Back to the future

Features - Turfheads Take Over

Charlie Fultz stepped away from being a superintendent more than a decade ago. The events of 2020 created an opportunity to return to the job he loves.

Subscribe
December 8, 2020

© charlie fultz Pictured: Heritage oaks golf course

If someone had told me that I’d ever be a golf course superintendent again, I’d have told them I never thought it possible.

I left the superintendent world in 2008 after 13 years as a head superintendent and almost 20 years in the business. My youngest son, Jakob, who was 4 at the time, had just been diagnosed with autism. In order to get him the services he needed, my then-wife had to take a part-time role with her job so Jakob could benefit from at-home services four days a week. Because of that move, I took a job with Grigg Brothers, now called GRIGG, as their Mid-Atlantic technical representative. I had a long-standing relationship with Mark and Gary Grigg and had actually tried out several of their products before they ever hit the market. Stepping away as a superintendent was an easy decision, one that I’d make 100 times out of 100.

I knew leaving the profession was tough, but it was even tougher visiting golf courses on a weekly basis throughout the Mid-Atlantic. I knew many of the guys maintaining those courses, but I missed being a golf course superintendent. I believe it is something that gets into the blood, and I just knew I wanted to be back running a golf course again.

As I stumbled into a three-year stint as a math teacher after my time with Grigg (eighth graders, no less), I had the opportunity to work on a golf course for several summers. The superintendent who got me into the business, Jeff Thompson, had grown in a gem of a course in central Virginia called Old Trail Golf Club, and I spent several summers spraying for him. It fed the itch I had, but I knew I ultimately had to head back to the classroom.

After getting back into turf and running my own athletic field management company, an opening with the city of Harrisonburg, Virginia, popped up. They were looking to hire an athletic fields supervisor, and after spending the last five years with my own company and having grown in four soccer fields in my hometown, I was ready for the job. I was subsequently hired and oversaw fields for the first five months of 2020.

COVID-19 hit in March and with it all the rec programs disappeared. We were maintaining fields with no play on them. Fast forward to late April: the superintendent at Heritage Oaks announces he is moving South and planning his retirement from the business. With COVID blocking any new hires, the city can’t hire a new golf course superintendent. A call from the assistant director to me opens a door that I thought was forever locked. Would I be interested in being the superintendent of the golf course while also maintaining the duties as the athletic field supervisor for the city?

As quickly as he asked the question, I responded. “Yes.” I was 13 years removed from being a superintendent — and just having hit my prime at 50, I knew I was going to have to re-engage my brain for the life of a superintendent. I knew it was going to be a challenge, but I felt all along I could do it.

It wasn’t that I forgot how to be a superintendent, I just had to remember how to be one. New (to me) fungicide chemistries, equipment upgrades, fertilizers and, oh, by the way, 25 acres of bentgrass tees, greens and fairways. Start date: May 11. I couldn’t think of a better situation to try to learn a golf course and what it’ll do than right before the start of the 100 days of hell.

Immediately, I was reminded of the fun of the job. Sleepless, worrisome nights. Hand watering collars and greens to keep them alive. Watching some tees die over the Fourth of July weekend when temps hit 103 degrees, the humidity drops to about 20 percent and the wind blows 20 to 25 mph all day. And, finally, Labor Day, aerification and the beginning of fall.

And I had a blast. I love this profession, I love this business and I love the challenges a golf course brings each day. From what I hear, the golfers seem to like what we are doing and the conditions are pleasing. While I don’t feel 37 anymore, I am upright and excited about Year 2 (which is really Year 15). It was a long, winding road but the end of the line was well worth the drive.

Charlie Fultz is the golf course superintendent at Heritage Oaks Golf Course and the athletic fields turf supervisor for Harrisonburg Parks and Recreation in Virginia.