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Course superintendent Interviewed on September 7, 2004

Interview (44 mins)

Scott Ramsay arrived at Yale in the fall of 2003 from the Orchards Golf Club in South Hadley, MA (which he was preparing as the site for the 2004 USGA Woman’s Open) with 20 years experience as a superintendent.

Scott’s father was in the landscaping business, while his father-in-law worked as a golf course superintendent at the same course for more than 40 years. Scott is himself a graduate of the University of Rhode Island with a degree in golf course management, and he has worked as a superintendent at courses in Westchester County, Rhode Island, and Connecticut, as well as serving as a regional manager for the Arnold Palmer Management Company.

From his first visit in 1986, Scott was attracted to Yale, describing it as “unique, angular, with complex routing and big greens on a grand scale, having a great tradition and being part of a university.”

When he first arrived at Yale, the union staff had just gone on strike so Scott used coaches, administrators, and members to maintain the course for several weeks. Since then he has improved union management relations; after only one year he had a staff triple the size of that when he arrived. His staff consists of permanent full time, full time seasonal, and part time seasonal (dinning hall staff and students) employees, with 16-20 employed at the peak. With this staff and new equipment, the greens can be cut daily and the fairways groomed every 2-3 days before play begins.

With the completion of the bunker renovation/restoration project, drainage problems have been corrected and a long range tree removal program around tees, greens and along fairways has begun. Scott has begun to reclaim green edges, resulting in several “false fronts,” and he hopes to restore the “double punch bowl” green on the third hole. This is all part of his desire to reclaim, preserve and restore this great course that is so well “designed for match play.”

Second Interview (February 13, 2007) 41 mins.
On February 23, 2007, Scott Ramsay was named the 2006 Golf Course Superintendent of the Year.

In the 2-½ years since his first interview Scott has not changed his view of those features of the course that first attracted him i.e. “angular, complex routing and greens, unique, on a grand scale”. Almost ever month he discovers something that had been hidden and adds to its unique character. During this time the course has moved up in ranking by Golf Digest from not listed at all, to 60th and now 45th of the 100 Classic Courses in America.

When Scott arrived in 2003 the union was on strike. When the crew returned to work he told them that his goal was for this to be the “best work unit on campus”. That goal seems to have been realized since he was just informed that the entire golf course mntainence crew would be the honorees for the 2007 Yale Golf Classic. The 2006 honoree was David Swenson the celebrated manager of the Yale endowments.

Bunker restoration and renovation had been completed when he arrived. The drainage improvement program had just begun and now is about one-half completed. It started with the worst areas i.e. hole # 7 and # 11. Drainage of # 2 and # 6 has been delayed for 18 months because of weather conditions, but is due to start in March 2007. The 4th fairway is going to be raised, as much as 13 inches in the landing area near the pond. Topsoil for this job became available when it was removed from the soccer field and replaced with artificial turf. New drainage will then be installed. The program will be completed when holes 10, 14, 15, and 16 are done next year. Our crew, mainly to deal with cart path runoff on holes # 1, 4, 8, 16 & 18, has built dry wells there.

Approximately 2,500 trees have been removed Since Scott became superintendent. The first reason for this was safety. Rotting trees, many of the “widow maker” variety, were falling at the gate, over carts paths and tees. For example, during a tournament, a 100-foot tall Tulip tree fell across the 15th cart path and tee. Trees were removed to improve air circulation at tees and greens and to improve turf everywhere with more sunlight. These were trees that had grown into areas where they had first been cut down to build the course over 80 years ago. Scott is now pruning and managing “specimen trees” such as the Dawn Redwoods on holes # 6, 10, and 18. These trees like the swampy areas found there and were planted by the forestry school many years ago.

Green edges are being reclaimed. The greens were originally built by “capping the area of the planned green with green-mix”. That was a combination of “glacial sand and muck” found on-site, mixed and transported to the planned green by horse drawn cart. Because of their unique composition they drain off the surface, rather then through the soil. Scott can now use a “soil profile probe” to see where the edges of the original greens were and restore them accordingly. Two “plug nurseries” have been established using the plugs from aeration. This soil can then be used when an area of a green needs to be resoded.

