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 Jerry Martin from the Black Diamond Course at Holiday Valley Resort in Ellicottville.

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

I am 62 years old and have been around the golf industry my entire life. My Father – Harold Q. Martin was a Golf Course Supt. for 52 years in the North Western Pa, and Western N.Y. area. I was born in Coudersport Pa. where my Father was Supt. / Golf Professional at The Coudersport Country Club. After Coudersport we moved to Emporium, Pa. where my Father was instrumental in building the original 9 hole course. In that there are “rattlesnakes in them there hills”, my Father did not want me or our family to be in their presence, so he took a job as Supt./Pro at The Kane C.C. where we lived for 13 years. He was then offered a job in Warren, Pa. by the owners of Jackson Valley C.C. where he was responsible for building their second 9. It is there that I began my career working on the course with him. Each time we moved it was to a better, more prosperous course. I loved the work, the game, and of course my Father – he was my best friend. We not only worked together, we played golf – won several Father/Son tournaments, fished together, and hunted together until his passing in 2004. I miss him every day…

I am currently at The Holiday Valley Resort as Golf Course Supt – for the past 2 years.

2. How did you get into golf course grounds and maintenance? Did your education/training propel you that way?

As you can probably tell from my story thus far – It was quite easy to determine what my chosen profession would be at a very early stage in my life. In fact I was one of very few in the “1960’s” that new what the hell I wanted to be. {Best music to this day in my opinion}! I became a better than average player having had the opportunity to be exposed to the game of golf every day of my life, really enjoyed the people, and loved the task of preparing fine turf for all to enjoy. I would say that my Father is the biggest influence concerning my life, and my career as a Golf Course Supt. Notice I said Golf Course Supt., and NOT Golf Professional – no way I was going to trapped in a golf shop. I am an outdoors person and always will be.

3. What aspect of golf course maintenance is the most critical/the most difficult, that the average golfer/member would have no idea about?

I would say without a doubt that today’s golfer for the most part has no idea what goes into growing, and keeping fine turf alive, playable, and aesthetically appealing. With today’s expectations of the playing surfaces, I would say that our job as Turf Managers has become much more difficult. For instance – our profession has become very competitive in today’s Golf Market, particularly where several courses are within close proximity of each other. There are only so many players to go around, and to sustain any Club. Thus you have what I refer to as “The Great Speed Wars” amongst Clubs, and many instances some of the Clubs do not have the budget, staff, architecture, or means to keep Green Speeds consistently fast. I have witnessed this Speed War on all levels, and it has created many sleepless nights for myself and many other Supts. I’m sure. As the saying goes “Speed Kills” can hold true for golf greens, especially where demands are cashing checks that some budgets cannot afford. I could go on and on about this topic alone, but will not bore you with it… Secondly I would say that Mother Nature has dealt us all some challenges in the last 20 years that are increasingly challenging to say the least. It would seem that we are in a pattern of extremes, with very little season of moderation. Too wet, to dry, to hot, too cold and in many cases within the same week. Not much we can do about this one but to stay as informative to our membership, and players as we can. Explain what is happening out there, why, and in a POSITIVE MANNER.

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4. In contrast, what aspect of golf course upkeep is overrated, yet you keep hearing about it.

Green Speeds – for sure… Go for consistency throughout the course given the conditions we are confronted with each day.

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

I love trees – If placed in the proper locations, are of the correct specie for the given location. Too many times I have seen plantings as yardage markers for instance that grew to be quite in the way of not very errant shots, or encroached playing surfaces in a way that effected the sustainability of fine turf. There is an old saying –“Grass Don’t Grow In The Woods” and it is for the most part – true. Turf and Trees are in direct completion with each other.

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?

Fairway widths play a very important part in day to day play. I believe that widths should coordinate with the caliber of player that most frequents your establishment, can be covered properly with irrigation, are proportionate with any given golf hole, and fit given budget restraints. Contouring is appealing to the eye, and a great way to enhance the overall look of a course. Know where the prime landing areas are and widen them out to accommodate all levels of player no matter what Tee Marker position is played from. Good shots need be rewarded! Good definition on a course is also very appealing to the eye, but one must achieve this without what I refer to as “OLYMPIC ROUGH” or U.S. Open Rough on every golf hole . Buffers of somewhat longer rough to stop errant shots on public courses can be a good thing, and speed up play. Speed of play has become a very big issue in our industry, and no one enjoys being beat up by rough that is just too tough to hit from, and quite frankly not fair. If possible, a First Cut of Rough that is maintained at a height somewhere between Fairway height and Primary Rough height is a nice look, and can be forgiving to any player that has missed the Fairway by only a small distance. Again accomplishing some of these practices depends on budget constraints, staffing, and proper equipment to do the job. Something that can and should go along with this topic is the height of cut on Fairways. The average or below average player does not like or know what to do with a “tight lie”. This tight lie is usually accomplished with mowing heights of under a half inch. Good players love tight fairways because it is easier for them to spin approach shots into greens. The average “Joe” likes to “nudge the ball around a bit” if you know what I mean?

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?

Actually throughout my career I have felt that it is my job to make Green Chairman, Board Members, Owners, and or Members aware of what would ideally be best in any given situation – whether we could afford to reach those goals or not. Sometimes if you are a good enough salesman these wants or needs can be fulfilled… I believe that anything that can help our operation run smoother, more efficiently, and with less cost is paramount in today’s market. Good maintenance practices result in good playing conditions, and good will. The people that I work with here at Holiday Valley are VERY aware of customer wants, needs, and expectations. There really is not much that I can make them more aware of in that respect. We must be good stewards of the game, and the environment – striving for an equal balance.

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?

My Grounds Crew number has been around 9 – Including myself. Assembling and keeping a strong crew is paramount. Unfortunately I am sorry to say has become more of a challenge today for many reasons I would suspect. It is just harder to find good, dedicated workers these days – I believe most everywhere. Minimum wage increases, and expectations, or feeling of entitlement on behalf of today’s work force that are not truly earned seem to be a big factor these days.

– I try hard to interview potential employees quite thoroughly, check with their references, and lay “the ground rules” early in the process. Document these proceedings so that you can refer to them in time of need.
– Work with the crew as much as possible – lead by example! It is a good practice, good for your relationship with the ones that are “the” extension of your own hands…

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.

Question That Should Be Asked – “How Does One Excel, and Or Compete In Today’s” Golfing World”? “What Can We Do As Superintendents To Increase Our Revenues, and Customer Base”?