Operation Double Eagle tees off

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Located just miles from the Masters, an ambitious new program focuses on preparing injured veterans for golf course maintenance careers.

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December 8, 2020

© courtesy of scott Johnson/ The Warrior Alliance

Jeremy Tindell was 25 years old and five years into his military career when he jumped out of an airplane over South Africa, tangled with another soldier and plunged toward the ground. Tindell survived and continued to serve in the 75th Ranger Regiment, an elite force in the U.S. Army Special Operations Command, but he had fractured his lower back. He slid from a position with the infantry over to the staff. He worked behind a desk for most of the next 15 years. 

“It kind of slowed my promotion and progression,” Tindell says. “They kept me within the unit and helped me to rehabilitate the best that I could.”

Tindell eventually transitioned to become a career counselor within the unit. He retired in 2018, Sergeant First Class, with two full decades of service. He served his last three years at Fort Gordon — the current home of the Army Signal Corps, the Army Cyber Corps and the Cyber Center of Excellence — in Augusta, Georgia.

Augusta, of course, is a fine place for a young man who loves golf and Tindell dived into the game even before he retired. Some days, he can play 18 holes. Other days, because of lingering injuries related to that tangled jump, he might be able play three or four. Before this year, he had worked security each of the last five Masters at Augusta National Golf Club, sitting in what he calls “the catbird seat” near the practice green and the first tee. 

“I meet probably tens of thousands of people,” he says. “I love meeting people. I love conversations, just being personable.”

And that personability, that love of the game, that military drive for perfection to help his fellow servicemen and women, all blended together, helped make Tindell the perfect candidate for the position he holds in retirement: veteran outreach coordinator for The Warrior Alliance’s Operation Double Eagle.

© courtesy of scott Johnson/ The Warrior Alliance

Launched in 2018, The Warrior Alliance is one of about 43,000 veteran service nonprofit organizations. Its stated mission is to help veterans, or Warriors, and their families achieve a fulfilling civilian life by promoting collaboration between the organizations that can support them during the transition from military service.

Operation Double Eagle is just part of the organization but could become an incredibly valuable resource for the golf course maintenance industry: If the program develops like Tindell and Scott Johnson, the president and executive director of The Warrior Alliance, forecast, it will produce a cohort of as many as 15 injured veterans, trained in every aspect of the industry by a veteran college turfgrass program instructor, every nine weeks. 

Conducted at Augusta Technical College and led by Scott Smith, the 14 credit hour-program dives into turfgrass and golf course management, irrigation and pipe installation, pest management and pesticide application, water management, horticulture science, equipment safety, planting and legal — along with daily lab visits to the Double Eagle Performance Center and regular trips to Augusta Municipal Golf Club, a David Ogilvie design affectionately referred to as The Patch. Among the many projects for Operation Double Eagle Warriors: a renovation to bring The Patch up to code with current Americans with Disabilities Act requirements.

Completion will merit a Golf Turf and Landscape Specialist certificate. They will be prepared not for jobs but for careers.

“We’re lining up the employers on the back end,” Johnson says. “So it’s not like, ‘Finish this work, guys and gals, and then good luck to you. Here’s how you write your resume.’ We’re bringing the employers to them.” Landscapes Unlimited, Wadsworth Golf Construction and East Lake Golf Club have already expressed interest in cohort graduates.

“My long-term vision is not that we’re going to be able to build 500 people through this program every year,” Johnson says. “That’s not my goal. It’s to drive a 98 percent employment rate for everybody that comes through the program and we’ve become the pool of resources for the industry. … We can become a kind of constant workforce development program and even tailor some things for certain parts of the industry, like irrigation.”

For now, Operation Double Eagle will be limited geographically to Augusta, though Johnson and the rest of the team think it could scale up with more locations, more cohorts, more Warriors. “Our biggest challenge is getting the word out in the industry and finding organizations that are not just veteran-friendly but are committed,” he says.

