Sanford native keeps game rolling

DURHAM- North Carolina’s $2 billion golf industry employs more than 50,000 people, many dedicated to keeping the courses looking good and playing good.

One Sanford native plays a crucial role in making sure all of that goes smoothly.

Brian Powell, the superintendent of Old Chatham Golf Club in Durham, is currently serving as the president of the Carolinas Golf Course Superintendent Association.

“I consider it a tremendous honor,” he said. “When I look at the presidents before me, I can’t help but be very honored to try to run the association that they have started and built and done such a good job with. I also feel like it’s a tremendous honor because I get to help other people, and that’s something I really enjoy.”

The Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA), of which the Carolinas branch is the largest chapter, is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping golf course superintendents do their jobs better. Powell, who has been a golf course superintendent since 1990, joined the organization’s board of directors seven years ago and was voted as president after serving as vice president last year.

“It’s a trade association formed out of people that want to better themselves academically,” he said of the group. “It’s almost like a group of doctors that go to educational conferences. It’s fun to be a part of that.”

Powell described golf course superintendents as people who “wear a lot of hats.” They formulate budgets, manage staffs, have to be knowledgeable about golf, be able to forecast weather changes and be an expert on what he called “turf grass management.”

“Kind of like a Swiss Army knife, I’d say, for the golf profession,” he said.

And a vital part of it, too, considering how much money the sport brings in.

“A golf course superintendent is part of that economy in a vital way because he manages those assets,” he said. “One of the things that’s most interesting about a golf course superintendent is that no two days are the same. We’re making decisions on a day-to-day basis that affect the turf grass and how it presents itself to golfers.”

Powell pointed back to his parents’ influence on his career path. He said he spent a lot of time around Sanford Municipal Golf Course growing up working with his father, Bobby.

“He had a strong impact because growing up as a kid around it I got to see what it entailed,” he said. “It also prepared me for what are a lot of long hours as well, and it taught me that I enjoyed being outside.”

And don’t leave out his mother Linda, a former president of the North Carolina Women’s Golf Association.

“At an undisclosed age of over 70, she just had her fourth hole-in-one,” Powell said. “My mom also too had an impact on my family because my whole family was around golf. That’s kind of the way it is.”

Things have changed in the golf course superintendent’s profession since he was chasing his father around Sanford Golf Course. Along with the new technologies in grass mowing, seeding and watering, Powell cited the Internet as perhaps the most useful. He spoke about being able to take a picture of a specific leaf and send it to someone to look at it and perhaps diagnose a disease that might affect the grass.

“The Internet is the number one thing that has affected my profession in a very positive way,” he said. “It allows me to communicate rapidly with my peers. We’re able to save a lot of money and use our resources more accurately.”

Powell cited relationships with his staff as his favorite part of being a superintendent, and now as the president of the largest regional organization of golf course superintendents in America, he gets to build those on a regular basis. According to Powell, the Carolinas Golf Course Superintendents Association has over 2,000 members and has raised over $180,000 of donations for turf grass research in an effort to serve its members better.

He’s also had an indirect impact on preparations for the upcoming U.S. Open in Pinehurst, starting June 12. Powell is a member of the Green Section Committee with the United States Golf Association, who runs the U.S. Open.

“My role as a member of that committee is to help the USGA formulate policy and opinion on best management practices for the management of the golf courses,” he said. “So, in an indirect way, I contribute to all of their work and set-up and what not for different golf courses, including (Pinehurst) No. 2.”

Even though he’s become involved at the highest level of golf course superintendents in North Carolina, Powell still loves the everyday tasks with his post, whether it be determining how much water to spray on the grass or tracking the weather approaching and considering how that might affect tournaments playing at his course.

“(Being a superintendent) includes the mundane tasks that pretty much everyone would guess,” he said. “That’s what makes the job fun for me as well.”