Maintaining Nine 18-Hole Golf Courses
At Pinehurst, North Carolina
Story by: Bill Hensley
PINEHURST, NC … Each morning around six o’clock, a small army of personnel and equipment leaves the golf course maintenance area at the Pinehurst Resort with a busy day ahead. Facing the staff is the mammoth and often complicated task of keeping nine 18-hole golf courses in immaculate condition--admired and playable.
Waiting to be manicured to please over 250,000 players each year are nearly a thousand acres of courses, including 260 acres of fairways, 493 teeing areas, 650 bunkers and 162 greens. In addition, there are 20 acres of hotel and clubhouse grounds to be serviced along with a park, nine putting greens, a large practice facility, three croquet courts, marina grounds, a turf nursery and an 18,000 square foot greenhouse.
It takes a budget of nearly $8 million and a staff of 250 to do the job. And expenses can rise rapidly if problems arise such as droughts, grass diseases or weather disasters such as wind and rain storms.
Pinehurst is the only resort in the world with nine 18-hole courses. Five of the courses begin and end at the historic clubhouse in the center of this Sandhills golfing mecca. Courses number Six, Seven, Eight and Nine are located nearby, each on separate tracts.
In the peak seasons of spring and fall, tees and greens are mowed daily while fairways are cut every other day. Bunkers are raked daily. Throughout the year, a variety of fertilizers and other products are applied to achieve excellent conditioning levels. Other tasks are numerous, such as raking leaves, trimming trees, picking up limbs, painting benches and ball markers and maintaining a small army of equipment. The challenges are endless.
The Pinehurst equipment inventory lists 145 licensed motor vehicles, 260 mowers, aerifiers, bunker rakers and assorted other tools of the trade. The maintenance building near the main clubhouse covers 19,000 square feet. There are 27 employees in the shop and auto/truck center and ten in administration.
The man responsible for this massive undertaking is 56-year-old Bob Farren, a veteran of 31 years at Pinehurst. His official title is Director of Grounds and Golf Course maintenance, but he known unofficially as a magician. He is a second generation golf course superintendent.
The personable Farren and his staff recently achieved international acclaim from the players, the USGA and the media for the outstanding playing condition of the famed Pinehurst No. 2 during the two recent USGA Championship tournaments.
“Obviously, the job is a huge undertaking,” Farren admitted, “but fortunately we have the staff and the financial resources to do it right.”
“We never have to look for something to do around here,” he continued. “There is always something to keep us busy day after day. And since golf here is a year-round activity, there is no down time.”
Farren has a talented and dedicated crew of certified superintendents to assist him. Kevin Robinson serves as the Maintenance Manager and is second in command while Kyle Brown oversees courses One, Three and Five; John Jeffreys supervises No. 2; Steve Wilson has courses Four and Seven; Jeff Hill courses Six and Eight; and Dave Bobliss, the newest addition, number Nine.
When Farren is not behind a desk or on one of the nine courses surveying his picturesque domain, he enjoys playing the game, being at family events and tailgating at N. C. State football games. He is also occupied with a variety of committee work for the Golf Course Superintendents Association, the USGA, and the Environmental Institute for Golf.
A native of Welch, WV, Farren is a 1979 graduate of Marshall University. He joined the Pinehurst staff in 1982 and became a certified superintendent in 1985. He has managed course conditions for the 1989 US Women’s Amateur, the 1990-91 Tour Championship, 1994 US Senior Open, and three US Opens in 1995, 2005, 2014 and the Women’s Open in 2014, among a host of other major events.
A highlight of his career, he said, is working with Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore in the restoration of the renowned No 2 course, a Donald Ross masterpiece. “That was something I could never forget. I think it had a significant impact on the sustainability of golf and the industry. That and the success of the two US Opens will define my career.”
Farren said that since the historic No. 2 course was returned to a natural state, there are a reduced amount of fairways to be maintained and water usage has dropped from 55 million gallons a year to 15 million. In addition, there is no winter over seeding and less fertilization required.
Farren is married to the former Kathy Crow of Greer, SC and Pinehurst, and the couple has two children; son Casey an architect in San Antonio, Tx., and daughter Kristin, of Fraser, Co. who works in the accounting office of a Young Life ministry youth camp.
Besides his beloved Pinehurst courses, Farren—a 10-handicapper-- enjoys playing at Hound Ears and Linville in the North Carolina mountains and at Brandon Dunes in Oregon. “I’m high on those courses,” he commented. “Sadly, I can’t get to those places very often.”
Although the maintenance numbers and challenges at Pinehurst are overwhelming, it comes as no surprise that the excellent playing conditions at the nine courses are not accidental. Bob Farren can assure you that it is a labor of love.