19th Hole

Golf’s unsung heroes

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Scott White, Golf Course and Grounds Manager at Donalda Club (Brent Long)

Friends, join me. Rise as one and raise your glass to the dedicated stewards entrusted with the living, breathing land canvases we draw (and fade) on every day. To greens superintendents right across Canada I’d like to propose this toast.

Here’s to these consummate professionals’ expertise, their resourcefulness, vision and, most importantly, here’s to the inherent ability they have for striking balance.

How, we need to ask ourselves more
often, do our “supers” do what they do? In
 a profession dictated by the randomness
 of Mother Nature’s moods they find the common ground necessary for scratch players, intermediate players, men, women, juniors, seniors, beginners, long-knockers and short hitters all to be collectively challenged. At the same time they manage to keep the game fun and interesting while respecting and preserving the traditions and integrity of the sport. You would be hard pressed to find a more delicate juggling act.

Here’s to the devotion greens superintendents have; how they rise before the crack of dawn, work long hours to
give us the best conditions possible, yet never complain about overtime. Here’s to their knowledge of turf management, soil conditions and, critical to the game’s most important financial asset, the foresight they possess in identifying disease or potential issues before they start. Those instances mostly go unnoticed.

Here’s to their understanding of sun angles, a golf course’s requirements for proper air flow, just the right amounts of irrigation and the positive attributes of a well-intentioned tree program. Let’s not forget their respect for environmental sustainability. Using
due diligence, not abuse, as their agenda, superintendents’ control of chemicals correlates with wildlife preservation and natural habitats. Each day they seek to reduce the game’s footprint on the land while ensuring healthy turf conditions.

Neither to be forgotten is how these
men and women serve the game beyond their primary responsibilities. While providing a conduit between the golf course and management, ownership, greens committee, and members/consumers,
many superintendents also serve as brand ambassadors. For their clubs, profession, and even the game itself they create awareness through media relations, promotion and education. They might well be golf ’s most diverse multi-taskers.

I ask now that you raise your glass even higher. Here’s to supporting our superintendents, to expressing our appreciation for everything they do for the game. Especially in need of support right now are those affected by the recent catastrophic events inflicted by Mother Nature’s ill will. None have been more dramatic or destructive than last year’s floods in Alberta and the winter carnage seen at courses across various regions of Ontario, Alberta and Quebec this season. Some facilities have seen merciless devastation. A few went months without opening this year; others still remain closed.

As these events unfold the uninformed or those who simply take certain unrealistic standards for granted will look for a venting portal, a scapegoat, someone to blame. Wrongly, and all too often, superintendents bear the brunt of this frustration. As if they don’t have enough pressure already, their shoulders are weighed more heavily by unfair and unmerited criticism regarding situations beyond their control.

At this timely juncture, with course
budgets tight, resources under siege and the industry experiencing a variety of issues, including weather, here’s to standing in our superintendents’ corner. By providing them and their equally dedicated staffs in their employ with words of encouragement, not misguided condemnation, we show our respect for this fraternity of skilled experts and the indispensable role they play in the sport.

Dr. Alister MacKenzie so eloquently wrote in his marvelous book, The Spirit of St. Andrews, “A good greenskeeper keeps a careful watch on his turf, and has sleepless nights until he has overcome everything that may be the matter with it.”

Next time you’re out on the course, take a moment, look around and ask yourself one simple question: without greens superintendents where would golf be?

Can I get a hear, hear?

This commentary originally appeared in Golf Canada magazine.