High-Tech Turf

by Casey Griffith

 Dec 19, 2017 at 4:23 PM

To the casual observer, the greens and fairways of Raleigh Country Club appear to be a utopian landscape expertly sculpted by knowing hands. One imagines every corner of the course is generously and thoroughly fussed over for hours on end, and that it no doubt guzzles unspeakable resources and costs a fortune to maintain.

Often overlooked, however, is the whirr of spinning discs atop the birdhouse on the No. 18 fairway and the tiny sets of holes on each green. It’s easy to glance past a nearby sprinkler head that covers an exact radius for exactly five and a half minutes — one that will administer no water at all tomorrow. The reality is that taming this demanding 200-acre course requires a sophisticated approach, precise applications, and next-level data analysis that McConnell Golf is helping to pioneer.

TECHNICALLY SPEAKING

During RCC Superintendent Billy Cole’s 30 years in the industry, he’s watched technology touch nearly every aspect of his work. “From equipment to communication, technology has made every job a little bit easier,” he says.

Until recently however, these technologies have lived in separate systems. Soil contents and moisture levels are recorded with a device called a Pogo stick — it probes the green and transmits data to a mobile app. Another device drops a golf-ball size sphere onto the green to record firmness, while green speeds are measured by hand with a stimpmeter. Hidden in plain sight, a solar-powered weather station on No. 18 transmits info to the office, where all data points are manually recorded alongside records for equipment repair, maintenance, and labor costs. Through these tools, Cole can track, assess, and manage a healthy course. 

“The challenge is to balance what’s good for the golfers and what’s good for the course,” he says. “They both rely on each other and they both want very different things. The turf needs to rest and recover while our members want to play as often as possible.”

Enter OnLink. This cloud-based platform collects data from Cole’s instruments to provide analytics across all sources. Beyond time savings, OnLink measures different variables against each other and predicts outcomes with more accuracy.

“I’ve been doing this long enough that I could tell you how the weather will impact the course pretty well,” Cole explains. “But this gives me the ability to precisely understand why we’re seeing certain things. We’ve had more consistent green speeds, for example, since using OnLink because we can monitor if a particular green needs to be rolled twice in order to play consistently with others.”

The predictive nature of the platform doesn’t only prompt reactive efforts – it’s also a means for conservation. As Cole reports, “Now I can see where we’ve over-corrected in the past. Identifying thresholds for ideal outcomes and eliminating excess has been just as valuable to us as the ability to understand trends.” 

SUSTAINABLE PRACTICES

The platform has environmental implications as well. “OnLink provides the tools to incorporate metrics that evaluate sustainability across our courses ... fewer chemicals, less water, less intensive maintenance, and lower costs,” explains McConnell Golf COO Christian Anastasiadis. “The ability to efficiently measure and monitor benchmarks has been missing in the golf industry for a long time.”

RCC has been piloting the OnLink platform for six months, and it will be rolled out to all properties by the end of the year. These practices will be just as valuable at sister properties, especially when it comes to accommodating the unique ecological thumbprint and microclimate of each course.

“Our purpose for this program is consistency of course conditions and management of materials and labor across McConnell properties,” says VP of Agronomy Michael Shoun. “OnLink helps us be better managers of our resources.”

Earlier this year, John McConnell posed a question in his often playful manner: “Who has the most important job at McConnell Golf?” The audience made some guesses but couldn’t quite nail it down. “The mechanic,” he finally explained. “Without mowers and rollers, you can’t provide a superior golf course. And that’s where it all starts.”

While operational efficiency may not be glamorous, it offers members a thriving world of private golf. A world where the phrase “It’s a McConnell course” carries the same meaning from Knoxville to Myrtle Beach.

 

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Growing the Game

by Brad King

 Aug 22, 2017 at 3:30 PM

Junior Golf thrives at Raleigh Country Club

Jim Barnes has been around the junior golf program at Raleigh Country Club since 1973, when he was four-years-old and playing golf with his father. Today his own sons, Avery and Camden, are active in the RCC junior golf program, and Barnes says things have changed quite a bit since he was a kid.

“When I was growing up, there were only about three junior golfers,” he recalls. “I played golf with more retired members during the weekdays than young people. Nowadays at the parent-child tournaments, you’ll have 60 teams.”

Involvement in RCC’s junior golf program, led by Assistant Golf Pro Thomas Walker, has skyrocketed. Walker and his staff host a variety of events during the year, including fall and spring after-school clinics and summer camps, and they’ve fielded numerous successful PGA Junior League teams in the past few years.

LAYING THE GROUNDWORK

Growing the junior golf program was a top priority for McConnell Golf after taking ownership of RCC in 2003. McConnell wanted to emulate the vibrant programs at nearby clubs in Raleigh. A key hire at RCC was Josh Points, who came from Florida, where he was teaching with famed instructor Jim McLean.

“We wanted to follow a pyramid model — growing a big base with beginners, then moving them to intermediate and advanced, then on to high school and college,” says Brian Kittler, RCC’s director of golf operations. “We knew we had the facilities and the instruction to do so.”

