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 Scott Howard of Fox Valley Club in Lancaster.
1. Tell us a bit about yourself, where you’re from, where you work, and how long you’ve been there.
My name is Scott Howard. I am the immediate Past President of the WNYGCSAA and I am currently the Superintendent at the Fox Valley Club in Lancaster, NY where I just completed my first season. Prior to arriving at Fox, I was the Superintendent at Attica Golf Club for 10 years.
2. How did you get into golf course grounds and maintenance? Did your education/training propel you that way?
I started in the golf course grounds and maintenance industry about 20 years ago. My first job was working at the Ischua Valley Country Club in the Pro Shop. I had family that had worked there for many years and IVCC was where I learned to golf. After half way through my first season I was asked to start maintaining the turf around the club house area during down times. When I returned the next season I worked on the grounds crew instead of the Pro Shop. It was then that I enrolled in Turf at SUNY Delhi.
3. What aspect of golf course maintenance is the most critical/the most difficult, that the average golfer/member would have no idea about?
For me equipment maintenance is essential in keeping the course in the best condition day in and day out. As it has been stated in the previous interviews, most golfers don’t understand what we do during the winter in WNY. This is where you can make or break your upcoming season. Fixing worn out parts on the equipment that didn’t quite give you the best cuts at the end of the year or catching that hydraulic hose that is about to break before it does so on the course. These are the things that are very crucial that might go unnoticed. It’s also where a lot of the cost for the upkeep of a course comes into effect. It’s about 10% to 20% of the operating budget and it’s spent during a time when not much golf is being played.
4. In contrast, what aspect of golf course upkeep is overrated, yet you keep hearing about it.
Tee marker placement. I have struggled in the past with keeping the golfers who believe that the exact yardage that is said “on the card” should be kept. For example if the pin is in the back of the green then the tee markers should be in the front of the tee box. I don’t believe this should matter and we debate over it constantly. Golf is a challenging game and many factors make day to day play different. Whether it be the wind or amount of moisture or that the player is not swinging the way he or she did the last time the distance the ball travels varies. As Superintendents we place the markers on areas that are the best quality turf and make it so that the worn out areas have time to recover. This is especially true on par 3’s. If the markers were in that front ideal spot every day, there would be no grass left to hit off of. If the back of the teeing area is used it’s for a reason.
5. Some people love trees. How do you feel about trees on a golf course?
Trees on a golf course are good if they are both healthy and in the proper location. At Fox Valley I struggled with 2 of my greens this past summer because of the trees that were located in such close proximity to the green. When tree roots start intruding into the putting surface, they steal the water and nutrients that the closely mowed turf needs to survive. These are trees that are going have to be removed in order to keep the green alive. I have played and worked at many courses where a tree may have been great 10 or 20 years ago but after the tree has grown too tall it causes damage to the surrounding turf or changes the way a hole is meant to be played. At that time removal may be the only option. Trees are great however for defining the hole. Most of the time they give shape to the way the hole is supposed to be played.
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?
It’s a tough task to maintain a balance between penal and welcoming golf. Course conditions are reliant upon Mother Nature and they change daily. Thickness of rough can be the most challenging. I have 2 crew members who mow my rough. For most weeks they get around the whole course in 5 days. But if we have a rainy day, or a frost delay, or a tournament that doesn’t allow us to be on the course we can get behind. Some areas just grow faster as well. It would be nice if everything grew at the same rate on the whole course everyday but it doesn’t and that is why we are here as Superintendents. It’s our job to make sure that a penal round can also be welcoming and a welcoming round can have its challenges as well.
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?
If I had the money and support from my ownership I would make sure to institute a plan for equipment replacement. I think that too many ownerships/memberships forget about the tools that make us be able to provide the golfers the best conditions on a daily basis.
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?
During the season I will have 11 or 12 crew members this year. I have an Assistant Superintendent, a Mechanic and 8 or 9 seasonal employees. Of the seasonal employees 3 of them have been here for a number of years and have a vast knowledge of how things have operated in the past. I think that for a superintendent who is new to a club, such as myself, having someone on your crew that has knowledge of where things are and how things ran previously is important. It sometimes answers why something was done.
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 is your most valuable resource in the industry?
The other superintendents and vendors. The great thing about being here in WNY is the close knit group of superintendents and vendors. If you ever have a question or a problem just contact any of them. They have either dealt with it themselves already or know someone who has. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the help from them.