June 2016

Home on the Range

A Day in the Life of Hoot
Assistant Superintendent, Peter Kemp

Thursday’s weather report called for thunderstorms, but here in Osprey Valley, a small army is well into their work day when the sun appears around 6 a.m. Mondays and Thursdays are "Range Days" when a maintenance team assembled from all three courses makes sure that the driving range outside our clubhouse lives up to Osprey Valley's reputation for excellent playing conditions. The team is led by Peter Kemp, Assistant Superintendent of Hoot.

In addition to caring for their own course, each Assistant has responsibilities elsewhere on the property. “We like to keep up the quality on any playing surface we have,” Peter says. “The range is the first thing many golfers see.” His attention to detail pays off. A first-time visitor recently remarked that our range is nicer than the course he usually plays.

Despite all the activity, the group works together with a calm focus that reflects their leader. Peter knows where everyone is and what they are doing. “We have ten people out here right now,” he says, and lists off the machines needed: four rough mowers, two fairway units, weed eaters and a blower to clear away clumps of cut grass. Even with these numbers, the job will take 2½ to 3 hours to complete properly.

On the tee decks, things move at a slower pace. A team of two does the tedious work of filling in divots. It takes a lot of soil and seed to get them filled and patience to get them level. The long line of damaged turf, the product of just four days of practice, is daunting and the pair will be challenged to finish before the first golfers arrive. But they will, because, “If we let this go, we won’t have tee decks pretty soon.”

With the range work well in hand, Peter moves on to his morning tour of Hoot. It is a combination of work, inspection, planning … and meticulous collection of branches, leaves or anything else out of place. His trained eye doesn’t miss anything. “I’m a little o.c.d.,” he admits. “Everything I see, I pick up: pine cones, whatever.”

His goal is to keep his staff ahead of the earliest golfers and out of their way the rest of the day. For Peter, our visitors are part of the Osprey Valley family. “It’s a pleasure seeing golfers out here enjoying it. I tend to chat them up quite a bit when I see them. We have good conversations.”

Range Days find Peter on the course a little later than usual, allowing him to get a close look at this morning’s mowing. He checks to be sure that each of every mower’s reels are cutting uniformly and evenly. “They’re fine tuned machines. Any little bump or rock or stick can cause an issue and then you can lose your quality.” It is important to correct those little variations before they become a problem. The staff is trained to spot them, but Peter carefully monitors it as well. “There’s that o.c.d. again,” he laughs.

While each course has it’s own staff, priorities and schedules require flexibility. Today, a mower from the Heathlands crew is cutting fairways on Hoot and takes a moment to confer with Peter about precisely how the Hoot fairways are cut. The easy cooperation reflects the unanimous vision of the Superintendents and their Assistants that there is no success outside of the the whole.

“It’s not just our own courses that matter,” he explains. “It’s Osprey Valley’s success.” With three courses and three crews, one person’s challenge is everybody’s and brainstorming sessions are common. “We want to see all three do really well.” He pauses and smiles. “Of course, I like to tell Scott [Littleton] that Hoot finally beat Heathlands in the ScoreGolf rankings, but that’s between us,” he laughs.

As a lifelong golfer, Peter believes the diversity of our three courses is Osprey Valley’s strength. “You can play any course on any given day and you’re playing a top quality course.” Playing courses outside of Osprey Valley has advantages as well. "Seeing other golf courses and talking to other Supers can give you ideas. It’s a close knit group where everybody really shares ideas and helps each other.”

Despite the impending storm, today would be a good day to play. “Everything’s looking really nice today. I’m really happy. A few days ago, it was very dry. They flipped the switch on us. We went from cool and wet all the way to hot and dry very quickly. And windy, too. The wind dries things out. We monitor it every day and have to change our watering practices accordingly.”

After the hot and dry Victoria Day weekend, Peter has one of his crew applying a wetting agent to the greens and selected potential problem areas. It “helps the water penetrate the soil”. Throughout the tour, Peter inspects known dry spots, including one that was “on the verge” not long ago. “We were going to lose turf if we didn’t do something about it.” A week after applying the wetting agent, the area is lush, green and healthy.

Another challenge of caring for Hoot is it’s unique wasteland style. “The bunkers are on such a massive scale,” Peter explains, “that they’re difficult to maintain. It takes five or six man days just to do a full rake of the bunkers.” That is forty plus hours of labour a week, plus ongoing touchups in areas where there is more traffic and play.

The bunkers are a big part of Hoot’s visual appeal and Peter pauses to admire the dramatic view from the fourth tee. “It’s peaceful,” he says. “How can you not enjoy this, coming out every morning and seeing this? Such beautiful mornings out here. It’s the best part of my day.”

He seems very much at home. Peter is in his eleventh season at OVG and his third as an Assistant Superintendent and has an even longer history with Osprey Valley. Born and raised in Orangeville where he and his wife still live, he remembers playing Junior Mondays and Tuesdays on Heathlands when it first opened almost 25 years ago.

His first golf course job was cutting grass at the Orangeville Golf Club at the age of 13, “a way to get free golf as a kid,” he laughs. In his first stint, he worked seasonally at OVG from 1999 to 2004. “It put me through college,” he explains. “I was a chemical lab tech. I did quality control at Pfizer Pharmaceuticals.” When they stopped manufacturing in Canada, he returned to Osprey Valley in 2010 and sees it as “coming back to what I truly loved. I decided to make this my career.”

A large part of his reason for returning was personal. “I’ve known Dave for quite a long time,” he says warmly, referring to Hoot and Toot Superintendent Dave Hunter. Peter credits Dave with helping him develop his enthusiasm and professionalism, and for encouraging him to further his education in Guelph University’s Turf Management program. This allowed him to make the transition to his current Assistant Superintendent role.

To Dave, it is Peter’s focused hard work, reliability and passion that make him invaluable. It is easy to see why the two have such an effective working relationship. Among the cast of characters in the Maintenance building, Peter is seen as the quiet, thoughtful one. These are qualities that he and Dave share. Both are soft spoken, but when talking about Osprey Valley, their enthusiasm is obvious. Out on Hoot, Peter stops to straighten the path markers, making sure they are perfect. Laughing, he says, “That’s the Dave in me.”

Peter’s transition from team member to team leader required some adjustments. “That was one of the big learning hurdles that I had to overcome, wanting to do it all. I like to get my hands dirty.” He has opportunities on a daily basis, but while his main task is keeping his staff working to Osprey Valley standards, old habits sometimes kick in. Peter jokes, “I’ll grab a weed eater and get caught by Dave and get yelled at.”

Midway through the tour, Peter heads back to the range to check that team’s progress. He supervises the finishing touches and then lets the clubhouse know that the range is open.

From there, he makes a quick stop at the Maintenance building to update the job board. Once the morning jobs are completed, staff will check the board for their next assignments. Each day is a combination of pre-scheduled work and work arising from this morning’s tour or changing conditions.

The iconic waterfall on Hoot #17 is another of Peter’s favourite spots on the course. The fact that the green is being mowed is a handy excuse to stop and watch. “The pressure’s on, Sid!” he calls out. Not just anyone is allowed to cut the greens. “You have my utmost confidence if you are on a greens mower,” he observes.

Peter has been able to watch Hoot develop since his first tour when it and Toot were under construction. A big part of his pride stems from having been part of something special from the beginning and making it the best it can be.

His favourite thing about working in Osprey Valley is that “there’s always something else to learn. I want to keep learning as much as I can. I love it here. I love the people and it’s close to home.” 

He smiles and glances skyward as the first promised raindrops start to fall.