BuffaloGolfer’s The Scrambler is a die-hard denizen of Elma Meadows golf course, part of the Erie County parks system. Over the course of the first five Erie County Amateur’s, the scene was almost constant: county executive Mark Poloncarz listening patiently as The Scrambler regaled him with tales of Elma’s greatness, of its lost fairway width and green edges. As the years went by, he would say, fairways were narrowed and greens shrunk, eliminating the some of the brilliance of William Harries’ and Russ Tryon’s design. Mr. Poloncarz and his staff listened, and Corey Randall, superintendent, brought the course back to life. Today, we interview Corey Randall and ask him about his career, and views on superintendency.
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 Corey Randall and I am originally from Leawood, Kansas. A suburb of Kansas City. I spent 24 years growing up in Kansas, and attended Kansas State University. In the spring of 2009 I decided to pack two bags and move to Brooklyn, NY just for the hell of it. There, I managed restaurants in Manhattan until the fall of 2010. This is when I decided to go back to school at Rutgers University where I was enrolled in the Golf Course and Turf Management 2-Year Certificate program. During school I interned at Seawane CC on Long Island and also at The Golf Club of Houston, where the PGA’s Shell Houston Open is held. I then spent one year as an Assistant Superintendent at Essex County CC in West Orange, NJ before moving to Buffalo in 2013 to work for Gary Powers at Lancaster CC. There I was the Assistant Superintendent till the spring of 2015. At that point I was offered my current position at Elma Meadows.
2. How did you get into golf course grounds and maintenance? Did your education/training propel you that way?
2.) Throughout high school and college I have always worked landscaping, landscape maintenance, and mowing grass. Once I started playing golf after attending KSU (where I graduated in Psychology and Geography), I gained an appreciation for the game and what it takes to care for a golf course. When I was living in NYC, and at the end of the road managing restaurants, it was very convenient to find Rutgers not 45 minutes away with one of the best turf programs in the industry. It just worked out that I was able to be accepted into the program, and this was the pivotal moment in my career and life. I finally had a direction to follow.
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 would have to list a three answers; First, it’s not just mowing grass. Keeping the playing conditions consistent not only hole to hole, but also day to day, week to week is very important. Second, the amount of work that goes into keeping the mowers adjusted and running properly. My third, (but there are many more) would be the fact that golf is now a science. Almost every decision a superintendent makes these days is or can be based on scientific data gained through observation. Grass is shorter than ever on golf courses today. If some practices from the 80’s or even 90’s were used in this day and age, we’d have a lot of dead grass out there.
4. In contrast, what aspect of golf course upkeep is overrated, yet you keep hearing about it?
4.) I think a lot of chemical programs these days have gotten way out of hand. Of course, each golf club has different/more or less pests and obstacles to manage, but for me an attitude of KISS has been working. Stick to a limited amount of chemicals, we’re only growing grass here.
5. Some people love trees. How do you feel about trees on a golf course?
5.) Trees can add a lot of benefits to a course. They also add a lot of maintenance, work, and unsuitable playing conditions. If a tree is a nuisance, I say cut the sucker down. Now!
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.) This is a fine line as you can’t please everybody. So there has to be some middle ground. Fairways should be cut and shaped by how they react to the topography of the land which they sit on, while keeping golf playing conditions in mind. It should be natural looking, as if the fairway was always there and not forced into locations. Although we have added around 8 acres of “natural long grass” areas to the course we try to keep the course relatively easy as we cater to the average high stroke golfer. We keep the rough short and fairways wide (reshaping of the fairways is to come).
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 would renovate the tee boxes and sand bunkers on the course. Elma plays extremely long for most everybody, especially the “golden agers” and women. Adding red and gold tee boxes closer to the fairways would improve course playability, speed up rounds, and therefore gain income for the course as a whole.
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.) I have 5 crew members that work under me and our mechanic is not only responsible for Elma Meadows, but also for half of all Erie County Park properties. This means I get to be a mechanic for many hours during the year. Being a municipality, myself and the crew are all in the same union. This has benefits and drawbacks. Benefits are we typically work a 40 hour week and call it good. Nice to have the time off and still work for a golf course. The drawbacks are we are only allowed to work a 40 hour week, and overtime is hard to come by. So, it’s always a race to keep up. My crew and I have to plan our days and weeks carefully to so we don’t come to the end of the day and still be in the middle of a job needed to be finish.