A few big names might help that challenge become less of a hurdle. Bernie Marcus, the co-founder and longtime CEO of The Home Depot, helped Johnson build The Warrior Alliance from the ground up. Veteran Augusta University director of athletics Clint Bryant is a member of the board. The biggest name for industry professionals, though, is Marsh Benson, the senior director of golf course and grounds at Augusta National from 1990 until his retirement in 2015. 

“There are a lot of programs trying to provide veterans job opportunities,” says Benson, who serves as a strategic advisor for Johnson. “But oftentimes those job duties that come their way, I don’t think, respect the leadership skills that they’ve learned in the military.” The emphasis on careers rather than jobs attracted Benson, who never served in the military but whose family served in various branches back to the Civil War. Benson’s father, William Frank Benson, served in the 8th Air Force, and his uncle, Herbert R. Edmondson, was an Army Colonel in the Pacific.

Benson has no interest in “sitting on some board somewhere.” He wants to help make a difference. “Coming out of this program will definitely provide a head start,” he says, “and I really feel that in our industry, there truly are lots of opportunities or positions that can be careers. And I think there are facets of the business that also allow for somebody who gets experience like this to be an entrepreneur and start their own company — in irrigation, or software management, or heavy equipment operation, or you take care of an estate, you have a lawn care company.”

No matter where cohort graduates wind up — the pilot program of five is still finding their professional footing, and the first full cohort will wrap up its nine weeks of instruction and training this month — Tindell will keep in touch.

“We’re bringing a new hybrid of employees to the golf course industry when it comes to maintenance and management,” Tindell says. “And I’m dedicated to these guys and gals.”




Tartan Talks No. 53

When we’re looking to try something new on the Tartan Talks podcast, we know we can rely on Jason Straka and Kent Turner to enthusiastically participate.

Straka, a principal at Fry Straka Global Golf Design, and Turner, the director of grounds and golf course operations at Kenwood Country Club, combined for our first architect-superintendent episode last year to discuss the early stages of the renovation on the Cincinnati-area club’s Kendale Course. The project ended this summer, with nine holes reopening in June and the other nine opening in August. Pictures of the transformation sent to us from Straka sparked an idea: record a podcast with the duo about what they accomplished and learned in the past year. Consider it our first before-and-after podcast.

Plenty has changed since our visit to Kenwood in November 2019. But Straka’s and Turner’s zest for the renovation and their respective jobs has remained unyielding.

Enter bitly.com/StrakaTurner into your web browser to hear the podcast. Episodes can also be found on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify and other popular podcast distribution platforms.




GSA goes virtual

Bayer, John Deere receive favorable reviews for virtual Green Start Academy.

In March, when the COVID-19 pandemic was just starting to shutter shows, games and events that filled everyday lives, Bert Schmidt reached out to Mike Hirvela and the rest of the folks who had helped produce Green Start Academy — the annual program designed for the professional development of assistant superintendents and sponsored jointly by Bayer and John Deere — for the last decade and a half.

Schmidt is the global manager for market development and strategy for John Deere Golf; Hirvela is the Bayer CropScience Turf & Ornamental customer marketing manager. Along with other dedicated folks, they are responsible for turning Green Start Academy from idea to event. And like so many people in charge of events this year, the pandemic tossed so many knots in their plans.

“If we can’t hold Green Start Academy in person,” Schmidt recalls saying, “we might as well cancel it.”

Thank goodness, Schmidt says, not everybody listened to his suggestion.

“This program is too important,” Schmidt remembers Carlos Arraya, the assistant general manager at Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis and a Green Start Academy mentor, replying. “I don’t think we should cancel it. We should think creatively and try to do it virtually.”

And after a couple more rounds of emails and calls — and more than seven months of planning — that is exactly what happened.

Bayer and John Deere welcomed about 50 assistant superintendents — and about 100 program alums — to a unique Green Start Academy, conducted not over a couple days in North Carolina but over a month of Wednesday afternoons on Zoom. The sessions featured professional keynoter Jeff Havens, human resources professional Carol Rau, and Arraya dishing out advice that should help assistants transition from grass growers to real leaders.