Scott then talked about specific improvements hole by hole.

Hole # 1 “is a great start”. The fairway has been widened and extended around the left front bunker all the way to the left side of the green. The widened fairway brings into play the effect of balls repelling off the sloping fairway, increasing the difficulty of the hole. Photographs have shown that left front bunker wall at the green used to be higher, hiding the left front of the green. Scott would like to restore this feature.

Hole # 2 the fairway has been widened to “reclaim the grandeur of the hole”. On this short par four the widening the fairway has the effect of increasing the difficulty. Now long drives can run over the hill on the left or repel off the mound on the right.

Hole # 3 has not been changed. But the green had been changed from the original large “double punchbowl” configuration and Scott would like to see it restored. Also, the cart path near the green is often a problem in tournament rulings. He wondered about eliminating the cart path and making the area from the old bunker to the green and along the lake a waste area that could also be the cart path.

Hole # 4 has been “opened up by removing trees right and left to restore its line of charm”. By that he means to charm the player into taking a line of more risk than he normally would. Here that means trying to shorten distance by challenging the pond on the right.

Hole # 5 has been widened by the removal of trees. Even so, from the long tee the front bunker is not seen because of the native grasses.

Hole # 6 by confining the hazard on the left of the dogleg to the open watercourse, rather than the entire area from fairway to woods, Scott has encourage the player to risk going to that side [the line of charm].

Hole # 7 the fairway has been extended all the way up Horse Hill to the green and the green edge extended in front. This brings new meaning and danger to a “false front”.

Hole # 8 next year trees will be cleared on the left restoring the “Cape” effect to the hole and giving the player more choices and potentially more trouble. More green has been added in front and in the right front “kick space” area , increasing the green from 14,000 to 19,000 sq. ft.

Hole # 9 removal of trees behind the tee and right, left and behind the green has improved the turf everywhere.

Hole # 10 is in need of drainage and tree removal planned for 2008 on the left and behind the green [east]

Hole # 11 has tree removal on the left [east], especially in the landing area, planned for 2008. Trees behind the green have been removed which returns the 1926 look and makes judging distance for the second shot more difficult. This presents more problems for the long hitter who drives close to the green.

Hole # 12 trees have been cleared both right and left, again returning it to the 1926 look. Here too fairway has been extended toward and now will be all the way to the green [as had been done on # 1].

Hole # 13 Trees are currently being removed on the left and behind the green.

Hole # 14 Trees have been removed on the right at the dogleg as seen in the 1925 construction photographs. Now 6 trees on the right side [east] of the green will be removed. Early morning photographs in 1926 shows no shadows there i.e. no trees then. Their removal will enhance the dogleg right effect.

Hole # 15 has added fairway by tree removal.

Hole # 16 fairway has been widened by tree removal; i.e. increases from 22 to 27 acres

Hole # 17 native grass [fescue] has been cut back right and left to widen the fairway in the landing area and also closer to the tee to shorten the drive needed to reach the fairway. The fairway has been extended around the “Principles Nose” and Scott plans to keep the grass on the Nose cut short.

Hole # 18 here can be seen the most dramatic results of tree removal, attention to specimen trees (such as the Dawn Redwoods on # 10 and # 18), and eliminating penal native grass. Now the player has wide-open areas for both 1st and 2nd shots. There are now multiple options for club selection and direction of play. Scott will keep the grass cut short on the side of the hill in the 2nd shot landing area i.e. there will be two fairways to play to. With new irrigation and extension of the lower fairway to the new tree line, 18 should now being getting praise rather than the complaints of the past.

Scott has brought the course to a new level, one that has brought its rating to the # 1 university course in America. His professional colleagues have recognized his work by naming him Golf Course Superintendent of the Year – 2006. But, he says “there is still a long way to go, with tree removal and improved drainage and then dealing with the improved turf that will result.