April 2021

Major Hostís Talents Set in Stone Early On

When Jeff Stone serves as golf course superintendent host to the PGA Championship, his second, at the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Resort next month, one good judge will not be surprised. Mike Crawford, CGCS director of golf course operations at the PGA Tour, could tell more than 30 years ago that Stone was going places. Crawford went through the legendary Lake City Community College turfgrass program alongside Stone and couldn’t have been more impressed.

“There was a group of us that ran in the same circle. We socialized and played a lot of golf together,” Crawford says. “Jeff was always pretty smart, and very highly motivated. Sometimes you come across people who you can tell are capable of going as far as they want to go, and Jeff definitely had that drive.”

Florida born and raised, Stone graduated with Crawford and several other running mates in 1990 and has been at Kiawah Island Resort ever since. He took over as superintendent at the Ocean Course in 2003. He hosted the World Cup in 2004, the PGA Club Professional Championship in 2005, the Senior PGA Championship in 2007 and South Carolina’s first major, the 2012 PGA Championship, won by Rory McIlroy.

Given his abilities and experience, it should be no surprise that this Stone is still at Kiawah Island Resort after all this time. Then there’s this. Interviewed for Carolinas Green before the Senior PGA Championship in 2007, Stone said of Kiawah Island and the Ocean Course: “Someone said it’s like Jurassic Park out here with all the wildlife and how natural it is…It’s probably the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. What a place to be working.”

For the record, Stone was in some good company in his circle, pictured above. Four of the five are still in the business and doing well. Mike Greninger, fourth from left, is test facility manager for Acushnet and Titleist, and Mark Isley, far right, is general manager at Laguna National Golf Club in Singapore.

Calendar of Events

April 12
2021 Hamrick Cup - Catawba Country Club - Hickory, NC

April 12
MTA-PGCSA Joint Meeting - Florence Country Club

Piedmont GCSA 2021 Match Play Team Championship
Deadline to register: Tuesday, April 13th

April 14
Piedmont GCSA Spring Opener - The Challenge Golf Club

April 30
Low Country GCSA 2021 Skeet Shoot - Turkey Hill Plantation

May 4
TTA Bob Mashburn Memorial Scholarship Tournament - The Heritage Club

May 19
NSTA Paradise Valley Par 3

Mark Your Calendar!
Carolinas GCSA
Annual Conference & Trade Show
November 15 - 17
Myrtle Beach Convention Center
Myrtle Beach, SC


Lowcountry Gem Hosts New Tour Stop in June

What most people in Carolinas golf have heard about Congaree Golf Club will soon be on show for all to see. Congaree, which opened quietly in Ridgeland, SC in 2017, has stepped in to host a new one-off PGA Tour event, the Palmetto Championship, from June 7 to 13. That means while most will see the course for the first time on CBS and Golf Channel, some Carolinas GCSA members will have an even closer view, as volunteers.

Congaree’s director of golf course operations John Lavelle and golf course superintendent David Barrett anticipate needing about 40 additional golf course maintenance personnel tournament week. The bulk of the 80-strong team they plan to run will come from Congaree and sister club, Diamond Creek in Banner Elk, NC.

The Palmetto Championship takes the place of the RBC Canadian Open, which was canceled because of logistical challenges related to the pandemic. The pandemic has forced several schedule adjustments across the professional tours and the latest gives Lavelle and Barrett just over two months to get ready. This week’s forecast highs in the mid-80s are a good sign for the course’s TifGrand fairways and tees and Champion bermudagrass greens.

Congaree is a Tom Fazio design that is regarded in circles that matter as one of his very best. The course is set on more than 2,000 acres of undeveloped Lowcountry forest and lakes. As much as the golf course is the star, the club’s primary focus is philanthropy. The club’s Ambassador Members and the Congaree Foundation provide resources for educational and vocational opportunities to underserved and ambitious youths locally and around the world.

That same week, South Carolina will also host the annual BMW Charity Pro-Am presented by Synnex Corporation in Greenville. Both events come just a month after the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Resort hosts the PGA Championship.

Rounds 4 Research Funds Pay Off In Musser Award Winnerís Work

Rounds 4 Research funds helped drive the work of the 2021 Musser Foundation Award of Excellence winner, Cameron Stephens. Stephens is a recent North Carolina State plant pathology and crop and soil sciences alumnus who distinguished himself with groundbreaking research on take-all root rot (TARR). He is the fifth winner from NC State since the award, often referred to as the “Heisman” for turfgrass graduate students, began in 1989.

