Guy Cipriano is GCI's editor.
Billy Covert is living a phenomenal Philadelphia turf existence.
A native of West Chester, a suburb featuring serene, rolling land 35 miles from the city center, Covert begins his junior year at Penn State this fall following an internship at Pine Valley Golf Club.
Yes, that Pine Valley. The sand-infused private golf puncher rests on the New Jersey side of Philadelphia, less than 50 miles from Covert’s home.
The Pine Valley experience follows a 2018 internship at Aronimink Golf Club. Yes, that Aronimink. The delightful Donald Ross course is 12 miles from Covert’s home.
Throw in a pair of weeks of volunteering at the 2019 PGA Championship and 2018 BWM Championship, and Covert possesses a dazzling resume, especially considering he doesn’t turn 21 until next year. The ambition and solid academic record led to Covert receiving the 2019 Stanley Zontek Memorial Scholarship presented by Golf Course Industry.
The scholarship, an unrestricted $2,500 grant, supports a turf student with a passion for the game and honors Stanley J. Zontek, the former director of the USGA Green Section’s Mid-Atlantic Region. Zontek died after suffering a heart attack at age 63 in 2012.
Covert has already walked some of the same land as Zontek. A Penn State graduate, Zontek was based in suburban Philadelphia at the time of his death. Zontek worked diligently with superintendents to improve playing conditions in the golf-rich Philadelphia region, which extends into southern New Jersey and northern Delaware. Zontek’s Philadelphia and Penn State ties intrigued Covert as he composed his scholarship essay.
“I learned he’s very hard-working and he loved his craft. He prepped for major tournaments and worked with the research behind everything,” Covert says. “I’m going to try to work at the research, learning more of the science behind what we’re doing.”
Covert, a turfgrass science major with a 3.73 GPA, spent the bulk of his first two academic years completing core courses. He’s stoked about delving into the turfgrass science portion of the Penn State curriculum, which will include visits to the University Park research plots.
Watching neighbors mow their respective yards sparked Covert’s interest in turf. By the time he turned 9, he was helping his father mow the family yard. By the time he turned 11, Covert was helping rake community baseball fields and playing Chester County’s fine collection of golf courses. Soon after discovering golf, he realized turfgrass maintenance careers existed and his state’s giant university supports a renowned program in the subject. “Ever since I can remember, it’s been Penn State, Penn State, Penn State,” he says. “Once I got into Penn State, I knew I was going to Penn State.”
Major rewards, in practicality and prestige, are associated with Covert’s early career decisions.
At Aronimink, he worked under longtime superintendent John Gosselin and obtained hands-on guidance from then-lead assistant Tim Kelly, now the head superintendent at Exmoor (Ill.) Country Club. In a letter of recommendation for the Zontek Scholarship, Kelly wrote, “Billy is honest, hard-working, dependable, and takes a great deal of pride in his trade. He asks the right questions at the right times and not only heeds advice well but implements thoroughly.”
Covert left Penn State for a week last September to help the Aronimink team host the BMW Championship, the third leg of the 2018 PGA Tour FedEx Cup Playoffs. Heavy rain pushed the tournament’s conclusion to Monday. “I learned a lot about overcoming challenges,” he says. “By Sunday, all the volunteers had left, so for the Monday finish we only had our crew prepping for that final day. You saw what it was like overcoming a huge obstacle to get a course in tip-top shape with only a certain amount of people.”
At Pine Valley, Covert works under longtime superintendent Rick Christian and receives hands-on training from assistant William Rocco. Covert averages 60 hours per week at the course and his bosses incorporate interns into a variety of assignments and projects, including spraying, mowing, irrigating, fertilization and sod work.
“I have been very fortunate with my internships,” he says. “It has been awesome to work for John Gosselin and Rick Christian. You learn a lot with them, especially from their assistants who are very helpful with guiding you.”
The past two summers have reaffirmed the reasons Covert pursued a turf career at a young age. And when he peers into his long-term future, he already sees a geographic fit. “I want to end up in the Philly area,” he says.