Growing up

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After more than 25 years in the industry, Ocean City Golf Club superintendent Mike Salvio develops new tools — and implements new products — to lead his crew.

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September 2, 2020

Now in his 10th year at Ocean City Golf Club, superintendent Mike Salvio always wanted to work in the competitive coastal market.
© courtesy of Ocean City Golf Club (3), Mike Salvio (1)

For years, no matter where he worked or what his responsibilities included, Mike Salvio tended to feel more like a student than a teacher.

He started to feel a shift from the former to the latter during his last couple trips around the sun, when the first digit in his age flipped from a 5 to a 6. The passing of two of his mentors, though, charged through him, changed him, and provided him with new perspective. “It’s just really weird,” he says, “being in that position where you become the mentor to kids.”

Salvio

Salvio is a mentor and a teacher these days, a Certified Golf Course Superintendent and an industry veteran nearing the end of his first decade at Ocean City Golf Club in Maryland — and the start of his second quarter of a century of a career interrupted by a sojourn out of golf and into the great indoors. He works closely with his assistants — Mike Johnson, who long preceded him at the 36-hole Ocean City Golf Club and is now in his 45th year at the club, and Steven Bradford, who arrived with Salvio from nearby GlenRiddle Golf Club — and his valued equipment manager, Greg Seitz, to develop what he describes as “kind of an open dynamic.”

“I want their opinions, I openly solicit their opinions, and they take ownership of the facility by doing that,” Salvio says. “It’s not a dictatorship. I want to hear their opinions about things. They’re really good at their jobs and I feel really fortunate to have them. I learned a long time ago to surround yourself with the best.”

Not every lesson was so obvious. Back in 1979, right around the time he graduated from the Institute of Applied Agriculture at the University of Maryland with a degree in turfgrass and golf course management, he received a job offer down in Virginia. Good money. Good club. Instead, he headed back home, just south of Pittsburgh, to work at what he described as “a low-end club.” Not long after, he was out of the industry for 15 years.

© courtesy of Ocean City Golf Club (3), Mike Salvio (1)

He worked instead in the bowling business, climbing that ladder and, about 15 years after wrapping up turf school, received another job offer in the Old Dominion, this time with AMF Bowling. Again, he headed elsewhere — with some assistance from the beyond.

“I was trying to decide between going there or pursuing golf again,” he says, “so I went to see a fortune teller in Ocean City. First and only time I ever did.”

“‘I see your future outside,’” Salvio recalls the seer telling him after she flipped over a handful of her tarot cards. “‘It’ll cost you 10 bucks if you want me to continue.’”

“‘That’s all I need to know,’” Salvio responded.

Described by colleagues as a problem-solver, Salvio figured out his spring dead spot problems with a little help from industry friends.
© courtesy of Ocean City Golf Club (3), Mike Salvio (1)

Some years since then have provided more challenge than others. This year, for instance. His crew withered from 20 to four during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic in March and Hurricane Isaias hammered the course in August, splitting healthy elms literally in half and dropping about 20 trees in all. And Hurricane Sandy, he recalls, “came in about 60 miles north of us and I have never seen anything like that, never dealt with anything like that.”

Johnson, Bradford and Seitz have been key with every challenge on the course. So has Syngenta.

Banner Maxx II, Briskway, Daconil, Heritage, Posterity and Velista fungicides, Ference and Scimitar GC insecticides, Divanem nematicide, Primo Maxx plant growth regulator — Salvio schedules them all. “My chemical building looks like a Syngenta warehouse,” he jokes. “They’re all part of my regular rotation, every year. Briskway I use in the summertime and make two applications a year, Secure I make probably five applications a year, and Daconil Action, I tell you, I use it a lot.”

Once-prevalent spring dead spot (before) has disappeared from the Midlawn Bermudagrass fairways since Salvio turned to Velista.
© courtesy of OCEAN CITY GOLF CLUB

While those products provide him with “healthy turf” and “reliable, predictable control,” he still experienced turf issues — chief among them the chronic spring dead spot on 22-year-old Midlawn Bermudagrass. “I was at my wit’s end with the third fairway on the Newport Bay golf course,” he says. “No matter what we applied in the fall, every spring, the patches coalesced and it would be (late July) until it was nice again.” His longtime territory manager Doug Rider suggested a trial on the worst fairway, treating half with Velista fungicide and half with tebuconazole. “The results were so dramatic,” Salvio says, “that I expanded Velista treatments the next year. Our worst fairways became our best.”

So much so that when Rider arrived to check out the results, Salvio introduced him to Buddy Sass, the Ocean City Golf Club pro since 1998. “I was walking nine holes after work and I called Mike to tell him, ‘Wow, dude, this is unbelievable. It’s our best fairway,’” Sass says. “Mike is a problem-solver. He’s not afraid to ask for help. I let him know when I see issues and we give him some latitude to figure things out and not just be reactionary.”

“That was really eye-opening for me, that this could not only help Mike out, but also other superintendents who deal with the same issue,” says Rider, who worked as a superintendent until 2008. “A lot of superintendents, they’re very detail-oriented and they’re always their own worst critic. Golfers and even professional staff don’t notice small blemishes. For a golf pro to go out of their way to say that bodes well for the work he’s done.”

Covering 30 acres of fairways with Velista would have stretched the budget, so Salvio opted to apply Posterity fungicide wall to wall twice last fall and spot treating Velista on the worst fairways. “I didn’t have one spring dead spot this past winter, knock on wood, and the turf came out of dormancy better. I think the holes where I used Velista, the turf quality was significantly better.”

Because annual bluegrass weevil is relatively new to the competitive Ocean City market, Rider also introduced Salvio to WeevilTrak.com. The updates, Salvio says, are accurate enough that he has saved time scouting the course, and the soil temperature map is an unmatched resource. “The readings are amazingly accurate,” he says. “I’ve done spot checks and they’re within half a degree. This is invaluable to me when making preemergent applications in the early spring, especially when we’re aerifying and cleaning up from winter. Proper timing gives me the best value.”

Once-prevalent spring dead spot has disappeared from the Midlawn Bermudagrass fairways (after) since Salvio turned to Velista.
© courtesy of OCEAN CITY GOLF CLUB

All those applications prove that, as Salvio and many other superintendents often point out, time is money.

Money is money, too, of course and Ocean City Golf Club should enjoy a stronger 2021 thanks to both Salvio’s thorough application schedule and a recent anniversary membership program that attracted more than 2,000 new members over the last year and overhauled the club’s business model. The restructuring allowed the club to weather being shut down for nearly seven weeks because of the COVID-19 pandemic, finally reopening May 7 after Maryland governor Larry Hogan cleared the state for play. “Other than losing that revenue in the spring,” Salvio says, “we’ve had a record-breaking year when we’ve been open.”

Next year will be big for Salvio personally, too. He and his fiancée, Carla, have a February wedding on their calendar.

“How fortunate am I?” Salvio asks. “I work for a great organization, I live where I want to live. It’s nice to love what you do and do it where they appreciate you and in an area you love. I’m really fortunate.”

Consider that a lesson learned — and passed along to the next generation.