July 2016

Mow and Go in Hollywood

A Day in the Life of Toot
Assistant Superintendent Aaron Hill

Mornings come early on these long summer days and so do golfers. With a group of eight scheduled to tee off on Toot at six a.m., it is imperative to get ahead of the job list and keep moving. It is a “mow and go” day: get the job done and keep moving. A flat tire beside the #1 green is not how Toot Assistant Superintendent Aaron Hill hoped to start.

Even while waiting for aid from the maintenance building, there is plenty to do. Aaron supervises and works with his team on the green and surrounding bunkers, while his sidekick, an energetic black lab named Bauer, tags along.

Aaron and Bauer pitching in - raking a greenside bunker on Toot #1

It is Friday and the warm sunny weekend ahead will see more golfers and a smaller staff. The focus for the next two days will be keeping up the quality and Aaron wants everything to be perfect. Today’s job is to do everything necessary to make that possible.

Each of the courses at Osprey Valley have a very different look, play and style. And those individual styles determine how each course is maintained. Toot's North American Parkland style features lush greenery and the immaculately manicured "golf course look" that people expect from a high end facility.

“I’m very picky,” Aaron admits. He wants everything to be “prim and proper” every day and is very specific with his staff regarding his mowing directions, instructions on how to rake the bunkers and even how the rakes are placed once the bunkers are done.

“On Fridays we get out and mow everything,” Aaron says, “greens, collars, aprons [the areas on front of the greens], fairways and tees.” Every bunker on the course will get a full rake as well. Toot’s high lipped, sharp edged bunkers are a big part of the character of the course. The banks around the bunkers are cut weekly with hovering mowers and the edges are vertically trimmed.

“I’m very strict with my mowers,” Aaron says. With the course’s different types of grasses, sharp lines and elevation changes, precision is necessary.

"I'm very picky" - Inspecting the green mower's work

A precise cut also requires precise machinery. Even a slight variation - one cutting reel slightly higher or lower than the other two - can severely impact the look. “If something is wrong, it’s usually a call to Jay.”

As if on cue, head mechanic Jason Sharples arrives with a replacement tire. He is, Aaron says, “one of our busiest employees on a day like today,” when all three Assistant Superintendents have their game faces on. There is time only for a warm greeting and the tire is replaced with a speed and precision that would satisfy a NASCAR pit crew before Jason heads off to his next call. Aaron heads off for the second tee with Bauer sprinting happily alongside his cart.

On days like this, the staff sometimes pulls double duty. “That’s what I do when I don’t have enough staff for every job,” he explains. Today, the staff member normally in charge of changing pin placements, setting up tees and filling ball washers has the added responsibility of cutting the collars around the greens. “Even if you don’t have full staff for one reason or another, every job still has to get done.”

Despite his focus, Aaron maintains an warm, easygoing style with all of the staff he encounters. “I have a good bunch of kids this year,” he says. “They care about what they’re doing.”

Maintaining perfection on Toot is his number one priority, but it doesn’t come from cracking a whip. Aaron’s believes  maintaining relationships and focusing on teamwork results in quality. “If you talk through things with your staff and work with them, they don’t want to let you down.”

Osprey Valley is the third golf facility at which Aaron has worked. He spent three years at Otter Creek during the construction and opening year. It was, he says, where he “fell in love with the job.” Next, he spent four years as an Assistant at the Ridge at Manitou, a beautiful course near Parry Sound. There, he fell in love with the Muskoka lifestyle, living on Lake Manitouwabing and enjoying the water every day.

It made it hard to leave when an opportunity opened up at Osprey Valley Golf, but Caledon was closer to home and the opportunity to join a larger organization with three courses was a chance to take the next step in his professional development. We are lucky to have him.

“In Osprey Valley, golfers are guaranteed to play an awesome course, no matter which course they play,” he says with pride. Still, Toot has a special place in his heart. Parkland courses may be more common in Ontario than wasteland courses like Hoot or traditional links courses like Heathlands, but Toot has a distinctive character that refuses to be overshadowed.

According to Aaron, the course “speaks for itself” in terms of playability. It’s generous fairways can be forgiving of mistakes, but the approaches can be rough if you are too far out of position. With more tee positions to choose from, an average golfer can come out and enjoy their day, while low handicap players can challenge themselves and new players can get through the front nine without getting beaten up.

Coordinating with Superintendent Dave Hunter

Busy Fridays also mean that everyone pitches in. Today, Dave Hunter, Superintendent of both Hoot and Toot, is helping with irrigation and tells Aaron about some sprinkler heads he replaced earlier. Keeping everything watered is “one of our biggest battles right now,” Dave says. “We’re hitting mid-June and it’s dry, dry, dry. We keep missing the rain, it seems to always go around us.”

