An ode to those who tend to Golf's most unique and challenging landscapes



Q & A: Steve Ehrbar - Director of Agronomy Jupiter Hills Club PDF Print E-mail

 

Story and photos by Jason Bruno

What a great setting to call your office, Jupiter Hills has been just that for

Steve Ehrbar the last eleven years (par 3 ninth shown above).

 

Steve Ehrbar is an Ohio State Buckeye, a Jim Loke disciple and a Pete Dye

protoge who's path has included two separate stints at Old Marsh, Lost Tree

Club (also twice, pre & post Nicklaus redesign), and is presently the Director

of Agronomy and Maintenance at the world-class Jupiter Hills Club in

Tequesta, Florida.

 

 

We sat down with Steve Ehrbar in his office at Jupiter Hills earlier this

summer and discussed the famed Hills course (that we have rated #1

in the Sunshine State since we started featuring course designs nearly

a decade ago), the USGA did well to select this unique routing that sits

atop a massive sand ridge that stretches from North Palm Beach all the

way into Hobe Sound. The 2018 Four-Ball Championship in May was the

club's second USGA Championship ('87 U.S Amateur) making Jupiter

Hills the only club in Florida to host two national championships. Ehrbar

and I discussed his journey as a Turf Lifer and the challenges he and his

staff face at one of the finest golf clubs in America.

 

LinksNation: Your career began in Ohio working for Jim Loke, can you

describe that period?

 

Ehrbar: Before that I was at a club in

Cleveland, Ohio called Pepper Pike. I

grew up in Cleveland, I was an assistant

there and Jim Loke was the Superintendent

out at Quail Hollow. He was looking for

an assistant so that's when I came in

contact with Jim. I worked two years with

him at Quail Hollow and then I moved down

to South Florida, where I've been ever since.

 

 

LN: What year was that?

 

Ehrbar: 1985, I started building Old Marsh with Pete Dye. After Pete

finished at Old Marsh, I went on with him to Cypress Links in West Jupiter.

We bulldozed that public course and created Dye Preserve (one of the least

known Dye designs that is truly among his best works). Then from there, I

went to Lost Tree Club (where Jack Nicklaus has lived since 1970) and back

to Old Marsh. Then back to Lost Tree for a major renovation over there with

Jack Nicklaus. Been here at Jupiter Hills Club for the last eleven years.

 

LN: What did the renovation of the course at Lost Tree Club entail?


Ehrbar: It was a 1960 Mark Mahannah design, and the golf course hadn't had

any real renovation work. It was 2002 when I came back, and we did a $6.5

million renovation. We did everything - irrigation, maintenance facility, and

reverse osmosis plant. The only thing that stayed the same was the routing

of the golf holes. The bunkering, green complexes - everything was replaced.

It turned out great and was nice project to work on with Mr.Nicklaus.

 

 

 


1st tee view on the Hills Course



LinksNation: Every successful Agronomy leader such as yourself, has a

tireless well qualified staff that keeps conditions at their absolute finest.

You have two courses here at Jupiter Hills, the Hills & Village courses.

What is the size of your staff?

 

Ehrbar: Staff of 52 full-time employees. Two separate crews (Hills and

Village), a few more employees on the Hills course because there's a little

more maintenance required on that course.

 

 

 

 

11th tee at Jupiter Hills





LinksNation: What is a typical daily schedule for your staff here at Jupiter Hills?

 

Ehrbar: Some of the staff start at 6am to get out early and have the range tees

mowed, but typically 6:30 - 3/3:30 is a typical day for the staff.

 

LinksNation: Every Super we've met with faces different challenges, and we

pose this question knowing we will likely get a different answer each time. So

with such a unique piece of property here - what are the biggest challenges

here for you and the Agronomy team?


Ehrbar: We're on a natural sand dune, so there are pros and cons with that.

We can handle a 3 or 4" rain storm and not have a puddle on the golf course,

which is good, but as far as retaining any moisture or nutrients, it goes right

through the profile. Nematodes are tough out here because it's such a sandy site.

As I tell everybody, we can always add water to the property, but it's extremely

difficult to take it off. It is a unique piece of property.

 

 

 

The view of the range and practice green from the clubhouse terrace





LinksNation: So true, the property here is on the same sand ridge that's an

extension of what Seminole (a few miles south) sits on as well, correct?


Ehrbar: That is correct.

 

 

LN: Your reputation is that of a mentor, can you expound on your approach

with staff.

 

Ehrbar: I've been very fortunate in that regard Jason, my very first Superin-

tendent took me under his wings, and I always felt like if I ever got into that

position to help someone else out, I'm certainly going to do it. I've been very

fortunate to mentor a lot of guys, so that's my program - I get great guys, turf

students because they know the reputation of Jupiter Hills and myself and lead

them to their next opportunity.

 

 

 





LinksNation: I played the Hills course just weeks before the Championship with

club president Jeffrey Harris, who is a great representative of Jupiter Hills. Has

there been anything preparation wise outside of the normal 365 that went into

getting the courses ready for the USGA Four-Ball Championship?


 

Ehrbar: A couple of comments regarding that Jason. The biggest compliment

they (USGA) paid us after a couple of site visits was, "you guys don't really

have to do much, what you're providing the membership out here on a daily

basis is what we're looking for in the championship." We did do a $1.5 million

renovation on the village course last summer, re-grassed all of the fairways,

approaches, collars and greens. (Logan Fazio led the renovation)

 

LN: Turf variety used?

 

Ehrbar: Celebration (bermuda) on the fairways, Tif-Grand on the approaches

and collars and Tif-Eagle on the greens. It wasn't in direct correlation with the

championship but it needed to be done and we felt like it would be better to

do it before the event than after the event.

 

 

10th green view



LN: Were there any outlines from the USGA in terms of what they'd like to see

the scores be, or what they viewed as ideal conditions, such as firm in fast, more

receptive, etc?

 

Ehrbar: It was their event, so we changed height of cut on the fairways, not

so much on the greens. Our greens are around 13 on the stimp so not a big

change there. They told us what they were looking for in terms of firmness.

 

LN: Green cut height?

 

Ehrbar: .090 (the heights normally are at .095, and .105 is the highest that

they are ever mowed at).

 

LinksNation: What are the differences in the two courses here at Jupiter Hills?

 

Ehrbar: The greens on the Village course are a bit firmer because they are new

greens, but that probably helps a bit because the course is about 600 yards

shorter than the Hills. The Village is a tighter layout with smaller greens, and

out of bounds comes into play. Obviously on a flatter piece of land, both played

as par 70 for the championship. In most events the Village usually plays

one shot tougher than the Hills.

 


 

The 18th on the Hills course.




LN: Are there plans to host more big championships in the future?

 

Ehrbar: Good question, I hope that they would. We can only house so much,

obviously the Amateur has gotten so big over the course of time. Hoping

maybe something down the road like a U.S Women's Open or something like

that. Obviously state events, I think the club is always open to that. Giving

back to Golf.

 

LN: Do you get a chance to play much golf these days?

 

Ehrbar: When I was at 18 hole facilities I did, but being here at a 36 hole

facility, time is tough to come by, but I get out once in awhile. I still think

the best way to see and evaluate things is with a golf club in your hand.

 

LN: We couldn't agree more, thanks for your time Steve . . .