Golf Course Management

SEP 2013

Golf Course Management magazine is dedicated to advancing the golf course superintendent profession and helping GCSAA members achieve career success.

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All the fuel Brad Wood needs is two 16-ounce bottles of caffeinated Pure Leaf Iced Tea and the memory of his brother. In his line of golf course industry work — a job in which few have survived, mainly because modern technology has all but rendered humans obsolete — the ability to stay alert and awake is essential. Wood, you see, is a night waterman at Pole Valley Players Club in Hartford, N.Y., a small town more than three hours northeast of New York City near the Vermont border. That's right. Night waterman. They do still serve a purpose. As the sun begins to set, Wood prepares for his duties in the dusk, which grows dimmer by the minute until the backdrop eventually fades to black, engulfng Pole Valley in darkness. For Wood, the canvas is void of all light except the moon, and that is only if clouds don't hide its glow. He harvests his own light by using a golf car that features headlights. Wood also carries a mini fashlight with him to do his job, a position that anyone who prefers not to work after, say, midnight would avoid at all costs. "I like still being here when the sun comes up in the morning," says Wood, 55, whose brother Matthew worked on a golf course before he died of cancer in 2008. "I also know I have a lot of responsibility and people are counting on me." The head count of souls like Wood appears to be dwindling. That wasn't the case decades ago, before irrigation systems — a time when quick couplers and pop-up rotary sprinkler heads served a purpose and dragging hoses was the norm for night watermen, who in most cases realized this type of work put a crimp in their social lives as they went about their business mostly in solitude. "It had to be done. You had to apply water to grass," says William Nigh, CGCS Retired, a 46-year member of the association. The roll call of former night watermen is lengthy. It includes people such as 26year GCSAA member and Iowa GCSA executive offcer Jeff Wendel, CGCS, who got his start in 1971 as night waterman at Newton Country Club (which is now a public course called Cardinal Hills Golf Club in Newton, Iowa). Mark Willmore, who spent 25 years as superintendent at Shawnee Country Club in Topeka, Kan., also entered the industry this way. "I didn't mind it at all. I was single then, enjoyed what I was doing," Willmore, a 39-year GCSAA member, says. "I was cutting my teeth. Back in those days, you had to learn from the ground up." For years, during an era when drive-in movies fourished and the Beatles ruled, night watermen patrolled golf courses across America. In time, irrigation companies such as Buckner, Febco, Rain Bird and Skinner appeared on the scene. Their arrival signaled what has resulted in the gradual demise of golf courses needing night watermen to stay on the premises until the superintendent's crew arrived at dawn. Still, though, night watermen have their niche at a place such as Pole Valley, where fnances are closely monitored in order to stay afoat. Another example is San Bernardino (Calif.) Golf Club, which opened in 1968. They have always employed a night waterman. "We have never been able to justify spending the money and putting in an automatic system," says GCSAA Class A superintendent Sonny Hammond, a 20-year member of the association. His night waterman, Leonel Barragan, has worked 15 years for Hammond. Those who have been there, done that, have some wonderful, often hilarious, stories to tell. Heck, even the father of a famous quarterback served as a night waterman. It's a job that isn't cut out for just anyone, however. "It was a thankless job," says 1975 GCSAA President Palmer Maples, CGCS Retired, "but everybody knew it was an important job." 44 GCM September 2013

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