Fantasy camp for turfgrass managers

Columns - guest column

May 16, 2022

© chad allen

Adult fantasy camps run the gamut of genres. There are space camps, theater camps and baseball camps. There’s even a zombie survival camp where you can learn how to effectively throw a knife, use a crossbow, practice first aid and employ Zombitsu to defeat evil. Don’t ask me what Zombitsu is. If that’s your thing, they got it for you.

My thing is anything to do with golf course management and turfgrass. Anyone who knows me understands how enthusiastic and dedicated I am to honing my craft and developing my agronomic skills. That’s why I decided the next logical step in my turfgrass management career was to volunteer at a PGA Tour event. I was lucky enough to be selected to volunteer at the 2022 WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play at Austin (Texas) Country Club.

When you arrive at a fantasy camp, I must assume, you are in awe of what is about to happen. My experience at Austin Country Club was no different. Championship-level golf is completely different than your everyday golf course setup. Superintendent Bobby Stringer and his crew had Austin Country Club at a level of perfection I have never experienced.

There was no Zombitsu performed at my fantasy camp. Days were filled with cleaning green and tee surrounds, blowing leaves, and hand watering greens and fairways. This might not sound fun to everyone, but I loved every minute of it. Working alongside a well-oiled machine, like that of the Austin Country Club agronomy department, was a privilege and an honor.

I could have just executed these jobs and been completely satisfied. But I received the opportunity to “go inside the ropes” on multiple occasions. I like to think that, in any situation, the more you apply yourself the more you will get from that situation. I try to live that philosophy every day and it always seems to pay off. This time it paid off in spades.

I participated in the PGA Tour Competition Agronomy data collection team led by Thomas Bastis. We took measurements twice a day, looking at firmness, moisture levels and Stimpmeter readings. The metrics are used to keep the greens consistent and at tournament quality. Having the ability to ask questions and see how data are collected for these events had a profound and instant effect on my turfgrass philosophy.

I also received the opportunity to help set the cups for the final pairing. What a thrill it was to know that the winner of that week’s tournament — which happened to be eventual Masters champion Scottie Scheffler — would be putting to a cup that I help set. I was also asked to help keep greens cleared from the live oak leaves that fall in Texas during that time of year.

One day, another volunteer and I were stationed inside the ropes directly behind the 18th green. Depending on a player’s approach shot, we were sometimes feet away from the action. We were asked to blow leaves off the green between groups. Have you ever been cheered for blowing leaves? I have. It still gives me goosebumps thinking about it.

Your experience is only as good as those around you make it, and the Austin Country Club agronomy team provided an atmosphere conducive to learning and developing. Everyone went out of their way to be friendly, and I could see and feel a genuine sense of family within the crew. I was impressed by not only the course but by the staff and their willingness to go the extra mile.

If you are a turfhead, this fantasy camp has exactly what you are looking for. The relationships and connections established in a short amount of time represented the best part of the experience. I connected with turfgrass professionals on a previously unknown level. I collaborated with them in the heat of battle. There’s no better learning experience.

The connections go far beyond work life. I got to know several people on a personal level. That’s what this business is all about. We are in the people business. Having these connections to talk with — not just about turf but about things outside of turf — is a real game changer for me.

I have experienced a lot of firsts this past year. I published my first article, attended the first Green Start Academy hosted at Pinehurst Resort, got my first dog and volunteered at my first PGA Tour event. Turning fantasy into reality … that’s the dream. I’m living it every day.

Chad Allen is the superintendent at The Club at Chatham Hills in Westfield, Indiana.