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SVCC tunes up for Women’s Open
It’s hard to figure exactly who benefits most from Saucon Valley Country Club’s makeover of its venerable Old Course: the members of the sprawling 850-acre facility in eastern Pennsylvania or next month’s competitors in the 2009 U.S. Women’s Open.
The nod really goes to both, but the SVCC membership gets extra credit because it will enjoy the restoration of the 87-year-old Herbert Strong layout in the long term. That doesn’t mean, however, that USGA officials aren’t any less pleased.
The Women’s Open is the sixth USGA national championship to be contested at Saucon Valley — the list includes the 1951 U.S. Amateur and the 1992 and 2000 U.S. Senior Opens. It’s the first for its superintendent, James J. Roney Jr., who also has the distinction of being the first reigning overall Environmental Leaders in Golf Award winner to prep for a major.
Roney, SVCC’s director of golf courses and grounds, arrived on the scene in 2005, the same year the Women’s Open was awarded to the club. Two years later he oversaw the extensive restoration of the 60-hole facility’s top tournament venue, the Old Course, by Tom Marzolf, senior design associate for Tom Fazio Design, who specializes in such projects.
Marzolf directed key changes in bunkering through both relocation and layout lengthening to reflect the modern game, enlarged four greens and softened their contouring; and added to facility-wide drainage improvements that were instrumental in recent environmental acclaim.
“It’s a much different golf course,” Roney says. “While the bones of the course remain the same, we’ve lengthened and strengthened it. We’ve gone from a three-tee to a five-tee setup and we’ve also made the bunkers relevant again by returning them to their original architectural intent.
“This was going to happen regardless of the Women’s Open, but you seldom get an opportunity to do a restoration like that and then go out and put your best foot forward in front of a world audience,” the 15-year GCSAA member adds. “We just let Tom Marzolf do his magic.”
Roney notes that when the Women’s Open was awarded to SVCC nearly five years ago, officials were basically happy with things as they were. But after the restoration a few years later, they were pleasantly surprised at the results and particularly the multiple teeing areas.
Roney recalls Mike Davis, the USGA’s senior director of rules and competition and the last word in tournament setup, praising the tee options because the women’s game has players who can hit the ball 220 yards and some who can bomb it 320 yards.
“With that kind of discrepancy, you’re really limited to what you can do,” Roney says. “But Mike believes our five-tee layout allows them to really set up the golf course in a neat way to balance out that difference. There’s a lot of flexibility here.”
As it is, the women will play the Old Course in the July 9-12 event at more than 6,700 yards, which is about the same as the last men’s Senior Open there.
SVCC also comprises two other championship courses, Weyhill and Grace. While the latter will be closed, Weyhill will be open for play at 2 p.m. each day during championship week for members and tournament VIPs. That raises Roney’s degree of difficulty, but it’s also an opportunity for some innovative scheduling.
“It’s really important for all the employees of the club to experience the national championship,” he says. “I want my Weyhill staff to be involved in the championship, so we’ve devised a rotation of teams (from both Weyhill and Grace) — for each morning assignment, one of those teams will have a specific championship assignment and in the evening they’ll alternate. In order to do that, I’ve reached out to my colleagues and will have about 60 volunteers on the Old Course.”
Roney’s key personnel for the Open include his course superintendents: Mike Broome, the Old Course; Matt Morrow, Weyhill; and Gabe Wochley, Grace; and two other top assistants, Tony Johnson and Ben Stover. All are GCSAA members.
— Terry Ostmeyer, GCM senior staff writer
The presidents of GCSAA, the PGA of America and the Club Managers Association of America recently sent a joint letter to the editor of USA Today in response to a column in the newspaper that was highly critical of golf. Read the letter at www.gcsaa.org/thisweek/2009/april/3/industryresponse.asp.
End of the line for Edison College program
At the end of this month, the saga of the golf course operations program at Edison State College in Fort Myers, Fla., will come to an unfortunate end for many turf-minded students, as well as the program’s heart and soul, Lee Berndt, Ph.D.
One would figure that a state such as Florida where 1,400 golf courses and thousands more related activities generate a multi-billion-dollar industry can’t have enough turf management college curriculums. But last spring Edison nevertheless announced that it was discontinuing its program as a budget-cutting measure.
