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SUPERintendents in Salt Lake City and County Are Truly Super

This is really quite amazing. Several weeks ago the UGA did a feature story on the golf course superintendents who work for Salt Lake County and discovered that all six of the superintendents grew up in Utah and graduated from Salt Lake area high schools.  That seemed unusual.
 
In compiling information for a similar story on Salt Lake City superintendents we found almost a mirror image, all six grew up in Utah and graduated from Salt Lake area high schools. So between the county and the city golf courses all 12 superintendents were raised in Utah and graduated from Salt Lake area high schools. That’s a remarkable record of two-way loyalty.
 
Our story on the county superintendents pointed out what seemed to be unusual loyalty and stability of employment over the years, but in fact, the Salt Lake City superintendents even exceed that sterling record of the county.
 
That record of stability speaks well for management and employee. There seems to be very little bickering or complaining. The superintendents speak highly of their working relationships with their respective leaders and it works both ways. The superintendents of both the county and the city recognize the financial and political constraints of municipal golf courses and do their very best to provide top quality conditioning for their respective golf courses.

David Terry, Director of Golf in Salt Lake City made the following comment when asked about his responsibility to oversee all the golf courses owned by Salt Lake City, said, “Salt Lake City is fortunate to have six Golf Course Superintendents, seven Assistant Superintendents, nine Golf Course Maintenance Workers, and approximately 50 part-time seasonal Groundskeepers who are loyal to Salt Lake City Golf, dedicated to their profession, and qualified to handle the multitude of tasks required to manage over 1100 acres of golf course property.”
 
He added, “Superintendents are a bit like offensive linemen in football.  Their work is so important, yet it seems the only time they are noticed is when there is a problem, just as offensive linemen get attention only when called for holding or giving up a sack.  Without qualified Superintendents, our Salt Lake City Golf team would be in real trouble.  The quality playing conditions these professionals cultivate at Salt Lake City’s nine golf courses, especially with limited resources and, in many instances, inadequate irrigation systems, are nothing short of amazing.”

Terry and the superintendents are limited in what they can do by budget constraints and when that is taken into consideration it makes what they what achieve even more remarkable. In some cases the Salt Lake City Council has been very slow to respond to some critical needs and they have been able to get away with it because the superintendents somehow have patched things together enough to keep the grass growing and the public satisfied.

For instance, the Bonneville Golf Course, the historically premier golf course of the city, is still being watered by hand. This has gone on too long. The thumb in the dike theory is going to burst one of these days and the city council will be inundated with a flood of criticism.
 
How could it be that in 2012 the Bonneville Golf Course is still being watered by hand? And to double the trouble, another one of the oldest courses in Utah, the Nibley Park Golf Course, is also still being watered by hand. How many golf courses in Utah are still being watered by hand? Not very many, but it’s true of one-third of the golf courses in Salt Lake City.
 
Here is the list of superintendents in Salt Lake City and County and their age, high school and graduation year, and length of service on their jobs.
 
Salt Lake City Superintendents
Ross Caputo, 59,  graduated Judge Memorial, 1971, at city, 43 years
Mike O’Connor, 54, graduated Cottonwood, 1975, at city, 28 years
Chuck Sorge, 54, graduated West, 1976, at city 5 years, (at Utah State Parks for 30 years)
Brett Fornelious, 50, graduated Skyline, 1980, at city, 31 years
Steve Campbell, 50, graduated Skyline, 1980, 32 years
Bryan Witzel, 49, graduated South, 1980, at city, 30 years
 
 
Salt Lake County Superintendents
Curtis Hirase, 57, graduated Kearns, 1973
Randy Jensen, 56, graduated Cottonwood, 1974
Matt Hyland, 51, graduated Cottonwood, 1979
Ed Brewer, 46, graduated Hillcrest, 1984
Leslie Varoz, 44, graduated Hillcrest, 1986
Charles Calder, 42, graduated West Jordan, 1988
 
A thumbnail sketch of the Salt Lake City superintendents follows. Our previous article included a thumb nail sketch of the county superintendents. You can re-read that article on this web page.
 
Ross Caputo, Rose Park
 
We start with Ross Caputo, who has been at Rose Park Golf Course ever since graduating from Judge Memorial High School in 1971. That’s 43 consecutive years. He worked under superintendents Frank Orlando and then Lee Terry and became the superintendent in 1984, 28 years ago. He actually started working for the city while he was still in high school taking care of two softball fields.
 
At Judge Memorial he kicked a 60 yard field goal in 1970 against Hillcrest. It was the only score of the game and stood as a Utah high school record for 40 years. However, his specialty sport was softball and he was an infielder on the famous Larry H. Miller teams for 24 years. His dad, John Caputo, is one of the all-time great football players at Utah State. He is married to Wendy Wacesha and they have six children, including two sets of twins. He attended college at Weber State and Gonzaga.
 
His biggest challenge at Rose Park is the irrigation system and ever increasing use of the facility. He has a staff of four salaried employees and five seasonal employees.
 
Rose Park is one of the consistently best maintained golf courses in the state. When someone considers golfing at Rose Park the otherwise often asked question, “Is it in good shape?’ is seldom asked. The seasoned golfer knows that he can count on Rose Park being in good shape and fun to play.
 
Mike O’Connor, Wingpointe
 
Mike O’Connor graduated from Cottonwood in 1975 and his first job was being a bagger at Albertsons while still a sophomore. After graduation he worked at Kennecott for five years and joined the grounds crew at Glendale in 1984 through 1986. He shifted to Rose Park for six years and then in 1990 went to Wingpointe to help with the grow-in of the airport course. He’s been there ever since and became the superintendent in 1997. During his years with the city he has worked as the assistant superintendent to Lee Terry, Mark Fenton, and Steve Wetherall.
 
