Projects come fast and furious at Corral de Tierra Country Club.
From sandcapping fairways to renovating ponds to building waterfall features from scratch, nearly everything is done in-house, which requires not only a lot of equipment, but equipment that runs correctly all the time.
That need has led to a strong relationship between superintendent Doug Ayres and Brian Sjogren, equipment manager at the course in Monterey, Calif.
"Like any other superintendent, I come in in the morning and say 'we're going to do this today.' And then he's scrambling to get three aerifiers together or other implements hooked up to tractors," Ayres said. "Many times its spur of the moment. For example, we just found out we have to build a bocce ball court and have it open by Father's Day. My requests of Brian are usually that I need all these things yesterday, but I'll give you five minutes to have it done. And it always gets done."
For his ability to keep Corral de Tierra's inventory in perfect working order under extreme conditions, Sjogren was named one of three finalists for the TurfNet 2013 Technician of the Year, presented by Toro. Also named as finalists were Jonothon McGuigan of Fox Meadow Golf and Country Club on Canada's Prince Edward Island and Ed Greve of Highland Woods Golf Course in Hoffman Estates, Ill.
Along with his duties at Highland Woods, Greve also is responsible for upkeep of equipment at not one, not two, but four other golf courses and a practice facility in the Cook County Forest Preserve portfolio managed by Billy Casper Golf.
Finalists were chosen by a panel of judges, and the winner will receive the Golden Wrench Award as well as a spot in an upcoming Toro Service Training Academy session at the company's headquarters in Bloomington, Minn.
TurfNet has been presenting the award annually (almost) to a golf course equipment manager who excels at one or more of the following: crisis management, effective budgeting, environmental awareness, helping to further the careers of colleagues and employees, interpersonal communications, inventory management and cost control, overall condition and dependability of rolling stock, shop safety and work ethic.
Previous winners include Herb Berg, Oakmont (Pa.) Country Club (2010); Doug Johnson, TPC at Las Colinas, Irving, Texas (2009); Jim Stuart, Stone Mountain (Ga.) Golf Club (2007); Fred Peck, Fox Hollow and The Homestead, Lakewood, Colo. (2006); Jesus Olivas, Heritage Highlands at Dove Mountain, Marana, Ariz. (2005); Henry Heinz, Kalamazoo (Mich.) Country Club (2004); Eric Kulaas, Marriott Vinoy Renaissance Resort, St. Petersburg, Fla. (2003). No award was given in 2008.
A former superintendent, Greve has one assistant and two seasonal mechanics assisting him in equipment upkeep at the Billy Caldwell, Chick Evans, Edgebrook and Indian Boundary courses as well as the Harry Semrow Driving Range.
Among Greve's greatest assets, said Highland Woods superintendent Dan Stahl, are his willingness to teach others about proper equipment use and maintenance and his unyielding need to know why parts and equipment fail.
"He has to know why something fails so he knows if he can prevent it from happening again or if it's a design flaw," Stahl said. "It just bugs him to no end when something fails.
He also enjoys sharing his passion with others within the golf operation.
"He enjoys teaching people how to take care of equipment. He explains why you have to do certain to make the equipment last longer," Stahl said.
"With him, I know things are going to be fixed and they're going to run properly."
Resources are scarce in the Forest Preserve, so instead of new equipment, many implements are passed down from Highland Woods to other courses in the operation. The good news is that Greve already is familiar with many of the hand-me-down pieces. The bad part is that many are nearing what should be the end of their useful life.
Thanks to Greve, most have many years yet to go.
Known around the course simply as Finn, McGuigan plays a unique role at Fox Meadow where he is equipment manager and assistant superintendent.
That dual role can be a handful when a catastrophe, such as ice damage that occurred at Fox Meadow four years ago, necessitates the resodding of 50,000 square feet of bentgrass putting greens, a process that Finn helped oversee as the club's assistant.
His ability to fix rather than replace equipment helps superintendent Paul MacCormack stay within budget. And because Fox Meadow's equipment is in such good shape when it reaches the end of its useful life cycle, it consistently has high resale value. Distributors often marvel at the condition of the club's equipment, MacCormack said.
"Any wise superintendent will tell you they are only as good as the crew that makes it happen," MacCormack said in his nomination of Finn. "For me, having Finn as both my assistant and head technician gives me the peace of mind and confidence that we can tackle anything."
He has developed and implemented a shop-wide recycling program, that includes disposal of used machine oil, which is used as heating fuel by a local John Deere dealership, according to MacCormack.
But before any new member of the Fox Meadow staff is permitted to operate anything first they must go through an extensive training session with Finn that includes a two-hour shop tour with stops at the first-aid and eyewash stations, training video, training on each piece of equipment and, get this, a test afterward.
At project-heavy Corral de Tierra, Sjogren maintains a fleet of equipment and mechanized tools valued at about $2.4 million. A testament to his ability to keep all of it in like-new condition is a Ford tractor that Ayres says dates to the early 1970s.
"It's hooked up to a trailer right now," Ayres said. "We use it all the time. We have some newer ones, but it out competes some of them, so we have to keep it around."
During the past two years Ayres has spent $300,000 on new mowing equipment. That Ayres has spent more than a quarter of a million on new machinery is a testament to Sjogren's skills, considering the equipment that is being replaced was bought piecemeal between 1989 and 1996.
"I know when I buy new equipment that it's not on a five-year rotation, it's on a 15-year rotation," Ayres said. "And I know it's going to be maintained.
Sjogren also has a knack for concocting equipment from recycled parts. Among the pieces he's built is a custom trailer from the bed of a cannibalized Gator utility vehicle. When fertilizer drift led to corrosion and rust in parts of the spray rig, Sjogren eliminated that problem when he built an extender from a tow bar, excess hose and a nozzle that now delivers product 12 feet behind the rig. A gas-powered air compressor welded to a tow bar doubles as a pneumatic staple gun during bunker liner installations and an air pump to inflate tires on the golf course, and yet another similar set up with a hose attached to the motor's exhaust system is used for gopher control.
"It obviously works," Ayres said. "We could've thrown that engine away, but he's repurposed it, and it's working."