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 Eric Tuchols of Harvest Hill golf course in Orchard Park.
1. Tell us a bit about yourself, where you’re from, where you work, and how long you’ve been there.
My name is Eric Tuchols I am originally from Lockport, NY I have been the Grounds Superintendent at Harvest Hill Golf Course in Orchard Park for 11 years.
2. How did you get into golf course grounds and maintenance? Did your education/training propel you that way?
I always enjoyed the game of golf and loved the outdoors so I started working at Willowbrook Golf Course in Lockport on the grounds crew in high school. At Willowbrook I realized that the golf business could be a career for me so I persued some further education in the field. I went on to get a degree from Alfred State College in Ornamental Horticulture along with continuing to work at Willowbrook in the summers. I then went to the Rutgers Professional Turf Management School where we were required to do an internship on a golf course grounds crew as part of the curriculum. I did my internship at Park Country Club of Buffalo then stayed on the crew for 4 years. From there I went over to Arrowhead Golf Club where I was the Assistant Superintendent during the grow-in and for the first few years during operation. Then, in the late winter of 2006 I got the opportunity to do the grow-in at Harvest Hill as golf course superintendent and have been there every since.
3. What aspect of golf course maintenance is the most critical/the most difficult, that the average golfer/member would have no idea about?
The most difficult aspect of my job is something I can’t control and that is dealing with mother nature, especially in western New York. One day the weather is a beautiful 75 degree sunny day and the golf course looks and plays perfect, then the next day it’s 50 with 2″ of rain, all the bunkers are washed out and we have a 144 person shotgun tournament that we have to have the course ready for play. It’s defiantly a challenge but with experience and hard work we adapt and make the course the best we can day to day. We just always have to be ready for what mother nature is going to throw at us.
4. In contrast, what aspect of golf course upkeep is overrated, yet you keep hearing about it.
Sand Traps. Sand Traps are hazards but we are now spending more time and money on them to make them perfect due to golfer demands. It’s almost impossible to make every bunker consistent and firm throughout the entire course but we spend a lot of time on trying to get them that way. I feel that if your shot lands in a bunker it should be harder to hit out of than the rough but now a days it’s not like that for the better golfer, it’s actually easier because the surface is so firm they are able to pick the ball clean off the sand and make an easy recovery shot.
5. Some people love trees. How do you feel about trees on a golf course?
I do like trees on a golf course they just need to be placed in the right spot. I like to see a few nice specimen trees rather than a clutter of them. Trees and turf don’t get along. Trees compete with turfgrass for sunlight, nutrients and water. To often trees are planted to close to greens surfaces, so the green struggles and becomes thin do to the lack of sunlight. Once the tree is removed and sunlight is able reach the green surface the green strives again. Most people do not really understand that trees cost a lot of money to maintain correctly. If not maintained correctly they can become a hazard and dangerous to golfers or people around them.
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?
I think every course is going to have a different view on this depending on what the membership wants. Harvest Hill being a public daily fee golf course we have to make the course appealing to all skill levels of golfers in order to keep people coming back. That said we keep the fairways tight and the rough mowed down and playable but if you spray a ball way off line you may fine yourself in some long fescue. Also most of the trouble or hazards at our course is visible in front of you. This keeps the pace of play moving. With 5 sets of tees and the course playing from 4583 yards to 7021 yards we are able to appeal to just about every golfer out there.
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?
I think with golf rounds in our country going down each year more and more effort needs to go into getting new people into the game. People need to understand that golf is fun and not all serious or competitive. Maybe start some rookie leagues or tournaments where people just getting into the game are comfortable playing with other golfers of their caliber.
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?
Here at Harvest Hill we have 13 guys on our crew during the summer months. In the winter it is just me, the assistant superintendent and our golf equipment technician. One of the most important crew members is the equipment technician. He is the behind the scenes guy that keeps our equipment in top shape and ready to go day to day. Without him we don’t have equipment to mow and maintain the course. The assistant superintendent is another important role on the crew. He is another set of educated eyes for me but also manages employees and make sure tasks are being completed. We get a lot of turnover on the crew but we do our best to hold on to the really good hardworking employees. Many of our crew members are college kids looking for summer work or retired folks looking to stay busy a few days a week. I try to hire employees that either play golf or understand the game. It makes the learning curve that much easier plus a person who plays golf and works on a course has more pride and detail in their work.
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.
I get this question more than any other question: What do you do in the winter? Me and my crew are actually very busy in the winter, a lot of preparation goes into getting ready for the next golfing season. We go through all our equipment and make sure it is ready for spring, replacing any worn or broken parts. We also will do all our tree work in the winter, pruning and cutting down of dead or unwanted trees. I will also plan out our fertilizer, plant protectant and wetting agent programs. We will attend various continuing education seminars to learn more about the our industry. We will also take much needed vacation time because we don’t take many days off during the golfing season.