Meet the Superintendent of the Year Finalists
Jan 30 2013 |
Preparing for an event the magnitude of the Ryder Cup Matches is a tall order in and of itself. Doing so in the midst of two of the hottest summers in Chicago-area history compounds the challenges associated with such a task even more.
Welcome to the life of Curtis Tyrrell, CGCS.
Tyrrell, director of golf course operations at Medinah Country Club, has spent nearly every waking moment preparing the club west of Chicago for last year's Ryder Cup since he accepted the job there almost five years ago.
For his efforts at preparing Medinah for its place on the world stage Tyrrell has been named one of 10 finalists for TurfNet's Superintendent of the Year Award, presented by Syngenta.
Other finalists for the award are: Chad Decker, Hollytree Country Club, Tyler, Texas; Greg Gavelek, Longbow Golf Club, Mesa, Ariz.; Rocco Greco, En-Joie Golf Course, Endicott, N.Y.; Matt Kregel, The Club at Strawberry Creek, Kenosha, Wis.; Dan Meersman, The Philadelphia Cricket Club; Chad Montgomery, Naples Heritage Golf and Country Club, Naples, Fla.; Andy Morris, Country Club of Peoria, Peoria Heights, Ill.; Rich Taylor, Sahalee Country Club, Sammamish, Wash.; and Dan Tolson, 3 Creek Ranch, Jackson, Wyo.
The finalists were chosen from a list of 109 candidates
nominated by their golfing members, owners and operators, assistants and club professionals by a panel of judges including Shawn Potter and Stephanie Schwenke of Syngenta; Peter McCormick, Jon Kiger and John Reitman of TurfNet; last year's winner Paul Carter, CGCS, of The Bear Trace at Harrison Bay in Harrison, Tenn.; Cal Roth of the PGA Tour; Chris Hartwiger of the USGA Green Section; Tom Stine of Golf Datatech; Jon Scott of Nicklaus Design; Mike McCullough of the Monterey (Calif.) Regional Water Pollution Control Agency; Frank Rossi, Ph.D., of Cornell University; Tim Moraghan of Aspire Golf; Dave Wilber of Sierra Pacific Turf Supply; Larry Hirsh of Golf Property Analysts; and Bradley Klein, Ph.D., of Golfweek.
The winner of the award will be named Feb. 7 at the Syngenta booth during the Golf Industry Show in San Diego.
Previous winners include: Paul Carter, The Bear Trace at Harrison Bay, Harrison, Tenn. (2011); Thomas Bastis, The California Golf Club of San Francisco (2010); Anthony Williams, Stone Mountain (Ga.) Golf Club (2009); Sam MacKenzie, Olympia Fields (Ill.) Country Club (2008); John Zimmers, Oakmont (Pa.) Country Club (2007); Scott Ramsay, Golf Course at Yale University, New Haven, Conn. (2006); Mark Burchfield, Victoria Club, Riverside Calif. (2005); Stuart Leventhal, Interlachen Country Club, Winter Park, Fla. (2004); Paul Voykin, Briarwood Country Club, Deerfield, Ill. (2003); Jeff Burgess, Seven Lakes Golf Course, Windsor, Ontario (2002); Kip Tyler, Salem Country Club, Peabody, Mass. (2001); Kent McCutcheon, Las Vegas Paiute Golf Resort (2000).
Chad Decker - Hollytree Country Club, Tyler, TX
Chad Decker faces challenges from one end of the spectrum
to the other as superintendent at Hollytree Country Club in Tyler, Texas. For the past several summers, the course has been parched by summer drought and relentless heat.
The drought has limited the amount of water Decker can apply to the course from two wells on the property. Any more than 500,000 gallons daily, and the irrigation pond fed by the wells begins to recede.
"Once that runs down, you can never catch up," Decker said.
Built on swampland an hour's drive east of Dallas, Hollytree also is subject to flooding during spring and fall showers. Mudd Creek and a smaller tributary can inundate as many as 10 holes at Hollytree after a simple 2-inch rain. Water drains off the course in short order, but accompanying debris such as trash, silt, entire dumpsters and even portable toilets does not.
"This place floods like there is no tomorrow," he said. "That is my no. 1 battle."
