All in the Family
Kentucky brothers find a career right in their own backyard
Growing up in Frankfort, Ky., the Willard brothers walked through nearby Juniper Hills Golf Course to get to the swimming pool. They thought, “Hey this golf game looks pretty fun.” Soon they started playing golf, then working on the course and…one thing led to another.
“The summer after my junior year in high school, one of the pros pulled me aside and told me I should go to college and study to be a superintendent,” says Tim Willard, the oldest of the three brothers. “I looked at him and something clicked. I never looked back.”
Tim got his degree in horticulture from Eastern Kentucky University, came back to Juniper Hills for a few months, then went on to Frankfort Country Club, where he’s been superintendent for the past 31 years. “I wouldn’t say I paved the way for my two younger brothers, but they did follow in my footsteps,” notes Tim, now 51. “We’ve all three made careers of being golf course superintendents in Kentucky.”
His brother Pete, a year younger, went to the University of Kentucky for a degree in agronomy. He became superintendent at Lake Forest Country Club in Louisville in 1994. His next brother, Ted, two years younger, went for the same degree at the same school as Tim and now is superintendent at Hunting Creek Country Club in Louisville.
“We don’t see each other that often because we all work so much,” says Ted Willard, who was assistant at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville for three years after college. “But we call each other constantly to compare notes about products and practices.”
Ted has leaned on his brothers more than ever this past year during a major renovation project at his golf course. One of the first development courses in Kentucky, Hunting Creek was designed by Ben Wihry and built in 1964. With an open layout and 120 acres of roughs, the course is visually appealing but tough for maintenance activities because of its size.
“When my guys are mowing and get caught by golfers, they just have to wait it out until the golfers finish,” adds Ted. “There are no adjacent holes to jump to and it takes 15 minutes to ride from the 6th tee to the maintenance building. It’s a very large course!”
The Hunting Creek renovation, with Spencer Holt as architect, began last summer and wrapped up Memorial Day weekend. Originally, the course had Penncross bentgrass greens and tees, Meyers zoysiagrass fairways and fescue/bluegrass roughs. Fairways and roughs remain the same grass, but greens and tees were both converted to T-1 bentgrass. Bunkers and cart paths were also renovated.
Poor Drainage Leads to Pythium Root Dysfunction
“Our new greens are USGA spec, but the old greens had such poor drainage that water rarely made it to the drain tile,” Ted says. “In fact, drainage was so bad that we tended to get Pythium root dysfunction. It’s difficult to identify the disease first, so I sent samples off to the University of Kentucky. But once you get it a few times, you pretty well know it. Roots decline very rapidly during hot, humid weather.”
Several years ago, Ted tried Segway® fungicide as a preventive treatment for Pythium root dysfunction. He watched the weather and applied the product to greens when conditions were conducive for the disease. “When we had 90 to 100-degree temperatures and heavy rains were predicted, I applied it. Segway stopped Pythium root dysfunction faster than anything I’ve ever used,” he notes. “It worked even when I already had symptoms.”
Though he now has much better drainage with his new greens, Ted plans to intersperse three Segway applications throughout his summer program as a preventive measure. He liked it so well that he told his two brothers about it. Soon, both Pete and Tim began using it on their golf courses, too.
“I was having problems on my old Penncross greens and wanted to make sure it wasn’t Pythium root dysfunction,” explains Tim. “I made three applications -- once each month -- as a preventive treatment in June, July and August. I really do think it helped.”*
Golf Course Personalities
The Willard brothers share a common background, but their courses are as different as their own personalities. Tim’s course, Frankfort Country Club, is relatively low maintenance and very playable, he says. The 6100-yard residential course is a hilly layout with modified pushup greens. His biggest problem is getting his ryegrass fairways through the summertime heat.
Pete’s course, Lake Forest Country Club is a challenging, 72-par links-style Arnold Palmer design. With 7,151 yards of rolling bentgrass fairways, the course also features large greens and many fairway and greenside bunkers. In keeping with the family golf theme, Pete’s wife, Jennifer, is a golf pro who played college golf and now manages a pro shop.
“People have told me I’m the most laid-back brother,” says Tim. “Pete and Ted tend to be a little more nervous than I am. We talk about once a week, on average, but we only get together a few times a year because of our work schedules. Ted and I usually go to the Golf Industry Show together, but Pete has a young son so he doesn’t go as often as he used to.”
Though they have three other siblings, including a younger brother, Ted feels that he will always be considered the younger one. “I was like the Beaver in our family - no one really listened to me,” he adds. “But it’s nice to know they do take my advice on golf course matters now.”
While Tim has two grown daughters, as well as two stepchildren, he doesn’t think anyone will follow him into the golf course business. “No one likes the long hours and loss of weekends,” he adds. “It’s a much faster paced environment now.”
In spite of the time commitment and hard work, all three brothers are glad they chose to be superintendents. “We just love being outside and working with our hands,” says Ted. “So it doesn’t get much better than this.”
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*Segway fungicide label allows application at rates of 0.45 to 0.9 fluid ounces per 1,000 sq. ft. for preventive control of Pythium root dysfunction. The label states that no more than three applications of Segway at the high use rate should be applied during any growing season.
Pythium Root Dyfunction Factoids
Scientific name is Pythium volutum
Symptoms may appear at any time of year -- most severe during periods of hot weather
Disease appears in circles or irregular patches up to 2 feet in diameter
Initial signs are wilt or nutrient deficiency
Affected areas turn orange and decline as disease progresses
Affected roots die back rapidly when soil temperatures are above 85ºF
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