Jun 21, 2024

Lessons Learned - Turfgrass Leaders

Good people in the turf industry bring expertise, innovation, and dedication.

These are two Q&As  I did with guys in the turf industry that I was going to tie into an article I was writing about Gord, the longtime superintendent where I work who was retiring after many years. I didn't use them then because I felt they were owed more stand-alone opportunities.

You can learn a lot from people in the turf industry, not only if you're in the turf industry but also in life. Turf Today had a great podcast from Jeff Jeffreys, the superintendent at Pinehurst Resort & C.C. (Course No. 2), this week's 124th US Open site. Be sure to check it out as well.

Lee Strutt
Director of Agronomy

How does greenkeeping in Cape Breton, Canada, vary from other parts of the world where you’ve worked? 

Amazing golf locations are often remote, this plays to the magic and atmosphere created when visiting a distant location, but also creates its own micro issues. Due to this remoteness, equipment and regular supplies have to be planned ahead to ensure that the business can achieve deadlines. However, the largest hurdle is recruiting talented people. With so many golf courses looking for talented turf professionals and with a decreasing pool of people to pull from, coupled with our remote location, this is an incredible challenge. 

 I was lucky to have played Cabot Links in 2012 and Cabot Cliffs in 2016. What, in your opinion, makes these two properties so unique? 

 You are one of the few who have enjoyed a visit to Cabot Cape Breton and experienced both golf courses. Both golf courses have phenomenal designs, each creating a unique experience that makes the journey to Cape Breton worthwhile. Both courses have their own character, allowing players to compare, contrast and debate which is better! However, the course designs have a strong feeling of playing links golf, the original game, the ball's bump and run, and the luck and misfortune of every shot played in all weather elements. The feel of being so close to nature and enhanced with the wiry fescue turf is a vital part of the feel of being in Scotland, an essential part of any visit. 

With all the accolades both courses have gotten over the years, is there any pressure for you and the Cape Breton Team to maintain this standard? 

 There is significant pressure to maintain our standards and understand how these can be further enhanced. There is a growing number of talented golf course designers creating new and beautiful properties that Cabot has to compete with, both in Canada and worldwide. As turf managers, we recognize that we are very much in the entertainment business and want to ensure our guests have a positive experience and memory to cherish. So, there is a lot of investment in time and money to ensure our high standards are implemented but still create an environment for our teams to help develop new ways to evolve and improve these standards. 

 What courses, seminars, education, etc., do you have lined up for this year to maintain that edge?

 During the winter months lay host to many of the important turf conferences with our turf association bodies. These are normally held in US, UK, Cananda and Australia, where both the opportunity to learn from peer reviewed research, new product developments, learning new effects of legislation on our properties. But also, a time to network and meet with existing peers and to meet new ones. This generates a very valuable network of growth in knowledge. The turf industry is one of the very few industries where knowledge and ideas are freely shared, allowing others to learn and use at our own properties. I also try to take the chance to visit other properties in season, to see what is being achieved and created and what could I weave into our own operation to improve our own customer experience. 

What advice would you give someone looking to get into the agronomy side of the golf industry, knowing what you know? 

It is one of the most rewarding and exciting professions where knowledge, experience and help is freely available. You will be entering an industry where you will make so many friends and acquaintances that could be spread right across the globe. This industry will stretch your knowledge and imagination covering so many aspects of our role that isn’t just limited to agronomy. People and talent development, environment management, fiscal awareness, project management and construction, chemistry, biology, presenting and sharing experience just to name a few. It simply is more than mowing grass. 

Morgan Stephenson 
Golf Course Superintendent 
Methodist University Golf Course
What is your background/history? (your present position and previous positions) 
I grew up outside of Raleigh NC and began working on a golf course at the age of 15. My uncle was a superintendent and that was my first job. I attended N.C. State university and got a degree in Turfgrass Management. I took my first Assistant Superintendent position at Dunes West Golf Club near Charleston, SC. From there I moved to Williamsburg, VA to help in the construction and grow-in of Royal New Kent and Stonehouse golf courses. Both were designed by Mike Strantz, who I had met and befriended during my time in Charleston. From there I went to Tobacco Road Golf Club an assistant superintendent and eventually superintendent. I remained at Tobacco road from 1998 until May of 2023. I am now currently the golf course superintendent at Methodist University. 
What challenges do you face as a golf course superintendent? 
I think our biggest challenge agronomically is always the weather and the unpredictability of it and being able to adjust accordingly. However, like all businesses we are all challenged with finding and retaining good help. Keeping up with golfer expectations with fewer people and a busier golf course is definitely very challenging. 
Having the only private golf facility/golf course for PGA Golf Management students, how does that differ from other places you've worked? 
It is definitely very different from most golf courses. The course is essentially closed from early May when the students head home to early August when they return. I don’t have the pressure of preparing the golf course for 200 people every day, but I still want the students to have a good experience. There are no tee times unless they have an event of some sort, so they pretty much have the course at their disposal. It’s also interesting to get to know some of the students and helping them get started with their careers.
Are there any significant projects this season for you and your staff at Methodist University? 
There is a lot of potential for improvements on the golf course. The first thing that can be done would be a tee leveling and enlarging project. Long term plans would include irrigation upgrades and a potential greens renovation. 
What advice would you give someone looking to get into the agronomy side of the golf industry, knowing what you know? 
I’ve always encouraged people in the golf industry to go through a construction or renovation. I feel you can learn so much from this experience that it will help you be a better superintendent. Also you’ll never quit learning in this profession so be ready for continuing education. 
What are your interests outside of the golf course?  
I enjoy playing golf with my wife, travelling, and spending time with my family.

No comments: