Cameron Beckman celebrated the July 4th holiday by winning the Dick’s Sporting Goods Open and recording his first PGA Tour Champions victory.
It was a day for Anthony Chapman to celebrate as well. Chapman is the superintendent at the En-Joie Golf Club in Endicott, New York. Chapman and his team faced down significant challenges to prepare the course for not only 81 of the top 50-and-over professionals in the world but for the approximately 30,000 rounds the county-owned club expects to host this year.
The winter of 2020-21 saw Chapman dealing with perhaps the biggest challenge of his career. On the evening of Dec. 16 stretching into Dec. 17, a Nor’easter covered the area with 40½ inches of snow. On Christmas Day, the course received two inches of rain. The Nanticoke Creek, which flows through the course, left its banks and the nearby Susquehanna River came through the east side of the property.
Days later, temperatures dropped once more and Chapman found himself looking at a golf course covered in what he estimates was 40 inches of snow, three inches of ice and 1/8th of an inch of silt. Six greens were covered in ice. Chapman’s first priority was getting the silt off the greens.
“There were only three of us here at the time,” he says. “It was dangerous. You can’t go out there when it’s all iced over. You don’t know how deep the water is out there, plus the river flowed through and left a bunch of trees, old trees that had been put in one of our dump areas. All that debris came out onto the golf course, so there was that cleanup. (The flood) washed away one of our cart paths. There were tee signs all over the place.
“But my main focus was the greens. I’m not worried about anything else. I need to get those greens cleared off and ready to go. And then you’re worried about the silt layer getting into the canopy. So now you’re changing what you’re going to do in the spring. You’re not just going to come out and do your normal spring cleanup. Your main focus is on getting those greens to where you want them, then we’ll deal with everything else after.”
“Everything else” included preparing for the traditional opening of the golf season on or around April 1 and the Dick’s Sporting Goods Open 13 weeks later. En-Joie has hosted the PGA Tour Champions event since 2007. The course, which is owned by the village of Endicott and operated by Broome County, previously hosted the PGA Tour’s BC Open from 1972 to 2005.
Chapman received plenty of help getting the course ready for the 2021 season. His allies included his friend and mentor Rocco Greco, who hired him as a technician at En-Joie in 2010 when Chapman had no golf course experience. Chapman grew up in the Binghamton, New York, area not far from En-Joie before migrating to Lantan, Florida, near West Palm Beach with a friend. He worked in sports turf before returning to southern New York so he and his wife, Andrea, a psychologist and Binghamton-area native, could be near their families while Andrea completed a residency closer to home.
After two years of selling real estate, Chapman reached out to Greco and launched his career on the golf side of the turf industry. He was promoted to an assistant superintendent’s position in 2012 before succeeding Greco as En-Joie’s head superintendent in September of 2014 when the latter received the superintendent job at Binghamton Country Club.
“He told me ‘Hey, if you have any issues at all, you need to know something, you need any help, you call me anytime,’” Chapman says. “I took advantage of that so much, I think Rocco was probably ready to throw his phone at me. Rocco didn’t want to see me fail. He was the one who convinced me I could do this.
“I didn’t know if I wanted to become a superintendent. I was comfortable as an assistant. You go home and you go to bed. As a superintendent, you go home and you lay in bed and you’re constantly thinking “What happens if this happens tomorrow? What happens if this happens?’ It takes you a good two hours to fall asleep because you have so much on your mind.”
In the aftermath of the storms, Greco was not only a lifeline for Chapman, but also a sounding board.
“I had Rocco come down,” Chapman says. “We both kind of stood there and came up with something. We brainstormed. You have to have that. You can’t just go at it on your own. You have to have that support system.”
That support network also included some industry sales professionals who had formerly worked as superintendents. “These guys that come from the chemical companies, being former superintendents, know what you’re up against, what you’re going through,” Chapman says.
Chapman’s ad hoc support team also included PGA Tour agronomist Mike Crawford.
“We were constantly talking,” Chapman says. “I’m constantly showing him pictures. I’m constantly sending him the plugs that I took out of the greens to make sure that they’re growing in our break room. I’m trying to simulate the spring for him. Maybe raking them off with a fork. Those plugs were growing as soon as I brought them inside, they were growing right up through the silt. Him and I, we have a really good relationship. He came here back in 2017. We’ve actually become friends and we speak to each other frequently.”
To accelerate the recovery process, Chapman applied enhanced gypsum on greens in April. He then aerated around the same time. As the spring progressed, he became more confident the course would be ready to host the Dick’s Sporting Goods Open. But that confidence came only gradually. The weather, after all, included a cold snap in April and early May.
“Our nights were cold for a while after aerification,” he says. “After aerification we’re using Verticutter on our approaches, then it gets cold at night (mid to high 30s) so everything kind of slows down and goes backward.
“My agronomist came sometime in April and we’re going through things. It’s not where I wanted it to be at that time, but you’re knowing things are going to start popping here shortly, right? Getting into May, getting into June that’s the best growing season, those months. So, you’re going from maybe a ‘5’ confidence level and gradually going up as the year progresses.”
The final countdown began on June 20 when the golf course was shut down. It remained closed to public play through July 5, the day after the tournament concluded.
Tournament week is always special for Chapman, but perhaps especially so this year. Over the course of the week, he received an assortment of voicemails and texts from around the country from natives of the area who had moved away but enjoyed seeing “their golf course” shown on national television. Then, there was the reaction of the professionals themselves.
“It’s always nice to hear compliments,’ Chapman says, “but to hear them from these guys who play on some of the finest golf courses all over the world … to hear Paul Goydos say, ‘What these guys do here is amazing.’ That’s why we do the job. We do it for golfers to come out here and say ‘This place is amazing.’ You do it for your own satisfaction, but it really completes it when you have these professionals complimenting your golf course like that.”
John Karedes is the tournament director for the Dick’s Sporting Goods Open. He is in a unique position to observe the evolution of the golf course. The tournament office is located at En-Joie, adjacent to the golf shop. Karedes celebrated the work of Chapman and his team.
“What they faced back in December and January, between the snow, the melting, the ice, the river silt, the freezing again and all while trying to protect the turf, just goes to show their dedication and passion for this golf course, not just for one week during the year, but year-round to make it the best,” Karedes says. “The amount of rounds Anthony faces on a daily basis compared to other superintendents who host similar events, it’s night and day.”