The event also included a series of virtual breakout sessions with industry leaders — Arraya, Bob Farren of Pinehurst Resort, Lukus Harvey of Atlanta Athletic Club, Dan Meersman of Philadelphia Cricket Club, Grant Murphy of Barrie Country Club and PJ Salter of Riviera Country Club — that provided another opportunity for assistants to develop leadership tendencies, build professional networks and think about what they need to do to land where they want to be.

“I had never been on a Zoom call until my first Green Start Academy session, and I was skeptical I wasn’t going to take as much away, I wouldn’t be as engaged,” says Will Laine, assistant superintendent at Daniel Island Club, a 36-hole facility in Charleston, South Carolina. “I was skeptical I wouldn’t have the same experience others have before, but I couldn’t imagine going to an in-person event now, I got so much out of the virtual event.

“I almost wanted to back out at the last second, but I’m glad I didn’t. The little time it took out of my afternoons was worth it. Being able to set time aside one day a week, it was something I looked forward to. I prepped for it almost like I would prep for an exam.”

Laine attended breakout sessions with Salter, a rookie Green Start Academy mentor who followed up with recap emails and packed his Tuesday breakouts with even more guest presenters. (Salter scheduled time with longtime USGA Green Section officials Steve Kammerer and Todd Lowe, who moved to Bayer in 2018; his own mentor, Eric von Hofen of The Club at Weston Hills; Ralph Dain of the GCSAA; and resume wizard Erin Wolfram of Career Advantage.) Salter calls the sessions “a labor of love.”

“Who could I bring in from my network who’s helped me along the way and could help drive home each week’s points?” Salter says. “This stuff that they’ve taught the guys is golden. It’s right at the top of the list of things I wish I had learned in college.”

Marty Paget also attended breakout sessions with Salter. He worked as a superintendent at four smaller clubs in Kansas and Missouri during his 20s and 30s. Now 44, he’s an assistant superintendent at The National Golf Club of Kansas City in Parkville, Missouri. Spurred on by what he learned during the program, he says he plans to apply for first assistant positions at clubs with a national profile or a superintendent position at an 18-hole course larger than where he worked when he was younger — while still becoming more of a leader at The National.

“Sometimes you have to be a boss, not just a friend,” Paget says. “But it’s nice to interact with your team beyond just work.”

Like the rest of the 2020 attendees, Paget and Laine will have the option to attend a future Green Start Academy in person — and there will be future in-person events, along with an expanded slate of complementary virtual events open to all alums, according to Schmidt and Hirvela — and both expressed interest in cashing in on that opportunity.

The virtual event was fantastic, after all, but, as Laine says, “I would like to meet all these people in person eventually.”

— Matt LaWell




Course news

Rees Jones returned to Coral Ridge Country Club in Fort Lauderdale, Florida — a course designed by his father, Robert Trent Jones Sr. that will reopen this month following a project that included new greens, updated irrigation and improved drainage. The same design, playability and challenge will remain as a tribute to Jones Sr., whose vision was carved into the community.

© courtesy of Coral Ridge country club

Coral Creek Club in Placida, Florida, completed a renovation spearheaded by original designer Tom Fazio. The project included updating the playing surfaces with new modern Bermudagrasses to allow for faster greens speeds and more consistency, the updating of bunker positions and sand, improved tee locations, the expansion of the practice facilities, and the addition of new drainage to provide firmer and faster playability conditions.

Robert McNeil guided Donald Ross-designed Kernwood Country Club in Salem, Massachusetts, through a project that included construction of 44 new bunkers, removal of others and the reshaping of several more into grassy catchment areas and pitch areas.

Blythefield Country Club in Belmont, Michigan, host of the Meijer LPGA Classic, is completing the final stage of a major renovation and revitalization of its 18-hole golf course and club grounds. Chris Wilczynski developed improvement plans and has overseen the renovation.