Decker's challenges were compounded last July when his 2-year-old daughter, Hope, died suddenly after being diagnosed with leukemia.
Greg Gavelek - Longbow Golf Club, Mesa, Ariz
The superintendent at Longbow Golf Club since 1998
, Gavelek drew praise from owners who bought the property in 2001 from Boeing after the aircraft manufacturer inherited the course after buying its original owner McDonnell-Douglas.
Gavelek was on board for a unique renovation project that required moving all or part of 13 holes so the property could be redeveloped. The end result has been the ongoing transformation of what the new ownership group described as a so-so golf course into one of the finest conditioned layouts in the Phoenix area.
With up to 40,000 rounds annually, there is little time for upgrade projects, most of which are completed in-house. For example, a recent bunker upgrade meant that at one point all 57 bunkers were completely empty while Gavelek and his crew worked on all of them simultaneously.
While Gavelek has produced conditions that rival those found on private and resort courses in the Phoenix area, he done with a daily fee budget that leaves little room for anything extra.
"In a time when managing your budget is vital to the success of our golf course Greg has trimmed 20 percent off his labor budget and managed to cut 18 percent from his course expenses over the last five years," wrote Longbow GM Jay Larscheid. "Even with this we are still able to provide one of the best playing surfaces and overall experiences in the valley. Greg's crew is limited but they are well trained and act under Greg's leadership and direction. Greg is a tremendous role model for future superintendents on his team."
Rocco Greco - En-Joie Golf Course, Endicott, N.Y.
Perhaps no other superintendent's name has become as synonymous
with flooding as Rocco Greco, superintendent at county-owned En-Joie Golf Course in Endicott, N.Y. Greco has become synonymous with flood recovery par excellence as well. Twice in 2011, En Joie was overrun by the Susquehanna River. It was the second (and third) major flooding event at En Joie since 2006.
The first flood event 2011 in mid-April resulted in lost turf in several low-lying areas just as Greco and his crew were preparing the course for the PGA Champions Tour Dick's Sporting Goods Open in early July. Round 2 hit in September 2011, when slow-moving Tropical Storm Lee settled in and dropped 10 inches of rain over the already-sopped area.
The devastation included lost turf on 14 greens and all but two tee complexes. Parts of the golf course were under as much as 18 feet of water and just about every bunker on the course was devoid of sand. Damage was so bad, the 2012 opening was delayed until the third week of June and that year's edition of the Dick's Sporting Goods Open, which included the top 60 players on the Champions Tour money list, was delayed by a month.
As the course began to take shape, county and course personnel, golfing members and tournament officials couldn't believe the rapid rate of recovery that was a result of the hard work put in by Greco and his staff.
"Everyone was in awe on June 20 at the beauty and condition of the course from tee to green," wrote En-Joie Ladies Golf Association president Michele. "It truly was a miracle that this thing of beauty could arise from the mud, silt and devastation it endured. We owe it all to Rocco."
Matt Kregel - The Club at Strawberry Creek, Kenosha, Wis
The past two summers have deprived Matt Kregel
of one of life's simple pleasures: going home in the evening after a hard day at work at The Club at Strawberry Creek in Kenosha, Wis.
With 90-plus-degree temperatures dominating each of the past two summers, Kregel spent a lot of evenings making sure the bentgrass didn't punch a clock and check out at 5 p.m., too.
"Leave in the afternoon, not come back until morning; that didn't happen," Kregel said. "At 5 or 6 in the afternoon, that is when the grass was checking out. That's when we had to get something down."
Kregel manages the A1 creeping bentgrass putting surfaces to discourage Poa annua, but the extreme dry heat was a bit much, even for the bentgrass, he said. He and his team spent a lot of time throughout the summer dragging hoses.
Members at Strawberry Creek call Kregel "a genius" and compare conditions at their course favorably to many of the country's premier tracks.
Dan Meersman - Philadelphia Cricket Club, PA
As if managing 45 holes of golf wasn't enough,
Dan Meersman, superintendent at The Philadelphia Cricket Club, also is responsible for conditions on 22 grass tennis courts, nine clay courts, two indoor courts, two paddle tennis courts and an athletic field.
