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Paul Van Buren

Golf Course Superintendent
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  • Club/Course/Company
    Kanawha Club
  • Location
    Manakin-Sabot, VA
  • Interests
    Business, travel, hunting, saltwater fishing, dogs, beer, rain day naps, soil science, playing and watching soccer, turf stuff, eating things, cooking stuff, stories, writing, listening, being.

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  1. I have to apologize for the tardiness of this summary post, but between the holidays and jet lag and the flu incurred during the very long flight home, it has taken me a long time to get back on my feet. But I did want to make one last post as an homage to my experience over perhaps the most professionally enlightening experience one could even imagine. Pictures cannot capture the dedication of the 45 full-time staff members who care for this 36-hole golf mecca. From the moment you step foot into the futuristic Royal Melbourne maintenance facility, you are met with the most proud, professional, enjoyable human beings on the planet. And it absolutely starts at the top. 100% of the dynamic of the perfection/imperfection (however your choose to appreciate it) of Royal Melbourne comes from Richard Forsyth. Richard is the man. An absolute legend in his own time. His morning assignment meetings were poignantly hilarious and a great time for Richard to riff with his staff over the prior days follies. Down to every little detail, Richard and his managers got 55 volunteers in lock-step with the regular staff in just a few days. Richard Forsyth (c) with Peter Braun and me. It has been really refreshing for me to be able to write about my experiences during this trip. It was an amazing adventure. I've been fortunate to travel the world with my wife, but getting to travel for work and to experience golf in a completely different culture has been inspiring beyond expectation, to say the least.
  2. And you will have one of the greatest lives you can possibly imagine. Ever Not All Heros Wear Capes Dave. Thanks for the words of wisdom. I am such an enormous fan of golf as we used to play.
  3. I’d had heard reference to this Sandbelt numerous times before ever actually standing in it and on it. One quickly realizes that the sand that makes up the Sandbelt is unique... and plentiful. We’ve probably all seen the video of Richard Forsyth explaining how the sand interlocks and how it packs so firm that you can create a vertical face with it, and I was fortunate enough to get my hands in it to do some pre-Presidents Cup bunker repair. Once mixed with water the sand begins to mimic a mortar-like consistency that allows it to be packed on itself to form nearly any shape you wish. Remarkably once it dries out, it maintains a tremendous firmness that’s almost like cement. Jason Cook, Superintendent at Corica Park shared a photo of the particle size analysis of the sand. It is something special! The discussions about the firmness of the surfaces at Royal Melbourne as well as other Sandbelt courses can all be attributed to the characteristics of this sand. It is what sets this area apart from other golf courses all over the world.
  4. Royal Melbourne Golf Club has one of the most technologically advanced and well thought-out maintenance facilities I’ve ever experienced. The moment you walk in the electric sliding front door, you know you are in a special place. Every morning we convene in the break room that easily seats all 80 volunteers with room for more. The break room has two ends, both of which have a dishwasher, sink, instant hot water tap, and enough plates and cutlery to furnish a large cafeteria. The managers use a large projector to help clarify the tasks of the day so the staff members are organized and more efficient. One glimpse into the equipment storage area and you need to catch your breath. The entire shop and all of its contents/buildings are extremely well organized and promote cleanliness and accountability as carts and equipment are assigned as part of the morning meeting. The unassuming exterior belies what's to be found inside. The staff locker rooms are ample and the restroom facilities are no different. Everywhere you turn at the Royal Melbourne Maintenance Facility, you can tell that they left no stone unturned when designing this amazing facility. It really is just one more thing that sets Royal Melbourne Golf Club aside from most other operations.
  5. Setting out on foot for our first shift at Royal Melbourne was an experience that kept me up most of the night. Anxiety and anticipation are now going to be a thing of the past, replaced with pure excitement. Richard Forsyth welcomed us before the morning assignments and the volunteer orientation. The maintenance facility at Royal Melbourne is extremely functional, and revolutionary as far as I was concerned. Everything has a space and a purpose. It’s probably difficult for a permanent staff to absorb a group of volunteers that nearly doubles its size, but everyone worked together to ensure a seamless transition to "full throttle". I can’t wait to see what the next few days holds! I’m so excited to see some golf played on these surfaces!
