds, on the other hand, were a constant problem, and there were not a lot of tools available to help fight them.
When Thompson took the job at Columbia in 1963, he did so with the understanding that he would be named superintendent in a year-and-a-half. Always on the fast track, he was named superintendent after about a year.
"I had a tough time. I wasn't really ready for the job at Columbia," he said. "I made a lot of mistakes that first year, but I ended up doing pretty well.
"It was pretty darn hard to grow grass inside that (Washington, D.C.) beltway. We had a lot of issues with crabgrass and goosegrass and Poa, and we didn't have the products back in those days to deal with it. If you hit a divot out of the fairway, there'd be six goosegrass plants in it the next day. We had so much goosegrass, we used to call it Washington bent. It was horrible stuff to deal with. If we could get the Poa annua through July 1st, we had a pretty good year. Then the damn crabgrass would fill in, but at least it was green.
If you hit a divot out of the fairway, there'd be six goosegrass plants in it the next day. We had so much goosegrass, we used to call it Washington bent...
"We didn't even have fungicides for Pythium. We'd spray Dexon or Dyrene or some other fungicide that didn't do much good."
Superintendents in those days learned a lot through trial and error. Not only were today's chemical tools absent, scientific research was not what it is now. Thompson learned early on that he had to get creative if he was going to be able to stick around and take advantage of Columbia's famed hospitality.
"We tried to grow Bermuda, and every fall we'd plant the newest bluegrass or fine fescue, and all we'd end up with was Poa," he said. "We'd spring Bermuda in the summer in bare spots, and winterkill would take out the Bermuda about every third year, and all the other grasses would die in the summer. The fairways weren't much, but if we kept our greens alive, we kept our jobs."
Thompson gradually made a name for himself at Columbia with his superintendent/scientist approach to some combination of grasses that would provide year-round color in the transition zone.
"George was a scientist-superintendent," said Sandhills' Ventola. "He worked out chemical solutions to problems - things like Poa control - before the chemical companies did. He sees the world from a scientist's perspective"
Thompson with Melodee Fraser of Pure Seed Testing, on a trip to Oregon.
Thompson attributes much of his success to Troll, who encouraged UMass students to take on new challenges and challenge their comfort zone. That included a not-so-subtle hint to strike out and see the world and broaden their knowledge base by managing as many turf types as possible in as many different geographic locations as possible to maximize their value in the job market.
"He told us to get the hell out of New England," was how Thompson recalled it.
(Troll) told us to get the hell out of New England...
"He was a military guy. He had been a chief petty officer in the Navy and a say-it-like-it-is kind of guy. He was tough, but he was all for the superintendents and getting our salaries up."
Thompson took that advice to heart and struck out for Chicago in 1962 for an internship at Ravisloe Country Club under George Nelson, who would become president of the GCSAA the following year.
"I didn't have a problem with going somewhere else," Thompson said. "I'd read where Chicago had the highest salaries in the country, plus they only worked for about five months a year. That all sounded pretty good to me."
He helped other UMass graduates get out of their comfort zone as well by hiring them at Columbia and later in North Carolina.
"I opened Chicago for the interns, I opened up Maryland when I hired about 16 UMass guys at Columbia," he said. "And I helped get a lot of Stockbridge guys down to North Carolina as well."
At one time it had been said of Troll that he probably had former students working as superintendents in just about every corner of the country. After more than 40 years in the the turf maintenance business, Thompson has developed his own vast sphere of influence.
"Walking across a conference, going to National with him, you can't get across the floor because he knows everybody. He literally, in four hours, can't walk the whole floor," Ventola said.
"He could drive around the country and find someone almost in every state who was his assistant and who is now a superintendent. In fact, some of his former assistants are now starting to retire. He has a big family tree."