Bar is always set high for superintendents

Golf course superintendents are in the expectation business.
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Golf course superintendents are in the expectation business.

Members of private clubs and public-course players of all abilities expect their greens to roll true. Not too fast, not too slow. They want the fairways to be plush so that they can keep their slightly errant shots from going into the rough, but they don’t want the fairways too soft, because they will lose distance on the tee shots.

And despite recent environmental regulations restricting the use of pesticides, golfers also want the courses they play to look beautiful.

“To try to meet everyone’s expectations is impossible,” said Jeff Madison, the new course superintendent at The Edison Club. “You try to meet the general quota. There are a set of expectations outlined for a club like The Edison Club, and you try to meet those expectations, exceeding them whenever possible.

“There are a lot of things you can do to keep everybody happy,” said the 26-year-old Burnt Hills native. “I expect to keep the greens at a certain speed and the fairways in a certain condition. I also expect to keep the presentation of the grounds in a certain way. My predecessor [Jim Pavonetti] has done an excellent job here of meeting the expectations of the membership. It’s a beautiful course, and I hope to continue the routine of making everything look and play great.”

Madison is a graduate of the turf management program at SUNY-Cobleskill. His first job as an assistant course superintendent was at Locust Hill in Rochester for three years. From there, he spent one season as an assistant at the Country Club of Darien in Connecticut before getting his first course head superintendent job at Bergen Point on Long Island. He served in that position for 21⁄2 years.

“The other courses I worked at were nice clubs. The Edison Club is similar, only we have nine more holes here. It will be a challenge to get everything done and meet everyone’s expectations when it comes to a 27-hole course, but I’m up to the challenge.”

Madison said that The Edison Club is already in great shape, but he has some ideas for improvements.

“I would say that there are a few things here and there that I could make some changes with. I can build on what Jimmy did here before. But I don’t want to reveal my secrets just yet. I’d like to see what I’m getting into before I make any promises.”

This is not the first time that Madison has worked at The Edison Club.

“I actually worked here as an intern when I was in college, and I’m pretty familiar with the course,” he said. “It’s a tough course. There are tight fairways here with small, undulating greens. It’s a pretty challenging layout when you set it up that way.

“I would say that The Edison Club is a deceiving course. It looks wide open, but when you get out there on the course, it’s a lot tighter than you think it is.”

Madison didn’t play varsity golf in high school, but he enjoys playing the game and understands the way players think about their course.

“I do play golf, but being in the business, you play less than you would like to. Also, being an assistant as well as an up-and-coming head superintendent, work takes precedent. I try to play when I can. The great thing about this region is that there is an organization [Northeastern Golf Course Superintendents Association] that has weekly events.”

Madison understands that the average golfer has no idea what a course superintendent really does at a golf course.

“I think the weekend warrior believes that we just cut the grass and go home,” he said. “They don’t realize that there is a science to the job. With all the new environmental issues and things of that nature, you have to know what you are doing. Plus, there are always new innovations in our business. When golfers watch TV and see Tiger Woods and all the great players on the PGA Tour, it sparks interest, and it makes people pay more attention. They see the great courses on television and expect to see the same conditions on the courses they play.

“They don’t realize that it sometimes takes years to prepare one of those courses for a major tournament. Every tournament that you see on television has an impact on a golf course. A lot of repair and a rebound phase are necessary. When you push a golf course to those levels, it takes time to bring it back.”

The other part of a super’s job that most golfers don’t know about is the hours.

“We’re usually here at 5 or 6 in the morning. It depends on the day, the season and the weather conditions,” Madison said.

“The weather dictates a lot in our business. If there is a hot weather streak, you have to pay more attention and make sure the course gets plenty of water. There are 12-plus hour days. It’s not unusual at all for superintendents and their staff to work plenty of 12-hour days. But if you get a week with temperatures in the 70s with a little shower here and there, you might actually leave with a regular eight-hour shift.”

Madison has a greens staff of about 20 during the regular season. He also has a full-time maintenance staff of six or seven.

“We have a very good full-time staff here. Many of the guys have 20 or more years on the job,” he said.

Considering this year’s schedule, which includes hosting the Edison Invitational, as well as the Northeastern New York PGA’s Stroke Play Championship and the Northeastern Women’s Golf Association Championship, Madison will need to be at the top of his “game.”

“I understand we’re pretty booked,” he said.

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