126 tees? Why me?

Departments - Notebook

Superintendents learning to make maintenance tradeoffs as facilities implement design changes to attract new business.

January 14, 2019

Longleaf Golf and Family Club in Southern Pines, N.C., has seven tees on each hole.
© Trent Bouts

Jason Friedman mows so many tee boxes he could count them instead of sheep to fall asleep at night. There are 126 in all at Longleaf Golf and Family Club in Southern Pines, N.C. On the face of it, that sounds more like a nightmare for a golf course superintendent than the stuff of dreams. But Friedman has tweaked his operation to a point where the extra tee care is “effectively net neutral” from a maintenance perspective.

His facility is home to the Longleaf Tee System, a joint initiative of the American Society of Golf Course Architects and U.S. Kids Golf. In short, the system provides tees suited to a golfer’s driving distance so that long and short hitters are more likely to play the same club into a green. Colored markers on the driving range help players determine how far their drives carry and, therefore, which tees they should play.

The Longleaf system, with seven tees per hole, was one of the stars of a recent ASGCA Foundation symposium on “Forward Tees and Other High-ROI Ideas” in Pinehurst, N.C. Along with short courses, putting courses and courses with fewer holes, speakers reported that concepts like the Longleaf system are resonating with busier and younger golfers.

“I don’t have people coming into my office telling me they play here because we have tees better suited to their game,” Friedman says. “But in the pro shop, we are hearing that people are enjoying their time on the golf course and we can see that with increased rounds.”

Longleaf Golf and Family Club superintendent Jason Friedman.
© Trent Bouts

Longleaf’s owner and instigator of tailoring tees for how far golfers hit the ball, Dan Van Horn, told the symposium that rounds increased 20 percent in the year the system was installed and another 17.5 percent this year. “We’re trying to revolutionize how kids are brought into the game,” he says. “Other sports scale their playing arena for kids.” The Longleaf system allowed those kids and their much longer-hitting dads to play the same course at the same time.

Kids may be the primary audience, but they’re not only ones attracted. “In our first year, 93 percent of rounds played by women were played on tees that did not exist on the golf course previously,” Van Horn says. “People are asking for scorecards at the end of their round because they want to take them back to their course and get the same thing introduced there.”

To keep his budget “net neutral” despite maintaining so many extra tees, Friedman made savings in two key areas. The first was in reducing heavily maintained acreage in out of play areas, about 10 acres in all that are now “sandy, natural” expanses planted in part with lovegrass, wiregrass and broomsedge. “We’re not just saving money and labor, these areas now provide a contrast and help highlight the golf course itself,” Friedman says.

He has also trimmed about eight acres of fairway mowing across the course. Many of the forward-most tees are simply rectangles mowed at tee height in what was formerly the start of fairways. Allowing the bermudagrass around them to grow to rough height, not only reduces mowing but helps distinguish the tees, which Friedman paints in winter.

It takes a total of 16 hours to mow every tee – eight yards wide by 10 yards long – twice weekly in the growing season. Friedman mows with triplex units in straight lines. He tried rounding the corners to save a little time and money, but found the inside wheel, even with no tread, was wearing and tearing the turf. “It was just too tight a turning radius so now we back up,” he says.

Scott Brown admits he “wasn’t too enthused” by the idea of installing new forward tees at Surf Golf and Beach Club in Myrtle Beach, S.C. He felt he had enough on his plate. In two years as superintendent at the club, Brown endured an ice storm, flood and greens renovation. Then, six days after reopening, Hurricane Matthew arrived, bringing a direct hit from a tornado.

“Someone’s got it in for me,” he told the symposium in Pinehurst. “Besides famine, I think I’ve got it covered!” But with significant areas on the nearly 60-year-old course opened up by resultant tree loss, the club engaged architect John LaFoy. “When he started talking about putting in forward tees, I wasn’t too enthused,” Brown says. “But I started looking at the demographics of our club.”

What he found was that just 2 percent of the membership was between the ages of 16 and 35, and about 80 percent of men were 65 years or older. “Maybe I was part of the problem,” Brown says. “They’d come to me saying they couldn’t get on the green in two on some holes, and I’d just tell them to find another tee box to play.”

You could say those aging men “saw red” at that suggestion, the red color of what they had always known as “ladies tees.” When LaFoy installed new forward tees, creating a new course option of about 4,000 yards Brown learned he could entice some of those male members forward if he painted the tee markers silver or, on some holes, a mix of half silver and half red.

“We now actually have eight different tees and combination tees to help put the fun of golf back into play,” he says. “We see kids out there now with their grandpas on same tee boxes enjoying themselves … This forward tee stuff is awesome. It’s been a real eye-opener for me.”

Trent Bouts is a golf writer and editor based in Greer, S.C., and a frequent GCI contributor.

Superintendents participated in interactive exercises at the Syngetna Business Institute.

#SBI18: Everybody’s different

Before reading any further, update your resume. Start brainstorming ideas for a 250-word essay describing why three days of business training will help you, your crew and your course.

Done yet? Chill. Time is your friend. Applications for the 2019 Syngenta Business Institute won’t open until the spring. Attendees of the previous 10 versions urge colleagues to devote tremendous effort, energy and enthusiasm into applying. Who can’t learn more about the most important shade of green at any golf operation?

When two-dozen superintendents gather at Graylyn, a throwback hotel and conference center owned and operated by Arnold Palmer’s alma mater later this year, the same part of the program will generate animated conversations like it did last month.

