September 28, 2015 – Superintendents from Georgia and the Carolinas have named the trophy for their annual golf grudge match after one of the giants of the profession, Randy Nichols, CGCS. Nichols, 68, was present for a surprise announcement of the honor on the eve of this year’s matches, eventually won by the Georgia GCSA. The matches, known as the Highlands Cup, are presented by Ewing Irrigation and Hunter Industries.
“To me, Randy is one of the unsung heroes of our industry,” says Fred Gehrisch, CGCS from Highlands Falls Country Club in Highlands, NC, who worked for a decade under Nichols at Cherokee Town and Country Club in Atlanta, GA. Gehrisch was co-host for this year’s event along with Steve Mason at Sky Valley Country Club in nearby Sky Valley, GA.
“Obviously he had a profound impact on my career but he directed a huge change of direction at GCSAA that set the foundation for the success it enjoys today,” Gehrisch says. “To have the opportunity to stand in front of my colleagues and say something in Randy’s honor announcing the trophy in his name was a real privilege.”
Once featured in a national magazine’s short list of “Titans of Our Industry,” Nichols, 68, was the long-time superintendent at Cherokee. He served as president of GCSAA in 1993-94 during a sensitive political period and was subsequently credited with overhauling the way GCSAA did business. Close observers at the time recalled Nichols risking his personal and professional standing to lead the association into a new era.
Others who were part of unveiling the Nichols Trophy included Dirk Hessmann from Ewing Irrigation, who also worked for him, and Kevin Johnson from Hunter Industries, whose professional relationship with Nichols goes back many years. “I think the fact there were a number of guys at the event with ties to Randy made it all the more special for him,” Johnson says. “He is so deserving of recognition for what he has given to the profession as a whole and to so many individuals along the way.”
Nichols admits he was caught off guard by the surprise announcement. “I had no idea that was going to happen,” he says. “But any time you receive accolades from your peers it means so much more. When people who worked for you say nice things it means a whole lot more because they were there, experiencing what you experienced.”
The three-day event included 54 holes of modified four-ball and singles competition across the two courses which sit either side of the state line. Georgia won the inaugural matches last year by a sweeping 14-2 margin. They backed up again mid-September with another win, 13.5-2.5. “At least we did better this year,” Gehrisch quipped.
As Johnson explains, the goal of the event is not determining which state has the best golfing superintendents but “celebrating the end of what is always a long summer for superintendents in this part of the country.” “We’re most happy to be able to support superintendents from both states with this chance to wind down a little and build relationships with their colleagues.”
This year’s event included a Big Break-style skills challenge at Sky Valley’s practice facility at dusk. A highlight of the challenge was firing at the mouth of a 25-ft high inflatable dinosaur dubbed Golfzilla. The skills challenge was followed by three holes of night golf that proved equally as popular.
“This is such a great event,” says Jeff Miller from the Harbor Club in Greensboro, GA. “I can see it becoming a great tradition and one that a lot of superintendents are going to want to be a part of in years to come. Nothing beats being able to get together like this.”
Johnson says both Hunter and Ewing are committed to the event long-term. “This event is our stake in the ground in Georgia and the Carolinas,” he says. “We are looking to build and add to the event year after year. This is a long-term deal as far as we’re concerned.”