“I love a good Bermuda fairway,” Michael Shears Jr. says.
Shears is a Division I sophomore golfer at Vanderbilt University who narrowly missed playing the National Amateur Tournament after a disappointing 3 and 2 playoff loss. “A lot of people around here like Zoysia but I think it’s hard to beat a really, really good and tightly-mown Bermuda.”
Most college golfers will pay attention to whether they are in the fairways, but Shears sees more. He has work experience that differentiates him and has helped shape his perspective about many things.
“For greens, if they are good and firm, I like bentgrass, but if they are soft at all or mid-to-slower range, I would rather have Bermuda,” Shears continues. “It depends on how it is all playing.” He has competed a great deal but he has also spent time during three high school summers working golf course maintenance at Temple Hills Country Club in Franklin, Tennessee.
Shears says that THCC superintendent Larry “Goose” Goostree “had me coming in at 6:30 in the morning and I would basically just mow greens from 6:30 to 9:30 and then I would be done and be able to have the afternoon to go and practice,” for the first two summers. During Shears’ third summer at THCC, “we were doing a renovation of the driving range and adding another short range practice facility. That was my area to work — whether it was prepping it to put sod down, watering it, mowing it, taking care of that stuff was my focus.”
“I was happy to work with him,” Goostree says. “Now he is a fine young man. It has given him a good respect for what superintendents do and the challenges.”
Shears says that “you don’t really know until you are behind the scenes and you can look at all of the things that they do. You can put all of the pieces together and understand that it’s a really, really difficult job and they do a great job with the resources they have. With the weather being unpredictable – you never really know what you are going to get – you have to guesstimate a lot of the time and they do an amazing job with that.”
Vanderbilt men’s golf coach Scott Limbaugh adds that “Michael has a great work ethic and a really positive mindset.” Experience with golf course maintenance does give players a whole different perspective on the courses on which they compete and how conditions may affect a course.
Limbaugh talks to Jarrod Kepple, director of golf course maintenance at Vanderbilt Legends Club, where the team practices, “almost daily about our own practice facility as we are trying to create as similar conditions as possible to what we think we will see at our next event. Our maintenance crew takes great pride in our golf programs and they are truly a huge part of our team.” The Commodores made it to the NCAA semifinals in 2019 and are one of the nation’s top teams, so the maintenance team should be very proud.
Shears notes the team sees Kepple a lot and Kepple asks the guys how the greens are rolling and if there are things they want to see differently. Shears says we are sure to “tell him things are looking awesome” and the team is “so appreciative of the things they are doing to make our lives a little easier.”
Waking up early to work maintenance was one of the things Shears found most difficult, but at the same time, those early hours proved to be the most rewarding. Asked what he liked most about golf course maintenance, Shears responds, “I liked mowing greens, honestly. You get to be out there really early and it’s cool and pretty and the sun is kind of coming up. You get to see the golf course with nobody out there. Later in the day, you get people mowing fairways and cutting the rough and doing other things to get the course up to par but the best part was being out there super early and getting to see the natural beauty of the golf course.”
Shears appreciates being in Nashville and is a hard-working student, making it onto the 2019 SEC academic honor roll. He is deciding on a major — likely public policy with a business minor — and hopes to work in the golf industry. He also appreciates being able to spend a lot of time golfing with his father, Michael Shears Sr., who played golf for the University of Georgia. While he would love to play Augusta National or Pine Valley, his current favorite course is Bell Meade Country Club – “it’s not very long but it has a lot of character and it’s in great shape.”
The student-athletes on the team are aware of Shears’ maintenance experience and his knowledge, and sometimes, if they have a question, they say “Shears – what do you think?” He explains what might be happening technically and they laugh because “it’s kind of nerdy” but it’s all in good fun and they get better when they talk about the course together.
