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John Reitman

By John Reitman

2013 SOY finalist: Curtis Nickerson

2013 Superintendent of the Year finalist

Curtis Nickerson, University Park Country Club, Sarasota, Florida

258d9f518e5b8adb2b66dec1120fbc14-.jpgWhile golfers praising the work of superintendents might, for some, appear to be a rare occurrence, club members actually standing and clapping for a greenkeeper is all but unheard of - except at University Park Country Club in southwestern Florida where Curtis Nickerson works.


Three years ago, Nickerson, a veteran superintendent who has worked at courses throughout Florida, inherited a University Park course in need of some TLC. 


In those three years, Nickerson has turned around a golf course that members say was "an embarrassment" and turned it into "a thing of beauty."


Members have been so amazed at how he has been able to turn around conditions in such a short time that 75 of them submitted nominations on his behalf for TurfNet's 2013 Superintendent of the Year Award, presented by Syngenta. A total of 36 of those nominations were submitted by members of the club's ladies golf association.


"Curtis has made a huge difference in the quality of our golf course greens, fairways and bunkers in the short time he has been here," said University Park member Elaine Kulbako. "He gets a standing ovation whenever he comes to our LGA luncheons to talk about course conditions."


LGA president Nancy Kopinsky echoed those sentiments.


"He turned this course around in two years. When he took over the course was in really,really bad condition . . . . He is available in person and via email at all times, he answers your concerns immediately, and sends out e mails with explanations of what is happening on the course and why. He was asked to attend our opening season meeting, where he got a standing ovation and cheers from our members.

We are happy and lucky to have him as our course superintendent."


Nickerson, who worked at University Park for about a year before being named superintendent, conducted an immediate audit of equipment, agronomic programs and personnel, and he empowered members of his staff to take part in the property's pending rebirth by asking each to assess where they thought the quality of course management and where it should be headed. 


He worked to replace broken down equipment, and because he had been on property for about a year, felt like he had a head start on where to focus his efforts.


He immediately dialed in on an irrigation program that dried down the course and implemented an aerification program designed to begin removing an organic matter layer that had reached a depth of 5 to 7 inches in some areas of the putting greens, Nickerson said. 


"When I arrived at University Park, the course was solid and had all the makings of a great golf course. The main problems, well, it was simply tired and the maintenance practices and equipment fleet a bit outdated," Nickerson said. 


"After a bit of re-structuring of the management staff, a major house cleaning of obsolete and broken down old equipment and an the implementation of an entirely new agronomic plan with new core values and goals we were prepared to re-staff, retool and hit the ground running."


As he began making changes throughout the course, he kept in constant communication with members and administration through a regular newsletter, open-house meetings and email.


"Since Curtis Nickerson (has been) our superintendent, the fairways are lush and well maintained and the greens are true and fast," said University Park member Martin Graaf. "This is not unusual for many golf course. What is astounding is that Curtis has achieved this standard of excellence in less than a year, from a very poor and sickly looking golf course, where greens were virtually dead and the fairways had barely any grass and were poorly maintained. 


"This man deserves a medal."

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