At the time, school officials cited a “lack of interest” in the program and, in the words of Bill Roshon, a dean at the college, “the realization that golf course superintendents do not need a college degree.”
Those comments, published in the local press, sparked a firestorm among many in the golf course industry and resulted in a rebuttal letter to the editor by 2008 GCSAA President David S. Downing II, CGCS.
Berndt, the program’s only full-time staffer for the past 12 years, says the termination also includes the razing of the curriculum’s crown jewel, a three-hole, par-3 golf course on 5 acres skirting the campus. The course hasn’t been mowed since last June and will be bulldozed and converted to a nonmaintained area.
“It’s sad, but you can’t dwell on it. The world works in strange ways,” says Berndt, who got by over the years on his salary and a $40,000 annual budget mainly for adjunct teaching and course maintenance help.
In its heyday, the program had as many as 125 students in golf turf, lawn and landscaping, sports turf and the like each term, many of them there part time while holding down day jobs. The graduation rate ranged from five to 10 a year and has included three dozen grads who became superintendents and at least that many assistant superintendents.
The program was established in 1996 — “There were some forward-thinking superintendents here locally who saw a need for it based on the amount of golf courses and turf jobs in the area,” says Berndt, who was hired a year later on the promise of building a nationally recognized program.
Berndt made the most of help and donations from local and area equipment and turf care suppliers, and in 2003 came up with enough funding and materials to build the short course as a living classroom. The layout features eight different turf species, including different grasses on each of the three greens.
“I thought it was important to show the students the different grasses and the different ways to maintain them,” he says.
Berndt and the program are nearing the end of what basically has been a year’s reprieve, having completed the regular 2009 term at the end of April and a three-week mini-term this month. There is some irony in that.
“The only reason I’m really still here is because when they announced the program’s closing last year, they didn’t give the students enrolled a chance to finish the program,” he says. “That made everybody angry. They went to the administration as a group and demanded their money back for the classes they had taken away. That got the school’s attention.”
Thus, at the end of what Berndt calls his “one-year teach-out,” the program will graduate no fewer than 42 students this summer.
It’s a small consolation for the 52-year-old Michigan native, who has been a member of GCSAA for 23 years. Berndt’s contract expires June 30, but it’s unlikely he’ll be out of a job long. He’s a certified professional agronomist with more than three decades of experience in golf course turf management. His résumé includes a stint as director of environmental services for Jack Nicklaus Golf Design and he once was even an assistant superintendent, at Sun Lakes G&CC in Phoenix.
And there will always be his time at Edison College.
“I taught all the classes, printed all the fliers, answered all the phone calls, cleaned the classrooms and took care of the golf course. And I enjoyed every minute of it.”
— Terry Ostmeyer, GCM senior staff writer
GCSAA rumbles again … Keep an eye out for the GCSAA logo easy riding across the U.S. again this summer. The license plate belongs to 41-year GCSAA retired member Bob LaRoche and his BMW motorcycle. LaRoche and three others rode from Florida to Alaska last year and he plans on another cross-country adventure this summer. LaRoche says a lot of people ask about the tag and adds, “I got a chance to talk about my career and the association.”
Jack and Barbara Nicklaus will receive Indiana’s Pathfinder Award for their longtime contributions to youth sports. Nicklaus, GCSAA’s Old Tom Morris Award recipient in 2005, and his wife head the Nicklaus Children’s Health Care Foundation. The Pathfinder will be presented on June 28 in conjunction with the Youthlinks Indiana Charity Golf Tournament in Indianapolis.
Chicago superintendent the running man
Jon Jennings is a thoroughbred among Clydesdales, and that’s telling it like it is.
The 45-year-old Jennings, CGCS at the Chicago Golf Club in Wheaton, Ill., is an avid runner in his time away from the golf course and a highly successful one at that. Racing in what the Chicago Area Runners Association calls its Clydesdale Series, Jennings capped a three-year undefeated streak in 2008 by being named the series’ overall Runner of the Year.
Jennings regularly competes in the Masters Division in the 185- to 199-pound category of the Clydesdale Series, which also has weight classes at 170-185 and 200-225 pounds.
“It’s a neat way to have a competition among people who are bigger or heavier,” he says.
And by that token, Jennings’ 30-0 series record in 2006-2008 was no accident. The former high school and college athlete is 6’2”, 188 pounds with a meager 7 percent body fat.
