Yes, the Horry Georgetown Technical College Turf Bowl team captured another championship at the Carolinas GCSA Conference and Show. That result proved familiar, identical on the surface to eight of the previous 19 trivial pursuits at the annual gathering. But the challengers were unexpected and their strategy provided what can be best described in hindsight as a rope-a-dope.
Oh, and the final question — the winning question — was far more goofball than curveball.
The Fighting Mole Crickets B team — Chase Garvey, 23, Harry Robishaw, 30, Josh Rownd, 33, and Alex Zaner, 25, three of them Turf Bowl rookies still in their first months of turf school — raised the championship trophy with 1,050 points, besting the North Carolina State University B and A teams, who finished with 1,000 and 801, respectively, and their A team classmates, who finished with 99.
The four agreed before hearing a single question that they would buzz in only if they were certain of an answer. That resulted in eight correct answers in 10 attempts in their first-round game, enough to qualify as a wild card with 1,300 points. Rownd said the team was more “focused on a point total than winning the round to get us through.”
Less than an hour later, they carried their strategy even further, answering only five questions — including just one of the first 23 from the board of 30 — four of them correctly. They trailed the N.C. State A team by 1,400 points with seven questions remaining, managing to close to within 700 before a 500-point miss by the Wolfpack whittled the gap to 200 entering the final.
“We kind of figured out before we started that we weren’t going to answer anything we were going to lose points on,” Garvey added. “If we could answer it, we would buzz in and give it a shot.”
“I think we were just waiting for the right questions to come our way,” Zaner said.
They found three of their four correct championship-game answers in “Bugs N’ Stuff,” which golf and sports turf management professor Ashley Wilkinson attributed to the course study provided by George McCauley, a biological sciences professor and entomologist. How else would a group with such a limited turf background know anything about nematodes?
But the trophy was won and lost thanks to the final question of the afternoon.
The category: Turfgrass Management in the Movies.
The question: Unforgettable assistant greenskeeper from 1980s movie Caddyshack.
“We knew going in it was going to be about Caddyshack,” Robishaw said. The Mole Crickets missed the answer — the Cinderella story Carl Spackler, of course — but so did two other teams. Only the N.C. State B team, who wagered all of their 500 points to double their score, figured it out. The Mole Crickets wagered 50 and held on for the win.
“This is the most impressed and proud I’ve been,” Wilkinson said. “This is the least I’ve been involved with the Turf Bowl in years, so the fact that these guys won is on them, not us. These guys, they did it on their own.”
The win is the ninth overall for Horry-Georgetown since the turn of the century, and the second thanks to a final question: Three years ago, a straightforward final asked for the most recent winner of the Old Tom Morris Award — the legendary Paul R. Latshaw. “And as luck would have it,” Wilkinson said, “one of our students had interned for Paul B. Latshaw that year and he had been talking about his dad winning the award.”
Who knows what the future holds for any of the four championship Mole Crickets or any of their 40 Turf Bowl counterparts. They all have an afternoon behind the buzzer, though, some more knowledge about the industry, another day to come at the conference, bright futures. So they got that goin’ for them, which is nice.
Matt Lawell’s is GCI’s managing editor.
CAROLINAS GCSA TURF BOWL CHAMPIONS
2000 Horry Georgetown
2001 Horry Georgetown
2003 Horry Georgetown
2005 North Carolina State
2008 Central Piedmont
2009 Horry Georgetown
2012 Horry Georgetown
2013 Horry Georgetown
2015 Horry Georgetown
2016 Horry Georgetown
2019 Horry Georgetown
Jared Nemitz and Nelson Caron enjoy talking the numbers behind smooth and slick ultradwarf Bermudagrass greens.
For the more than three hours in Myrtle Beach, a ballroom packed with colleagues observed a data-driven presentation brewing for years.
Nemitz and Caron are former co-workers turned ultra-successful managers of ultradwarf Bermudagrass. They reunited for work purposes at the 2019 Carolinas GCSA Conference and Show to lead a seminar about a shared turf passion: meticulous greens management. They had never led a seminar together until arriving in Myrtle Beach.
Nemitz is the superintendent at The Peninsula Club in Cornelius, North Carolina; Caron is the director of golf course and grounds maintenance at The Ford Plantation in Richmond Hill, Georgia. Nemitz was Caron’s first assistant superintendent hire. That was in 2008.
Those were highly subjective times in the Bermudagrass business. Consider this conversation while staring at a pile of clippings 11 years ago:
Caron: “There are a lot less clippings than yesterday.”
Nemitz: “There are a lot more clippings than yesterday.”
The conversation sparked a key decision in their respective careers. They jointly decided to find an objective method to maintain greens. So they decided to start measuring clippings.
And 11 years later? Nemitz and Caron measure everything from number of daily, weekly, monthly and annual rolls to Stimpmeter readings on every green. Nemitz has six years of data documenting every practice performed on The Peninsula Club’s greens.
Nemitz and his assistants compile data on an Excel file. They leave tweet-length notes at the end of each day’s log. Not comfortable using Excel? Nemitz is willing to share a template with any colleague who shows a zest for taking a course’s greens to a higher level. Once a system is established, Nemitz says recording the data “only takes a couple of minutes each day.”
Through the years, Nemitz has noticed growth patterns in The Peninsula Club’s Championship Bermudagrass greens. The more data he collects, the better he understands spring growing conditions in the Charlotte area. “When you start writing things down, you learn how methodical things can be,” he says. “The same thing keeps happening within a few weeks year over year.”
The philosophy is similar at The Ford Plantation, where Caron and his team manage TifEagle Bermudagrass greens. While Nemitz explored the numbers associated with high-level putting surfaces during the seminar, Caron offered insight into handling the human side of greens maintenance. Perception matters when it comes to greens, so Caron urges colleagues to take a hands-on approach with tasks such as course setup for key member events. “You can control the narrative,” he says. “You are the expert.”
Every expert, though, flourishes with a few other experts on the same team. Caron revealed startling data from The Ford Plantation’s Georgia Open performance – who knew Sunday readings could get that high on a Stimpmeter? – but Caron shared perhaps the most meaningful numbers in a break during the seminar.
Four of his former employees have become superintendents elsewhere and 26 students have participated in the club’s internship program. Every key member of Caron’s current management team completed a turf internship at the club.
One of his former protégés hovered less than 10 feet away, fielding questions from curious colleagues. The number of people Nemitz reaches expands by the industry event. It wouldn’t surprise Caron – or anybody else – if Nemitz is counting.
“It’s not about what I do on my course,” he says. “It’s about trying to find what works for you. There are keys out there to make it work.”
Guy Cipriano is GCI’s editor.