Shaking up Muirfield

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Fast approaching its 50th anniversary, Muirfield Village Golf Club briskly completes a renovation while reloading its staff.

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June 2, 2021

© chad mark

Muirfield Village Golf Club is best known for its association with Jack Nicklaus and for annually hosting the Memorial Tournament, with the 2021 version showcasing the results of a major renovation completed on a tight schedule.

Following consecutive PGA Tour events last year, including one scheduled on late notice, the crew at MVGC was literally taking up turf as the Memorial Tournament finished on July 19. LaBar Golf Renovations, Leibold Irrigation and TRW set to work alongside the MVGC crew, led by director of grounds Chad Mark, to fulfill Nicklaus’s vision for significant changes to the course. “The team we had in place made the whole experience one I will always treasure,” Mark says.

Mark’s favorite memory from the renovation was when Nicklaus and the team drove the course, hole by hole, and discussed improvements one day in fall 2019. Later, in the clubhouse, Nicklaus “told everyone we were going to move forward with the renovation,” Mark says. “A lot has happened, but I remember that day quite well.” From that momentous decision, there would be many more.

© chad mark

Generally, changes include reconstruction of the greens, irrigation work and the addition of a PrecisionAire system. Fairway and greenside bunkers have been rebuilt, the course can play up to 100 yards longer and tees have been resurfaced. Specifically, tees and fairways are covered in T1/Alpha creeping bentgrass, greens have L-93 XD/T1/007 creeping bentgrass and the roughs sport Kentucky bluegrass.  

“Only a handful of greens were replaced to match the scans completed prior to renovation,” Mark says. “Many greens ended up moving or having major contour adjustments. There are some dramatic changes that have made the overall experience even better. Mark adds that the goal was to improve the course, not to make it harder.

“Despite our veteran staff, we’re relearning how to take care of this place,” he says. “The greens react differently to irrigation and fertility. We have new tools, such as the PrecisionAire, that are game-changers. Managing new cultivars and having state-of-the-art irrigation is going to help us become more sustainable.”

In addition to the changes on course, there have been changes on the team. “Our program is built to move our people into jobs of their own and we strive to have our replacements in house,” Mark says. James Bryson and Adam Daroczy moved into head superintendent positions at Bedens Brook Club in Skillman, New Jersey, and Beechmont Country Club in Beachwood, Ohio, respectively. Nate McKinniss, Seamus Foley and Mitchell Cofer, already employees of MVGC, were promoted into lead management roles. “The stress is finding young talent we can develop,” Mark says. “Luckily, we have some great interns and assistants-in-training contributing tremendous energy.”

Mark continues to hire high school athletes for seasonal positions. Flexible scheduling helps, and the athletes are committed and pay attention. Thanks to a local basketball coach allowing Mark to speak with his team in December, MVGC filled most of their seasonal positions by Feb. 1. That’s a winning situation for everyone.

Having the right help is critical and there are normally 35 to 40 agronomy volunteers at the Memorial Tournament. This year, there were only about 24 — to respect COVID-19 protocols, maintain social distancing in the headquarters, create a manageable shuttle service and accommodate volunteers with separate hotel rooms.

“The overall challenge with the renovation was the condensed timeline to complete it,” Mark says. “We had to pivot off our plan. The worst day was Sunday of Labor Day weekend, the only day of weather that caused major damage. We had to lift sod that was undermined on the fourth and ninth greens and remove contaminated mix before recreating the surfaces from the scan and resodding. That was the first day I was glad we were sodding greens vs. the original plan to seed, as we would have had a lot of damage.”

Throughout the process, everyone had to roll with the challenges presented. A trademark quality of the best leaders in agronomy is maintaining perspective. Mark credits his family with helping. Even with all the demands at the course, Mark still found time for nearly every lacrosse and football game his kids played. One day, when work plans changed, Nicklaus and his wife, Barbara, both knew Mark had an important game to get to and they insisted he go. “They have a family focus, which makes them great to work for,” Mark says.

