Adam Calver is the recently-promoted, vice-president of golf at Cabot Links. Formerly the director of agronomy and construction at the resort, Calver oversaw the grow-in of Cabot Cliffs, the most recent golf course built on the property. Located on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, Canada. Cabot Links boasts the two most important golf courses built in Canada in the past fifty years. Cabot Cliffs will open for play in 2015, joining older sibling Cabot Links, all of two years old.
1. Give us some biographical information. Where are you from, how did you come to golf, what do you hope to do in your future work?
I grew up in a small town called Verona in Ontario just outside of Kingston. I started working on the local golf course (Rivendell) in my last year of high school as a summer job. That winter I migrated to Lake Louise Alberta where I was a ski/ snowboard tech repairing and renting skies and snow board. I spent around 80 days that winter on the ski hill. The next few years I worked my way up the ranks during the summer months while working at the Kananaskis Country Golf Course. In three years I was promoted to the position of Assistant Superintendent where I was also working my way through the applied degree program at Olds College majoring in Golf Course Management. After 4 years as the Assistant Superintendent I was looking for a different experience and I joined the GolfBC group as the Assistant Superintendent at Olympic View Golf Club in Victoria BC. At this time I had just finished my Degree and was determined to work in as many different climates as golf existed in. I then accepted the superintendent position overseeing the construction at Jumeirah Golf Estates in Dubai where I oversaw the construction and planting of the Earth course and then the Fire course where I oversaw construction, grow in and maintenance. After three years in the desert I was offered a position at Nirwana Bali Golf Club in Bali Indonesia. While at Nirwana I moved from Director of Agronomy to Director of Golf and oversaw all golf related business for the resort. While at Nirwana I was introduced to my current employer Ben Cowan Dewar partner and owner with Mike Keiser of Cabot Links and Cabot Cliffs. Ben offered me the position to project manage the construction of the new Cabot Cliffs course as well as oversee all grow-in and maintenance of both the Cliffs and Links golf courses.
As for the future I am pretty excited, we have accomplished a lot in the past few years and working with Mike Keiser and Ben Cowan Dewar is an exciting team to be a part of. I enjoy building and managing golf resorts, it would be hard to find a better job.
2. Golfers tend to lump all the work associated with golf course care under the heading of superintendency. Can you break down the specifics of agronomy and upkeep, to elaborate your profession for the golfing masses?
The agronomy side of the golf profession is the focus on the interactions of the soil, plants and water to put it simply. We look at how the chemistry will affect the plants health and how that turf will react when the golfer hits a shot from the fairway or rolls a putt across the greens. Every site is different and it takes a lot of attention to detail to ensure all things are in balance. The care and management of the overall conditioning and asset management of the entire golf course brings a few other aspects to the job. What make the job description of a golf Course Superintendent so difficult to standardize is the vast variations of each golf course, some are multi course facilities and some have polo fields or other tennis courts. The different styles of golf courses can impact the challenge of managing the turfgrass. Links course along the coast with high winds and salt spray compared to desert courses with high air temperatures and typically poor reclaimed water for irrigation and northern courses which deal with winter kill stress and ice damage.
Each property has very unique challenges and responsibilities. When I worked in Bali I was responsible for maintaining 10 hectares of rice paddies which Greg Norman had designed the golf course around.
3. You worked with Rod Whitman on the Cabot Links project and now you are working with Bill Coore on the Cabot Cliffs venture. Detail the differences in the two types of terrain and the challenges you faced with each project.
Cabot Cliffs the second course is only a few hundred yards away from Cabot Links Designed by Rod Whitman. The two sites can be seen from each other and yet the terrain has some dramatic contrasts. Even the front nine of the Cliffs sweeps through 20-30ft sand dunes at sea level and then the back nine climbs up the coast line to the 80ft cliff holes 16 and 17. Standing on the tee of the 6th hole at Cabot Cliff you will find yourself along the beach hitting over sweeping sand dunes and the at the 16 tee you face a 100 yard carry over the ocean to a green sitting on top a 80 foot cliff.
The greatest challenge in constructing these style of courses is you have the coast line which greatly effects how you can build the course. You have to start at the coast and work inland. You try not to paint yourself in to the corner. The goal is to build the golf course in a sequence so that you never have to cross over finished work to get to the next hole.
4. A number of courses in southern Ontario and western New York suffered serious putting-green damage this winter. What do agronomists do to help courses recover from the effects of Mother Nature and how can this type of damage be anticipated and/or prevented?
