The team Josh Lewis leads at Sharon Heights Golf & Country Club includes assistants, technicians and dedicated hourly employees. Sounds like most turf departments, right?
Lewis tells anybody willing to listen that the team responsible for enhancing conditions at Sharon Heights is much bigger than the employees under his direct purview. That team includes Simplot Turf & Horticulture territory representative Akoni Ganir.
“I don’t do this on my own,” Lewis says. “I have trusted folks, whether they are superintendents, turf professors or vendors who, in all honesty, are coming to work with me every day. They are going to pick up the phone every time I call and Akoni is at the top of that list. I know he’s going to answer the phone and have solid grounded advice on whatever I’m dealing with.”
Lewis is in his third full season at Sharon Heights, a private club located in a stretch of the Bay Area known as “Venture Capital Row.” Tech and finance innovators and investors abound at Sharon Heights, creating what Lewis calls a “high-energy environment.” The biggest turf challenges stem from a lack of rain. “Given our current drought conditions in Northern California, we’ve only received about 5 inches of rain over the last 12 months which makes it very challenging to consistently produce high-quality conditions on a year-round basis.” Higher temperatures over the last few years are yielding an uptick in disease pressure as well.
By engaging a trusted network of turf professionals, Lewis positions Sharon Heights to stay ahead of potential problems. Ganir, for example, covers Northern California. The golf-rich region spans from the Monterey Bay to the Oregon border. After graduating from Oregon State, Ganir spent six years as an assistant superintendent at Cypress Point Club. He then worked as a superintendent at Tokatee (Oregon) Golf Club and Winchester (California) Country Club before joining the expanding Simplot Turf & Horticulture team in 2016. Ganir brought an ideal mix of superintendent experience and built-in contacts to his role, which involves helping superintendents manage changing environments.
“It’s a very satisfying part of this job to know that you’re an extension of their team,” Ganir says. “When I made the decision to go from being a superintendent to the sales side, it was a hard decision. I still wanted to be part of the industry and part of golf. This is where I found myself. I can still use my background, experience and knowledge to offer something to the industry.”
Relationships such as the one he possesses with Ganir are critical to a superintendent’s success, Lewis says. “To me, they are not salesmen,” he adds. “They are educated, qualified, well-traveled turf professionals that are there to help.”
Lewis and Ganir have traveled West Coast turf circles together. The pair met at an Oregon State alumni tournament in 2007 at Chambers Bay, the Pacific Northwest course where Lewis worked as superintendent for the 2015 U.S. Open. Fellow Oregon State alum and turf enthusiast Jason Oliver introduced the duo. Oliver, an assistant superintendent at Stanford University Golf Course, died tragically at age 25 in 2010. Lewis was working at Pasatiempo Golf Club and Ganir at Cypress Point at the time of Oliver’s death.
“At that point, Akoni’s and my friendship on a personal level really took off, because that both hit us really hard,” Lewis says. “Even to this day, we have a lot of conversations. We will be sitting there at GIS or at an industry event or playing golf somewhere and out of nowhere one of us will say, ‘Man, Jason would have loved this.’”
Lewis returned to Northern California following the 2015 U.S. Open to accept the superintendent job at Almaden Golf and Country Club in San Jose. A year later, Ganir helped Simplot Turf & Horticulture establish its presence in the region. Their relationship and success would have made Oliver proud.
“I look at it like we are all on the same side and trying to accomplish a goal,” Ganir says. “The goal is to grow great turf and provide great conditions for golfers.”