When the director of agronomy at Bandon Dunes, Ken Nice, heard I was coming down for my first official visit as a GCSAA field staff representative, the first thing he did was invite me to attend their weekly agronomy meeting. I felt very fortunate to be able to sit in on a staff meeting at one of our nation’s premier golf resorts and to get a peek of what goes on behind the scenes. What I experienced was nothing like I had ever expected. As soon as I got out of my car, I was greeted by Jeff (Big Bird) Southerland, superintendent at the Pacific Dunes course. (I had taken his parking place and he was curious who was sitting in the car.) He invited me into his office, giving us a chance to catch up. Soon, Bandon Dunes superintendent Jeff Wilson walked by and stuck his head in and welcomed me to the property. From the moment that I walked in, I felt completely comfortable and welcomed, like VIP.
|The Bandon Dunes Agronomy Meeting|
Once everyone was present, the meeting began and I sat back and watched the dialogue unfold. As each team member went over their schedule for the week and their respective equipment needs, I was taken by how well everyone was communicating and felt that each superintendent/manager’s report was a top priority by all. Near the end of the meeting, Ken gave me the opportunity to provide an update, which was unexpected, but I was grateful.
|Ken Nice and Jim Seeley|
Later, Ken took me over to meet with Jim Seeley at the Wild Rivers Coast Alliance. The WRCA is Mike Keiser’s philanthropic arm of the Bandon Dunes Golf Resort. The WRCA is committed to supporting communities along the South Coast of Oregon. Then, he took me over to a place that very few probably know exist. Mr. Keiser had a labyrinth made to honor his past friend and business partner, Howard McKee. The labyrinth signified Howards’ journey which contributed to the vision and experience that is the Bandon Dunes Resort.
|Ken addresses the Golfweek Raters|
Finally, we stopped by the methiozolin plots that were located at the practice facility. While observing the plots, Bradley Klein from Golfweek Magazine drove up and asked Ken if he would say a few words to his group of raters that were breaking for lunch while playing at the resort. Ken and I had just spent some time with Bradley up at the U.S. Open in Tacoma, so Bradley asked Ken if he would give his insight on the putting surfaces at Chambers Bay. Ken’s talk to the group primarily focused on the types of grass that they will be putting on at the resort. Ken explained the recent transition to Poa annua on the Bandon Dunes and the Pacific Dunes courses from the traditional fescue/colonial mix. They had continued to try to fight the Poa but the customer ratings for Pacific just continued to drop. Once Bandon and Pacific reached that certain threshold, they made the decision to lower the HOC and increase the level of nitrogen applied just a bit to encourage the conversion. Within a year the greens had established themselves and the customer ratings climbed back on top.
To defend the putting surfaces at Chambers Bay, Ken explained the greens and compared them to the greens on the Trails course, which is relatively the same age. Ask any superintendent that has grown a new golf course west of the Cascades, they can tell you that that the eight to ten year mark is an ugly phase where many of the annual biotypes have established and the transition is inevitable. That just happens to be where Chambers Bay is in its life cycle. Whether Eric Johnson and Josh Lewis decide to transition to Poa, that will be up to them, but Ken explained that they may take heed from the success he and his staff has had at the Bandon Dunes Resort. I can attest that the greens at Pacific were as good as greens can get and rolled beautifully. I must also note that the greens at Old MacDonald are still pure fine fescue and there are no plans on converting them soon.
After spending the day with Ken and watching his interactions with his staff and the customers, I began to really appreciate his manner of management. Ken and I spoke a lot on styles of management, and he explained how he was mentored by Jim Seeley, who prior to running the Wild Rivers Coast Alliance, was the executive vice president of operations for Kemper Sports for over 17 years. Jim is also a Life Member of the Professional Golfers’ Association of America and played in a number of PGA Tour events including two major championships, the PGA and the British Open. Ken had always respected Jim’s style of management and learned that he too could benefit from Jim’s style.
If I were to define Ken’s management style it would be a bottom-up style of management. Bottom-up is a style where management seeks to develop ideas using the brainpower of your entire staff, as the manager you still determine the overall goals for your staff along with the dates you'd like to see these goals accomplished, but your employees of all levels assist in developing the mechanisms to reach those goals. This is a model that works extremely well in our industry and Ken was accomplishing it perfectly. Ken is highly respected by his staff, and it shows in every aspect of his operation. From the moment I walked onto the property, there was a sense of success and pride in each of his staff members and I can attribute that to the general atmosphere that Ken creates as the director of agronomy.
To top off my trip, Ken invited me to join himself, Tom Jefferson, CGCS, and Jeff Southerland for a round at Pacific Dunes. He set up four Evans Scholarship candidates to loop for us, which was a wonderful experience. A fitting end to a great visit at a wonderful facility.