How did you get your start in the golf industry?
My first job in the golf industry was on the grounds crew at Golden Eagle Country Club in Tallahassee, Florida. I can still remember strapping on my boots for my first day on the job as if it were yesterday. Although it has been over 25 years and my job responsibilities have changed significantly, my passion for the profession remains equally intense today. I feel blessed to have stumbled into the golf industry!
After high school I was undecided on what I wanted to do in life. My father insisted I continue my formal education so I attended Tallahassee Community College where I obtained an Associate in Arts Degree. Unfortunately this experience didn’t add clarity in choosing a career path. I was debating several professions, including civil engineering when a friend told me I should get a job working on the local golf course. He had just finished a summer job on the grounds crew. He said his boss (the golf course superintendent) had attended a school in Pennsylvania that taught you how to build golf courses. He added that golf course experience was a prerequisite for acceptance into the program. The timing was perfect. I was bored in the classroom and I loved being outdoors so I cut my rather long hair and I applied for a job at Golden Eagle Country Club. Jeff Vietmeier, the golf course superintendent, saw my passion and dedication, so he quickly took me under his tutelage. As it turned out, “the school in Pennsylvania that taught you how to build golf courses” was Penn State and the program was the two-year Winter Course Program in Turfgrass Management.
My passion on the job carried over to my formal turfgrass education at Penn State, and I graduated with Highest Distinction. At Penn State I was fortunate to meet one of my most influential mentors, Dr. Joseph Duich. My first day at Penn State is equally vivid in my mind as my first day at Golden Eagle. It was on that day that Dr. Duich taught me a lesson that has afforded me success in the profession.
After my classmates and I were all seated, Dr. Duich walked into the room and went straight to the chalkboard. Without a word and without facing us, he drew a circle on the board. He then drew a small triangle inside the circle. Inside the triangle, which encompassed about 10 percent of the circle, he wrote the word “turf.” On the remaining 90 percent he wrote the word “people.” He then turned to address the 25 eager turf students and said, “You have come from around the world to learn how to become a highly skilled and educated golf course superintendent.” After a well timed pause he continued, “Unfortunately in the next two years we will only be able to teach you 10 percent of what you need to know, the other 90 percent of what you need to be successful will be determined by how well you manage and interact with people, and that we can not teach you.”
My classmates and I were a little dumfounded, which was obvious to Dr. Duich by our blank stares. After another lengthy pause he said, “You will all call me within five years to tell me I was correct.” It took a little while for this to sink in, but Dr. Duich was obviously correct. The golf industry is a “relationship business” and in less than two years I made that telephone call and he was there to talk me through a problem I was facing.
I have coined the term “the Duich pie” for the drawing Dr. Duich made that day, and it was just one of the many invaluable lessons he taught me. I have countless “Duichisms” rolling around in my head.
Can you tell us a few things about your early life, where were you born, what high school, first jobs?
I was born in Huntsville, Alabama, but 22 days after birth, my mother flew me to our new home in Florida. Other than college at Penn State and an internship at Augusta National in Georgia, Florida has been my home since I was less than a month old. Just prior to my birth, my father had transferred from Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville to Cape Canaveral in Florida. Before I entered grade school my father accepted a job with the State of Florida, and after bouncing back and forth between Tallahassee and Jacksonville, Tallahassee became my home from 5th grade through community college.
I attended Lincoln High School in Tallahassee where I played four years of basketball and was on the cross-country team. In my senior year, I was co-captain of the varsity basketball team. Because of my length of residence in Florida, I like to joke that I have orange juice in my veins.
Among many other positive personality traits, my father instilled in me a strong work ethic. While not in the golf industry, throughout high school and college, I always held a part time job. My father passed away last year from Alzheimer’s disease, but my mother and brother still live in Tallahassee. Mom is a retired educator and my brother is a sergeant with the Tallahassee Police Department where he has been employed for 25 years.
How do you work with people to create a team?
