is the course superintendent of the two courses at the Chautauqua golf club
. In a town where philosophers and plowmen exchange nods and hugs, the benefits offered by two swell courses are palpable. The Lake course, designed by Seymour Dunn and Donald Ross, is complemented by the Upper course, laid out by the uniquely-named, Xenophon Hassenplug. The two courses contrast unique eras of architecture, and exert diverse demands on the grounds crew. Here is our interview with Trevor Burlingame.
1. Tell us a bit about yourself, where you’re from, where you work, and how long you’ve been there.
I live in Lakewood, NY with my wife Beth and 12 year old son, Matthew. I work at Chautauqua Golf Club
at the Chautauqua Institution where I’ve been the golf course superintendent for 15 years.
2. How did you get into golf course grounds and maintenance?
My first job was at Cable Hollow Golf Course in Russell, PA. It was simply a summer job as a graduating high school senior on my way to college. I never thought it would lead to a career. In fact, I didn’t know it was even a career choice. After a couple seasons on the crew, and really enjoying working outside, I changed my major to Turfgrass Management. Did your education/training propel you that way?
3. What aspect of golf course maintenance is the most critical/the most difficult, that the average golfer/member would have no idea about?
In my opinion, the most critical aspect of golf course maintenance is water management, both adding water and taking it away. Sub par irrigation and drainage can make for a long season for a golf course superintendent. Golfers understand the importance of good irrigation and drainage, but they have little idea how much time and effort is spent keeping them operating properly, especially courses with aging systems.
4. In contrast, what aspect of golf course upkeep is overrated, yet you keep hearing about it.
For me it’s a toss up between color and grain for the most overrated aspect of course upkeep. Color is just that, color. It has no impact on the playability of a golf course. Some of our best playing conditions come when the course is slightly less green. As far as grain is concerned, I’m sure it affects ball roll a little, but with today’s mowing heights on greens, it doesn’t play as big a factor as much as it did back in the day.
5. Some people love trees. How do you feel about trees on a golf course?
They have their place. Parkland golf courses are defined by trees, but links style designs need to carefully consider if and where a tree should be planted. A small, seemingly out of the way tree when planted can be a design and/or maintenance nightmare 20 years down the road. A lot of us are now forced to make the unpopular decision to remove otherwise healthy trees that have become a detriment to both the health of the turf and making a fair shot.
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?
All these really depend on what type of course you have. Are you a private course or a daily fee/resort course? What type of course does the membership/ownership desire? A daily fee is more likely to have wider fairways and shorter rough to help speed up play and score better, leading to higher customer satisfaction and return rate. We’re trying to find a middle ground at Chautauqua. Fairways aren’t terribly wide, but we try to keep the rough from being too tough. Golf should be fun.
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?
Definitely back to water management infrastructure. The in-ground control component portion, wiring, decoders, etc, of our irrigation system is nearing the end of its useful and reliable life. We are getting along just fine, but the time we spend troubleshooting and repairing our irrigation takes us away from some projects we would rather be tackling.
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?
Love my grounds crew. We’ve got about 20 seasonal, part-time staff along with my assistant superintendent and equipment manager to handle our 36 holes, Learning Center and driving range. I have always half jokingly said that I hire on entertainment value rather than ability. I want my staff to have fun working here and I think they do since I have very little turn over from season to season. This certainly makes it easier from a staff training standpoint.