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Proof's in the pudding at Muirfield Village
Jack Nicklaus' stance on golf course management has been considered and dissected by many, but few more than two superintendents who work as closely with him as anyone.
No turf manager is as versed on Nicklaus, past and present, as Mike McBride, and his contemporary in nearly all facets of the profession, Paul B. Latshaw, CGCS, shares the present tense and hopes to extend it far into the future.
The scene for both maintenance veterans is Nicklaus' living laboratory of sorts, Muirfield Village Golf Club, the font from which he whets his unquenchable thirst to attain the ultimate venue for Everyman.
McBride, an 18-year GCSAA member, was superintendent at Muirfield Village nearly two decades before moving on to form his own agronomic and turf management consulting company. Latshaw, 17 years in the GCSAA fold, succeeded McBride a little more than a year ago soon after prepping for the 2003 PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, N.Y.
“Jack is always tweaking Muirfield to make it more challenging. He always sees room for improvement. And, I think his efforts have made the course more compatible for maintenance,” says McBride.
“I've already experienced that Mr. Nicklaus likes to try many things and a lot of it is because of advances in equipment and player talent. He does ask questions about the ramifications before he makes changes. It's probably years in the making, but he's very in tune with maintenance.”
Setting the bar high
“That was the mindset. You knew what the expectations where,” McBride says. “This is where you're at -- Muirfield Village Golf Club -- and this is the product you need to produce. And you went out and did it. The bar was set very high.”
That Muirfield became known on the PGA Tour for its immaculate -- some might call it “Augusta-like” -- conditioning didn't come easily because the Memorial's annual time slot was beset by post-winter turf stress, risky weather and a membership anxious for the season ahead.
“It's extremely challenging to have the course prepared the way Jack wants it for an event in late May and early June in Ohio,” McBride says. “Plus, you work to peak at that point and then work to stay at that level throughout the summer.”
Today the years' ongoing changes at Muirfield Village have come home to roost for McBride and his new company, On Course Management. As an independent contractor, he deals in maintenance, design, renovations and agronomic consulting. Lumping it all together, he says he specializes in the many strategic, risk-reward intricacies of updating a golf course to make it more competitive with the advances in technology and the talents of the modern player.
Moreover, McBride currently has several projects going on with Nicklaus Design, specifically in the realm of course redesign and renovation.
“I'm able to help them grow a part of their business that they haven't done a lot of in the past,” he says. “What I'm doing really complements everything I've done before. I can utilize what I learned through the years at Muirfield and apply it to any golf course anywhere.”
“First of all, for myself, I had to get over the fact that he's Jack Nicklaus, my boyhood idol, my favorite golfer, the whole nine yards,” Latshaw recalls.
Once composed, he says he has found the boss to be very intelligent and very astute, with a great attention to detail. “A class act to work for.”
Most importantly, and considering the places he's been, Latshaw marvels at the freedom he's given to meet the lofty expectations at Muirfield Village.
“With me, Mr. Nicklaus has really let me do my job. He knows a lot about grass, more than a lot of people would realize, but he also realizes that I'm the paid professional and he tries to give me the resources and the latitude to perform the job at the highest level. That means a lot.”