The renovation included plan changes, its own contours and demanding moments of cooperation, but the result is signature Nicklaus. And some things haven’t changed. Nicklaus is ensuring his vision is fully executed and Mark and his team are ensuring that MVGC is ready for the PGA Tour, club members and guests. The delicious milkshakes at Muirfield haven’t changed either, though maybe recent accomplishments make them even more satisfying.

Lee Carr is a Northeast Ohio-based writer and a frequent Golf Course Industry contributor.




Tartan Talks No. 59

Carrick

Doug Carrick is among the most prolific modern Canadian golf course architects. Like most of his peers, Carrick has transitioned from designing multiple new courses each year to renovating earlier work by architects, including some of his own.

“That’s probably evidence that I have maybe been in the business too long, when you start to go back and do renovation work on your own designs,” Carrick jokes on the Tartan Talks podcast. “That’s something I embrace and it’s great to have a mulligan and go back and make some improvements.”

Carrick hasn’t needed many mulligans. His portfolio includes more than 50 new course designs. He entered the business in 1981, started his own firm in 1985 and received numerous accolades following the unveiling of King Valley Golf Club in 1991. His work at King Valley led to desirable opportunities in his native Ontario and beyond. There’s even a course in Scotland named for him.

Visit the Superintendent Radio Network page on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and other popular distribution platforms to learn how Carrick established himself as a prominent golf course architect and his keys for sustaining success in the business.




Real talk with real techs

Trent Manning wants to highlight an overlooked aspect of the industry.

By Jack Gleckler

Trent Manning considers being an equipment manager a quiet line of work. Beyond coverage from industry-specific publications, those in his position aren’t known to the average golfer. Manning wants to change that.

Manning has been in the groundskeeping business since he was allowed to work. In 1995, at age 16, he began his first job as a groundskeeper at Ansley Golf Club in Atlanta, and he was promoted to equipment manager in 1999. He skipped out of Ansley for eight years to work elsewhere in the turf management industry, but returned in 2010 when he was rehired as Ansley’s equipment manager.

He’s a seasoned veteran of the golf industry. He also knows that due to the lack of coverage about the position, equipment technicians can feel isolated on their own course. There is a lack of horizontal communication between course technicians, and many don’t have a place to share their experiences in the golf industry.  

Instead of biding his time and hoping turf maintenance would become a more communicative field, Manning elected to kickstart the communication himself. His goal was to provide a media outlet for maintenance crews to realize the problems on their courses aren’t isolated. In fact, there’s a swath of technicians ready and willing to help them.

In early 2021, Manning recorded the first batch of episodes for Reel Turf Techs, a podcast dedicated to highlighting the work and sharing stories of equipment managers and turf technicians from around the golf industry. He had been planning to launch the podcast in 2020 but he wanted to learn how to properly create a podcast before he recorded one. If he was going to begin a show for the equipment manager community, he wanted to do it right.

“I didn't know anything about how you podcast, so I started that the year prior and tried to get my ducks in a row,” he says. “I’m not the end-all be-all but at least I could get my head above water before I launched the podcast.”

Before the podcast premiered on streaming platforms, Manning recorded a backlog that could’ve held the show over until May. But that was according to his first schedule.

The reception from listeners was overwhelmingly positive. Manning joked that the demand for more caused him to speed up release dates. “Originally my plan was every other week,” he says. “And after I released four or five (episodes) the audience was really enthusiastic. They were pushing me to do a once a week.”

This isn’t the first time a turf technician has started a podcast strictly for turf technicians, but Manning’s show is the most consistently uploaded. Despite being the host, Manning doesn’t consider Reel Turf Techs his podcast. Nor does he want it to be. He hosts it but he wants the podcast to be about the guests and their stories.

“The questions that I ask, I put together a survey and I sent it out to 75 equipment managers, and these were the questions that they wanted to hear,” Manning says. “So that's the questions I've asked (the guests). I really am just the host. I'll be the brains behind the operation, but this is an equipment manager community that's pushing the podcast.”

Manning figured the podcast has the potential to positively affect the industry. (Its Twitter account, @reelturftechs, already has more than 350 followers.) Equipment managers are humble about the work they do, but they are always willing to help each other.