TARR is one of the most frequently diagnosed in NC State’s Turf Diagnostic Lab and is frequently confused with nematode damage and Pythium root rot, both of which are managed differently. Misdiagnosis can lead to improper management strategies which may result in economic loss.

“We’ve learned that this disease is caused by multiple pathogens – up to five now that researchers have identified,” Stephens says. “It’s a complex disease. We are working to understand the disease’s dynamics which will impact our management recommendations – like which fungicides are effective, the optimal timing for fungicides treatments, and best post-application practices to target soilborne diseases.” 

Stephens’ research has already led to earlier season treatment recommendations. “TARR has typically been managed curatively in the fall, but we’ve found these pathogens are most active in the summer. Fungicides applied in late-July to early-August in our area result in the best TARR suppression” Stephens says. “But it’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are only a handful of researchers working on this disease and there’s so much more to learn.”     

Travis Gannon and Jim Kerns co-advised Stephens in his doctoral work. Stephens now works with BASF in the Research Triangle Park, NC as technical market manager for turf and ornamentals. To donate a tee time or make a monetary gift to this year’s Rounds 4 Research auction go to www.eifg.org.

Local Associations Continue The Return to Activities

As temperatures and the number of Americans vaccinated against COVID-19 continue to rise, local associations in the Carolinas are ramping up activity. In fact, eight of the 12 local associations will be involved in some form of in-person event this month alone, ranging from golf events, to education, inter-association challenges and skeet shooting.

As Ryan Gamble, Palmetto GCSA president, from the Members Club at Grande Dunes in Myrtle Beach, SC writes: “Pretty obvious that we are in a better place than we were this time last year…I am pleased to announce that we are planning a full calendar of events for 2021.” The first for the Palmetto GCSA, the largest of the local associations in the region, takes on the Midlands GCSA at Florence Country Club on April 14.

The Upstate Turfgrass Association started its year with a sporting clays competition in February and followed with go-kart racing as a team building exercise for the board of directors. That event was so successful the association is looking at a large-scale outing on the track later this year.

Some local associations have also introduced virtual events to help fill the void created by the pandemic. North-South Turfgrass Association president Mike Cagiano from Warrior Golf Club in China Grove, NC describes their first virtual education conference in February as “a huge success.” “We had an all-star cast of presenters and we were able to provide those who attended not only highly educational content, but also both GCSAA education points, and NC and SC pesticide credits. We were all challenged with providing our membership with the best opportunity to participate in events and I believe we have achieved that so far.” 

Gamble spoke for his fellow local association leaders when he wrapped up his local association news report with: “We truly hope to see as many as possible at … functions for 2021 and are especially excited that things are beginning to get back to normal for all of us.”

Diamondback Pitches in On Course in Off-Season

Labor still an issue? Here’s an unlikely solution to the puzzle – Major League Baseball. And we’re not talking about recruiting the people who maintain the field, so much as those who play on it. Exhibit A: Taylor Widener, right-handed pitcher for the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Widener is considering a return to hometown Aiken, SC next off-season and could be looking for golf course work. After all, he spent the last two off-seasons turning at 5.30am to rake bunkers and mow greens at Westin Kierland Golf Club in Scottsdale, AZ.

Recently, he told the Arizona Republic that he likes the rhythm of the work, the chance to turn his mind off and immerse himself in the labor. “I enjoy the silence,” he said. “I could just go out there and relax.” In addition to “free golf,” Widener felt the job helped him get in better shape.

He thinks the early-morning wake-up calls got his body into a good routine. Riding his bike to work and walking 10 to 15 miles a day on course helped him arrive at spring training 30 pounds lighter than the previous spring. Dan Figueras, the director of agronomy at Kierland, told the newspaper, “I was going to send the Diamondbacks organization an invoice for his trimmed new physique.” And the 26-year-old has that essential ingredient – work ethic.

The same day Widener learned he was officially added to the Diamondbacks’ 40-man roster in November 2019, a bad storm inundated the golf course. “You would have never guessed that he just signed a big contract to realize his dreams,” Figueras said. “He still upheld his responsibility to come in on a day when it wouldn’t have been a whole lot of fun to go out and work in the rain.”

Widener’s parents, Billy and Elizabeth, live in Aiken and might be a good starting point for any recruiting efforts by superintendents in the area. Just sayin’.