“We run 5K, 10K and half-marathons,” he says of the CARA season that runs from mid-March to November. “I try to pre-load my races in the spring and run as many as I can then. From mid-June to September, I have a day job to be concerned about at Chicago Golf Club.”
Jennings says that when he does race in the springtime he goes into work early, leaves to run the race and goes back to work afterward.
“I tell my assistants that I come in to watch the train pull out of the station and then I come back to make sure it arrives,” says the 24-year GCSAA member who has been at Chicago Golf Club since 2000 after a similarly long tenure at The Paterson Club in Fairfield, Conn.
Jennings has also competed in eight marathons in Boston, New York and Chicago. His best time in the prestigious Boston race was 3:28:11 in 2006, but he adds that those 26-mile-plus grinds require too much training.
Too much is in the eye of the beholder, however. Jennings, who played high school football and lacrosse in his native Madison, Conn., and competed in rugby in college, says he took up running about 15 years ago as a way of keeping in shape. He runs five to seven miles every morning — about a 45-minute workout between 3:30 and 4:30 a.m.
“It wakes me up, gets me going, and my exercise is out of the way for the day,” he says. “I will say that by eight at night I’m ready to go to bed.”
— Terry Ostmeyer, GCM senior staff writer
Plane crash survivors receive delayed golf vacation
On Jan. 15, when the U.S. Airways flight headed for Charlotte, N.C., instead made an emergency landing in the Hudson River after hitting a flock of birds just three minutes after taking off, all of the flight’s 155 surviving passengers were likely just glad to be alive.
But for the group of passengers on that flight headed for a golf vacation in Myrtle Beach, S.C., a delayed vacation awaited them. Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday president Bill Golden learned that the survivors included a group of golfers on their way to the Grand Strand area and, partnering with Legends Resorts, the PGA Tour Superstore and members of the Myrtle Beach golf community, Golden invited the group back to Myrtle Beach whenever they were ready to fly again.
The group, which includes Jeff Kolodjay, Rob Kolodjay, Jim Stefanik, Jorge Morgado, Rick Delisle and Dave Carlos, will enjoy a four-day vacation with complimentary rounds at four Legends Resort courses: True Blue Plantation, The Heritage Club, TPC of Myrtle Beach and Wild Wing Plantation. Legends Resort also threw in a three-bedroom condo, a $500 gift card per golfer to replace lost golf gear from the flight, and custom club-fittings. This time around, though, the group has decided to travel by car.
Golf Inc. stops the presses
An enduring supporter of the golf industry, Golf Inc. magazine, will cease publication of its print product in July and will shift all of its editorial content to its Web site.
Jack Crittenden, president and publisher of Golf Inc., cited a combination of declining print ad revenues and a significant increase in its online visitors. Crittenden said visits to its new Web site — www.golfincmagazine.com, re-launched last November — have grown by nearly 450 percent.
Golf Inc. actually has been an industry leader in digital media for some time, publishing regular e-newsletters with updates on golf development, companies and courses and will now add its most popular magazine features to the Web site, such as its Most Powerful People in Golf, Most Admired Operators and the Development of the Year.
Golf Inc. is best known for its annual spring conference, a gathering of the leaders in golf and golf development that examines the state of the game and the business of golf.
“It is disappointing to see the print magazine end after an 18-year run,” Crittenden said. “But this is a trend we are seeing in almost every industry and market. Live events and the Web are grabbing the attention and marketing dollars.”
Superintendent finds release, recognition in artwork
When he is not keeping the greens pristine at Black Bear Ridge Golf Club in Belleville, Ontario, Canada, CGCS Bill Fach tinkers away the day making soapstone carvings for friends and colleagues.
It’s a hobby born 21 years ago after being inspired by his son, who was learning the skill in art class. “I always liked soapstone carvings, so I tackled one,” recalls the 31-year GCSAA member and the winner of the 2008 Canadian Golf Superintendent of the Year award.
“Then I found places to get stone and started tinkering, tinkering, tinkering. As time went on, both the Canadian and Ontario superintendent associations asked if I would start making some for their awards,” he adds.
Fach’s love for golf began as a teenager when he worked as a caddie and later as a course worker at Galt Golf & Country Club in Cambridge, Ontario. Forty years on, Fach’s passion for the game, and for the greenkeeper’s life, has never waned.
