Maintaining course a 24/7 task for Bigley

Most golf course superintendents work behind the scenes to keep their greens rolling smoothly and th

Most golf course superintendents work behind the scenes to keep their greens rolling smoothly and their fairways cut just right to optimize scoring.

Rob Bigley is one of the few supers who brings an elite player’s eye to his job. When he prepares his course for daily play, he wants it to be in the best condition possible, because he’s played with the best golfers and competed on some of the most challenging courses in the country.

The 52-year-old superintendent at Pinehaven Country Club was one of the premier players in the Capital Region during his prime, but these days, he enjoys satisfying his members and watching his two sons excel in the game more than competing himself.

“There is a lot of personal satisfaction to my job. I’m extremely fortunate to be doing what I’m doing,” said Bigley, who has kept Pinehaven CC in top shape for the last 20 years. “I truly enjoy my job. Working on the golf course every day is a great way to make a living.”

Bigley owns five Gazette County Amateur championship trophies, and he won his share of titles throughout the Capital Region when he competed from age 16 through his late 40s. Now, he plays for fun and spends most of his time watching his sons compete and maintaining Pinehaven CC.

“The five County Amateurs I won was a big thrill. When you start looking back, they were huge events in my life. They were prestigious tournaments played on a great course,” said Bigley. “But other than those titles, I get more enjoyment by either caddying or just interacting with my two sons. I really like watching them play and talking about golf with them.”

Both of his sons are standout players. Rob Bigley Jr., a teacher at Albany Academy, won his third County Amateur crown last summer. His younger brother, Bryan, has two County Amateur championships to his credit and is playing professionally in the Carolinas.

The job of a course superintendent is a challenging one, especially in these difficult economic times, when your workforce is smaller than in years past.

“Mother Nature is sometimes an uncontrollable force,” said Bigley, the former pres­ident of the Northeast Golf Course Superintendents Association. “We try to fool it with different techniques, but ultimately, you can only do so much to stay ahead of her. The other challenge we have as superintendents is the expectations from our members. What’s expected of you from your membership is different from player to player. When there are 300 people playing your golf course, not everyone is thinking the same thing. I report to the greens chairman, and if he thinks that things are going well, I’m OK.”

Bigley said he arrives at the club at 6 a.m. during the week and 5 a.m. on weekends during the golf season.

“It’s not uncommon to go back to the course at night to make sure the irrigation program is running smoothly,” he said. “I also might go back to the course at night to put some more water on the greens when the day is a little dry or windy. I would say our job is 24/7, because you can catch a hail storm or some lightning and thunder, and you might have to go back to the course to check things out. Ultimately, I’m responsible for the facility and its 225 acres of land. I’m the guy whose job is to maintain it all year long.”

Bigley’s staff fluctuates with the season and the economy. He currently has two full-time assistants and a mechanic. Added to the mix are some retirees and college students.

“We maybe have 10 guys working for us right now. Years ago, we had maybe 15, but it’s a sign of the times that you’ve got to make do with a little less,” he said.

Bigley said that being an experienced player helps him do his job.

“I look at my job from a player’s point of view,” he said. “When I’m playing a round here at Pinehaven, I’ll have a notebook with me and when I’m walking, I’ll take some notes. You see more when you are playing the course. You can experience the true speed of the greens when you play them.”

Bigley stays on top of the turf business and must be re-certified every six years. He is constantly attending seminars in the offseason.

Bigley began his career as a youngster helping out at the old Knights of St. John nine-hole course, which eventually became Sycamore Greens and is now Briar Creek.

Eventually, he went to college to play golf. He attended South Carolina for a year and half, switched to the University at Albany for a couple of semesters and ended up at Siena, where he earned a marketing and management degree.

By the time Bigley graduated from college, he got married, and he didn’t have time to attend a turf management school. He took some courses and became certified with the Nat­ional Golf Course Superintendents Assoc­iation. He kept climbing the ladder in his craft with constant courses and certif­ications.

He worked for Doug Hennel as an assistant greens keeper at Stadium Golf Club, moved to Evergreen Country Club from 1983 to 1989, spent a year and a half at the old Albany Mun­icipal, which is now Capital Hills at Albany, and wound up at Pinehaven in 1990.

“When I started out, there weren’t a lot of people who took the turf management courses that they have today,” Bigley said. “I didn’t really think about a career as a sup­erintendent until I graduated from Siena and had a family. But I knew I had to work harder. My route in this profession was the school of hard knocks. I think it helped that I was a decent player. It’s not a prerequisite, by any means. There are many outstanding courses kept up by guys who never played much golf.

“I leave our course open as late as I can, and I open it as early as I can, because I want to get on the course myself. But sometimes, you have to balance what’s good for the course, as opposed to what’s good for the players.”

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