  6. On Sunday morning Anthony Mills (@thelakessuper), superintendent of The Lakes Golf Club in Sydney, hosted me and my friend Ian and joined us for a round at his wonderful facility. Anthony and I immediately connected and we start talking about what it’s like to manage a club that has 55-60K annual rounds as The Lakes does. When I told him that we average 1,100/year at Kanawha, he scoffs, chuckles, and is generally mystified. Our round was an avenue for a 4-hour dialogue between two professional turf managers. Anthony manages an enormous property and his team’s efforts to remove vast swaths of overgrown Tea Tree are perfectly executed! The Lakes GC was absolutely stunning! A really fun intro to Sydney’s sand-based golf courses. Anthony Mills (below) was a gracious host. A post-round schooner and it’s off to my apartment for a well deserved bit of shuteye. One thing weighed heavy on my mind that night... Monday morning’s destination: NSW Golf Club, in the Top 50 in the world. 3:25 a.m.: Excitement like I can only equate to Xmas mornings growing up. I pull up the days weather... 25 mph sustained winds with gusts to 35mph. Here we go! NSW was going to show it’s teeth today! Mark Parker showed me around before our round treated me like royalty. Hell, Sergio Garcia was on site for a Credit Suisse appearance and Mark was rarely out of sight as he oversaw his crew and made sure we had everything we needed. I can’t say I’ve ever experienced a more fun and challenging golf experience in my entire 35 years of playing golf. The hour or so Mark shared with me before our round and the discussions we had in the clubhouse are tattooed on my soul. I could play NSW every day for the rest of my life. Every single day. It’s that good! Spending an hour with Mark Parker (below) talking shop and agronomy is something I will never forget. Last day of golf in Sydney has us playing Royal Sydney GC. Wow! What an iconic facility! Adam Marchant (@adsmarch) welcomed me upon my arrival and we set out in his cart to see what to expect. Adam shared that in a few months Gil Hanse and Royal Sydney would embark on a journey to completely redesign and rejuvenate their golf course. I can’t wait to see how the project turns out! Royal Sydney. Special. A lovely steak dinner, a bottle of Barossa Valley Shiraz, and some stories with my host Ian preceded a much-deserved slumber as I mentally transitioned into my volunteer role in Melbourne and the memories that will certainly be made with some fellow adventurers from the US. I finally get to meet my roommate Peter Braun. Our excitement is contagious! Tomorrow morning we meet at the Royal Melbourne GC maintenance facility and get to meet Richard Forsyth and his staff. It’s all happening so fast! I need to pause and take it all in. I’ve been on the ground in Australia for 75 hours, and man, if these past three days are any indication of what lies ahead... Bring. It. On!
  7. Wow. I can’t believe I’m sitting down to write my first blog post (ever by the way) about a trip that I have been planning in my mind for the last few years. I am embarking on a trip that will involve so many aspects of the important things I hold dear to my heart, it is utterly overwhelming how excited I am. Here are few snippets of what I’m looking forward to sharing with you in the coming weeks. First off, I’m the golf course superintendent at perhaps one of the most unique golf facilities one could imagine. I oversaw the construction of the Kanawha Club (Manakin-Sabot, VA) back in 2004-2005. It was my first construction, my first superintendent’s gig, and a lot to tackle for a 26-year-old. Blah blah blah, enough of that. In December of 2018 I convinced the owner of Kanawha, who is one of the most admirable humans I’ve ever met, to help me out with an adventure. He loved hearing this story I’m getting ready to tell you guys about and after 15 years of employment at his course… he said, “And you want me to pay for this?” (This trip will cost near the same amount as I had budgeted for GIS) And the rest is history. Thanks Fred. You have been so much more than a boss. So much. Fast forward a few months. After I proposed this trip to Fred and I get this email from Jon Kiger of our beloved TurfNet and it’s like: “We have reserved two volunteer spots on the Maintenance Staff for the 2019 President’s Cup to be held at the prestigious Royal Melbourne…”. My heart about exploded. Mind you, my wife and I had just begun a few weeks’ trip around New Zealand with some friends. Now this? Cloud 99! So this is how we got here. The planning and preparations were swiftly carried out with tremendous elation. After waiting for months for this thing to happen, it’s in the crosshairs. This will be my second trip to Australia in two years. My wife and I toured Down Under and caught up with some wonderful friends that I met at Kanawha through a long-time industry vagabond. We saw enough to fall in love with Australia in our first five hours in Brisbane. And I would say that’s probably when this trip came into my brain… it’s been a mental struggle ever since. How can I fit it all in? What will Stephanie think? No way I can pull this off… The time finally came around and I departed on Thanksgiving morning. I have a little side trip planned with those same friends from Brisbane that I met at my golf course about 6 random years ago. Something we have emailed about ad nauseum for years. My friend Ian and I are going to rendezvous in Sydney and under his valiant wing we will spend time playing golf with and spending time with Superintendents of the very courses we are playing. Ian is another one of those people one is so fortunate to ever meet. Follow along here and on Twitter. It's funny how an idle thought can come into fruition if it never fully leaves your mind. I have a lot of people to thank for this opportunity and that doesn’t go unnoticed. I hope you follow along to see just how awesome this experience will be!
  8. Thanks for this Paul! 2018 was a miserable year for me professionally and I wound up in a pretty dark place. Took me more than a few weeks struggling with my plate as you refer to it... Once I got out of the woods and the season allowed it, I was able to make some critical changes as I navigated my own Mental Minefield. 2019 has been the polar opposite of 2018 and I know a lot of my outlook has to do with some of the changes I've made. Good luck to Robert, and thanks again for sharing!
  9. Beautiful words Dave. Wish it could be posted in every "Men's Grill". It should be.
  10. Peter, Enjoy the trip up to Auckland. Just did the same Queenstown-Auckland zig/zag with my wife a few months ago. The trip of a lifetime! Enjoyed your Blog and good look back in the U.S.!
  11. My wife and I kayaked Milford Sound on Sunday, Feb. 1st. That was by far the most beautiful area I've ever seen! The weather in your photos was much nicer than the driving rains we had all day. But, as they say, the wetter the better in Milford. The abundance of waterfalls was insane! Not to mention the Chasm was roaring with the added precipitation! How would you like to drive the road to and from Milford everyday?
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