He figures he has done about 40 awards to date and counting. Every year, Fach makes one soapstone carving for the CGSA to present to the winner of the John B. Steele Award, the organization’s distinguished service award. Instead of a trophy, the winner gets one of Fach’s creations. He’s also done some carvings for the Ontario GSA.
“The guys really appreciate it,” he says.
A past president of the CGSA, Fach has carved everything from dancing polar bears to Eskimos in kayaks. Each soapstone carving takes between 10 and 60 hours to complete. Besides donating his creations for industry awards, he also gives them to friends and family as Christmas gifts. And, when Fach’s term as president of the CGSA ended, he gave one to each of his fellow board members.
Each winter, while vacationing in Mexico, Fach’s wife reads a book on the beach while he carves.
“It’s satisfying, especially when someone tells me how much they like one of my carvings,” he says.
— David McPherson, free-lance writer
Another superintendent a lifesaver
GCM has learned of another superintendent who became a hero when he saved someone’s life.
This past January, Bruce Nelson, CGCS at Fox Hollow in Lakewood, Colo., was on a day fishing trip with a friend on the South Platte River when he was summoned by people on the opposite bank because a man had fallen down a steep bank of boulders on his side of the river.
Climbing up ice-covered granite boulders and then sliding 30 feet through a chimney opening, Nelson finally reached the injured man. The 27-year GCSAA member and his friend stabilized the man and built a fire until emergency crews reached the site. The man was evacuated by helicopter to a Denver hospital.
The efforts of the 56-year-old Nelson were underscored when he talked over the phone the next day with the injured man from the critical care ward. The man suffered a broken arm, fractured pelvis and hip, two broken ribs and a punctured lung.
Like the instance reported in last month’s GCM when Doug Higgins of the Regatta Bay Golf Club in Destin, Fla., saved a woman from a sinking car in a golf course pond, Nelson is another case of a superintendent being in the right place at the right time.
Halls of fame beckon supers
Two longtime GCSAA members will join their respective states’ golf halls of fame later this year.
Bobby D. McGee, CGCS, will be inducted into the Arkansas Golf Hall of Fame posthumously. Known as the dean of Arkansas superintendents, McGee was superintendent at the Country Club of Little Rock for 20 years. He was a former president of the GCSA of Arkansas and served on its board of directors for more than a decade, receiving its first Distinguished Service Award in 2003. He was a founder of the Arkansas Turfgrass Association and a longtime member of the USGA Green Section Committee.
A member of GCSAA for nearly 40 years, McGee was superintendent at Atlanta Athletic Club for 11 years, prepping for the 1976 U.S. Open while there. He also was a former president of the Georgia GCSA. McGee died in 2005 at the age of 67.
Carl Hopphan, a life member (51 years) of GCSAA, was named to the 2009 induction class of the Illinois Golf Hall of Fame along with the likes of former PGA Tour star Chip Beck, Cog Hill G&CC owner Frank Jemsek and former KemperSports CEO Steve Lesnik.
Hopphan was an Illinois superintendent for 43 years — first at Aurora Country Club and then at Evanston Golf Club — then retired to become the director of development for the Illinois Turfgrass Foundation. He was instrumental in developing the Short Course at Midwest Golf House as a research facility with playing capacity.
Hopphan, 76, currently raises funds for the Sunshine Through Golf Foundation, a charitable organization of the Chicago District Golf Association.
E-Z does it
Sandy Queen, CGCS, has been banking on the sun shining often and bright in the Kansas City suburb of Overland Park, Kan., this spring.
Queen is the longtime manager of golf operations for the city of Overland Park, and he’s got a solar-powered golf car on loan from E-Z-Go he’s testing against three electric golf cars at Overland Park Golf Club to compare energy efficiency and cost savings.
Queen will soon be negotiating a new golf car lease for his sizable fleet at Overland Park’s 54-hole municipal operation. He’s already made the decision to switch from gasoline-powered cars to electric. Now the determination is whether to go with the standard electric vehicles or make the leap to the ultimate alternative power source, sunlight, to keep those batteries charged up.
The E-Z-Go loaner has solar panels on its roof. The panels and other fittings add anywhere from $1,500 to $2,200 to the total cost of a golf car, says Queen, a GCSAA director and a 31-year member of the association.
