Editor's notebook: Clever crew representing the Carolinas

Editor's notebook: Clever crew representing the Carolinas

Quail Hollow brimming with turf brainpower as it braces to make Charlotte’s PGA Championship debut.

August 7, 2017
Guy Cipriano
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Quail Hollow superintendent Keith Wood grabbed his turf roster from a bulletin board behind his desk following the first of two PGA Championship maintenance shifts Monday. He started counting names, stopping shortly after reaching a dozen.

In a period where clubs are struggling to fill specialized positions with qualified candidates, Quail Hollow has 13 employees with degrees in turfgrass science, horticulture, landscape architecture or a related field. The degree-carrying employees represent seven colleges and comprise more than a third of the club’s 38-member agronomic team.  

Quail Hollow’s reputation certainly helps attract talented employees, and it never hurts to be the first club in your city to host a major championship. Golf buzz has reached euphoric levels in Charlotte. The PGA Championship will attract 200,000 spectators and generate more than $100 million for the local economy. But collecting talent requires more than a gigantic event.

Hanging from the ceiling of the maintenance shop is a four-word message: Greatness Has a Home. The message resonates with young turf talent seeking high-level experience. 

“I think what happens more than anything is that we have a great internship program,” Wood says. “Once you come to Quail Hollow and experience Quail Hollow and the things that you can learn and the things that you can see in one year, you leave your internship saying, ‘Man, I need to get back to Quail Hollow.’ That’s how we get a lot of our guys coming back. They want to be a part of it. The ‘Greatness Has a Home’ philosophy … It’s our little motto. It really is true.”

“We call it the ‘Quail Way’ and part of that is raising expectations and pushing further than anything we have done before,” assistant superintendent Basil Lowell adds. 

Greatness also has help. The volunteer force will swell to 150 this week, which should help the Quail Hollow team handle projected dicey weather. The maintenance facility is a Carolinas turf celebration, with dozens of area courses and colleges sending energetic workers to the event. Industry partners are fully embracing the happenings in Charlotte. A thank you banner inside the grounds hospitality tent includes logos of 34 regional and national companies.

“The support has been fantastic,” says Lowell, who joins Brandon Hicks and Shane Omann to give the club three experienced assistant superintendents. “It’s bringing major championship golf back to the Carolinas. Other courses are excited to show off their all-stars and their up-and-coming assistants. They are excited to be part of it.”

Knowing the long-term demands of maintaining an elite facility in a challenging growing environment, Wood is looking past this week in their interactions with turf volunteers. Seven years of PGA Championship anticipation and motivation – the PGA made its 2017 site announcement in 2010 – ends when crowds depart Sunday night. 

Wood admits he’s concerned about what might happen to his staff following the PGA Championship because of the resume boost a major tournament provides. But he’s confident Quail Hollow has solidified its spot in a competitive turf labor market.

“I’m getting a chance to meet all of these people coming here,” Wood says. “Maybe they will want to come back and work for me one day, so this is an opportunity for me to also evaluate talent and to make sure young up-and-comers know who I am and maybe we can meet at a later date. I look at this as an opportunity, not only for them but for me and for Quail Hollow, because we want to attract the best and brightest in our business. This gives us an opportunity to do that.”
Guy Cipriano is GCI’s associate editor.