That many surfaces require a large in-season staff that can number up to 65 people. And it's important to Meersman that he utilizes his labor resources as efficiently as possible. To that end, he has adopted a matrix program that allows him to track who is working on what and when they are doing it.
Meersman, who has been at Philadelphia Cricket Club since 2009, has been the host of an industry retreat that is designed to provide continuing education to staff and colleagues from other courses since his days at Victoria National Golf Club. Key staff, assistants and course superintendents, are required to volunteer at major events to gain valuable on-the-job experience only tournament prep can provide.
His dedication to professional development and continuing education is paying off for his staff. Since 2009, five former PCC assistants have ascended through the ranks to become head superintendents elsewhere.
Keeping PCC among the best properties in eastern Pennsylvania has meant constant tweaking to the courses there. The club's St. Martins Course, an 1895 Willie Tucker design that was the site of the U.S. Open in 1907 and 1910, was renovated in-house in 2011-12. His staff also completed a bunker renovation on the Militia Hill Course in 2010, and this year will begin a $7 million restoration of the Wissahickon Course, a 1920 A.W. Tillinghast classic.
Chad Montgomery - Naples Heritage Golf and Country Club, Naples, Fla
During the past several years, the story of Naples Heritage Golf and Country Club
in Florida has been something like a caterpillar emerging from its chrysalis as a beautiful butterfly. The metamorphosis has occurred, members say, only since Chad Montgomery arrived as superintendent four years ago.
"Chad took over a golf course that had been stressed out for several years," wrote member Russell Forbes in nominating Montgomery for TurfNet's Superintendent of the Year Award. "After only two years of his care, the course is in the best shape of any course in southwest Florida."
"We could stand up to any inspection at any time and meet the highest standards required anywhere," wrote Allan Wilson, another member of the club. "(I have) played some of the finest courses in the U.S.A., and none are better taken care of than NHGCC."
Other members have used adjectives such as "marginal, below average and run down" to describe conditions on the course before Montgomery arrived. Since then, members have turned to using words such as "perfect, outstanding, excellent and sublime."
In his brief tenure at member-owned Naples Heritage, Montgomery has expanded and leveled teeing areas, expanded the practice area, revitalized the fairways through an intensive verticutting program and extensive repairs to the drainage system. As member Bob Powers wrote "His touch can be seen everywhere on our 550 acres."
Andy Morris - Country Club of Peoria, Peoria Heights, IL
In what was yet another in a long line of increasingly hot summers,
golf courses throughout much of the Midwest were melting in mid-2012. But by the looks of things at the Country Club of Peoria in Peoria Heights, Ill., it was just another average summer.
To say it was hot at Peoria over the summer would be an understatement. Daytime highs in excess of 90 degrees were recorded on 26 of 31 days in July and a monthly high of 104 was reached on two occasions more than two weeks apart. Despite the heat, conditions at Peoria were tournament ready all summer while other courses in the area wilted. And members took notice, with more than 30 submitting nominations of Andy Morris for Superintendent of the Year.
Championship conditions at Peoria were the result of a renovation plan implemented five years ago. That project included replacing a predominantly Poa stand with a variety of creeping bentgrasses: A1-A4 mix on greens, Pennlinks II cool-season grasses that are more tolerant to heat and traffic, a tree-management program to promote air movement throughout the course, new irrigation and drainage, strict water management and converting several acres of rough to unmanaged naturalized areas.
"This summer was perhaps a very trying test given the very high temperatures. Compared to other area courses, CCP has maintained excellent appearance and playing conditions were superb in spite of the heat," club member Richard Nitto wrote in his nomination of Morris. "Andy truly is a stand-out manager of the course and his people."
Rich Taylor - Sahalee Country Club, Sammamish, Wash
Rich Taylor's Sahalee Country Club career began in 1984,
and he has been superintendent at the course in Sammamish, Wash., since 1999 and was the host superintendent for the 2010 U.S. Senior Open. In nominating Taylor for Superintendent of the Year, USGA Green Section agronomist Larry Gilhuly wrote that Taylor is "the reason why Sahalee has been dramatically improved" over the last 20-plus years.
Some of the recent initiatives Taylor has been involved in include building new tees for the Tee It Forward player development initiative, construction of a new maintenance facility and a tree-removal play to promote air movement throughout the course. He even played an integral role in the planning of a new clubhouse-construction project.