“We’re going to look at the savings versus the costs and whether we are going to get an acceptable return on our investment,” he says, noting that the city’s golf division is already committed to the capital expenditure to retrofit its golf car storage facilities’ infrastructure to accommodate electric vehicles.
Because of the volatility of gas prices these days and the fuel’s less-than-desirable discharges, Queen expects significant savings either way in the comparison test, which pits E-Z-Go, Club Car and Yahama electric golf cars against the solar-powered car. Queen adds that the solar car will be the first out each day at OPGC, bearing a sunburst flag.
While the initial cost of solar-powered golf cars is daunting, the potential savings over the long haul also figure to be substantial compared with the electricity needed when the standard electric cars have to be plugged in and recharged after each use. Plus, Queen says solar power offers a lot of positives in the operation’s energy conservation program.
“Actually, I guess our prime purpose of doing this is both cost and emissions,” he says, pointing out that such a move is a big step by the city in helping the Kansas City metro area meet its air quality standards.
Marriott International is expected to purchase the famed 230-year-old Greenbrier Resort in the Allegheny Mountains of West Virginia sometime later this year. The Greenbrier filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in March.
Golf industry leaders remain upbeat
Superintendent in legal spat with local publisher
Old Tom may hold the answer to recession blues
Economic realities bring changes to golf
K-State hones in on sports turf management
Pending pesticide issues confront turf managers
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently announced an initial list of pesticides that will be screened for any potential disruption to the human endocrine system.
The list of 67 active ingredients includes some commonly used on golf courses, such as 2,4-D, chlorothalonil, chlorpyrifos and imidacloprid. The testing is expected to begin sometime this summer.
The initial list of pesticides was developed on the basis of exposure potential. The EPA notes that it should not be taken as a list of known or likely endocrine disruptors. The EPA adds that the tests eventually will encompass all pesticide chemicals.
Meanwhile, GCSAA has taken a substantial stand against a recent court ruling that would fundamentally change the way pesticides are regulated in this country and will determine when superintendents and other pesticide applicators are required to obtain National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits prior to applying pesticides.
GCSAA has partnered with 22 major agriculture and nonagriculture organizations in filing an amicus “friend of the court” brief to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth District in support of a rehearing of National Cotton Council vs. U.S. EPA.
In that case, a three-judge panel overturned a 2006 EPA Aquatic Pesticides final rule that concluded that pesticides applied in accordance with the Federal Insecticide Fungicide and Rodenticide Act were exempt from the Clean Water Act’s NPDES permitting requirements.
Benefit auction for research a big hit
The Carolinas GCSA’s inaugural Rounds4Research effort raised $74,000 to benefit turfgrass research at Clemson and North Carolina State universities.
More than 300 foursomes won tee times in the unique online auction. Rounds were donated by courses in seven states in the Southeast, plus the Dominican Republic and Bermuda. The two-week initiative coincided with PGA Tour events in Hilton Head, S.C., and Charlotte, N.C.
Tim Kreger, programs director for the Carolinas GCSA and creator of the online benefit auction, said the project also resulted in tens of thousands of hits on the Rounds4Research Web site, an indication of how much golf means to the Carolinas region.
“All of that would be at risk if we were to lose any of the expertise of turfgrass researchers at Clemson and NC State,” added Paul Jett, CGCS, president of the chapter. “Their work has a lot to do with the excellent reputation that Carolinas golf enjoys throughout the U.S.”
New Jersey chapter on par with Get Golf Ready
The Golf Course Superintendents Association of New Jersey recently became a Par Level sponsor of Get Golf Ready, an industry-wide initiative organized by the World Golf Foundation to connect adults to the game of golf.
GCSANJ is the first superintendents chapter to commit $1,000 a year for the next three years. Richard Heysek, director of corporate relations of The World Golf Foundation, says, “The commitment of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of New Jersey will hopefully inspire other GCSAA chapters to join us in this important effort.”
A broad industry coalition of more than 60 organizations and individuals, including GCSAA, has also committed more than $2.5 million in funding over three years to support the payment stipends to participating facilities.
Lanny Wadkins, a 21-time winner on the PGA Tour, including the 1977 PGA Championship and the 1979 Players Championship, is the first member of the World Golf Hall of Fame’s Class of 2009 to be announced. Wadkins was elected through the PGA Tour Ballot.