TRENT BOUTS: Sandhills GCSA Is Asset to Community
In June, some 60 golf course superintendents from the Sandhills and surrounding areas will lend their expertise free-of-charge at the U.S. Women's Open Championship at Pine Needles.
This kind of volunteer support is pretty much a weekly feature at professional golf tournaments across the country.
It is one reason why courses look so sensational during television coverage. It is also typical of what Scott Clawson refers to as "the brotherhood" that exists between superintendents.
Clawson, golf course superintendent at Seven Lakes Country Club, is president of the Sandhills Golf Course Superintendents Association.
The association celebrates its fifth birthday soon after the Women's Open.
The relative youth of the organization in an area so steeped in golfing history is a little misleading.
"Superintendents in the area have been networking, sharing their knowledge and helping each other out for years and years," Clawson says. "Having an association allows us to do what we've always been doing but on a more organized and more frequent basis."
The Sandhills GCSA has close to 120 members drawing on superintendents, assistant superintendents, educators, students and commercial suppliers who serve the 43 courses in Moore County. A dozen members are from courses outside the county, including ones located in Sanford and Fayetteville.
The association holds regular events to give members access to continuing education, latest research findings and a chance to network, which is as critical for golf course superintendents as it is in any profession.
"Our courses are so close together that generally when one superintendent is having a problem, he's not alone," Clawson says. "Disease pressures, weather impacts, you name it, we're often all in the firing line. So it helps enormously when we can warn each other, share solutions and even sometimes labor and equipment."
A few years ago, the fungal disease anthracnose affected several area courses and might have become widespread if not for the open lines of communication the Sandhills GCSA promotes.
Superintendents were able to exchange notes and take measures to stave off devastation the disease can inflict.
Weather damage, particularly from ice or wind, will often see neighboring superintendents lending resources to affected colleagues. Then there is the volunteer support for events like the Women's Open and the men's U.S. Opens at Pinehurst No. 2.
The beneficiaries in all of this certainly include members of the Sandhills GCSA but the positive impact extends far beyond. The interests of golfers and golf club operations are better protected as a result, as are surrounding businesses and their employees. Even non-golfing residents benefit from the insurance better-educated, better-connected superintendents provide.
Golf is the primary draw for the 1.1-million visitors to Moore County each year who inject spending worth in the order of $800,000 a day. Tax revenues alone from travel and tourism save $825 for each household in the county.
There's a good reason the Pinehurst area's Convention and Visitors Bureau has the web address www.homeofgolf.com.
"We're literally protecting that asset at the grass roots," Clawson says. "And every superintendent knows just how challenging it is to present a playable and enjoyable golf course. Our product is on the line seven days a week. Our work is under the microscope constantly. We take a lot of pride in that."
Bill Patton, who oversees two courses at Forest Creek Golf Club, believes the existence of the Sandhills GCSA does more than help protect golf course health.
"I think it raises the standards of all golf courses in the area," he says. "When superintendents can see and hear regularly what is working somewhere else, then they are going to look hard at whether that practice can be applied to their own facility. Rising seas raise all boats."
Patton was the Sandhills GCSA's first president, serving a two-year term, just as Clawson is to further ease the load on David Fruchte, who is superintendent host for the Women's Open, his third in a 17-year stint at Pine Needles. Fruchte was president in 2006.
He is one of a long list of senior superintendents that Clawson says firmly established the practice of sharing knowledge and support in the Sandhills, even before the association was formed.
Among others are George Thompson, who Clawson refers to as "The Godfather" and who was inducted into the Carolinas Golf Hall of Fame last year, and long-standing Pinehurst pillars Brad Kocher, Bob Farren and Jeff Hill.
Since forming in 2002, the Sandhills GCSA has donated close to $20,000 towards turfgrass research projects at North Carolina State University, student scholarships at Sandhills Community College and charitable relief efforts, including Hurricane Katrina.
Members also donated labor and expertise to help create and grow a five-acre parkland out of an old dump at the Pinehurst Arboretum. They have also helped take care of football fields at Pinecrest High School.
The next major project is, of course, the Women's Open in the last week of June.
Trent Bouts is a freelance writer based in Asheville and editor of Carolinas Green magazine for the Carolinas Golf Course Superintendents Association.
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