Superintendent Magazine - October, 2012

MOWING MATTERS

Diamond in the Rough

A good technician is hard to find. Here's what to look for when searching for one.
By Anthony Pioppi


A good technician should be able to operate what he repairs.
PHOTO: COURTESY OF SYNGENTA
Mike Osley knows how vital a good turf equipment technician is to a golf course.

"The mechanic is as key an individual as a first assistant," says Osley, the golf operations superintendent at Saddle Rock Golf Course, owned by the city of Aurora, Colo. "Successful operations either create or hold on to a good mechanic."

If a golf course doesn't have a good equipment technician, finding one can be difficult. Osley said the best way he knows to find one is through word of mouth.

"The real good ones are hard to find," he adds.

What makes a really good turf technician, though, is not just his ability to fix equipment. Consider Jay Rehr.

Rehr is one of the most distinguished turf technicians in the business. From 1988 to 2004, he was the head technician at Augusta National Golf Club. After that it was on to a three-year gig as owner of a consulting company that assisted the United States Golf Association when Newport (R.I.) Country Club hosted the 2006 U.S. Women's Open. From there Rehr went to Merion Golf Club for three years, and then Barbados and the Green Monkey Golf Course that is part of the Sandy Lane resort. Rehr's last move was to Forsyth Country Club in Winston-Salem, N.C., where he works for superintendent Chris Devane.

According to Rehr, when looking for a turf technician, it's imperative that the superintendent determines how well the candidate fits into the organization. If possible, during the interview process, have the technician meet crew members to see how they interact. The superintendent also needs to make sure he and the mechanic jibe.

"You're going to spend as much time with him as your family," Rehr says. "The last thing you want is thinking this guy is my enemy."

Many golf equipment technicians come to the business after an established career elsewhere, such as auto repair. Because of that most are older. While that can be a plus, there is also a downside; a seasoned hand might believe he has all the answers.

"You have to have a guy who is willing to continually get educated," Rehr says. "There are a lot of guys who say I know what I know, and I don't need to know anymore."

That attitude won't fly as golf course equipment becomes increasingly more technical.


What makes a strong turf technician is not just his ability to fix equipment.
PHOTO: COURTESY OF BERNHARD

"It's like the automotive industry, it's getting a lot more sophisticated," said John Piersol, executive director of industrial and agriculture programs at Florida Gateway College, formerly Lake City Community College.

Since 1974, the school has offered a one-year certificate program in turf equipment management.

Piersol says a turf technician job is now 50 percent mechanics and 50 percent management. Unlike most auto mechanics, at a golf course the person who fixes equipment is also responsible for setting up and organizing the shop, implementing preventive maintenance programs, formulating a budget, and even being cognizant of regulations by federal agencies such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as well as state and local entities that oversee the materials used in the repair area.

Rehr advises superintendents to look for turf equipment technicians who are, or want to be, part of local and national organizations such as the Turf Equipment Technicians Association, headquartered in Plainfield, Ill. Membership gives them an arsenal of know-ledge to complement their own.

"Here's the trick: I don't know everything in the world, but I know who to call," Rehr says.

According to Piersol, "team psychologist" is the title he gives to turf technicians. "How that shop is run affects the whole crew," he says.

Osley adds, "A good mechanic will take pride in his shop and the appearance of the shop."

Good people skills are imperative, Piersol notes. "[The turf technician] needs to be an educator and a trainer," he says.

One duty Osley said a technician should perform is that of mowing on a regular basis. The reasoning behind that idea is so the technician has a feel for the equipment and a grasp of what goes into daily course maintenance.

Rehr concurs. "How can you fix it if you don't know how to run it?"

But technicians don't have to be "duty experts," Rehr adds.

"God knows I can't mow a straight line to save my life," he adds, but techs should have a handle on operating everything they repair. "What's it feel like when it's right, [what does it] feel like when it's wrong?" he asks.

Using a machine on the course will also give the technician an understanding of how a mower can break or how an operator can wrap a rough unit around a tree, for example. Too many technicians don't seem to realize that machines getting damaged are a normal occurrence.

Rehr says a good technician understands the phrase, "This is called an accident."

Osley sides with Rehr. "Guys aren't just going out and doing it on purpose," he says.

Osley notes that some technicians have a problem with one common practice - topdressing.


Superintendent Mike Osley says he looks for technicians that can improvise and find ways to fix a broken part rather than just ordering a new one.
PHOTO: COURTESY OF MIKE OSLEY
"If you can find me a mechanic who enjoys sand, I'll hire him in a minute," Osley says laughing. "They have to understand that reels and sand are not friends."

According to Osley, it's vital to have someone who is "different from a guy that just replaces parts." Osley says he looks for someone who can improvise and find ways to fix a broken part, rather than automatically ordering a new one. At Aurora, his mechanic maintains a fleet of equipment that includes a 1997 fairway unit with 5,200 hours on it.

Finding a good technician, especially a young one, is getting more difficult, according to Piersol. Even though the school gets more golf courses looking for graduating technicians than the school turns out, enrollment has dropped.

Piersol says that in the golf turf program at Gateway College, nearly every student worked on a golf course prior to enrolling, but virtually no one in the turf equipment management program has worked on golf equipment before putting their hands on a mower in class.

"Lots of skilled trades are lacking new people coming into them," Piersol says.

Pioppi can be reached at apioppi@earthlink.net.