Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Groundskeeping 101 at a historic golf shrine

Talking turf: Cam Lloyd spends summer as a Brookline intern

Standing on the sixth green at The Country Club in Brookline, Cam Lloyd holds the pin. Davis Love III drove this green in the 1999 Ryder Cup, which was a big deal at the time.

Express Correspondent

The Country Club in Brookline (Mass.) is nestled behind age-old oaks and lush green pine trees, hidden from sight in western Boston, a ten-minute drive from downtown.

Brookline was the first country club formed in the United States in 1882, but its sign welcoming visitors is no larger than a stop sign, and easily missed if it isn't watched for.

The road traveling up to the historic clubhouse and men's locker room is one lane without much indication that you are entering one of golf's oldest and well-kept shrines.

Brookline's storied history isn't lost on Cam Lloyd, a Bellevue native, 1998 Wood River High School graduate, and current summer intern at the famous Country Club.

Just last week I toured the course with Lloyd, who turns 26 in August.

"Right here, this bunker, is called Vardon's bunker," said Lloyd, pointing towards a deep, unforgiving fairway bunker on the 17th hole. "This is where (Britain's) Harry Vardon landed on his drive, opening the door to (American) Francis Ouimet's amazing win at the 1913 U.S. Open."

Ouimet's story is legendary to golf enthusiasts. He was 20, just a kid who lived across the street from The Country Club, but his come-from-behind win over famed 46-year-old veteran Vardon at Brookline in 1913 began a love affair for golf that the U.S. has yet to relinquish.

The accomplishment of Ouimet in becoming the first amateur to win the U.S. Open 93 years ago became a best-selling book and a major motion picture known as "The Greatest Game Ever Played."

"It's pretty amazing to think where I'm working at times," Cam said. "I try my best to take it all in and appreciate the big picture."

Lloyd landed his Country Club internship from Penn State, where he is enrolled to receive a golf course turf grass management associates degree. The Valley Club, Lloyd's on-and-off employer since high school, is paying half of his tuition at school.

"He's always had a great attitude and been a very good worker," Valley Club assistant superintendent Sean Aicher said. "When he decided to make a career move to golf course management, I thought it would be great if we could help him out."

It was solely up to Lloyd to land the internship at Brookline. After sending the club his resume and speaking with officials on the phone, Lloyd met Mike Poch, then the assistant superintendent at the club.

Shortly after the meeting, Poch called Lloyd and offered him the summer internship, which he shares with ten other men from schools across the country.

The Country Club has hosted three U.S. Opens—most recently in 1988, won by Curtis Strange—and a Ryder Cup, but it is also known for being the first club in the U.S. that embraced all outdoor activities, including horse racing, curling, and skeet shooting. It christened its first six holes in 1893, 18 holes in 1899.

"I was very excited and honored when I got the call," said Lloyd about being accepted for the job. "I didn't know the club had as much history as it does, in regards to the horse racing and tennis and things of that nature. But I did know the more obvious connections, like the Ryder Cup."

The Ryder Cup, golf's own version of an all-star game, which pits an American cast of professionals against Europe's own, was held at Brookline for the first time in 1999.

The Americans went into the Ryder Cup as underdogs. But with a Sunday surge from the likes of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, and frequent Sun Valley visitor Davis Love III, the U.S. found itself with a 45-foot putt on the 17th green for young Justin Leonard to take the lead and, essentially, guarantee a victory.

Leonard sank the putt and the crowd literally went wild, as U.S team members and fans rushed the green to celebrate the unlikely victory, running over Jose Maria Olazabal's 30-foot putt that could have tied it for the Europeans. He missed and the Americans took home the Cup.

"His shot landed about right here," Cam pointed out last week, walking on the 17th green that slants to the right and tilts uphill, as nasty as a putting line gets.

"The hole was about here," Cam said as he walked a good 20 strides up the green and stood near the right edge, where the green drops off. "And this entire area, this fairway, the neighboring holes' fairways, they were completely filled with thousands of people. Then he sank it and everyone just went crazy. It was one thing to watch it on television. But to walk out here and see it, see what he did and where it was, that's pretty amazing."

During Lloyd's teenage years, he was busy as a point guard for the Wood River High School basketball team and as the three-year starting shortstop and leader for the young Wolverine baseball program, headed by former head coach Lars Hovey and assistant coach Larry Lloyd, who are both avid golfers.

Although he spent his summers working part-time for The Valley Club's maintenance department, golf was just a casual recreation for Lloyd.

After graduation from Wood River, Lloyd attended North Idaho College where he earned a culinary arts degree. He then moved to Arizona and enrolled at Pena Community College for business.

A year later he left Pena and began full-time work at the Arizona National Golf Course, a job he landed with the help of his part-time experience at The Valley Club.

Two-and-a-half years later, Lloyd telephoned The Valley Club, hoping to pick up any position that might come available. It was the draw of the mountains he missed the most.

"I've always loved being in the Sun Valley-type environment. I love biking and just being in the mountains. There are so many active people in the valley, it's hard not to miss it," Lloyd said.

Ray Link, a former superintendent at The Valley Club, called Lloyd back a year later and offered him a position that became full time, as irrigation supervisor. Lloyd accepted the job and returned to the Wood River Valley in the spring of 2004.

A year of hard work later, Lloyd had impressed his boss so much that Aicher thought it was time The Valley Club made an investment in the young man.

With his recommendation, the club offered Lloyd a scholarship that would cover $10,000 of his tuition at whatever school he chose. In return, Lloyd will work at the Valley Club for three years after graduation, most likely as an assistant superintendent.

Lloyd is excited to finish his intense training at Penn State. He plans to return to Sun Valley, where his mother, Tami Wintle, and sister, Camille, still live.

He is a die-hard New York Mets fan, although admits that being 10 minutes from Fenway Park has helped him appreciate the love that Red Sox fans have for their team. He was even able to land tickets to the Mets-Red Sox game tonight, Wednesday at Fenway. The tough ticket was expected to match ex-Boston pitching great Pedro Martinez against his former team.

He misses the other sports he has given up while pursuing his golf management career, and he still has fond memories of the 2004-05 Phoenix Bar and Grill senior league basketball championship team he played with on the Hailey hardwoods.

Lloyd's duties at The Country Club include mowing greens, fairways, and rough, and trimming trees and bushes along the course, maintaining its magnificent look.

His job is more than just manual labor. Hoping to become a golf course superintendent some day, Lloyd has learned a great deal about the different aspects of the business.

The biggest disparity between Brookline and The Valley Club is in the grass, Lloyd said.

Whereas the Idaho club uses Bluegrass, which can handle a great deal of heat and stress, The Country Club in Brookline uses Bent grass, a more delicate and easily stressed grass, on its fairways and greens.

But the days at Brookline don't seem like real work for Lloyd, even with the 5 a.m. wake up. His "office" is on historic fairways and greens, so it's hard to blame him.

Just as he was packing up for the day last Friday, as most of the younger interns were whisking away to the city for a night of cheering on the Red Sox, Lloyd bumped into his boss out on the course. He learned that a disease specialist was coming to talk about the little areas of concerns on the golf course.

Without hesitation, Lloyd eagerly jumped into the mix and went back to his education, ending any ideas of a short day and an afternoon nap.

Indeed, The Valley Club must be excited to have spent time and money on such a good investment.

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