He is married to Suzanne Evans and they have two grown children. He loves playing golf in the summer and ice fishing in the winter.
 
The big challenge at Wingpointe is the high alkali soil.
 
“New products that help grass grow in bad soil are helping us and the course is improving every year. It was certainly a struggle in the early years, but the course is in really good shape now,” he said.
 
Chuck Sorge, Forest Dale and Nibley
 
Chuck was born in Yuma, Arizona but his family moved to Salt Lake when he was six years old. He graduated from West High School in 1976.
 
Chuck is last on the totem pole for years of service with Salt Lake City with only five years, all of it has superintendent of Salt Lake’s two nine hole courses. While his experience at SLC is short, he is long on experience in the grounds keeping business. He worked for the Utah State Parks Division for 30 years before switching teams. He helped build the Jordan River Par Three and then moved to the Wasatch Mountain grounds grew. He was the assistant to Steve Moulton during the grow in of Soldier Hollow and was there until 2007 when Salt Lake City cam calling to get him to take over Nibley and Forest Dale.
 
He enjoys out of state travel and is married to Marji Felt and they have five children and nine grand children.
 
The biggest challenge he has running two separate golf courses is that they are both aging courses. The greens are 80 or 90 percent poa anna and it’s a struggle to keep them putting smooth in higher temperatures. Deciding when and how to aerate is always an important decision.
 
Forest Dale is the oldest golf course in Utah. It hosted the Utah State Amateur from 1900 to 1919. The land on which Nibley Park is situated was donated to the city by the Nibley family and was part of a city owned amusement park. The driving range is one of the busiest in the state, but is restricted to limited flight balls. The city has plans to re-route number one and lengthen the driving range so that full flight balls can be used.
 
Nibley is also lacking an irrigation system and so hand watering makes maintenance much more difficult. Sorge has a staff of six at Nibley and a staff of four at Forest Dale.
 
Brett Fornelious, Mountain Dell
 
Brett Fornelious began his grounds keeping experience at Mountain Dell as a seasonal employee working for superintendent Mark Ruff for about nine years. He became the assistant superintendent at Forest Dale in 1994. In 1999 he became the superintendent of both Nibley and Forest Dale and then in 2007 returned to Mountain Dell as the superintendent. Mountain Dell, being a 36-hole layout, is the biggest task in the city system.
 
He graduated from Skyline in 1980 and studied electrical engineering at the University of Utah for three years and managed a Pizza Hut when he was 18 years old. He is married to Christine Engh and they have two married children.
 
He loves golf and started playing at the age of four. He tries to play once a week, but also enjoys hiking, camping, and fishing.
 
His biggest challenge at Mountain Dell is to protect the drinking water in the area from chemicals while still growing a 36-hole golf course. “The chemicals we use have to be supervised and approved by public utilities personnel. We can’t use big sprayers and we have 30 gallon limits. It forces us to use mostly granular fertilizers.
 
He has four full time assistants and 12 seasonal employees.
 
 
Steve ‘Beatle’ Campbell, Bonneville
 
Steve Campbell graduated from Skyline in 1980 and landed his first job in 1981 as a night waterman at Bonneville. He watered it by hand. Thirty one years later, despite dramatic improvement in watering systems, he is now the guy in charge of watering by hand. It remains his number one challenge in keeping Bonneville in good playing condition.
 
After that first job he spent some time at Nibley, Forest Dale, and Mountain Dell before returning to Bonneville in 2001. He’s been there ever since and became the superintendent in 2004. He has been with the city for 31 years.
 
While working for the city he has associated with six different professionals, Dick Kramer, Mack Christensen, Steve Elliott, Jeff Waters, Don Dorton, and Tom Sorensen.
 
He is married to Shelly Slaughter and they have three children and three grandsons. They have a cabin near Heber and enjoy their time off there.
 
He has been one of Utah’s top amateur players and won several major UGA tournaments and earned spots on the Utah Shootout team. He has given up competitive golf recently and plays only casually. He also enjoys fishing.
 
He has three salaried helpers and eight seasonal day crew along with four night watermen, and they are very good at their jobs. The course ranks right up there with the best conditioned munis in the state.
 
Bryan Witzel, Glendale
 
After graduating from South High in 1980 and spending two years at the University of Utah Bryan Witzel started working at Glendale under superintendent Steve Wetherall. That first stint at Glendale lasted 17 years. He then spent a year at Rose Park, nine years at Bonneville, the assistant superintendent at Nibley for three years, and then returned to Glendale as superintendent in 2007. That’s 30 years taking care of grass for golfers.
 
He loves golf and plays two or three times a week. His favorite playing companion over the years has been school friend and best man Jeff Green, the head pro at Stansbury. He has also played a lot with Larry Buecher, another groundskeeper.
 
He is married to Angie VanWyngarden and they have two children.
 
His main challenge at Glendale is to conserve water. “It takes one-third of our budget,” he said.
 
Of course Glendale has been famous as a gathering place for geese and the unpleasant side effects that require considerable extra maintenance effort. In the last few years he has been very successful in keeping the geese problem to a minimum through the use of good dogs and daily dragging the droppings out of the way.
 
He treasures the time he has had working with various professionals including Dave Carter, Steve Elliott, Dick Kramer, and Tommy Reese.
 
He has three full time staffers and six seasonal workers and the course has established a solid reputation for its conditioning, and especially for its smooth putting greens.