The Superintendents series of interviews on buffalogolfer shines a light on the keepers of the green in Buffalo-Niagara. Chances are, you know the starter and the club pro. Have you met your course or club superintendent? If not, find out where she/he works on the grounds and make a point of getting to know the person who keeps the grass cut, the bunkers raked, and so much more that you never considered. This week’s interview is Drew Thompson of East Aurora country club in East Aurora.
1. Tell us a bit about yourself, where you’re from, where you work, and how long you’ve been there.
I am originally from Boston MA. My parents moved us to Java Center when I was 8 and I grew up on a Horse Farm/ Summer Camp. I am the Golf Course Superintendent at East Aurora Country Club and have been for the past 13 years.
2. How did you get into golf course grounds and maintenance? Did your education/training propel you that way?
I followed my Brother, Thad, into golf maintenance. I was trying to break into the business on the pro shop side of things when I had the opportunity to do some work for my Brother at Turkey Run Golf Course in Arcade, NY. It was a great experience and I enrolled at SUNY Delhi, received my degree in Horticulture/ Turfgrass management and have learned from some of the best in the business over the years.
3. What aspect of golf course maintenance is the most critical/the most difficult, that the average golfer/member would have no idea about?
Water Management without a doubt. Water is one of the most valuable natural resources we have. What we do with it or to it can have far reaching impacts. Managing and reducing water use has become a paramount responsibility for everyone. Not just those in the golf or agriculture business. The way we manage water affects the enjoyment of the game. Too wet is no fun. As superintendents we tend to err on the side of dry and in recent years have been willing to sacrifice some of the aesthetics that golfers crave, mostly in out of play areas, in order to reduce water use.
We also have a responsibility to make sure we protect our water from inputs. We have changed the way we fertilize in order to eliminate runoff and/ or leaching of fertilizers into ground water or water bodies. By applying low amounts more frequently and applying directly to leaf tissue in liquid form, the turf gets what it needs. Soil and tissue tests are used to determine exact amounts to apply.
4. In contrast, what aspect of golf course upkeep is overrated, yet you keep hearing about it?
Without a doubt, course length. Anyone who thinks a course has to be 7000 yards or more to be a good course is out of touch. There are a number of factors that can be manipulated in the way the course is maintained to make it challenging yet fair. Long courses have hurt the game much more than they have helped it.
5. Some people love trees. How do you feel about trees on a golf course?
Trees have a place on the course from an aesthetic standpoint but should not factor in to the way the hole is played. Any hole that is good or bad based on the removal of a single tree was a poor design to begin with.
From an agronomic standpoint, trees are the biggest obstacle we have to growing healthy stands of turf. If they are too close to a finely maintained playing area they should be removed unless they are part of a larger stand of trees that has an architectural significance to the hole. Trees should also never be used as a safety barrier. It is always much safer to be able to see and be seen.
6. Talk to us about fairway width, mowing lines, and thick rough versus fairway cut. What sort of balance should be struck between penal golf and welcoming golf?
With the current state of the game and the declining participation in golf I think fairness is the key term. Overly penal golf drives players away. Widening of fairways, increasing teeing options, and bringing the ground game into play are all important aspects to keep the game fair and more welcoming to all levels of golfer. We are currently working with a golf course Architect at East Aurora Country Club to try and address each of these areas. The focus is to make the game more welcoming and enjoyable for all current and future members.
7. If you had all the money/support from your ownership/membership, what direction would you point them, that they might not be aware of?
As I mentioned before. Making the course more welcoming and playable for all levels of golfer which we are starting this season. The addition of more forward teeing options and potentially widening fairways in areas that will allow more run up shots and brings the ground game back as an option. Also, we have created a welcoming atmosphere for those that may be apprehensive about the snobby feel or reputation of joining a private club. That does not exist at EACC and the people here are the most welcoming and genuinely nice group I have encountered at any club.
8. Talk to us a bit about your grounds crew. How many do you have on staff and what is the critical part of assembling a top-notch crew?
I have an outstanding crew and the majority have been with me here for many years. I enjoy hearing their input and ask that if they come to me with a problem that they also have a recommendation for a solution. We work together and everyone has a good understanding of what needs to get done and how to do it. They are dedicated and work very hard. It is never Me or I, it’s always Us or We.
9. What question haven’t we asked, that you would like to answer? Ask it and answer it, please, and thank you for your time today.
What do you do in the Winter?
This is the most frequent question I am asked. We are not only responsible for snow removal, we also have to refurbish and sharpen reels on all of our equipment which is done by our Equipment manager, Jim Fleckenstein. We refurbish all of the course accessories which include benches, ballwashers, tee markers, hazard stakes and divot boxes. And we are out on the course all winter. We clean up debris, remove and prune trees, monitor ice and snow and remove ice or snow from greens if necessary and whatever else we can do to reduce our springtime workload.
Personally wintertime is time to file my DEC reports for water use and pesticide applications. The budget is fine tuned and orders are placed for the upcoming year. I do a bit of traveling as well and try to focus on my family and projects at home before another season starts.