Shears is grateful for his opportunities but everyone can get in a slump. To find his way out, Shears “sticks to the basics. You have so much information at hand these days with all of the different technologies that are out there and people overcomplicate things. If you just get back to the fundamentals, whether it’s with your golf swing or a friendship or school or whatever, you are always going to find your way back to where you are going. I think that’s always how it has worked and I think that is always how it is going to work. Just try not to overcomplicate things and it is going to be fine.”
The hard work and dynamic team effort that it takes to create beautiful playing conditions are not lost on Shears. As he continues to enjoy the game of golf with his father, his friends, his coaches and his team, his grateful and positive attitude have a simple beauty of their own. Just beware, because even so, Shears is hard to beat on a tightly mown Bermuda fairway.
Lee Carr is an Ohio-based writer and regular GCI contributor. Photos courtesy of Andy Boggs, Vanderbilt University and Larry Goostree, Temple Hills Country Club.
Following an 18-month total renovation, Great Waters at Reynolds Lake Oconee has re-opened. The completely rebuilt, modernized and reconditioned version of the 1992 original includes 18 holes of championship golf along the Lake Oconee shoreline that looks almost exactly the way Jack Nicklaus first designed it.
“‘Spectacular’ is a pretty good word for the golf course,” Nicklaus said. “We created a little more of an exciting golf course with more variety, a golf course that is really strong again.”
Working within the guidelines of the original routing and strategy, the Nicklaus Design team rebuilt Great Waters from beneath the ground up, including new drainage and irrigation systems, as well as updated bunker designs that are a major part of the modern infrastructure.
“Every golf course has a life cycle, like a car,” said Chad Goetz, the Nicklaus Design associate who oversaw the Great Waters project. “Things wear out and things change a lot in 30 years. Technically, we rebuilt the golf course. It is the same golf course but now it is really polished.”
Extensive tree clearing took place to reduce shade and improve overall turf quality. This also allowed for wider fairways, which are Zeon zoysia, and rough, which are TifTuf Bermuda. Greens complexes are all new and have been converted to TifEagle Bermuda, a grass that should perform better in the shade and hold color in the fall. The grasses were selected for their ability to remain in top condition year-round.
New back tees were added to modernize the course without moving many fairway bunkers: As a result, Great Waters now plays to 7,400 yards, which should challenge the top college players in the annual Linger Longer Invitational. A new set of forward tees—at about 4,500 yards—will increase playability, improve pace of play, and encourage all players to move forward.
The par-3 8th is the only completely remodeled hole: It now plays over or along bunkers to a more receptive green.
“The nuts and bolts of the golf course were fantastic,” Goetz said. “We tried to distill the essence of the original golf course with a new one that accents the amazing land features that were already there.”
Reynolds Lake Oconee has been highly praised since opening in 1992 and is regularly rated as the No. 2 course in Georgia behind only Augusta National.
“The first time I went to Reynolds, I knew we had the potential to have a great golf course,” Nicklaus said. “I think we found it then, and now, more than a quarter of a century later, a wonderful golf experience remains but was in need of a little updating. It’s one of the really great pieces of property with which I have ever had the experience to work.”
Located between Atlanta and Augusta, Reynolds Lake Oconee includes courses designed by legendary architects: the aforementioned Great Waters by Nicklaus, The National by Tom Fazio, The Oconee by Rees Jones, The Landing and The Preserve by Bob Cupp, as well as the Members-only Creek Club by Jim Engh.
Sipcam Agro USA recently announced Todd Mason received a promotion to director of sales and development within the company’s turf and ornamental division. Mason will be responsible for daily customer sales, management of the account manager team, and the design and implementation of national field research studies.
Mason previously managed the southeast territory, key accounts and product development in the southern region. He holds an associate degree in ornamental horticulture.
“With our recent product expansion in our specialty business, we are thrilled to have Todd accept this role,” said Michael Maravich, vice president of sales and marketing, North America. “His ability to organize, manage and deliver sales results through team structure is exactly what is needed to help our customers achieve the highest level.”