Q&A: Dave Johnson, Director Of Grounds At The Country Club - MASSGOLF

CATCHING UP WITH Dave Johnson, Director of grounds At The Country Club

An abbreviated version of the following interview with Johnson is featured in the Winter 2021 edition of MassGolfer Magazine. Enclosed is the full version.


MassGolfer: Francis Ouimet grew up across the street from The Country Club and would occasionally sneak on to play in his youth. Is it true you had a similar experience in your hometown of Dudley?

Dave Johnson: Yes this is true, we moved across the street from Dudley Hill Golf Course when I was 12 years old.  As a young boy (and still today) I was always outside every day until dark, playing sports or in the dirt for that matter.  The golf course became my playground when it was quiet in the evening or in the off-season.  My two older sisters both worked in the Golf Shop growing up and I joined the Grounds Staff when I was finally old enough to work.  I would play golf every day after work with the friends I was working with, it was so much fun.


MG: You’ve since worked at three other Bay State courses — Wachusett Country Club, Wianno Club in Osterville, and Whitinsville Golf Club. What is it about the profession that you love best?

DJ: I have been fortunate in my career to work at some great clubs that have significant historic value.  There are so many things I enjoy about this profession but working as a team to improve conditions (golfers experience) or recapture a feature on the golf course that has been lost over time is very rewarding and gives me a huge sense of accomplishment.  To observe golfers enjoy the work you are carrying out and feel appreciated is one of the best feelings a Golf Course Superintendent can experience.  Above all, I enjoy being able to teach and lead the men and women around me the proper way to treat people and how proper leadership will help you reach your goals.


MG: During TCC’s recent restoration work, what was the most surprising thing that you and the club found?

DJ: Working with Gil Hanse to restore TCC was very educational and enjoyable.  Gil always requires that we do a lot of research prior to starting any project and we were fortunate that TCC has some old photos from the 1920s and 1930s that capture many of the golf holes from ground level.  We found pictures that revealed bunkers on hole #2 and Hole #4 (Main Course #5) that had been filled in and grassed over at some point after 1930.  We worked carefully to remove sod and scrape the dirt away to reveal the change in soil and expose sand where the bunkers once existed.  They were both restored to the original shapes and added back some great character to each hole.  Also while rebuilding the bunker in front of the 18th green we excavated a horseshoe and found the clay soil that was the edge of the horse racing track.

Dave Johnson draws a line in one of the many bunkers that have been restored ahead of the 2022 U.S. Open. (Brian Smith)


MG: Tell us about your staff at TCC… we hear you have some staff meetings that start at 4 a.m. Assuming your Dunkin’ isn’t open that early, how do you manage to pull that off?

DJ: Most of us go to bed early to get to work in the summer by 4 am.  The property is 235 acres and with 27 holes of golf.  To maintain the courses at championship levels, the Grounds Team is comprised of 35 members in the summer, many with special skill sets such as equipment management/repair, irrigation, horticulture, and equipment operators. Anthony Howard and Adam Bennett are the Superintendents and they have 8 Assistants and 3 Interns that are working to be future Golf Course Superintendents.


MG: Will any of your fellow GCSANE supers at other Mass courses be lending a hand during the U.S. Open?

DJ: We have 100 Grounds and Industry Professionals from around the globe, that have volunteered to work for 7 days during the US Open.  Almost 50% of these volunteers are local to New England with many of them being members of the Golf Course Superintendents of New England-GCSANE.  The volunteers will be arriving at 3 a.m. each day to set up the golf course for the championship.  Each evening they will return at 4 p.m. and work on the course until 10 p.m. getting ready for the next day.  I am very grateful for the time and work that this group has committed to, as it is a true testament to our profession and the men and women that work so hard to provide great golfing conditions for all those that play.

MG: Do you get to play much … TCC is a walking course, do you like that?

DJ: My game is not what it once was and would rate it fair these days, as we all know it is a function of what you put into it.  When I do play, my goal is to enjoy the time on the course playing the game that I love.

I always encourage my staff members to play the course.  I firmly believe playing and walking the course provides an important perspective to the way we approach decisions while maintaining and setting up the course for play.  It also adds to the pride and a sense of ownership that are both very important criteria to being a great Golf Course Superintendent.

MG: Among the possible Open contestants, do you think any players have the kind of game that might favor playing well at TCC?

DJ: It is difficult to predict who will play the best during the Open at TCC, but I believe the course will provide a good test for everyone in the field.  For an unknown reason, maybe because I like the way he carries himself, I feel that Rory Mcllroy will be in the hunt on Championship Sunday.