Dealing with Mother Nature is rarely a winning battle. I have worked in 6 different climates around the world and feel the best approach is to plan for the worst and hope for the best. With that said I feel having a safety net laid out is a good investment for any club. Build a turf nursery as big as you can and make sure you have the tools to recover from nature’s wrath.
5. How can an enhanced understanding/awareness of terrain and agronomy help an average golfer to better manage her/his game and improve her/his scoring?
The course design is often dictated by the region and terrain. How this will affect the golfers game is best explained by the difference between Links golf and a parkland design. Links golf is more of a ground game where you are not aiming at the pin but at the terrain around the green, think of it as bump and run more than 60 degree flop shots. Playing a parkland design is more of an aerial game where the golfer will aim at the pin and the greens are maintained to accept balls from the air as they will have more hazards in front of them with lush rough protecting their surrounds. We aim to maintain the surrounds similar to greens in order to give our guests the option to put if they wish to. This give more strategy to the game.
Being aware of the terrain is key to the enjoyment of the game, hard fast dry conditions you will be aiming at the front of the greens more, allowing the ball to release and filter into the pin location while moist lush conditions will allow for an attack style golf game where the golfer can aim at the pin similar to throwing darts, knowing the ball will land softer and not release.
6. If you had the opportunity to grow in a golf course anywhere in the world, what country/terrain would you choose?
A few years ago I was at Mt Everest on the Tibetan side and could not stop thinking about building a golf course in the Himalayas somewhere around the Tibetan Plateau. I have always been fascinated with using golf to capture the natural features of the landscape and I was thinking how you could lay a course out along the mountain side with ancient Tibetan temples boarding the design. It would be a great way to preserve the historic features of the culture while creating a great golf experience and at those elevations you could hit the ball 15% farther.
After building and managing golf courses in Ontario, The Canadian Rockies, the west coast of Victoria, BC the desert of Dubai and the tropical coast of Bail Indonesia I feel the next climate would have to be South America or Africa.
7. Are there any trends in golf course upkeep that you either totally support or totally despise? Feel free to elaborate on either or both.
I try not to take side on matters of opinions as it becomes a matter of personal preference. I have however positioned myself throughout my career to experience as many different styles of golf as I can. I have tried to gain a better understanding of the business and the game. I look at golf as two different topics, one is the game and the second is the business of golf. With that said the trends are also different topics. The great courses of the world would fall under the game of golf where the struggling courses would be the business of golf. Large scale residential properties are designed to generate business opportunities and to maximize property sales not to grow the game of golf. The build and design the golf courses to maximize profits where the great golf courses ones that stand the test of time are designed to provide a great and challenging golf experience and are focused on the game.
The trend in “upkeep” as you put it seem to be more focused on enjoyment. Courses with wider fairways and forward tees seem to result in a better experience for the retail golfer and beginners.
In Dubai I was part of the team working on Jumeirah Golf Estates with the Greg Norman design team and the European Tour to construct and grow-in both the Earth and Fire courses. The Earth course was a made for TV design with the Race to Dubai scheduled to be held as the grand opening event for the course. Earth was a parkland design in the middle of the Arabian Desert which was one of my favorite challenges. The second course Fire was a heathland design alongside the Earth course. I feel after working with the different styles of design my personality migrates more to the layout and designs that capture the natural landscape and in many ways protect it from other more disruptive developments such as residential. I often look at golf as a game against the elements and therefore should be played in a natural setting. I am still very proud of all the projects I have worked on and feel the best courses utilized the natural features of the land while allowing the golfer to recover from errant shots. No one like to hit a house off the tee. That just adds too much stress to the game.
8. Who are your favorite golf course architects throughout history and what did/do they espouse that makes them favorites of yours?
Stanley Thomson is one as he was not only a designer but an explorer as well. He would seek out remote isolated locations throughout Canada. After working with Bill Coore he has impressed me on every turn, Bill and Ben live up to their reputations as two of the nicest guys in the business. The Coore and Crenshaw minimalist design philosophy is what golf is all about and watching Bill Coore “find golf holes” is something truly special. They take great natural landscapes and reveal the unique features that each site has to offer. I hope to have the opportunity to build several more courses with Bill one day. Assisting Bill Coore with the creation of Cabot Cliffs will be a highlight in my career. I am sure I will look back in 20 years be most proud of this project, what we have created is something truly magical.