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Champions Retreat Golf Club

Scott Slemp

Scott Slemp, Head Superintendent of Champions Retreat Golf Club in Evans, Georgia and winner of the 2012 Superintendent of the Year award sat down for a few minutes with GCT’s Jay Flemma to talk about Scott’s work on the club’s wildly successful $1.25 million renovation.

GCT: How did you come to decide you wanted to be a golf course Superintendent and how did you pursue that career path?

SS: I was the only boy in the family, and my Dad passed away when I was 13. So my Mom, who was always encouraging me and wanting to keep me busy and productive, suggested I try golf. I had some friends on the school golf team, so they took me in and I fell in love with it. I loved being outdoors, and I loved the camaraderie, and about how golf teaches you lessons about life. It made me want to make the business my life, I loved it so much.

So I went to Gulf Coast Community College, which was close to home and has one of the best golf course operations programs in the country. When I got there, I became fascinated with turfgrasses and drainage. That’s what I found the most interesting and challenging.

GCT: Tell us about Champions Retreat and about you’re the work you’re been doing there as the superintendent.

SS: It’s a wonderful private club built on a terrific piece of property with three interesting and beautiful 9-hole layouts by Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, and Gary Player. We recently upgraded the club’s entire infrastructure to make all the turfgrass, drainage, and equipment all state-of-the-art so that we can provide consistent fast and firm conditions all year round.

GCT: What were some of the agronomic challenges you faced there and how did you overcome them?

SS: We want fast and firm conditions here every day, year round, and we want the conditions to be consistent all the way around the course. But it was difficult – we’re located in the Savannah River basin, which is a rapidly fluctuating water table. Moreover, the release of water from the nearby Furman damn also directly affects our too. Sometimes so much water was released by the Furman dam, we would have flooding on holes on two of the three 9-hole courses.
Then, a year ago, we had a historic rainy season – 26 inches more than the average yearly rainfall. And on top of that it was one of the hottest years on record in Georgia as well. It was so bad we had to shut down some holes.

So we immediately decided to put together an enormous equipment package: water and moisture management, verticutting, and topdressing. We got the latest in technology from Toro for the irrigation system. Now we have moisture meters all across the property, and we can apply exactly the amount of water we need, where we need it. We have instant access and control over everything via our cell phones and laptops. We can react instantaneously – it gives us such specific detail, we can make quick efficient choices to balance the environment, weighing all factors, even when they change on a daily, even hourly basis. And with our new Lynx-based operating software, we even have around-the-clock weather monitoring updates, guaranteeing efficient water use at all times. It’s really exciting. And now we have perfectly fast and firm conditions every day.

GCT: We understand you also had assistance from the always handy Army Corps of Engineers.

SS: Their help and cooperation are so important. They’re so gracious to be on call almost 24/7 and give us a heads-up when more water will be released from the dam. Now we can be proactive and alter our watering schedule so we can anticipate our needs in advance.

GCT: The new equipment also helped you solve a problem with the bunker sand freezing….

SS: Warmer weather helped too!

(Laughter…)

SS: Toro’s latest technology gave us instant results. Now we can stir the sand better. That releases and dries the granules, and they become better at wicking away moisture and staying dry.

GCT: What about tree removal? We all know how important it is to get rid of trees that have no golf architectural significance and which take all the nutrients away from the golf course…

SS: We have a new tree management program – something that’s so integral to healthy turf. We have a good balance here because the trees define the playing corridors, but they aren’t so predominant that the roots take nutrients away from the turf.

GCT: And they also don’t limit the amount of options and playing angles the golfer has to play the hole?

SS: Right! They don’t infringe on the airspace you need to play the holes the way the architect meant them to be played.
We also have a new lighting system so people can use the practice area at night. We have something called “Deck 5,” which is near the 4th green on the Palmer course. You can throw parties out there, and Masters Week it will be lit up all night.

GCT: What’s the funniest, weirdest, or zaniest thing you’ve had to deal with in the course of your career as a superintendent?

SS: I’ve seen a lot in 25 years, but one time I was doing irrigation repair on a line on this hole located near a highway, and I was lying down on the ground reaching into the hole to do the work. Suddenly there’s all these sirens going off, and these fire trucks start tearing into the club. I’m wondering what’s going on, and I hear people shouting, “Man down on the golf course! Man down on the golf course!”

Then I realized they were all pointing at me. They saw me on the ground, and thought I’d died…like I’d had a heart attack or something, and they called 911!

(Laughter…)

GCT: If a young golfer came up to you and said he wanted to be a golf course superintendent, what career advice would you give him?

SS: You have to love what you do. If you love it, it will never seem like a job. Golf’s a great way to spend a lifetime. For me, this isn’t a job, it’s a labor of love, I eat it up. I’ve had great support from others in the industry, and Champions Retreat has become like my family. Any successes I’ve had were built on the advice and support all those people gave me.

Growing grass is easy, but managing people is even more important. So if you manage relationships well first, then the team will work hard for you and be loyal. And also always say “thank you” for a job well done. Everyone likes to hear that. Do that and you’ll have a great career.

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