My philosophy in managing a team is to surround myself with talented and dedicated individuals and practice good delegation skills. I treat my staff with the same respect and appreciation that I am afforded by my employer. Consequently, members of my team take ownership in their work.
What achievements are you most proud of?
I am extremely proud of my volunteer service to the golf industry. It is an honor to give back to a profession that has been so rewarding. I am extremely proud to have served as President of the Everglades GCSA, The Florida GCSA and the Florida Turfgrass Association. However, my current service on the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA) Board of Directors is especially meaningful. National board service was never an aspiration of mine, but it’s particularly meaningful because of the admiration I have for the gentlemen who have served our great association. Beginning with my first job at Golden Eagle, I have taken advantage of all the services and benefits of GCSAA membership, so I am proud to be able to give back to the association and my fellow 17,000 members.
I am also extremely proud to have obtained the designation as a Certified Golf Course Superintendent (CGCS). I was a 25-year member of GCSAA before completing the stringent requirements to become certified. I made the voluntary commitment to demonstrate to my employer and others my deep commitment to obtaining, and maintaining the highest level of credentialing available.
What item or person could you not do without at your golf course?
It would be impossible to pick one item or one person I could not do without, but it would be easy to pick one group. I would not be nearly as successful at Olde Florida if it were not for the loyalty and dedication of my management team. My assistant superintendents, my equipment manager and my office manager are all dedicated individuals who are passionate about the job they perform. Their efforts and support enable me to remain focused on the big picture and the long-term goals of our operation as they relate to providing the membership and their guests with a red-carpet experience every time they visit our facility.
What is your favorite part of the job, least favorite?
My favorite part of the job is providing the membership a playing surface and overall golfing experience that they enjoy and are proud of. A close second is watching my assistant superintendents learn, grow and advance their own careers.
My least favorite part of the job is the potential volatility. I compare the golf course superintendent profession to that of professional football coach. Both can be a “what have you done for me lately” job and the fate of your employment is often based on your last season.
Do you collect anything? Hub caps, license plates, signs…
Earlier in life I was an avid coin collector. I still have the collection, but I have not significantly added to it for many years. Collecting coins has since been replaced with collecting pictures of me holding fish that I actually do catch!
What would you do if you won the lottery?
Obviously it would depend on the dollar amount. If it were less than a couple million, I would continue working as the golf course superintendent at Olde Florida. I truly love my job. However, I wont kid anybody; if my earnings were significant enough I would invest wisely and enjoy a winter home in Naples and a cabin in the mountains of Tennessee or the Carolina’s. If I “hit the big one,” there are a number of individuals and groups that I would quickly provide a significant gift. I would also establish a charitable foundation. It gives me great satisfaction and joy to bring happiness into others’ lives.
Few people know I like to…
Very few people know that I thoroughly enjoy cooking, dining at unique restaurants and watching cooking shows. The Cooking Channel and Food Network are on my remote “favorite list,” and I also set my DVR to record Diners, Drive-in’s and Dives, Man vs. Food and Eat St. When traveling I try to visit the restaurants that I have watched on these shows. When cooking at home, the Big Green Egg is one of my favorite tools. I have mastered the cooking of Lechon Asado (Cuban citrus and garlic roast pork) and barbecue pulled pork.
What do you like to do away from work? If you have time to yourself what do you like to do?
The first and easy answer to what I enjoy away from work is to fish. I enjoy all types of fishing. Deep sea fishing for grouper, backwater fishing for snook and redfish, freshwater fishing for largemouth bass and fly fishing for trout, to name just a few. I have a 16-foot Carolina Skiff that I keep in my garage and whenever I have the opportunity, I use it to fish in the 10,000 islands and Everglades National Park. I also enjoy a good fiction book. James Patterson, John Grisham, Stuart Woods, and David Baldacci are a few of my favorite authors.
Darren J. Davis, CGCS
Golf Course Superintendent
Olde Florida Golf Club