Mission accomplished: RCC’s junior golf program is now regularly churning out college golfers, starting a few years back with Cyrus Stewart, who went on to play at Wake Forest and is now pursuing professional golf. Stephen Franken is at NC State now, earning All-ACC honors this past season. Preston Ball (Loyola), Gray Matthews (Sewanee), and Sam Stephenson (UNC Pembroke) have all played collegiate golf, while Parker Gillam is headed to Wake Forest this fall.

“That progress has been really cool to see,” says Kittler. “We’ve grown quite a pipeline. Every graduating class now sends kids to Division I golfing programs. I think we’ve created a culture. Plus, they’re all really great kids.”

FUNDAMENTALS AND MORE

Eleven-year-old Kinsley Smith, a fifth grader at Lacy Elementary, has participated in just about everything offered at RCC at every level during the past few years.

“I remember Kinsley not being able to get the ball airborne two years ago,” says Walker. “Now, she’s one of the best on our Junior League team. She whooped all the boys a few nights ago.”

“She’s really improved. It’s been exciting to see,” says Marcus Smith, Kinsley’s father. “More than anything, it’s the opportunities. They’ve really expanded the program. They’ve added a Saturday series, the summer camps, which have been really good, and they’ve added fall events like they’ve done in the spring. The more you’re out there playing and practicing, the better you’re going to get. It’s fun for her. Golf is an individual game, but the team-based atmosphere, the camaraderie at the camps, and the spring and fall drills ... it makes it fun for the kids.”

Kinsley has now started playing tournaments, including U.S. Kids Golf and she recently started playing in Peggy Kirk Bell Girls Tour events around North Carolina. She’s tried other sports too — dance, gymnastics, and tennis, plus other activities — but according to her father: “She keeps coming back to golf. Now it’s just part of our after-school routine.”

Smith says the RCC staff, along with its world-class facilities, has been key to Kinsley’s rapid improvement.

“Raleigh Country Club has got to have one of the best practice facilities anywhere,” he says. “If you can learn to chip and putt at Raleigh, that game will travel. When you see 30 kids on the putting green, to me that’s awesome. It’s a game of a lifetime. It’s a good gift to give a kid.”

Barnes adds that the lessons taught by Walker and the rest of the RCC team impact young people in ways far more important than just golf.

“They’re focusing on the fundamentals, but they’re also focusing on what we want all young people to learn — to be good teammates, to pull for each other, to be good stewards of the game,” he says. “Winning is secondary. They’re good golfers, but they’re good young people first and foremost. Not all of them are going to be professional golfers, but they’re all going to be adults one day.”

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Where Are They Now?

by Shayla Martin

 Dec 18, 2016 at 9:45 PM

At McConnell Golf the sport of golf is more than just a leisure activity. Members across all 12 clubs train competitively in the hope of one day playing among their idols. Two McConnell Golf members have progressed to amateur and professional levels, and we’re proud to share the recent success of Raleigh Country Club's Grayson Murray and Carter Jenkins.

After receiving a McConnell Golf Junior Scholarship in 2008, Grayson Murray has wasted no time ascending the ranks to the PGA Tour. After the 22-year-old started the year with conditional status on the Web.com Tour and missed the cut in his first event, he tied for 10th place at TPC Wakefield Plantation and then tied for eighth at the BMW Charity Pro-Am. He earned his full-time PGA Tour card for the upcoming season in mid-October by finishing among this year’s top 25 money winners on the Web.com Tour.

“I received the McConnell Golf Junior Scholarship in the eighth grade, and it was perfect timing. It elevated my game so much just getting to go out to Raleigh Country Club every afternoon after school,” said Murray. “I don’t think I would have been the player I am without that scholarship.” The MCG Junior Scholarship is a program designed to offer instruction, practice, and playing opportunities to young golfers who may not have the financial ability to work on their games at first-class facilities. Murray was selected based on his level of talent, need, and commitment to the sport - as well as his proven dedication and value to the future of golf.

A fellow McConnell Golf Scholar is Raleigh native Carter Jenkins, a 2010 recipient who also played in the Rex Hospital Open as an amateur. Like Murray, Jenkins excelled in the amateur and collegiate ranks and is currently playing as a professional on the PGA Canada Tour. A fun fact about Jenkins: He and Grayson Murray were high school golf teammates at Leesville Road High School in Raleigh.

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Experience of a Lifetime

by jessie Ammons

 Jul 06, 2016 at 3:48 PM

Members share their most cherished memories of the Wyndham Championship in Greensboro

"For me the great moment at Wyndham each year is standing with our grandsons at the 18th green and watching them get golf balls, gloves, and hats from the players. Then they run to the scorer’s trailer, waiting for these players to come out and sign the gloves, hats, and other items. I remember that [Arnold Palmer’s grandson] Sam Saunders gave my grandson his hat, then autographed it. Ernie Els signed a golf glove. And many more players have been so very accommodating to the children. Our grandson came on Saturday and could not wait to get back on Sunday. It’s a great weekend and great time for families.”

- Jim Barnes, Raleigh Country Club

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