Sue Spahr arrived at the Swanhills Golf Course 26 years ago to handle the grow in. The daily-fee club has been her professional home ever since.
“When I first came to this course, I intended it to be a stepping stone, just to get started and then to move on to bigger and better things,” she says. “But then I realized that this was kind of my niche, this kind of course. It’s a public golf course, we’re a very low-budget course. And I think I found that I kind of enjoy that. I enjoy being at a course that tries to make (golf) affordable, that tries to give as many people exposure to the game as they can.”
Spahr was Rick Woelfel’s guest on the inaugural edition of the Wonderful Women of Golf podcast. During their conversation, she reflected on the experience of seeing the course mature over the past quarter-century. “It was farmland before we built the golf course, so there weren’t a lot of existing trees,” she says. “So, the majority of foliage we brought in ourselves and I planted 26 years ago.
“Unfortunately, the majority of those trees were ash trees and emerald ash borer is killing all those trees. So all of those trees, 290 ash trees, we’re cutting all those down and replanting from a nursery I started years ago.”
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Spahr lacks the personnel that superintendents at larger-budget facilities enjoy. She and her mechanic are the only year-round turf employees. In season, the staff includes two additional full-time employees, plus approximately 10 part-timers.
“During the week, we’re able to arrive at 6 and get ahead of the golfers,” she says. “We don’t have a great deal of early-morning play during the week. Weekends, they are out there (early) so we need to be there to get in front of them. On weekends, we just cut greens, cut holes and rake bunkers, so we’re able to get out and get that done before the golfers get there.”
When it comes to maintenance, Spahr says it’s important to set priorities.
“You have to get through every day with blinders on, because you can’t possibly do everything that you think needs to be done,” she adds. “You have to figure out what the golfer sees and wants. You really have to know the clientele you’re catering to and, in our case, being a public course, you have a wide variety of people, but talking to people and knowing what your clientele wants is really important.
“For me, like most golf courses, you should concentrate your efforts on the greens and the green surrounds. We have a lot of drainage issues. I spend a lot of time trying to firm up the approaches. Not just the green but the approaches, the greenside bunkers, the cart paths, all the edging and trimming. We really want to make all that look as good as possible. Fortunately, I don’t have as much pressure as some guys in the industry have as far as green speeds. I don’t have to keep them lightning fast.”
When asked what challenges she faces that one of her peers at a private club would not, Spahr immediately mentions equipment.
“Our equipment is very old,” she says. “It’s really used. It’s what other people are getting rid of because it no longer functions properly for them. That’s our new stuff. So the equipment itself makes jobs take even longer and when you don’t have much of a staff in the first place, making any jobs longer and taking more time is a big issue. Equipment and lack of staff are probably the two biggest things.”
Spahr believes that golfers have become more appreciative of the superintendent’s role.
“Certainly, since I started, golfers have become much more understanding of superintendents’ practices and what maintenance needs to be done on the golf course,” she says. “I think a lot of things have contributed to that. The PGA, for one, has contributed greatly to that.
“The (Golf Course Superintendents Association of America) is phenomenal. I got involved as soon as I became a superintendent and I can’t say enough about the GCSAA. They have helped a great deal in terms of improving the image (of the profession) and making golfers more aware.”