As superintendent of Furman University’s Furman Golf Club in Greenville County, S.C., Paul Brandenburg, CGCS, has a unique perspective that comes from having overseen a university-owned, semi-private golf course for nearly 25 years. We talked with Paul about the origins of his career and his aspirations for the future of the course.
What sparked your interest in the golf course industry?
When I was in high school, they built a golf course right near where I lived, Thornblade Club in Greenville, S.C. My mom was working in the office there, and I needed a job for the summer before my senior year of college at The Citadel. She knew the superintendent at the time, who ended up becoming a mentor to me, and I went to work for him that summer. After I graduated college, I was looking for a full-time job, so I went back to the golf course and ended up deciding that I wanted to make a career out of golf course maintenance. After working at Thornblade for three years, I went back to school at N.C. State University to study turfgrass management and worked at the Governors Club in Chapel Hill. After I got my degree, I worked for three years as assistant golf course superintendent at Charlotte Country Club and then came to Furman in 1999. I’ve been here ever since.
What is the difference between working at a college golf course and a private club?
It’s very different. The focus is certainly not the same. We have varsity men’s and women’s golf teams that play and practice here, and we want them to have the best conditions we can offer. We’re technically a semi-private course with around 200 members, but we’re very much open to the public, so our goal is also to provide a recreational service to all the golfers in Greenville County. With the [impact of the] COVID-19 pandemic and the way golf routes have increased in the last two years, we’re doing quite a bit of tourist/resort golf here, and we’re busy every day. My budget isn’t as big as a country club budget so we can’t present the same green conditions – I have five full-time employees other than me, and I supplement that with a handful of part-time employees. We try to get all our work done in the morning before the course starts to fill up, and then we’re doing smaller projects on the side, so it’s a different approach for sure.
What projects are you working on currently?
The course is close to 80 years old now. Our first irrigation system was installed in 1985, so we’re planning to do a complete irrigation overhaul in the next year. We also need to replace the pump station to bring us up to modern-day standards, and we want to add a proper clubhouse. We have a small clubhouse operation that fits us well for now, but we’re thinking of doubling or tripling the size of it. In my time here, we’ve rebuilt greens and bunkers, grassed the fairways, built new tees, and more, so I’d say that some of that will need to happen again soon. Looking to the future, it will be interesting to see how the golf industry continues to perform in the next five or 10 years. It seems like we’re at an all-time high as far as interest, and Greenville is a great place in the South for people who like to golf.
What is your favorite piece of equipment?
We have so many trees here, so we would not function without powerful leaf and debris blowers. We recently bought a Buffalo Turbine tow-behind debris blower, and we love it. I don’t get out there and run equipment or mow much anymore, but I do like to run the turbine.
What do you enjoy most about your career?
I guess the normal answer for most golf course superintendents is that we love golf. I used to love playing, but now I don’t play as much because I’m not very good at it anymore [laughs]. But as a superintendent, you get to make a lot of important decisions, and there is satisfaction when things go your way. You must be on your game – you can’t afford to make big mistakes, so there’s a challenge in that. Mostly, I enjoy the look of a well-maintained golf course. I like having people compliment us and seeing positive reviews online, and I enjoy having a great crew. When you have a group of people wo are dependable, it’s very rewarding.
What do you like to do in your free time?
My two kids are in college (one at Furman), so there’s no more weekly swim practice or soccer practice. I’ve always enjoyed soccer myself, so I’m coaching high school soccer, which is a lot of fun. My wife and I spend a lot of time together going to college football games and tailgating with friends. We recently put a pool in our backyard, so I spend most of my time cleaning it [laughs]. We also have a new puppy that keeps us busy. I consider myself very fortunate.
Kyra Molinaro is an award-winning writer and editor based in Richmond, Virginia. She manages donor communications in the Advancement Office at the University of Richmond.