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 Brian Conn of Transit Valley Country Club in East Amherst.

Tell us a bit about yourself, where you’re from, where you work, and how long you’ve been there.

My name is Brian Conn.  I am the Golf Course Superintendent at Transit Valley Country Club in East Amherst where I am moving into my third season.  Previously I was lucky enough to offer my services at Crag Burn Golf Club, Terry Hills Golf Course, Lakeview Country Club, and Lawrence Park Golf Club.  I was born and raised in Erie, Pennsylvania.

How did you get into golf course grounds and maintenance? Did your education/training propel you that way? What aspect of golf course maintenance is the most critical/the most difficult, that the average golfer/member would have no idea about?  In contrast, what aspect of golf course upkeep is overrated, yet you keep hearing about it?

 I got into grounds maintenance as many of us have, needing a job in high school.  I had set my career path down the road of Political Science and History but found that I really enjoyed the people who I worked with at a golf course, which made toiling in the worst of weather extremes pretty easy.  I know that isn’t what we hear most from written articles.  It’s the quiet mornings, the beauty of finished work, or the sunrises.  I could take or leave these things but have had the honor of knowing very interesting and caring people who have made me a better person in most cases.  The most difficult part of golf course maintenance that the average golfer would have no idea about is the difficulty of keeping a living breathing entity not only alive, but strong and thriving under what is far from ideal growing conditions not for a short time but months on end day by day. 

Some people love trees.  How do you feel about trees on the golf course?

I love trees on a golf course if a balance is reached.  Advancements in tracking sun paths and knowing the optimum time frames for the grass plant to utilize light make it possible to surgically prune and selectively remove trees to create that balance while keeping a beautiful wooded backdrop.  Our club is currently adopting a long range tree management program which seeks to reach a balance between providing great playing conditions with trimming and removals while planting new trees in proper positions.  I commend all courses who take on this task and are environmentally responsible. Come to think of it…that may be one of those aspects of golf course management that the average golfer or non-golfer has no idea about, the superintendents heartfelt dedication to being a steward of the environment and our sometimes obsessive pride in every aspect of what we do.

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?

In everyday golf I think welcoming golf should be the standard.  If we pay attention to what the public is telling us about why they are leaving the game it all comes back to lack of time to play, it’s too hard, etc. All these aspects tie into daily course difficulty.  We need to make sure we care for our senior, female, and youth players to keep the game thriving.

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 would push them to do the things that make us an even more valuable asset to our community than we are now.  We offer a large green space which cleans the air, filters runoff water in natural ways, keep natural wildlife and avian habitat, and make available meaningful employment to our friends and neighbors. We should try to do things like update irrigation technologies to enhance water conservation, and look into equipment that can prevent excessive noise and air emissions.

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?

Like I mentioned before, the people I have worked for, with, and managed are the reason I do what I do.  They have all been remarkable.  I have always had around 20 people on staff wherever I have been.  The mix of full time and part time have been a little different each time.  In this business we struggle to keep a top notch crew each year because of the line of work we are in. In general, we offer a “leisure business” type of wage and employ most of our staff for only eight months a year leaving them to find income for the other months of the year.  That alone is detrimental to hiring, but on top of that we ask them to work early hours, weekends, and in a lot of varying weather.  That is why I personally feel our staff is our greatest asset and must be treated as such.  I think we have to treat employees with respect, shared responsibility, honesty, and as friends.   Most of my peers will probably agree that we are very close to our staff and if you aren’t you are probably a pretty terrible manager and person with some nice grass when it’s all said and done.

What question haven’t we asked, that you would like to answer?

What would you tell the golfing and non-golfing public if given a chance? 

I would tell the golfing public that we thank them for continuing to enjoy the game and hope we are doing our jobs well enough that they may introduce a family member, friend, or peer to it in the future.  I would tell the public in general to look into the sport as an opportunity for camaraderie, exercise, or maybe getting in touch with nature.  Treasures quickly being lost in an electronic age.