Bud White has learned plenty during his more than four decades deep in the turf industry: What you need to develop the ability to think critically through problems and how to solve them. How to evaluate products and separate testimonials from research. So many little things that trip up rubes and sage veterans alike.
White shared as many tips, tricks and lessons both general and specific as he could squeeze into three hours and change Monday afternoon during the first round of seminars at the Carolinas GCSA Conference and Show in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina — so many, in fact, that he nearly talked right through a scheduled halftime refreshment break. “Oh, right,” he said. “Be back in about 15 minutes. We’ll pick up right where we left off.”
A Greensboro, North Carolina native, White designed his seminar for younger turfheads — “Fast Lane Learning for Assistant Superintendents” is what the program promoted, though White opted for “10 Years in an Afternoon?” on his title card — and 26 of them packed the conference room. “These are the kinds of things that give the most people the most problems in my experience,” said White, who was a member of the USGA Green Section for 22 years and more recently moved to Arnold Palmer Golf Management, where he’s senior vice president for Century Golf Partners.
White dived deep into irrigation and how important effluent water will be in the years and decades to come. He dished on the importance of testing bagged sand, even the most expensive options — especially the most expensive options — whose only guarantees are being dry and being expensive.
He shared some course stories, too.
Not too many summers ago, White was visiting perhaps the most famous club in Oklahoma. An octet of interns, none of whom had ever planted Bermudagrass, were shaking seed in hundred-plus-degree heat. The turf was far warmer, needling 140 on thermometers. White returned to his car, switched into some work clothes he always travels with, and got out on the greens. “If you’re not careful,” he told the interns, “you can have a tough planting situation.”
Some time before that, White was at an unnamed club where one wealthy member loved trees enough to gift $150,000 — if the club matched that total. Nearly a third of a million dollars later, the course superintendent was out planting dozens of new trees, many of them 15, 18, even 20 feet tall. What made that project easy — or at least easier — was the previous development of a master plan that laid out what sort of trees were best in different areas around the course and detailed soil components and root systems.
White recalled the old Donald Ross axiom that any tree is too close if it can fall on a green. “That’s not a bad rule of thumb if you think about it,” he said.
Another course in South Carolina called in White on a May afternoon years and years back and the greens committee chairman asked him about shade. White offered not his opinion but the facts that trees surrounding various greens were too close and provided far too much shade. About a quarter of the green was covered. White suggested some thickets be thinned. “That’s a load of crap,” White said the chairman told him in front of about 15 people. “You Green Section folks just want to make the superintendent look good.”
White snapped a photograph of the green at that moment and said he would return in eight months. The January shade, he said, would prove his point. Here, back in the moment, White clicked to the next slide in his seminar and showed off that January photo. Nearly the entire green was covered with afternoon shade.
“I think I owe you an apology,” White said the chairman told him during that second visit.
“Buy me a cheeseburger,” White told him, “and we’ll call it square.”
Three weeks later, a tornado whipped through the course and pulled out more than three times as many trees as White had suggested for removal. “The worst thing you can do is cut a tree down and leave the stump,” White said. “If you grind up the stump and sod it over, nobody will ever remember that tree was there.”
Mother Nature ruled that day and plenty of others. White never did confirm whether he cashed in that burger apology.
Carolinas GCSA Conference and Show attendees resemble thousands of Myrtle Beach. Superintendents and their supporters, after all, enjoy experiencing the Grand Strand’s wide variety of golf courses.
Show week started with 369 golfers roaming three courses: Wachesaw Plantation Club, Caledonia Golf & Fish Club and Tru Blue Golf Club. Like any good golf outing, the number of laughs – and memories – even exceeded the number of birdies and pars etched into scorecards.
Behind the scenes of Tiger Woods’ fifth Masters win this year, another man also achieved a remarkable high. Brad Owen, golf course superintendent at Augusta National Golf Club, produced playing conditions at least one good judge described as the “best I’ve ever seen.” That observer was no less than Marsh Benson, who prepared the golf course for 26 Masters Tournaments during his own tenure as superintendent at Augusta National.
“Starting with the Augusta National Women’s Amateur, the Drive, Chip and Putt competition, culminating in Tiger Woods’ historic fifth Masters title,” Benson said, “This year’s Masters preparations and conditioning were the best I have ever seen.” Not surprisingly then, the Georgia Golf Course Superintendents Association recently named Owen their Superintendent of the Year.
Owen received his award to a standing ovation from nearly 200 people during the association’s annual awards banquet at Jekyll Island Resort early November. The award is presented in partnership with Corbin Turf and Ornamental Supply.
Owen started in golf course maintenance in the mountains of western North Carolina and moved to Augusta National 39 years ago, working under Paul Latshaw, CGCS and then Billy Fuller. When Benson arrived in 1989, he said he “inherited” Owen “pretrained” as a third assistant.
“I had the pleasure of working and sharing experiences with Brad through those many years,” he said. “Maybe one of my biggest challenges was just making sure I didn’t screw him up! Brad’s agronomic knowledge and experience, as well as his professionalism and leadership, have always been of the highest standards.”
Earlier on the night, the Georgia GCSA presented the Distinguished Service Award to immediate past-president, Greg Burleson, CGCS. Burleson was the longtime superintendent, on the other side of a chain link fence from Owen, at Augusta Country Club. He is now at Wade Hampton Golf Club in Cashiers, North Carolina.
Frank Siple, CGCS, was inducted into the association’s Hall of Fame. Siple retired in 2018 after a nearly 50-year career as a golf course superintendent and later as a sales representative for Corbin Turf and Ornamental Supply. Georgia GCSA Hall of Fame inductions are made in partnership with the Jerry Pate Company.
Rhett Baker from Ohoopee Match Club in Cobbtown won his second Georgia GCSA golf championship, presented in partnership with Greenville Turf and Tractor. Baker’s win was one half of a double for Ohoopee Match Club. The club’s assistant superintendent Jonathan Suma won the championship’s open division.
Tim Busek from The Manor Golf and Country Club in Milton was elected president at the association’s annual meeting. New vice-president is Chris Steigelman, CGCS, from The Landings Club in Savannah and secretary-treasurer is Nelson Caron from The Ford Plantation in Richmond Hill.
Three new directors were elected to the board – Brandon Bowen from Blueberry Plantation Golf and Country Club in Alma; Hoyt Ellsperman from Reynolds Lake Oconee, The Creek Club in Greensboro; and Brandon Hayes from Reynolds Lake Oconee, Great Waters.
Others recognized on the night and during the three-day end-of-year event included:
- Assistant Superintendent of the Year – Clint Connard from Piedmont Driving Club in Atlanta
- Retirements - William Smith, CGCS, after 31 years at the Country Club of Columbus
- 30-year Georgia GCSA memberships – Mark Hendricks of Greenville Turf and Tractor; and Courtney Young, CGCS, from Ansley Golf Club in Roswell;
- 25-year membership – Mac Fite, Howard Fertilizer and Chemical Company
- Sporting clays, presented in partnership with Syngenta – Superintendent division, Tommy Hewitt from Windermere Golf Club in Cumming; Open division, Jason Whitecliffe of Syngenta
- Photography contest – Adam Hoffman from Sunset Hills Country Club in Carrolton.