Between overseeing course maintenance and marriage sites, superintendents rarely find opportunity to get on one knee … at least on the job.
Fueled by a pandemic-era rise in wedding patrons seeking outdoor spaces for nuptials, courses and clubs of all manner — private, semi-private, public, resort and municipal — have seen a dramatic increase in golf locales serving as multi-purpose facilities. According to the wedding-centric site TheKnot.com, 8 percent of all domestic weddings were held at golf clubs last year. Additionally, if not moreover, the chance to wedge further into a domestic wedding industry valued at nearly $60 billion annually (and that doesn’t even include honeymoon spending!) has myriad course owners and operators across the nation deferring to superintendents for double duty of aesthetic oversight.
And with apt recognition that the median cost for an American wedding is more than $25,000, it isn’t lost on agronomists that what’s good for the goose is good for the grounds.
A union of maintenance
Even considering the ascent in golf rounds during recent years, weddings still butter the bread for many facilities. The superintendent’s responsibilities for ensuring that nuptial and banquet sites are on par with course conditions is paramount to keeping ceremonies on the books, even at the sacrifice of occasionally diverting time and staff away from golf turf.
At Southern California’s Temecula Creek Inn, a pair of all-seasons wedding sites sees upwards of 150 ceremonies a year, with the name venue, the Stonehouse, located directly adjacent to the course of the same name.
“The bosses understand the vast amount of acreage out here to maintain on the courses, but I also respect that the wedding venues are also very much a part of my job,” says Brett Wininger, head superintendent at the Inn’s 27-hole Temecula Creek Golf Club. “I don’t complain. About anything. Golf is more profitable nowadays, but the weddings, they’re very lucrative and getting positive reviews. It can snowball for a property.”
Enhancing profits by way of weddings can, in turn, lead to more on-course resources.
“For me, it’s easily understood, in that we know that’s where the revenue really comes from,” says Tom Height, superintendent at The Golf Club at Frosty Valley Resort in Danville, Pennsylvania, a member club with wedding facilities open to the public. “So, the better that does, the more funding we’ll have access to for our operation.”
Concurrent to the club hosting well over 30 weddings a year, Frosty Valley’s warm welcome further presents 20 cottages on property.
“From a golf standpoint, our memberships are doing really well and bringing in revenue, but the ROI on weddings is much, much higher than the golf course,” Height adds. “An understanding of that makes sure I set aside time and labor to keep our wedding venue in as good a shape as I do the course.”
From the coasts to the Upper Midwest, geography doesn’t alter the mindset.
“Making money on golf alone in Minnesota is very difficult for anybody. We need all of it: the golf course, the restaurant, and the banquet side,” says Matt Cavanaugh, superintendent at public-access Rush Creek Golf Club outside of Minneapolis. “When one of those is not doing well, it’s felt.”
Rush Creek is slated to host 90 weddings in 2022.
“For my duties, if the banquet side asks me for something, there’s no such thing as ‘No,’” Cavanaugh adds. “I’ll give them anything they want.”
Giving “anything” means no pause for seasonal conditions.
“We had nearly two feet of snow on the day of a wedding — in April,” Cavanaugh half-laughs. “As far as the maintenance staff goes, I live the closest to the course, and, literally, nobody else could get there. But the wedding continued. People showed up in the early afternoon, and, by early evening nobody was going to get out of our parking lot. I hand-shoveled every car out, and there were hundreds of cars. I was at the course from about 8 a.m. until around 2 a.m. the next day. And I got everybody out.”
Snow and sleet aside, the wedding onus on superintendents doesn’t pause for any climate or crew.
“Every Monday I head to the venues and do inventory on what needs to be replaced. Then I order my sod, lay it by Thursday and have it ready for Friday, Saturday and Sunday weddings. Every single week,” Wininger says. “And it can range from one palette to four or five palettes — and that’s about 2,500 square feet, which is a lotta work to take everything out and then put everything back. That sod work alone can take five or six guys off a crew, where we can fall behind on mowing.”
Big Day expectations come with big workloads in spurts. While hosting a more modest approximation of eight weddings a year, the affluent private club environs of The Olde Farm in Bristol, Virginia, presents earnest off-course duties for grounds’ staff across an on-site lodge, adjacent outdoor space, large pavilion and a restored “party barn” site.
“We’ll typically handle all the furniture moving in the lodge, and then, depending on the reception preferences, we’ll work on the whole pavilion setup or any kind of tenting, which can sometimes be massive, and might also require a flooring setup,” The Olde Farm superintendent Josh Pope says. “That can be quite a bit of work, and then we’ll also address all the landscape and mowing for those same areas.”
Labor concerns shared across the country can impact the extra workload.
