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John Reitman

By John Reitman

Superintendent of the Year finalist: Carlos Arraya, Bellerive CC

Staging a major championship can have a profound impact on more than just players, club members and the respective associations. They also can be a source of immense civic pride, as was the case at the 2017 Solheim Cup in Iowa, or more recently, last year's PGA Championship at Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis.

011819arraya.jpgAfter the tournament, Tiger Woods called the crowds that packed Bellerive "unbelievable", and Justin Thomas said he had never played before as many people as he did last August in St. Louis.

"I wish we could play in front of crowds like this every single week, because this is a true pleasure," Woods told the media afterward.

The way in which people from the Show Me State showed up to support the PGA Championship was a source of pride for Carlos Arraya, director of grounds and agronomy at Bellerive, a finalist for the 2018 TurfNet Superintendent of the Year Award, presented by Syngenta.

"It was awesome to see people from St. Louis enjoy the game, to see a city come together, to see all those people come together," Arraya said.

If Arraya needed any affirmation of the impact the tournament had on the community, it came during a recent trip through St. Louis Lambert International Airport.

A TSA agent looked at Arraya's ID and told him he recognized him, but couldn't remember from where. After passing through security and collecting his belongings, Arraya was again confronted by the same agent, who told him: "Now I remember, you're the guy from Bellerive. I saw you on TV."

"The tournament is a story about the people here," Arraya said. "It's not just the golf course."

Arraya always has had an ability to connect with people and make them feel important, but his true inspiration, his sense for parceling out what is truly important in life stemmed from the most horrific tragedy any parent could imagine - when his 19-year-old son, Isaih, was killed in a car crash in 2016, just six months after he started at Bellerive.

"Losing my son gave me a new perspective," Arraya said. "Even though I was working, I was struggling to find out what I was going to become. I realized I had to make a lifestyle out of what I do. When I made that decision and became vulnerable through loving people no matter what, then there is no rigidity in structure. I wanted to invest in people, and to do that you have to take the blinders off."

While growing in his career, Arraya could have learned how to grow grass anywhere, but it was working under the likes of John Cunningham, first as an assistant at Black Diamond Ranch in Florida, and later at Bellerive as golf course superintendent, that Arraya was exposed to a different management style that focused on people first and putting greens second. Cunningham, who eventually became assistant general manager at Bellerive, has since left the St. Louis area in 2017 to become general manager and chief operating officer at Aronimink Golf Club in Philadelphia.

"John made you get out of your comfort zone," Arraya said.

"To work for someone who focused on people and leadership and business as well as agronomic expertise was a unique experience for me. John was focused on the business side before it became an industry standard. He helped me define a 360-degree view of management.

"I'm one of two people to have worked for John more than once. . . . I don't know if I'd work for him a third time. That might be pushing it."

Losing my son gave me a new perspective. Even though I was working, I was struggling to find out what I was going to become. I realized I had to make a lifestyle out of what I do. When I made that decision and became vulnerable through loving people no matter what, then there is no rigidity in structure. I wanted to invest in people, and to do that you have to take the blinders off.

According to Arraya, "producing the best people, produces the best playing conditions on the golf course."

"What motivates people? Everyone manages a certain way," he said. "I want to bring passion to the job. I want people to be invested in leadership. You can produce an excellent product by producing excellent people. Don't focus on the product."

That investment in people includes what Arraya calls pillar management, a philosophy in which employees tackle a finite set of tasks within a given pillar each day until they have it mastered. Only when they excel at that can they move on to something else. That philosophy fosters employee ownership in the process, an atmosphere of teamwork and competition and a true understanding of one's place in the overall process.

"Each person has six items as part of their routine and they have to take ownership of those six items," Arraya said. 

"The pillar is the key to each team's success. This way, they know exactly what they are doing every day, they know our plan and how what they do impacts others."

The result has been an invigorated group of interns, AITs and assistants.

"Professional excellence comes from remembering life is more important than work," he said. "I've lost 14 guys since the championship. I can't keep people here, that is the hard part. People are recruiting them."

Edited by John Reitman





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