How did you get your start in the golf industry?
I was raised in Iowa and was around Agriculture all of my early life. My family and relatives were all involved in farming or the agricultural business in one way or another. I knew I didn’t really want to go into farming so I headed out to California and became a chef. It was later at the age of 35 when I made a career change and got into the Turfgrass Management business.
Can you tell us a few things about your early life, where were you born, what high school, first jobs?
I was born in Cherokee, Iowa but spent most of my early life growing up in Ankeny, Iowa where I graduated from high school. The first jobs I had were centered on agriculture. Detassling corn, walking beans, bailing hay, etc. I learned early on that hard work was just part of life and it was what we did. I would like to think that is where I developed a work ethic that I have carried with me throughout my life and has always served me well in all the positions I have held.
Can you tell us a little about your family, how you met your wife, kid’s names?
I have been married to my wife Sherri for 23 years and she is definitely my “Rock of Gibraltor”. We met when I was a corporate Chef for the Busch Entertainment Corporation, the owners of Sea World and the Busch Garden Theme Parks. She was a student at San Diego State University and on the wait staff at one of the Restaurants in Sea World San Diego that I was responsible for. Initially she wouldn’t go out with me but persistence paid off and after that first date we were together for three years before getting married. Sherri is a Professor at Bradley University and the Chair of the Biology Department along with being the Co-Director of the STEM education center at Bradley. She has spent her academic career as a soil scientist and operates a very active soils laboratory and is quite an accomplished scientist in her field. I think she has forgotten more then I know!
We have 2 children. Maxwell is 12 years old and his sister, Madison, is 9. Both are very active in travel sports. Max is a hockey player and Madison is into soccer. It keeps us running in all directions all the time. We are proud of our kids!
Where did you go to school for turfgrass management?
I started my Turfgrass education at The Ohio State University where my wife was doing her PhD work. After completing my first year she took a post-doctoral position at Michigan State University. I transferred into the program at MSU and graduated in 2000 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Turfgrass Management and Soil Science. I bleed Green and White so when the Spartans and the Buckeyes play, things can get a little dicey around the Morris’ household. At least we do share a common hatred for the team out of Ann Arbor! That’s nice. I also have a 2 year degree in Biology from Columbus State Community College in Columbus, Ohio. I acquired this degree before I started at OSU.
Who was your earliest mentor in the industry and how did he inspire you?
Wow, tough to say there was only one mentor with so many great turf scientists and researchers around at Ohio State and Michigan State. If I had to choose one individual I would pick 2! Superintendent Kurt Thuemmel at Walnut Hills Country Club in East Lansing, Michigan and Mike Saffel, who was Superintendent at The Powder Horn in Sheridan, Wyoming.
Kurt is an unbelievable agronomist and taught me the importance of having a sound agronomic plan in place. You have to have a plan but it has to be executed diligently and continually. Kurt was hard on me and I knew he would be going into the position as a crew member. He used to drum up the worst jobs he could find and I raked a lot of bunkers with the Spanish speaking crew. I speak Spanish so it was ok by me. They became some close friends and kept me out of trouble with the boss. Kurt also showed me that quality and standards start in the shop and flow out on to the golf course. To this day that is the cleanest shop I have ever worked in. You could eat off the floor and everything had a place. I keep a clean shop and things in their place and tell my staff that the quality of our course starts in the shop just like Kurt taught me. A few years later when I became a Superintendent Kurt admitted he didn’t think I would survive in this business after having a career in a corporate environment. That was why he was hard on me. I was determined and 17 years later I am still doing what I am passionate about! Thanks Kurt!
I did my internship my senior year at The Powder Horn in Sheridan, Wyoming with Superintendent Mike Saffel. Mike was also a fantastic agronomist and reinforced some of the same things Kurt had shown me. Mike was one who believed you could keep things simple when managing turf and good agronomics were the base to any turf manager’s success. Mike also showed me how to take care of the business aspects of being a Superintendent and the importance of record keeping. His work ethic was unbelievable and he showed me how to strike a balance between being a Superintendent and having a family. It was about the quality of time you spent with your family not the quantity because in the end if the course needed you, then that is where you had to be. Even today when I am missing a soccer game, track meet or even a birthday I think of Mike reminding me that the course will always dictate how your time is allocated. All Superintendents have to deal with this at some point. I think most of us have learned to make time with our families count and enjoy those times. Mike gave me one of the greatest gifts I have received in life and that is the importance of spending quality time with my family.
How do you work with people to create a team?
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate! Keeping all my staff members informed down to the guy who rakes the bunkers on what the goals are for the department. Everybody needs to know what the game is and what the rules are or there is no team effort. I treat everyone with respect and try to know something about every one of my employees on a personal level. Everyone helps out when someone needs some extra help. We talk about “team” a lot with our crew and make sure they are all on board with that. Overall our club management philosophy is that of integrated team management from our GM down. It works best that way.
What achievements are you most proud of?
I would have to say I am most proud of seeing my past Assistants and interns have great success in our business. We have had interns for the last 10 years and they are all doing well in our industry in the U.S. and China. I am also proud of my Assistants that I have had over the years. They have gone on to be solid Superintendents and turf managers and some are leaders for their local GCSAA associations. I have always enjoyed my involvement in GCSAA. Being a mentor to young turf managers is important to me as I feel a responsibility to give something back to the industry. I by no means made them successful, they did the work, but I would like to think I played a small part in helping them get there. Being a good husband and father to my kids ranks pretty high also!
What item or person could you not do without at your golf course?
At this time I would have to say my First Assistant Alex Palos. This is his fourth year with me and he is on top of his game right now. I have worked with a few assistants and I can see when they are ready for that next step and Alex is there. That is how we do it here. About every 3-4 years I see my Assistants move into a Superintendent spot. Alex is an awesome asset to me but he is ready for the bigger challenge of being a Superintendent. If you need one, I got one!
What is your favorite part of the job, least favorite?
I think my favorite part of my job is what I call the “Mental Gymnastics.” That is, as a superintendent you are constantly bombarded with situations that require different types of creative thinking. Whether you are identifying a disease, fixing an irrigation issue, calculating a chemical rate or dealing with an employee issue you have to think. Sometimes it is thinking in a scientific approach and other times more practical or analytical. I enjoy switching those gears from one thought process to another. Superintendents wear a lot of different hats.
My least favorite aspect of the job is when things beyond my control impact the course or my staff. For example, dealing with rain days. This year that has been huge and it impacts my clubs revenue, member satisfaction and employee morale. When there are no carts the members aren’t happy. When I send my crew home early I am cutting into their paycheck. It is during times of drought, heat and excessive rain when my hands are “off the wheel” that bother me most. I think most Superintendents probably feel this way. I does keep the job interesting and forces me back to what I enjoy which is thinking creatively!
Do you collect anything? Hub caps, license plates, signs…
With my son being a hockey player I do collect hockey cards. I also have a pretty good collection of antique fishing lures.
What would you do if you won the lottery?
I think I would set up a scholarship fund for Turf students at my alma mater, Michigan State University, and give some to local charities. Then buy a retirement home somewhere warm!
Few people know I like to…
Play acoustic guitar and sing. Been playing for 40 years. Wow, I am old!
What do you like to do away from work? If you have time to yourself what do you like to do?
Fishing is number one choice with hunting a close second. I find a lot of enjoyment floating in my boat or sitting in a tree stand watching nature, even if the deer don’t want to cooperate. I also like to spend time with my family traveling and exposing my kids to different cultures.