Topic: Leading across cultures & generations

Presenter: Amy Wallis

Get your ice cream – a bountiful SBI perk – ready.

Wallis is the organizational behavior expert who stands in front of the room and listens to supervisors reeling from a challenging year lament the work habits, attitudes and lifestyle choices of younger generations. To the surprise of some superintendents listening to Wallis, managing a golf course maintenance team isn’t much different than leading workers in other industries. Success hinges on motivating people hailing from diverse backgrounds.

Supervisors in all fields flop because they can’t connect with others who aren’t like them. Learning how to prevent managerial implosions takes longer than one continuing education class. “We’re not going to come to conclusions in a couple of hours,” Wallis says.

But quality discussions spark engagement and this one had plenty, with superintendents revealing the makeup of their respective crews during the culture portion of Wallis’s presentation and their bewilderment with millennials in the generational part. Don’t know what bewilderment means? Your phone will tell you. Phones, expectedly, crept into the generational conversation and superintendents are as split on their role in the workplace as they are on robotics and other technology-themed topics.

The American workforce, Wallis says, has shifted from an industrial economy to a service economy to a knowledge economy. Golf course maintenance touches all three segments, expanding the potential for workforce diversity. Some employees enjoy physically producing a daily product such as a well-conditioned course; satisfying members and guests motivates other employees. Data and design might attract another segment of employees, making a golf facility part of the knowledge economy. Imagine an automaker placing the assembly line, dealership and corporate offices on the same plot.

Understanding the differences between cultures and generations takes years of unwavering practice, and the process involves a tenuous start. “Unless proven otherwise, we assume everyone is like us,” Wallis says. The slides, words and activities Wallis crafts for her SBI presentation nudge superintendents toward considering a customized form of management. Different cultures and generations possess distinct values and motivations. Handling a 19-year-old who wants a summer job on a golf course because it fits an outdoorsy lifestyle like somebody striving for a superintendent job at an elite club is a modern managerial blunder. And good luck fielding a crew if you force employees to work every weekend and holiday.

Superintendents needed their employees more in a challenging 2018 than most of their employees needed a golf course maintenance job. Historically low unemployment rates and soaring wages mean hourly workers should have incredible leverage and options again in 2019.

Agronomy degrees are more plentiful than psychology degrees in the turf business. But people are changing faster than turfgrass varieties or irrigation practices, and higher cultural and generational learning must be incorporated into any continuing education strategy. “When you chose this career path, you probably didn’t know how much you’d be managing different generations and cultures,” Wallis says at the beginning of the session.

Enter the business for the turf or the sport. Establish longevity because of the different people you will lead.

Now about Arnold Palmer’s alma mater and Wallis’s place of employment …

Wake Forest is an enchanting place to learn for three days, even if the school doesn’t sit in the same location as it did during Palmer’s college days. Get a customized essay ready.

Guy Cipriano is GCI’s senior editor.

Tartan Talks No. 30

Harder assignment: Designing a golf course or writing a book?

“Designing a golf course is far easier than writing a book,” Dr. Michael Hurdzan says. “And writing a book is far easier than finding things to illustrate the point that you are making.”

Hurdzan wrote enough words and found the proper images to recently release, “Golf and Law,” the seventh book in a storied design, writing and speaking career. The book examines golf course safety, security and risk management, a trio of topics Hurdzan discusses with tremendous zest in a Tartan Talks podcast.

“Safety, security and risk management on golf courses is something that’s not taught in any turf program,” Hurdzan says. “It’s something that you have to be mentored in, or something you have to want to study and learn.”

Hurdzan collaborated with friend and Golf Digest architecture editor Ron Whitten, a former trial attorney, on the book. Besides describing the impetus for the book, Hurdzan offers suggestions in the podcast for superintendents and other managers looking to create or bolster safety programs. Enter https://goo.gl/veYSr5 into your web browser to hear Hurdzan’s ideas.

Social media superstars

Sun. Sand. Coastal serenity. And social media.

The industry’s brightest indoor show returns to San Diego as GCI and Aquatrols will present the eighth annual Super Social Media Awards at the 2019 Golf Industry Show.

The awards recognize individuals and organizations who do the best job of using social media to communicate about their programs, practices and industry at large. Winners will be honored during #GCITweetUp19 at 3 p.m. PDT Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2019 at Aquatrols both #3845 inside the San Diego Convention Center. The celebration begins at 2 p.m. with a happy hour and live music in the expanded booth. Use #GCITweetUp19 to follow live coverage of the event.

And the winners are …

Kaminski Award

Jason Haines, Pender Harbour Golf Club, Pender Harbour, British Columbia

Best Overall Use of Social Media

Craig Boath, Carnoustie Golf Links, Carnoustie, Scotland

Jessica Lenihan, Hayden Lake Country Club, Coeur d'Alene, Idaho

Best Twitter Feed

Paul Van Buren, Kanawha Club, Manakin-Sabot, Va.

Scott Ramsay, The Course at Yale, New Haven, Conn.

Best Blog

Tyler Bloom, Sparrows Point Country Club, Baltimore, Md.

Kevin Komer, Stowe Mountain Resort, Stowe, Vt.

Best Use of Video

Ontario GCSA

“Today in Ontario”

Conservation Award

Matthew Gourlay, Colbert Hills, Manhattan, Kan.