PGA Professional Fred Barr took Golf Operations class out for a field trip to Leisure World in Mesa. Fred’s a brave man. This was no ordinary road trip. There are 30 of us in the class right now, and talking is never an issue. We always have lots of questions, but our class is different in a good way. I expect good things down the road.
We were greeted by Travis Fish, who’s been the Director of Golf at Leisure World for almost four years now. Travis used to work at The Raven at Sabino Springs (now Arizona National) and El Conquistador Country Club in Tucson and The Gallery Golf Club in Marana before that.
Travis is a numbers guy, and he wasn’t afraid to tell us how much it costs to run a 36-hole facility like Leisure World. Everything has a number to it – real dollars and cents – including all the equipment it takes to maintain the golf courses.
I said courses… plural. There are two courses out here: Heron Lakes at a little over 4,000 yards and Coyote Run that tips-out at nearly 6,500 yards. They have been entrusted to the very capable hands of Greens Superintendent Fidel Ramirez. Fidel is a true American success story. He started raking bunkers at Leisure World 27 years ago, and slowly worked his way up to Superintendent. He has all of the certifications, and he’s a good player too. It only helps if your superintendent is a good player.
Fidel took us on a tour of the maintenance barn where they store all of their tractors, mowers, and equipment. The place was spotless. You could hardly find a blade of grass in the place, and they pull the mowers right in there every morning. My dad used to say that you could tell the quality of a mechanic by how clean he kept his garage. That would make Fidel one helluva mechanic. He has high standards, and you can tell he sets a good example for his guys to follow.
There’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes at a facility like Leisure World. There are three grinders in-house that workers use to keep the blades on their reel mowers really sharp. Every morning, Fidel’s staff checks to make sure every reel can cut thin strips of newsprint cleanly and without tearing it. He knows that if the blades don’t tear the newsprint, they won’t tear the turf either. You can be sure those mowers are cutting the grass on those putting greens to the desired length every time.
Leisure World is a little different in that it doesn’t lease or rent its equipment. It owns almost everything outright. The mowers and aerators they use cost anywhere from $30,000 on the low-end (for a green’s mower) to $80,000 on the high-end (for a fairway mower).
Those need to be replaced every ten years or so. The good news is that the course only needs 20 golf carts because most of the members in this retirement community have and drive their own, so that’s not a very big expense. It takes almost four hours to mow the fairways on the Heron Lakes Course but nearly a day and-a-half to mow the fairways on Coyote Run.
Before we left, Fidel took us out by the practice green so we could see all of the equipment he and his guys use to keep the golf courses looking sharp. It was an impressive display. We also got to see how staffers can turn different stations of the course’s irrigation system on by using just a handheld radio. One of my classmates even got to try his hand at changing out one of the holes on the practice putting green. I think he did a pretty good job for his first time!
I have to say, I left today’s field trip with a new appreciation for golf course superintendents. They have a really tough job, and it’s impossible to make everyone happy. I know there have been times when I’ve walked off a golf course upset about the condition of one green or another. But being a superintendent is an impossible job.
Fidel explained that the aeration most of us complain about at the Golf Academy is necessary for golf courses in fertilizing the soil and keeping the greens looking great. I also saw how important it is for a Director of Golf like Travis to have a good working relationship with a superintendent like Fidel. Communication is the key to having a smooth-running operation like they do at Leisure World. That place is in really good hands, and we appreciated the invitation.