“From my experience with equipment managers, they're open books. Anything they can help you with, they will,” Manning says. “That's part of the idea behind the podcast, we all just want to help each other. You can get any little tip or trick or whatever out of the podcast and helpyour facility. That's why we're doing it.”

Jack Gleckler is an Ohio University senior participating in the Golf Course Industry summer internship program. This is his first story for the magazine.




Course news

Pine Lakes Country Club in Myrtle Beach will be closed through early July for a greens and bunker restoration project. Founders Group International, Pine Lakes’ parent company, partnered with Craig Schreiner, ASGCA, ASLA, who spearheaded the course’s 2008-09 renovation, to lead the project. New Sunday Bermudagrass greens will be installed, replacing paspalum. The greens will also be restored to their original size, expanding the total putting surface area from 103,000 square feet to 124,000 square feet.

The Pulpit Club in Caledon, Ontario, has built a new revetted bunker using the synthetic material EcoBunker. The bunker was constructed over six days by contractor KCM Construction and is now one of the tallest revetted bunkers in the world. The bunker is on the fourth hole of the Pulpit course and has a 12-foot-high back wall. It was supported using railroad ties for more than 30 years after its construction in 1990, but decay on the ties necessitated renovation. The course was originally designed by Dr. Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry. Superintendent Rob Wright purchased a full container of EcoBunker, about 20 skids, for the project.

Great Oaks Country Club in Rochester Hills, Michigan, picked Chris Wilczynski, ASGCA, to develop and implement its first master plan in more than two decades. Nestled in the rolling hills of Oakland County and designed in the early 1970s by Bill Newcomb, the course has encountered challenges with drainage and an overall “sense of place.” “Drainage is an important part of the plan, but this is a family-oriented club, and we want to improve the overall experience,” Wilczynski says. The master plan also calls for the removal of several of the course's trees and a lengthening and shortening of the golf course.

All nine greens and the practice green at The Charlie Yates Golf Course at East Lake Golf Club outside Georgia are being converted bentgrass to Prizm zoysiagrass. The renovation also includes several tee repairs, cart path refurbishment and a restoration of the practice tee on the north end of the practice range. The project is scheduled to wrap in early July.

Paul Miller Design is leading the next round of renovations at the music-themed Montgomery National Golf Club outside the Twin Cities. An expanded pond area will improve storm water drainage off the adjacent residential area while adding playability improvements that will include fairway, bunker and approach area reshaping on the downhill par 4 named “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” The improvements will flow around the new Olson Guitar bunker that frames the right side of the golf hole.




Remembering Arthur Hills

Arthur Hills, ASGCA fellow and past president, died May 18 in Toledo. He was 91.

A graduate of both Michigan State University (in science) and the University of Michigan (in landscape architecture), Hills excelled as an MSU golfer. He formed his golf course architecture firm in the 1960s and today, more than half a century later, Hills • Forrest • Smith continues to “create golf course designs that stimulate the senses, display creativity and honor the hallowed traditions of the game as they relate to strategy, shot values and aesthetic character.”

Hills designed more than 200 new golf courses and renovated more than 150 other courses. His new designs include Bonita Bay in Naples, Florida; The Golf Club of Georgia in Atlanta; Bighorn Golf Club in Palm Desert, California; Keene Trace Golf Club in Lexington, Kentucky; and Hyatt Hill Country Resort in San Antonio. Hills-designed courses have hosted many distinguished amateur and professional tournaments, including U.S. Opens and the Ryder Cup.

“Arthur became a father-like figure to me,” said ASGCA past president Steve Forrest, who worked with Hills for 42 years. “He was a mentor, an instructor, exhorter and admonisher while always trying to improve his own skills and increase his personal knowledge every day.”

An environmental pioneer, Hills designed the first Audubon Signature Sanctuary courses in the United States, Mexico and Europe. ASGCA past president Pete Dye called Hills “the Mayor of Naples” for the number of private country club courses that he designed in and near that coastal Florida location.

An inductee of both the Ohio and Michigan Golf halls of fame, Hills received a lifetime achievement award from the Michigan Golf Course Owners Association. He is survived by his wife, Mary. They have eight children, 24 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.