“The weddings are huge. Certainly a major part of our overall operation and basically a weekend ritual during our season,” says J.P. MacPherson IV, superintendent at the semi-private Great River Golf Club in Milford, Connecticut. “In the past couple of years, we’ve come up with some unique solutions for how we maintain the course, our clubhouse lawns, landscaping and wedding venue area. We’ve kind of come up with a hybrid situation, utilizing local nurseries and landscapers to help us with our major plantings throughout the year during the turnover seasons.”
With particularly attractive, course-centric sites often in full view of nuptials, a little extra love may need be ensured for wedding and photo backdrops.
At Great River, 60 full-sized weddings are held annually, along with several smaller nuptial gatherings of about 40 people.
“Our wedding venue runs directly adjacent to our 10th tee box complex, and our lawn space next to our stone patio is where the post-wedding events move to,” MacPherson adds, noting that his staff has recently beautified or renovated golf spaces next to wedding sites.
At Desert Willow Golf Resort in Palm Desert, California, the upscale municipal facility bustled to the tune of 104,000 rounds across its 36 holes in the past calendar year. The popular locale’s terrace and event lawn space host around 60 annual weddings, with both venues overlooking the grounds’ Firecliff Course.
“For our event lawn, we treat it much like the golf courses. It’s overseeded at the same time, it gets mowed and fertilized,” Desert Willow superintendent Christopher Bien says. “Overall, the courses do take precedence. They’re what I’m looking at every single day of the year, because we have people playing here every single day of the year. The courses get more attention, but at the same time we always ensure that the wedding lawn is in great shape.”
Frosty Valley’s The Barn site hosts ceremonies of 300 people, all with full view of the course.
“And there’s an extraordinary amount of landscape around the space, including our driving range, which is right outside The Barn venue and can be seen from the inside,” Height says.
On occasion, intrepid parties like to venture beyond the ceremonial confines for lasting images.
“People will go out a little ways onto the course for images, and I’ve seen wedding photos on occasion where I go, ‘Dude, why did they take the photo there?’” Cavanaugh says. “Maybe that spot isn’t looking perfect, or maybe an irrigation head went out and there’s a big brown spot in the background of the picture. I notice that spot in a photo every single time.”
Beauty of a buffer
Clubs and courses with the benefit of an event planner or clubhouse manager on-staff (including all locales referenced herein) provide superintendents with a welcomed buffer between grounds and guest. Communication channels prove key for balancing time, resources, man/womanpower, and ensuring agronomists can stay (far) away from potential Bridezilla situations.
“Yeah, I’ve had a few Bridezillas,” Wininger says with a smile. “One wanted me to inspect for poison oak, and I’m thinking, ‘You know, there’s poison oak everywhere down there,’ so I just had to let her know not to go outside the confines of the venue. I’ve heard concerns about snakes or total last-minute flower requests on a weekend. That stuff can get a bit frustrating, but, again, it’s my job, so I do it.”
Height adds, “That communication is handled by our management. On occasion, there are things that we can do to alleviate any pressure, and it’s typically something pretty simple. So, thankfully, I don’t have to directly deal with that at all.”
Lines of concise communication run across the altar of conveyance.
“I’ve always made it pretty clear to our event planner and her staff that I need proper notification for everything to be able to work smoothly. If there’s not, they’re not going to get our help,” Pope says. “Ultimately, I have to look out for the golf course and make it known that, without great communication, there can be some issues. Personally, I always make it happen, so it works out for both golf and events.”
A fine line can exist between feedback and fuss.
“There will, on a rare occasion, be a weed here or there that we’re asked to address, or maybe there’s a request to trim back some plant material just so we make sure that a wedding dress doesn’t get caught up on it, which happened once,” Bien says. “But, most often, I don’t really hear about the wedding itself, just like our wedding coordinator doesn’t hear about a three-putt because somebody thought the greens were too slow.”
While golfers continually swing for that special round — superintendents recognize that weddings are, for many, among the biggest moments in somebody’s life.
“We know it’s the most special day in their lives, so there’s a drive to really keep your eye on the ball, so to speak,” MacPherson says. “A lot of attention to detail. We work tirelessly on the golf grounds, but, as most know, coming here seven days a week, you can run through the motions sometimes. But we know with weddings, it’s a day that’s particularly special. And that’s how we approach it as a team, that extra touch, even though it can be exhausting sometimes.”
Property pride can scorecard with a personal connection for wedding days.
“We really do have a beautiful spot, surrounded by all these mature oak trees. And I actually got married there myself, back in 2014, before I even worked at this course,” Wininger concludes. “Because of my own great memories there, I do have a special tie-in, so I’m proud to make that venue shine and there is an extra motivation to make it look really good.”