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Course superintendents want respect: Your golf game depends on it

By Chris Baldwin, Contributor

They are the most crucial people at a golf course. And they are the most overlooked.

Golf course superintendents course conditions
The superintendent's work makes a huge impact on your day.
Golf course superintendents course conditionsBad golf course conditioning repair signGolf Pro & Course Superintendents

Such is a course superintendent's life.

Survey after survey shows that golfers care about course conditions most, much more than the design of the course itself. Great greens trump ingenious risk-reward par-4s. Every time. Yet celebrity golf course architects draw fees in the millions and have their names plastered all over the course advertising.

The golf course superintendents? They're far out of sight - often at a hidden maintenance area - and usually even farther from mind.

It's the equivalent of celebrating Nick Harper while ignoring Peyton Manning.

"I do think part of it has to do with the fact that superintendents are usually out away from the clubhouse at a maintenance shed that's often set back out of view for aesthetic purposes," said Bill Newton, media/public relations director for the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA). "I think course superintendents may tend to be a little more reserved by nature, too, more interested in plants and botany than most people. Obviously that's a generalization though."

Newton is about the last guy who wants to perpetuate the stereotype of course superintendents as green thumb nerds who belong in a Little Shop of Horrors remake. The GCSAA's trying to change the way the lifelines to the fairways are perceived.

No one's screaming R-E-S-P-E-C-T from the clubhouse rooftops. A little more love in a world seemingly made for course architects and club pros would be nice, though.

For one thing, the GCSAA would like the responsible people to get to answer for course conditions.

"A lot of times, you'll have a head pro or a general manager talking about course conditions," Newton said. "Frankly, they're just not qualified to speak to that in most cases. It's not their area of expertise.

"You'd never have a course superintendent talking about the apparel sales in the clubhouse or giving golf lessons. The same principle should apply."

A little defensive? You would be too if all your education and special training often got largely ignored.

From Old Tom Morris to botany brilliance

As a profession, golf course superintendent has come a long way since The Royal Burgess Golfing Society in Scotland paid a boy six shillings per quarter year and a suit of clothes to be the first documented "greenskeeper" in 1774. In fact, Old Tom Morris - who retired after 40 years as a greenskeeper in 1903 - would be amazed at the scientific advances in his field.

More than 100 universities now offer two- or four-year programs in turf grass management. A GCSAA survey found that 95 percent of golf course superintendents have education past high school. For superintendents under 30, it's 98 percent.

It turns out being a grass whisperer takes some book learning.

The GCSAA offers a certification program that can take several years to complete and includes testing. Those who finish it are given Class A Superintendent status. The goal is to have this Class A Superintendent designation mean as much as a Class A Pro title does.

"Golf pros have done a very good job of getting the word out on how much a difference that status and training makes in their field," Newton said. "We're trying to achieve that with course superintendents."

When you're representing golf course superintendents, you learn that every baby step counts. Most golf course Web sites have the club's general manager, head pro and often assistant pros listed. The course superintendent? That name's rarely anywhere to be found.

Ari Gold would declare these guys too B-list.

Even if regular golfers love them with a passion seldom found for a Tom Cruise.

"Whoever keeps fairways green are the guys who make a difference for me," frequent golf vacationer Jeremy Lindy said. "The greenskeepers have the most effect on my game. Whether you have a chance to hit a good shot depends a lot on what shape the course is in.

"Regular guys aren't hitting anything if the course is crap. I love the greenskeepers."

Ah, that's another thing. They don't like being called greenskeepers. Course superintendent is the preferred term.

Not that they'll call Jeremy on it. Any love from golfers - or anyone else - is appreciated.

Chris BaldwinChris Baldwin, Contributor

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Course Supers

    RE wrote on: Jun 14, 2007

    nothing more frustrating than paying a fair sum of money to play a noted course only to discover it is in worse condition than a drought-stricken farm.


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