The bulk of this issue is about construction and renovation. So, let’s open it with wisdom from somebody who has guided dozens of prolific projects. Legendary architect Bill Coore’s message to superintendents looking to elevate their careers: Get in the dirt!
His reasons are different than what you might think. Construction experience isn’t solely about boosting a résumé. Experiencing a few big digs can turn a superintendent into a lateral thinker.
“To me, one of the greatest attributes of a superintendent being involved in construction is that there has to be a different mindset,” Coore says. “It’s so easy for people in the golf course maintenance end of things to get locked into such a routine where every day almost becomes the same. But in construction you can throw most of that out because Mother Nature intervenes dramatically and all sorts of other things intervene. I’m prejudiced to construction, but the ability to think in different ways, encounter different circumstances, different situations, is a wonderful attribute to have.”
We spoke with Coore for our story about River Oaks Country Club in Houston (page 26). Coore is the stepfather of veteran River Oaks director of golf course operations Morris Johnson. Instead of joining Coore and his partner, Ben Crenshaw, to design glamorous courses, Johnson forged his own path and landed an elite job at River Oaks.
Johnson epitomizes a lateral thinker. His run at River Oaks has included working with big-name architects such as Tom Fazio and Rees Jones and coping with small pests such as nematodes. His ability to deftly drift from the routine to find creative solutions has led to a nearly two-decade run at a forward-thinking club.
Besides working on dreamy sites, Coore receives opportunities to work with some of the best contractors, shapers, irrigation consultants and, yes, superintendents in the world. Coore can relate to superintendents because he begrudgingly spent time as one. With golf course construction stalled in the late 1970s because of oil volatility, Coore accepted a superintendent job at Pete- and Roy Dye-designed Waterwood National in Huntsville, Texas.
“I can honestly say I wasn’t too happy about it at the time,” Coore says. “I wanted to be in the golf course design business and I thought I was being set off on a sidetrack.”
“Hindsight being what it is, it’s one of the very best things to ever happen to me,” he adds. “It forced me into learning how to actually take care of a golf course and how you actually got from construction to the preparation and presentation of a golf course for everyday and competitive play. It was one of the greatest things to happen to me in my career and, quite frankly, it wasn’t totally planned.”
Pragmatism. It’s a wonderful thing.
When Kelly Shumate designed The Ashford Short Course at The Greenbrier (page 44), he thought like a superintendent. Now with multiple designs to his credit, Shumate’s fulltime job involves directing the golf maintenance efforts of The Greenbrier’s resort courses and private facility. The Ashford blends Golden Age concepts with modern realities. Shumate understands overbunkered courses with excessively contoured greens can drain golfer enthusiasm and maintenance resources.
From designing and constructing NFL-caliber practice fields on short notice to guiding a crew through the rapid rebuild of two golf courses following a horrific flood in 2016, Shumate shuffles between projects and finds viable ways to enhance The Greenbrier. His job forces him to think beyond daily maintenance — a challenge he willingly accepts.
Coore, Johnson and Shumate are comfortable straying from their respective routines. Spending time in the dirt helped them reached the top of a demanding industry.