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 a lot of superintendents. you’ve got the Police Superintendent, School Superintendent you’ve got the building Superintendent, But there’s only one superintendent that does any greenskeeping, and that better be your core strength. If you look at this thing as a big umbrella that has ribs, and every one 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 every 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 finding 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 flip side of that, I do the same Wrestling 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 mission statement, tournament-ready every day. 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