Masters of the Moss

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 . . .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 
Dick Gray Q&A (PGA Golf Club) PDF Print E-mail

 

By Jason Bruno

 

Dick Gray is a Turf Lifer, a greenskeeper of the highest order. At 73 years young,

he's tended to some of the finest parcels of American golf landscape for his entire

adult life. From his early beginnings with Pete Dye at Crooked Stick and The Golf

Club (in Columbus, Ohio), Loblolly Pines (Hobe Sound,Florida), the Florida Club,

Jupiter Hills and now at PGA Village's four championship courses at PGA Golf Club

and their state of the art learning center and 6 hole short course. Gray is unassuming

and down to earth, easily shares his knowledge and life experiences - an absolute

pleasure to get to know. We sat down for our Q & A with the old school keeper of

sod at the PGA of America's flagship property at the Taplow Pub inside the clubhouse:

 

 

 



LinksNation: You were named TurfNet Magazine Superintendent of the Year

for 2016, your thoughts?

 

Dick Gray: To get that award, there are two thousand guys and women who

could have won that award. I know that for a fact, because that many of us

do the same thing at the same intensity for all the same reasons. I was lucky

enough to have somebody who could write something (marketing specialist

Adriana Vizcaya) and tell the story. I've never had a sidekick like Adriana.

There's a lot of guys out there who do everything I do and better, but don't

have anybody to write the story. I feel very fortunate and humbled but I

had a lot of help.

 

 

LN: You're not a big fan of the title "Superintendent", why?

 

DG: There are alot of superintendents. you've got the Police Superintendent,

School Superintendent you've got the building Superintendant, But there's

only one superintendent that does any greenskeeping, and that better be

your core stength. If you look at this thing as a big umbrella that has ribs,

and everyone of these adds ribs adds strength to the umbrella. You have

a rib of leadership, Agronomy, communication, so whatever these strengths

are that people have, that's all part of the rib of this umbrella. Not evry umbrella

is the same size. If you're not a good greenkeeper you're gonna be mediocre.

What makes it click is the greenskeeper, so when somebody asks, that's just

I said

 

 

 

 

 

LN: You're 73, where are you findiing the energy to take on all of these

renovation projects?

 

DG: I don't see it as an energy stealer. It's something that I like to do, with

people that I like to do it with. I get Go to the Golf course every morning, so I

don't see it as Work. Physically I was always a late bloomer. Back when I was

25, Pete Dye told me to go to Columbus to look at The Golf Club that he re-did

in Albany, Ohio, Chuck Compton was the Super and Mr.Jones (Fred Jones) was

the owner, the last thing Pete told me was "I think you better start shaving".

I take after my Mother's side, (Norwegian), I look like my maternal Grandpa.

Handsomely bald (laughter). On the flipside of that I do the same Wresting

workout that I've done since I was 50-40-30 we have a gym over at the house,

I just keep doing what I always have. I don't do it as well, and I don't do it

as much but I don't physically or mentally feel like I'm 73.


LN: What are the biggest challenges for you and your staff?

 

DG: Really it's Time. My job is to polish the apples, and in a sense to sell the

apples. If I don't have time to polish the apples, I can't sell them. We're

getting better because we have 7:30 tee times now instead of 7:03, we

don't have time to get the table set and get the meal prepared before we

get this onslaught of people. Hopefully they appreciate the conditions we

give them even though they're not always ideal because we're always

running from play.

We have a a mission statement, tournament ready everyday. Our mantra

is that "There isn't going to be anybody better than us". We have to better

than the competition. From a pride standpoint, and the (PGA Golf Club) logo

we need to be as good as we can possibly be. That's a little frustrating

because we'll probably never quite get there... We're always fighting time to

get as much done as we can, as effectively and economically and still exceed

expectations.

 


 

LN: What kind of influence has Pete Dye had on you and your career (Gray and

Dye go back nearly 50 years from their days at Crooked Stick in Indiana),

not only from a greenskeeper standpoint but also your renovation work?

 

DG: He has been a driving influence for me, when you go back over your career,

there have been those people in your life that have made a difference. I liken

it to a pinball, they put your ball in motion and the lights light up, at some

point in time that ball starts to run out of places to go and that flipper restarts

it back up again - Pete was one of those main flippers for me. He was the one

who really got the ball rolling. When I first met him after 2 hours together, I

thought "I really like this guy", and I was young. He was very self deprecating.

He stayed right there on the ground with you, he walked around, he never

talked down to you, just Straight out. He made me feel like I was important,

he took me under his wing. Pete is a superintendent's Architect, he really

is. Some guys will say "look what he designed, you can't maintain it", well

it's your job to figure out how to do it. Then years later I got hooked up with

his son P.B at Loblolly. Mr.Sullivan (the owner of Loblolly Pines in Hobe Sound

that just recently passed away), Pete (and Alice) were the people that has the

greatest influence. You learn to see what they see, and you learn to look for

what they look for. Those people had the greatest impact, and I could never re-

pay them, I wrote them both similar letters explaining that.


 

LN: Seems like you've passed the influence they've had on you to others.

 

DG: I think as you further along you realize you don't have to be afraid of your

job anymore. You can forget "You" and start teaching and coaching. My feeling

is I may not out think our competitors, but I'm going to our coach them. The

word used to be manage, you have to manage your people - well you manage

finances, you coach people. To get them to do it the way that you want them

to do it is coaching. It's teaching with emotion, that's what it is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 
Interview: Jack Nicklaus PDF Print E-mail

 

By Jason Bruno

 

Jack Nicklaus is the greatest Champion our game has ever seen,

he knew how to take a tough loss with grace and he knew how

to console and respect his challengers after they were defeated

by him. When he walks into a room you feel it, it's a strong

presence. Much like Arnie, Jack William Nicklaus is the sports hero

to so many . . . and he carries it well. He knows how important he

is to those and doesn't shun that responsibility.


