It took 10 years for Tim Campbell to settle on a career and complete his education—but after choosing golf course maintenance, he elevated himself, and the Palm Beach (Fla.) Par 3 Golf Course, to unique standings.
Imagine the chagrin on the faces of Tim Campbell’s parents when, just one semester short of graduating from college with a degree in special education, he told them he was going to change his major.
The impetus for the change came as Campbell was working on a golf course near his home of Chattanooga, Tenn., as a way to make some money prior to his last semester. The superintendent suggested he had “turf talents” and should consider a career in golf course management.
SUPER IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Current Position: Golf Course Superintendent, Palm Beach Par 3 Golf Course
So after a bit of soul-searching, Campbell packed his bags for the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, to pursue a degree in horticulture. In all, the college experience for Campbell took approximately 10 years, as he also had to work to fund his education and support a young and growing family.
“I think my mom was more upset that I quit my UPS job when I first started college,” Campbell chuckles. “She wanted me to keep going because I almost had seniority. She said they had good benefits.
“But I really liked working on the golf course and after that first job, I knew it was for me.”
Fast forward to today, and there’s no question Campbell has made all the right moves. He’s climbed the career ladder, and last year he was honored by the Town of Palm Beach, Fla., as its Employee of the Year, for his work on that city’s unique Par 3 Golf Course that has helped to generate record-breaking profits annually, including $2 million in 2016.
“His quiet leadership, commitment to teamwork and dedicated service are deserving of recognition and praise,” Palm Beach Mayor Gail Coniglio said in the ceremony honoring Campbell. “Our crown jewel, the Par 3 Golf Course, enjoys unprecedented success with a great reputation of course conditioning, receiving rave reviews embraced by both first-timers and golf regulars. [Campbell’s] efforts in meeting the [requirements of the] day-to-day operations ensures an excellent golfing experience for all who visit.”
Those sentiments were echoed by the course’s Manager and Head Golf Professional, Tony Chateauvert, PGA, who nominated Campbell. “Tim has shown tireless time, dedication and pride in his work as our golf course superintendent,” Chateauvert said. “The proof is in the success that we have had at the Par 3. We continue to get accolades from all of the golfers who visit us year-round.”
Campbell, who has been in his position since 2005, deflects the praise to his staff and others at the course, and to a community that has embraced the facility with the necessary support to make it competitive with the many other opportunities for golfers in the area.
GOLF COURSE PROFILE
Palm Beach Par 3 Golf Course
“This place is wonderful,” he says. “I consider myself fortunate to have the opportunity to wake up every day and come to work doing something I love in such a beautiful setting.”
The course is highly regarded by golf aficionados as well. Golf Digest labeled it “one of the best par-threes you can play anywhere and one of the top 50 most fun courses in America,” and it has garnered the top par-three rating twice, even ahead of Augusta National’s par-three course. And television directors like how it looks, too: “The Hank Haney Project” has been filmed at the course for three years, and the LPGA’s 50-year Pro-Am celebration was also held there.
Our interview with Campbell provided more insights into the unique allure and impressive success of the course he’s helped to keep looking, and performing, at its best for the past 12 years.
C&RB: Who plays the Palm Beach Par 3 Golf Course?
Campbell: That is the great thing about us. We are America. We have young and old, male and female, tourists and locals—you name it, we have them. We get people who belong to private courses as well. The course is fun to play and in a great setting.
The [course] redesign by [Raymond] Floyd and [Harry] Bowers in 2009, and renovating the clubhouse, was beneficial in attracting people to our facility. They just brought everything up-to-date. We also have a lot of outside events. It’s a good setup for groups that want to do fundraisers or entertain.
C&RB: Who is your competition?
Campbell: There really aren’t any par-three courses around us to speak of, so for the most part we compete with larger facilities. We have some excellent golf courses around here, so we try to provide conditions that you would find at a private course. I think people like the fact you can play a round of golf in two and a half hours. It’s a change of pace for them.
C&RB: What makes the course fun and challenging?
Campbell: Obviously, for a par three you are not going to hit driver, so you have to be accurate and a good putter. We have fairly large greens with some movement. The biggest challenge, though, is the constant breeze that comes off the Atlantic Ocean. You have to account for that.
C&RB: What is your biggest agronomic challenge?
Campbell: The salt from the water is probably my toughest issue to deal with, especially how it affects the equipment. It can be pretty corrosive [and] it has affected the connections for our irrigation system. We are looking at how we can protect our wiring. There is a marine coating that we may experiment with.
We do get some windburn on our turf from the breeze. We’ll get some brown patch [or] dollar spot. We had some nematode issues on the fingers of the bunkers, but we dug down and filled in with top soil, and that has helped.
C&RB: How is your water source and quality, and how does the paspalum react to it?
Campbell: We have two ponds, one of which I used to irrigate from. We have a well drilled 1,500 feet to the Floridian aquifer to fill it. The water is brackish, but the paspalum handles it well. It gets flushed naturally with the rain water.
COURSE & GROUNDS OPERATIONS PROFILE
Annual Course Maintenance Budget: $700,000 (equipment replacement $65,000 annually)
C&RB: What is the footprint of your facility?
Campbell: We cover 36 total acres, 26 of which is turf for the golf course. That includes a range and practice area. I also manage a soccer field adjacent to the course that is owned by the town. We sit on land between the Atlantic Ocean and the Intracoastal Waterway. We really do not have room to grow.
C&RB: What work has been done on the course since the 2009 renovation, and what’s planned for the future?
Campbell: We have done some bunker work and upgrading of the cart paths. We cut out some sod in some areas, and put down crushed seashells. I actually get the materials from the West Coast and apply it with a topdresser. It is not nearly as costly as concrete, and it goes well with our environment. We are now looking at replacing a discharge pipe from our pump station and at leveling some tees in the future.
C&RB: You have had record-breaking profits annually, including an all-time best $2 million [in 2016]. What have you done to accomplish that?
Campbell: Again, I think the redesign in 2009 made a big impact. I got here in 2005, and the difference is noticeable. The clubhouse and restaurant is a big draw. Plus, our conditioning has improved.
I have to give credit to the Palm Beach community, too. It was a strong public-private partnership that provided the funds to get the work done. There is a lot of pride in the course from the community.
There’s not much downtime here. It slows a bit in the summer, but it’s not like some other courses in the region, where they practically shut down.
C&RB: Did you envision a career at a par-three golf course?
Campbell: I told my mother that I envisioned working near the ocean at some point in my life, so that part came true. When I was working at Winston Trails [Golf Club in Lake Worth, Fla.], I would talk on occasion with Dan Dupree (the late golf course superintendent at Doral Resort), who lived on the course. He told me that if I had the opportunity to work in a municipal setting I should take a hard look at it, [because] the benefits and retirement plans were something others don’t match. So that is why I took a look [here] when this job opened. Knock on wood, I can retire here. I love it and the people I work with.
C&RB: Tell us about receiving the Employee of the Year award.
Campbell: I knew when I got the invitation to attend [the ceremony] that either I had a chance or that someone from the course might have won it. They started talking about the golf course and I thought my manager was getting it, but then they started talking about late nights and sprinklers, and I knew I was the only one who dealt with that. It was still a big surprise, and an honor.