Like Aaron, Dave is accompanied by his own traveling partner, a laid back golden lab who seems to be a counterpoint to the energetic Bauer. Together, they make a very potent Goose Control Unit and lope away through the tall grass towards a nearby irrigation pond while Dave and Aaron confer. When the two men part, Aaron returns to his cart to find Bauer, drenched and dripping from a morning swim in the pond sprawled across the seat. Pushing him over to his side of the cart, Aaron smiles. “This is why we bring towels”.

Cedar rail fences along the cart path on Toot #14

“I want to show you one of my personal touches,” Aaron says on the back nine. Upon arriving in Caledon, he was struck by the simple beauty of the rock walls and cedar rail fences, which remained in and around the old farms. They inspired him to add a cedar fence railing along the cart path on Toot #14. It adds to the great visual from the tee boxes in a very organic way. As Aaron says, “It ties in with that Caledon vibe.”

“I like to add something to every golf course I work at,” Aaron says. “Dave let me run with the idea. I appreciate that.” Other cedar rail fences have since been selectively added around Toot and it speaks to the success of his idea that a few have even popped up on Heathlands.

Toot lies at the north end of Osprey Valley, far removed from the main maintenance building. As a result, Toot has it's own building, atop a high point overlooking most of the course. Around OVG, this building is known as "Hollywood."

Aaron explains: “It’s a little bit more relaxed up here. There’s less commotion [than at the main building]. The mechanics work there and there are two courses run out of there. That’s like New York City. This is the Hollywood Hills,” he says, enjoying the view  of the the rolling Caledon terrain. “We may not have the same facilities as the other one, but I love my little shop here in Hollywood.”

Hollywood, Osprey Valley

As with each of the Assistant Superintendents, Aaron’s responsibilities extend beyond his golf course. In his case, it involves maintaining the grounds of the nearby Scott estate, owned by Osprey Valley and leased to a local trout fishing club.

Here is another big expanse of grass to cut, trimming around the pond edges and around the club and patio. It’s a fitting job for Aaron, an avid fisherman. One of his concerns about leaving Muskoka was thinking that he wouldn’t be able to fish as much anymore. He was thrilled to discover the beautiful stretch of the Credit River running through Osprey Valley. While he has fished the trout club ponds, he prefers the river.

“To catch wild trout in the river is more exciting for me. I’m on the Credit once a week with Scott Brook [Superintendent of Heathlands].” Between them and their fishing buddies, Aaron reckons they have fished every bit of the river on the property, including some fantastic sites that nobody else knows about (and nobody will, so don’t ask). “It’s paradise. I love it.”

According to one fishing buddy, Cam Shaw, Assistant Superintendent at Piper’s Heath Golf Club, their fishing hobby has grown into a “borderline obsession.” The group was recently profiled in the Ontario Golf Superintendents Association publication in an article entitled, “Pretty Fly for Some Turf Guys.”

Article from OGSA's "Green is Beautiful"

Aaron has come to love the lifestyle in Caledon so much that “sometimes it doesn’t even feel like a job.” It is a physical job with long hours, but it’s no problem to someone like Aaron raised on hard work in a farming community (Tillsonburg) where he became used to early mornings and watching the sun rise.

Being a little closer to home has also paid off as he hoped. Aaron is going home to see his family this weekend. A Father’s Day trip to the beach in Dad’s ‘69 Mustang is in the plan … once the work here is done, anyway.

After the morning tour, it is time to stop by the clubhouse to check the day’s tee sheet for updates and to pick up a coffee to go. Upon returning to the cart, he finds an excited Bauer, clipped to the cart with a leash, being taunted by a red squirrel in a nearby tree. “We better go,” he says. “Bo loves geese, but red squirrels are like his crack.”

Five minutes away on the 18th fairway, Bauer appears calm at last and Aaron releases him from the leash. The subterfuge ends and Bauer explodes, making a beeline for the clubhouse and his furry nemesis. Aaron shakes his head. “I’ll be back in a minute,” he says and follows.

Aaron plans to be a Superintendent someday. He is still young, but experience and confidence gained at OVG have made him a believer. “Osprey Valley is a place where, if a problem comes up, the first solution is to fix it,” he says. The hands on mentality develops problem solving skills. Superintendents Dave and Scott are a big part of that. With such a big property to take care of, they encourage their Assistants to take on added responsibilities. The mantra is that something surprising and challenging is going to happen every day. “Bring it on,” Aaron says. “We can do it.”