Tom DeGrandi recently retired from the golf course superintendent position at TPC River Highlands to start a new chapter of his life in Boise, Idaho. The move went largely unnoticed in the golf agronomy world.
For 19-plus years, under DeGrandi’s watch, the Cromwell, Connecticut-based course hosted the PGA Tour event now known as the Travelers Championship.
I’ve known DeGrandi for a number of years, and for two summers I was a part-time member of his seasonal crew.
It was enlightening to watch DeGrandi under the pressure of the national spotlight when the tour event rolled into town. If he was stressing or panicking when a midday thunderstorm rolled through and washed out sand faces on too many of his bunkers, DeGrandi didn’t show it. The years when the turf came out of a tough winter and cool spring a little too slowly for the PGA Tour’s liking, DeGrandi appeared to take it all in stride.
He was well liked by his talented staff, a number of who annually stayed in a rented camper on the maintenance facility site during tournament week, complete with kiddie pool and beach.
It was with his blessing that plastic pink flamingos made it onto the course and received national TV coverage one year.
What I most admired about DeGrandi was his desire and ability to communicate with the media, whether it was a writer from a local newspaper, Connecticut TV stations or someone from the national scene.
He told his story with enthusiasm and clarity every time a microphone or a notepad was held in front of him. He understood that his voice carried weight, not just because of his ability to maintain turf, but because for four days a year some of the world’s greatest players chose to chase after a white sphere on the grass he grew.
I once discussed with superintendents in the central Connecticut area that it was good news for them that River Highlands had suffered severe winterkill on its greens. Because now members, owners and players from their courses could look to what many considered the premier course in the area and realize the person who cared for their course’s turf wasn’t some incompetent dope. And they would realize the reasons for the dead grass on their courses were based on fact and not some lame excuse dreamed up by an incompetent superintendent.
DeGrandi availed himself to me when I needed to talk about maintenance, whether it was about his course or the topic in general. He took the time to explain concepts, theories and practices. He understood getting the correct message to the general public was important to the image of the industry, whether it be about winter damage, pesticides or water usage.
The accurate word still needs to be disseminated often and loud from the golf course maintenance industry on every topic from environmental stewardship to daily maintenance practices because the average golfer or non-golfer does not understand and incorrect information abounds from powerful sources.
One only needed to tune into the Golf Channel during the Players Championship to get a face full of incorrect info. Golf Channel announcer Frank Nobilo did a piece about the debacle during the third round at TPC Sawgrass when green speeds rose during the day and greens became “unfair.”
He poured water down a knob on a green to prove some point.
“If the water doesn’t stop, the ball probably won’t either,” he said.
Nobilo explained how the greens were double cut and double rolled and blamed the problem on “the second roll.” He also said the lack of humidity in the air had green speeds rising during the day rather than dropping.
What is obvious is that Nobilo had no idea what he was talking about. Maybe DeGrandi’s next job could be agronomic consultant for the Golf Channel.