Superintendents answer call to work at Sebonack

A groundskeeper waters a fairway on Wednesday at

A groundskeeper waters a fairway on Wednesday at the 2013 U.S. Women's Open at Sebonack Golf Club. (June 26, 2013) Photo Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

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So, you spend long hours mowing greens, tending fairways, smoothing bunkers and doing all the little things it takes to keep a golf course going. When you have time off, how do you get away from it all?

For more than 130 superintendents, assistants and greens staffers at various courses, you volunteer to work at a golf tournament, mowing greens, tending fairways, smoothing bunkers and doing all the little things it takes to keep, in this case, Sebonack Golf Club going. And you get to wake up at 3:30 a.m. so you can be at the daily 4 a.m. meeting for the U.S. Women's Open.

"This is what we do," said John Carlone, superintendent of the Meadow Brook Club, who is doing the 4-8 a.m. shift Thursday and Friday.

It is one of the unsung stories of tournaments, especially major championships. Greens workers from all over come just to help out. "I did it for Craig at the Opens in '02 and '09. Guys did it for me when I had the senior tour event," Carlone said.

There was no way he was going to skip this one, even knowing it meant driving out the night before so he could sleep over in one of the dorms at Stony Brook's Southampton campus. Garret Bodington, the Sebonack superintendent, began his career working for Carlone at Middle Bay and then at Meadow Brook.

Thus, an experienced, respected superintendent is out before dawn putting tee markers in the ground, repairing ball marks on greens and painting cups.

Nate Spence and Eric Kelley, who work at Trump National in Bedminster, N.J. -- site of the 2017 U.S. Women's Open -- are here. In the mornings, they use blowers to clear debris from fairways. In the evenings, they use hover craft-style mowers that trim the banks of bunkers.

"It's our vacation away from work," Spence said.

So why do this? They ask, why not? "This is a major," Carlone said. "There's an excitement to it."

People who are in the business like being in that environment. A superintendent from Australia is scheduled to arrive Thursday, according to former Bethpage park director Dave Catalano, who is here helping out.

"This is a special thing for all of them. This is good for resumes. You learn things that can help you create a better product for your members," said Tom Gray, superintendent at CordeValle in San Martin, Calif., who is here mostly as an observer because his course was just named site for the 2016 Women's Open. But he got up at 2 a.m. last June to volunteer at the men's Open. He still cherishes a Newsday photo from 1986, when he was visiting from Oakland Hills in Michigan and voluntarily changing hole locations during the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills.

Carlone added that no matter how long you have been in this kind of work, "You can always pick something up." At a major, you pick up adrenaline and enthusiasm. On the days this week when he can't make it, he has arranged for his current assistant, Justin Buhler, to volunteer. "He will," Carlone said, "have a spring in his step when he leaves here."

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