Nicklaus was on hand as the honorary Captain of the American

Team of Mid & Senior Amateurs at the opening ceremonies for

1st Annual Concession Cup on Tuesday, April 29th 2014. It was

an honor to sit down with the Golden Bear for a brief Q&A about

the Concession Cup, Amateur Golf, Course design, and the Ryder

Cup at his course in Scotland, at Gleneagles.




LinksNation: It's been 45 years since the actual Concession putt was

given to Tony Jacklin at Royal Birkdale in the 1969 Ryder Cup, can

you look back to it's origins and today . . .


Jack Nicklaus: I didn't think it was a big deal, it was just a short putt.

Tony (Jacklin) thought it was a big deal, and the golf world did too I

guess - to me it was just the right thing to do at the time, now they

have a golf course here called the Concession named after that event.

Tony's done a great job here with the theme and Ryder Cup memorabilia,

now to have an amateur event with Tony and I as honorary captains is

very special. Hopefully it will be a great event and the players will enjoy

the golf course.


LN: These are some of the best Mid Ams and Senior Amateurs in the

world, there should be some high quality golf, your thoughts . . .


JN: You'll see some good golf, no question about it. People will enjoy

seeing them play.


photo by Scott Baker

Vinny Giles, Jack, Tony Jacklin & Garth McGimpsey Tuesday at the

Concession Cup press conference




LN: This is quite the stage for many of these players, as you stated

in the press conference - Amateur golf is where it all began for you.


JN: Some of these players are former Walker Cup players and some

have not played in an international competition before, those players

will see it as a new experience and I think will enjoy it. The ones who

have, will enjoy a renewing of that experience, two years from now it

will be played in Great Britain and back over here in another two years,

being played on a bi- annual basis. It's kinda neat much like the Walker

Cup - that's the thing that launched my career, because of the Walker

Cup, I played in the Masters, I got into the British Amateur, the U.S

Open that year. I got into all kinds of things because of the Walker Cup.




photo by Jason Bruno

The gorgeous par-5 seventh at Jack Nicklaus' Concession Club



LN: When Tony (Jacklin) pitched you the plan and concept to build

this course, was there a plan for this course to become a champion-

ship type venue for an event such as this?


JN: Yes. He wanted to have a championship course, that's what

Kevin Davis (The original owner) wanted when we first started.

He wanted to have a strong golf course if we were going to have

an international competition, with the golf course being suitable

to handle that. I think the golf course might be a little too difficult

for its membership at times, it will certainly test the best players

in the world.


LN: How has your design philosophy changed or evolved over the

years?


JN: It changes everyday, it depends on what I'm doing. To tell you

what my design philosophy is anymore, I'm never sure. It all depends,

alot of people say it depends what side of the bed I get out of in the

morning.


LN: I've noticed in recent years, the green complexes you've designed

have become much more challenging, your thoughts . . .


JN: Now I've gone the other way, I've gone from flat greens, to smaller

greens, to larger greens, to rolling greens to difficult greens to mild

greens - I'm in a mild green state right now. That's the side of the bed

I got up on this morning.


LN: Has that been influenced by developers or members ?


JN: Depends on what you're trying to accomplish, depends on who

you're designing the golf course for and what they're trying to

accomplish, what they really want and what the property is - that

determines what you have to do.


LN: I've talked some with John Sanford (A mutual friend of Nicklaus

and I & an accomplished course designer himself working with the

Nicklaus design team on Trump's new course in NYC) regarding the

Ferry Point project, can you expound on that?


Trump Golf Links Ferry Point



JN: It's been 10 years in the making or 12 years I suppose, certainly

hope that we got it pretty close to right . . . since it's taken a while

doing it. It's for the city of New York, it's right at the Whitestone

Bridge in the Bronx, you're looking at the New York/Manhattan skyline.

Since Donald Trump took it over, he's actually got the thing to the

finish line, he's done a very good job of doing that. The golf course is

strong. I think the city of New York has 17 public golf courses, (the

process has been going on) thru the last term of Guiliani and the last

3 of Mayor Bloomberg. They said they had enough courses that the

average person can play, they wanted a golf course where they could

host a World Championship event. They could hold a Championship

event on this golf course . . . they could hold a U.S Open, or PGA

Championship or anything else they want to hold there. It's an old

dump site that we covered with sand. There aren't any trees on the

interior part of the golf course, there's alot on the outside of the golf

course, but the interior is basically sand. We moved the sand around

and created a links style course which seems to fit there very well, it's

on the water . . . the wind will be a great factor there.



Jack congratulates Tom Watson at Pebble Beach in 1982



LN: I know you're close friends with Tom Watson, what will he bring

to the Ryder Cup team this year that maybe the past few captains

haven't?


JN: I don't really know from a tangible standpoint, but from an

intangible standpoint - Tom is a great winner, Tom's won 5 British

Opens, Tom is loved in Scotland . . . the players will all look up to

him, and respect him. So there are many intangibles there, tangibly

you're still going to have to play golf. The players that will play golf

well will win, it's on my golf course at Gleneagles - the golf course is

a strong course. If the weather is good, they'll shoot some good

scores on it, if the weather is bad they'll struggle on the golf course

- like they would on many Scottish courses in the weather. It will be

a great event and I think Tom will do a great job as captain.


 



Special thanks to Tom Sprouse and Jane Dally.