Top-shelf clubs such as Sahalee emphasize championship conditions daily, a necessity for a club that prides itself on being a regular stop for USGA amateur events and the occasional pro event even in the face of shrinking budgets.
Former club president John Naye wrote in his nomination letter that the board of directors voted in 2012 to clip Taylor's operating budget by $100,000. Rather than grouse over what this might mean to turf operations, Taylor replied: "Just tell me the amount of reductions you want and we will find a way to get them and maintain the quality of the course."
Dan Tolson - 3 Creek Ranch, Jackson Hole, Wyo
Equally as impressive as Dan Tolson's work at managing
the environmentally hyper sensitive 3 Creek Ranch in Jackson, Wyo., is the golf pedigree of the person who nominated him for superintendent of the year.
3 Creek Ranch member Clark Fownes MacKenzie is the son of Roland MacKenzie, a three-time member of the U.S. Walker Cup team, grandson of 1910 U.S. Amateur champion William Fownes Jr., and great-grandson of Henry Fownes, who designed a course near Pittsburgh you might have heard of Oakmont Country Club.
The Rees Jones design was built on 710 acres of rangeland situated between two national parks and is in the middle of an ecologically sensitive area that Tolson said is known as "the last contiguous area of ecologically pure land in the continental United States." With bear, elk, moose, otter and even wolves ranging through the property Tolson must go to great lenths to ensure the course exists in unison with the surrounding environment.
To ensure that the creek running through the course remains a viable habitat for cutthroat trout in the Snake River basin, Tolson, who has worked at 3 Creek Ranch since 2003 and has been superintendent since 2007, monitors water quality with monthly tests. According to the results of those tests, which are interpreted by an independent third party, water quality in the creek is better as it exits the course than it is when it enters the property, making the ranch a popular destination with fly fishermen as well as guide services.
Curtis Tyrrell - Medinah Country Club, Medinah, IL
For years, superintendents have resented that their courses
are compared to conditions produced annually at Augusta National. After last year's Ryder Cup Matches they'll have Curtis Tyrrell to blame if they ever hear the words "Medinah Syndrome."
Tyrrell, director of golf course operations at 54-hole Medinah Country Club near Chicago, is setting a new standard for daily conditioning. What makes his accomplishments all the more impressive is that he's doing it on a 600-acre museum where the hallowed No. 3 Course sees the equivalent of a shotgun start every day. Throw in the fact the Chicago area is coming off two years of some of the harshest summer conditions in recent past and what Tyrrell and his staff have done is nothing short of remarkable.
"It's a big job not only because of the history and prestige that a name like Medina carries, but in terms of property size, staff size and membership size - it's a very big job," wrote Course No. 1 superintendent Jim Wallace in nominating Tyrrell for TurfNet's Superintendent of the Year Award.
Tyrrell spent nearly every waking moment since he was hired at in 2008 getting No. 3 ready for the 2012 Ryder Cup. While Tyrrell and his staff were doing so, 90-plus-degree temperatures were recorded at Medinah on 45 days throughout the summer. That's about three times the historic average for the Chicago area. In the midst of these challenging conditions, Tyrrell and Co. were able to produce immaculate conditions on the heavily played Tom Bendelow classic.
"Curtis had Medinah shining on the world stage for the 2012 Ryder Cup," No. 3 superintendent Ross Laubscher wrote. "This after enduring two years of extreme weather conditions in the Chicago area. While preparing for the Ryder Cup, Curtis was also preparing for a full renovation of Medinah's No. 1 Course and also planning long-term solutions to update the infrastructure of Medinah's No. 2 Course."
The Monday after completion of the Ryder Cup, Tyrrell was the first person on the property, as a complete restoration of No. 1 was set to begin that day.
"It's a big job not only because of the history and prestige that a name like Medinah carries, but in terms of property size, staff size and membership size - it's a very big job," wrote Course No. 1 superintendent Jim Wallace.
"What I can also say as someone who has worked alongside Curtis for the past five years, is that without his leadership in the face of some really tough challenges, I seriously doubt that things would have turned out as well as they did. You can have the best team in the world but without the right leadership things can go awry very quickly."