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 Dodson of The Park Club in Williamsville.
1. Tell us a bit about yourself, where you’re from, where you work, and how long you’ve been there.
1. My name is Scott Dodson and I have been a GC Superintendent for 37 years and have been the GC Superintendent at the Park Country Club of Buffalo for 25 years. I grew up north of Toronto , Ontario , Can and was born in Newmarket Ontario. My father was a GC Superintendent for over 50 years and my two older brothers are GC Superintendents as well in Canada. I was the GC Superintendent at the Summit G&CC in Richmond Hill Ontario from 1987 until 1993 then moved to take the Park Club position in February of 1993.
2. How did you get into golf course grounds and maintenance? Did your education/training propel you that way?
2. I grew up living on a private club north of Toronto called Maple Downs G&CC where my father was the GC Superintendent. Living right there seemed so natural to be able to work right there and as a teenager I began to take a real interest in the job. I started out caddying at the age of 10 and started working on the course for my father at the age of 14. After high school I attended the University of Guelph and received my Associates Degree in Horticulture. Specializing in Turf Management.
3. What aspect of golf course maintenance is the most critical/the most difficult, that the average golfer/member would have no idea about?
3. I feel the average golfer/member does not take into consideration the short amount of time we have here in this part of the North East to prepare a golf course for play to not only stand up to the weather and traffic throughout the season but the issues that a severe winter can create for Turf Managers. Everyone sees the Masters Tournament in Spring and wants to know why their course cannot look like that all of the time. Also the average player does not realize the analytical data used in Golf Course operations in order to provide excellent playing conditions. Regular chemical and Physical soil tests of the root zone and irrigation water quality tests all aid in how well the turf will perform.
4. In contrast, what aspect of golf course upkeep is overrated, yet you keep hearing about it.
4. Bunkers !! The cost of bunker maintenance over the years has skyrocketed. Everyone wants the perfect lie in a bunker. I hear the word consistency used with great regularity and there are so many factors that can influence consistency. Some examples would be : how far or close is the bunker located to an irrigation head. Too much water or not enough? What is the bunkers orientation ? Is it in full sun , complete shade , half and half, north facing or south facing? Is there sand faces or grass faces? These are just a few examples that can create inconsistency in bunkers. What happened to the idea that a bunker is a hazard and should not be easy to play from?
5. Some people love trees. How do you feel about trees on a golf course?
5. I like trees on a golf course as long as their location does not interfere with the proper growth of the playing surface and they are native species natural to that local growing environment. Most golf courses in the North East are overplanted and with many poor or improper tree species and planted in the wrong location. Too close to greens and tees.
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?
6. In order to attract new people to the game which we most desperately need to do , the courses should not be too penal and really fun to play. It has often been stated that the easiest thing for a GC Architect to do is design a difficult golf course. It becomes more of a challenge when we try for playability for all handicap ranges of golfers. At the Park Club during my 25 years here we have gone from 23 acres of fairway to 30 acres now. At first thought you would automatically think that the course would be easier but the fairway height of cut as been lowered and now the short turf runs right into the leading edges of all of the bunkers, bringing them al more into play. If the height of curt in the rough gets too high you will run into the issue of dramatically slowing down play which is something we do not want to do in fact we need to have the pace of play increase at most golf courses.
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?
7. I feel that in my present position we are always looking to continue to get better as a complete operation from golf course to clubhouse. I feel that you can always strive to get better , whether it be turf conditions, various turf maintenance practices, management decisions or policies.
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?
8. The Grounds Crew at the Park Club consists of 20 employees when we are fully staffed during the summer months. This consists of six year round full time staff which includes an Assistant Superintendent, Equipment Technician, Horticulturalist, Spray tech and Irrigation Tech. There are also full time seasonal grounds men and part time seasonal grounds men. It takes time to cultivate and groom a top notch staff. You need to make sure everyone has a purpose and a common goal and mission when it comes to what you expect from their work and performance.
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.
9. How has technology and updated agronomic practices changed since I have been a GC Superintendent? Major equipment advances like GPS for spraying and fertility applications and now GPS guided mowing is on the horizon. Advancements in irrigation technology , programing and scheduling. Video job Boards for Grounds Crew scheduling and accurate labor tracking. There are Companies that now offer complete course aerification services in order to get the job done quickly and more efficiently. Major advancements in electrical grounds equipment and mowers. These are just a few examples of technology changes.