Thank a Super: Brookline's historic agronomy award

Game Changers

Greenkeepers and superintendents worldwide rejoiced on Sunday when the course maintenance team were acknowledged with the inaugural E.J. Marshall Platter at the U.S. Open in Massachusetts.

Dave Johnson, director of grounds at The Country Club in Brookline, collected the award after a rousing tribute by United States Golf Association (USGA) CEO Mike Whan.

“Most traditions at the USGA date back over 100 years, but today, right now, we’re going to start a new one,” said Whan.

“We’ve never done this before in 127 years but today we’re going to give the E.J. Marshall Platter, to an incredible partner in agronomy and course setup.”

Marshall was the chair of the greens committee at the 1920 U.S. Open, who tried to locate agronomic advice when spots of dead turf appeared on the greens.

Marshall failed to get help at the event itself, but later that year the USGA formed the Green Section to provide course care expertise, advice which still exists today.

Johnson was responsible for a 100-strong crew last week, including six women, from four countries and 17 U.S. states – briefing 135 people every morning at 4am.

“We talked about why we’re doing the maintenance, our goals, then I would try to pump everybody up to go and get our job done safely,” he told the Golf Channel’s Damon Hack

Waking up even earlier was Jessica Lenihan, former assistant superintendent at Hayden Lake Country Club, Colorado, whose job was to mow fairways after 2:45am alarm calls each day.

‘Really rewarding industry’ 

“It’s about producing a high-quality surface that the golfers can be excited about playing every day,” Lenihan, in her 18th year in the profession having left Hayden Lake for a farm manager position with Green Valley Turf in Colorado, told the Golf Channel.

“Something we spoke about earlier in June at the U.S. Women’s Open was ‘See it, Be it’: just knowing that a golf course superintendent is a valued career, you’re going to be outside all day every day and it’s a really rewarding industry to be in.”

Last week the Wall Street Journal published an article highlighting the work that goes on underground – most often by superintendents and maintenance staff. 

“85% percent of your costs are the stuff underground that nobody sees, not the sexy stuff that everybody is playing and talking about,” Josh Lewis, a course superintendent at Chambers Bay for the 2015 U.S. Open, was quoted as saying in the article.

Syngenta research in 2021 showed mental health issues were prevalent for golf industry workers and greenkeepers continue to have worries over keeping courses in the best possible conditions. 

Awards like the E.J. Marshall Platter and tributes like ‘Thank a Super Day’ each year serve as reminders about how much work course maintenance teams do.