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John Reitman

By John Reitman

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Superintendent of the Year finalist: Matt Gourlay

Matt Gourlay, CGCS, is Exhibit A that one does not have to work in California, Arizona or Texas to be focused on saving water.

68e01300a7aba56aec7b756f28a5cb0e-.jpgIn the nine years he has been a superintendent at Colbert Hills in Manhattan, Kansas, Gourlay has cut water use by 71 million gallons per year, from 110 million gallons annually to 41 million gallons. For those keeping score, that is a reduction of 63 percent. At a current rate of $3,000 per 1 million gallons, the savings add up quickly.
Such frugality, Gourlay says, is reminiscent of some other courses golfers might be more familiar with, thanks to TV.
"We are going for more of the Pinehurst look," said Gourlay, whose official title is director of golf. "In fact, we were that way before Pinehurst became the model everyone is trying to emulate."
Unlike at Pinehurst, which turned back the clock for USGA championships, Colbert Hills did so out of necessity. Like most golf courses not named Pinehurst, Pebble Beach or Augusta, Colbert Hills has felt the effects of a slow economy and declining interest in golf. As a result, Gourlay's 2015 budget was cut by 20 percent, according to Colbert Hills board member Zac Burton, who nominated Gourlay for the award.
"It all stemmed from budget issues," Gourlay said.
aa1b5ecf735c2340d4e96dcf59a784c9-.jpg"Water is an issue for us," Gourlay said. "We have to buy it all from the city. We removed between 700 and 800 (irrigation) heads, reduced the amount of fertilizer we use on greens by 90 percent and 75 percent on tees.
"Like so many courses, a lot of times we're just trying to stay afloat in the economy."
Budget cuts did little to affect conditions on the golf course. As a matter of fact, they were better than ever, said Burton, who belongs to other high-end private clubs in the area that have larger budgets than Colbert Hills. Despite those disadvantages, conditions at Colbert Hills outshine those at those other big-budget clubs, Burton said.
"I believe there's no one in the industry that faced more challenges than he did this year," Burton wrote in his nomination. "Never once did I hear a complaint. Never once was an excuse made. And in spite of all these challenges, he delivered the best course conditions at Colbert Hills we've had since the facility opened in 2000.
"Matt's official title is head superintendent, but in reality, he's the lifeblood of the course. He's involved in some extent with every facet of the club because he genuinely cares about our customers' experience."
Those challenges didn't dampen his spirits either.
"Due to difficult revenue-generating conditions, Matt is tasked with working with a limited operating budget," said Colbert Hills GM Steve Lambert. "The funds he has to work with are similar to what I saw 20 to 30 years ago, yet Matt never complains about restricted resources. He just goes out and gets the job done."
The home course to Kansas State University, Colbert Hills enjoys most of its success during the height of the college football season. When the Wildcats are enjoying success on the field, so is Colbert Hills.
Snyder, who has been coach at K-State for all but four years since 1989, has won 65 percent of his games in Manhattan.
"Everyone in Manhattan owes their success to Bill Snyder," Gourlay said. 
Gourlay also deflects credit to his largely homegrown staff.
"This is the best group I've ever had since I became superintendent nine years ago," said Gourlay.
"Almost everyone on staff is a K-State student or alum, and they are among the brightest people in the business."
Lambert has been GM at Colbert Hills for nearly three years, and it didn't take him long to discover what he had in his superintendent.
"After the first few weeks of my arrival in Manhattan, it became readily apparent that I was working with a special individual," Lambert said. "Not only is Matt a superior manager of turfgrass conditions, he is an outstanding leader of personnel."


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