Amanda Fontaine Leaving Her Mark On Ledges Golf Club - MASSGOLF

Ledges Golf Club Superintendent Amanda Fontaine Part of Growing PRESENCE of Women In Golf Course Maintenance

By: Steve Derderian
sderderian@massgolf.org

 

Amanda Fontaine has grown up on the golf course all her life. Her “one big playground” has been Ledges Golf Club, a scenic 244-acre municipal course in South Hadley managed by International Golf Maintenance that has served as a second home for her family since she was 11. Fontaine was drawn to the outdoors at an early age whether it was playing in the grass or bunkers, riding in tractors or playing with the family dogs Toro, Hogan, and now Simba on the grounds.

But if you had asked Fontaine as a teenager if she thought she’d be back there some day working as the head superintendent — the role her father, who she affectionately refers to as ‘Michael’ for work purposes, had for 14 years — she would’ve said no way.

“It was just a summer job,” said Amanda, who went on to study exercise science and play goaltender for the Division I Sacred Heart University women’s hockey team.

Instead, Fontaine had professional hockey aspirations and got to live out that dream with a short stint with the Boston Blades of the now-defunct Canadian Women’s Hockey League.

But sometimes fate has a way of calling people back home. Now 28, Fontaine finds herself entering her second year as the head superintendent at Ledges.  

She has since traded large pads for large machinery. But this job is by no means a place holder. In the midst of the largest golf boom in recent years, Fontaine has gone all-in on this position by modernizing the club’s equipment and practices, managing irrigation, hiring and training staff, and striving every day to keep the course in its best condition to date for the increasing number of golfers. She also earned a certificate from the UMass Winter School for Turf Managers.

“It’s like turning over my third kid to her,” said Michael Fontaine, who was promoted to general manager back in 2019. “She knows what a golf course should look like.”

Being one of the few females in the industry, and a young one as well, isn’t lost on Fontaine. According to a USGA article from June 2021, only 299 out of 18,500 Golf Course Superintendents of America members are female. Not every superintendent belongs to GCSAA, but that figure still comes out to 1.5%.

Though she doesn’t view herself as a trailblazer, Fontaine still is committed to managing every challenging situation efficiently and with poise.

“No one really sees me unless I would like to be seen,” Fontaine said. “We’re doing thing fast and we’re doing them right.”

Ledges Golf Club superintendent Amanda Fontaine sits alongside her german shepherd Simba, who is named after her favorite movie ‘The Lion King’. (Contributed)

While Michael helped establish a skills foundation for Amanda, that doesn’t mean they operate the same way. Old manual tasks such backlapping mowers are now replaced by automatic bedknife grinders that make the blades “like brand new”, and they last for months.

“That’s part of the reason why we want somebody young and exciting because there’s some products that I haven’t used that she has,” Michael said. “And she probably communicates with the with seasonal staff much better than I do.”

Fontaine also has some projects on the horizon, including building a green nursery and making a new design for tee markers instead of the classic wooden ones.

“She knows what a golf course should look like.” (Contributed)

Fontaine grew up in Northfield, where Michael was the superintendent of nearby Northfield Golf Club. Michael and his ex-wife Chris raised their daughters, Amanda and Maddie, both of whom now work at Ledges.

Amanda found her love for hockey growing up in Northfield, spending countless hours skating on a neighborhood backyard rink. By second grade, she had already declared that she wanted to be a pro hockey player. But during the short window of hockey off-season during summertime, the golf course has always been a welcome escape.

“If I had a tough day at school, high school or college, golf was something that could relax your mind,” she said.

A young Amanda Fontaine sits on the tractor alongside her father Michael. (Contributed)

Michael Fontaine took the Ledges superintendent job 17 years ago and found a fairly new course (opened in 2001) in need of significant work.

“There was insect damage,” Michael recalls. “They were pumping fertilizer out there, but it wasn’t doing anything because the soils were breaking it down, so we pulled tests to get our soil balanced so it’s working for us instead of against us.”

Michael was able to get things back on track, and the conditions began to attract new golfers, with an increase in membership and organized events. The club has recently made improvements to the pavilion and grille as well.

Amanda received a work permit at age 16 and would return during summers to help out as Michael’s assistant superintendent. During her short stint with the Boston Blades, Fontaine coached her high school alma mater Northfield Mt. Harmon, as well as goalies at Nichols College, which held practices in Rhode Island. She’d also travel twice a week to Boston for her own night practices and still be up early for a 5 a.m. shift at Ledges.

“Everyone was super understanding about what I wanted to do so we made it work,” Fontaine said.                                           

Fontaine now coaches a U12 girls travel hockey team. (Contributed)

After her contract with the Blades ended, Fontaine then looked to expand her horizons through coaching hockey. She became an assistant at Plymouth State University but also took an assistant superintendent job at Lochmere Golf & Country Club, located southwest of Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire.

This latter process was unbeknownst to Michael until he got calls from other superintendents trying to verify if they were related. “I called her in my office and I said, ‘Why didn’t you talk to me?'” he recalls. “She said, ‘Because I didn’t want to get a job because of you. I want to do it all on my own.'”

But the time Fontaine spent away from Ledges turned out to be a crucial to her current work at Ledges. Over the course of three years, she received hands-on training with Lochmere superintendent Dan Freeman, including how to operate and maintain and an irrigation system.

When the Ledges position opened up for the start of 2021, Amanda decided to put her name in, thinking she would be among the most qualified.

“We literally put her through the most extensive interview process,” Michael said. “I didn’t want our members thinking she got the job because of me. I was in Hilton Head with Steve Gano — IGM’s Vice-President of Operations — and we had a long conversation where he said, ‘Every time we interview her, her name goes to the top of the pile, and who knows the property better than her?'”

Very few know the Ledges property better than Amanda Fontaine. (Contributed)

Fontaine’s first year provided its fair share of challenges, including a new grinder that wasn’t able to get up and running. But it got worse when the entire maintenance staff came down with COVID-19 and was out for two weeks just as the season was getting underway. Thankfully, everybody recovered, but it left the staff scrambling to keep the course ready.

With this spring quickly approaching, Fontaine says she feels better about the plan of attack this year. They completed a huge overhaul to the sprayer which will cover the entire golf course and the cutting units have been prepped.

But Fontaine is also hoping the perception can change around her job. Sometimes people will mistake her for the beverage cart or while digging irrigation, she’s heard snide comments like “shouldn’t you have a boy doing this job?” Fontaine speaks up, and while she said she prides herself on not having to raise her voice to golfers, she’s hoping to create a positive environment for women in the industry.

“It’s just one of those things where the work is getting done, what’s it matter that it’s a girl?” Fontaine said.

As for the more distant future, Fontaine says she gets asked about it all the time. But being home in a place you know better than anyone is never the worst thing.

“You never know what’s going to come along,” Fontaine said. “These are the kind of things that you can’t plan for, but I’ve never been able to fall into a regimen and stay at the same place for very long, so maybe that’s the ticket. Hopefully I can stay in one place for a little while.”