After starting a career in psychology, Jared Viarengo let the tug of a lifelong love of golf course work redirect him on a path that led to dual responsibilities as GM/Director of Grounds at Applebrook GC.
It was love at first sight. Encouraged by a friend, Jared Viarengo, CGCS, decided to apply for a job at his local golf course to get some spending money while in high school. He was enamored with the setting from the start. In fact, while pursuing a psychology degree at Northeastern University in Boston, he would return home to Sherman, Conn., to work at Candlewood Valley Country Club in New Milford.
“I really liked the field of psychology, but working on the golf course gave me a chance to earn some money,” Viarengo says. “Plus, I enjoyed being on the golf course. It provided a break from the studying and coursework.”
Upon graduation, Viarengo began his career as an outreach counselor, focusing on de-institutionalizing people who were committed to mental-health facilities. The goal was to re-introduce these individuals to mainstream society with ongoing treatment and therapy. But after two years, he found himself at a crossroads. To advance in the field, he would need a graduate degree.
“I loved my work in psychology,” he says. “But it was so stressful. It wasn’t unusual to work with people who were threatening suicide. It was a challenge, but it was gratifying to help people. However, I needed to make a decision about going to graduate school.”
Feeling the tug of the golf course, Viarengo decided to chart a new path and pursue a turfgrass degree at the Stockbridge School of Agriculture at University of Massachusetts. It was a decision he has not regretted.
“Everyone was supportive of me returning to school to get a turf degree, including my parents and my wife to be,” he says. “They knew how much I liked being on the golf course. Of course, I had to pay for it. But I was prepared to go through with it.”
Viarengo’s ascent in the golf industry was buoyed by a highly regarded education and exposure to some of the greatest minds in golf. As a student intern and later as an assistant superintendent at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, N.Y., he was tutored by legendary turf gurus Bob Alonzi and Paul Latshaw.
And when members of several prominent Philadelphia-area clubs, including Pine Valley, Aronimink and Merion, had the vision of building a new golf club 30 miles west of Philadelphia, Viarengo was more than ready for the challenge—one that eventually grew to his also becoming General Manager, in addition to Director of Grounds for Applebrook Golf Club in Malvern, Pa.
C&RB How did you get a job at Applebrook Golf Club?
Viarengo I applied for the job posting when it opened in 1999. At the time, I was working for Paul Latshaw at Winged Foot Golf Club. He was such a great teacher. I was ready to move on, but I was somewhat apprehensive about doing a golf course grow-in. I interviewed with a few of the original founders and Rodney Hine, who was course architect Gil Hanse’s design partner at the time. They must have liked me, and I got the job.
C&RB You are now Applebrook’s General Manager in addition to being Director of Grounds. How did the dual role come about, and how do you balance the two roles?
Viarengo I became the General Manager in 2009, a year after our previous one—Jeff Kiddie, who was also our Golf Professional—had moved on to Aronimink Golf Club [in Newtown Square, Pa.] to be its golf professional.
I say that I am still 80 percent golf course superintendent; I continue to report to the maintenance facility and have my office there. But while I say that, there are times when I have to be 100 percent general manager, and in those times, I am fortunate to have my Golf Course Superintendent, Matt Lipinski. How much time I spend on each aspect is determined by what is going on at the club.
Early on, when I was offered the position, I made it clear to our then-President that I had no desire to give up my turf and golf course maintenance responsibilities. The golf course is Applebrook’s number-one asset, and to be a successful General Manager, I needed to prioritize being a good Director of Grounds first.
Applebrook is fortunate to have a very active Board of Directors and excellent senior staff members—nobody needs a lot of hand-holding.
C&RB Applebrook was built on farm ground. Is that good ground for a course?
Viarengo While the soil could be considered “fertile,” it was originally pasture-type land, meaning trees were cut decades ago. And unlike a course that was cut out of woodland, the weed-seed reservoir was immense. The soil is very heavy and silty, so it does not drain well at all.
What amazes me about the course, and the work that Gil Hanse did, was to design an interesting golf course that fit in the landscape. Before Gil did his work, I didn’t think the property itself was all that dramatic or spectacular.
C&RB What makes the course fun to plan, and what makes it challenging?
Viarengo The course was designed with generous fairways, and it helps to think your way around. Although this is cliché nowadays, it was designed so you would use every club in your bag. The greens have subtle undulations to them, and when maintained at a quick pace, it can make for some challenging putts.
C&RB You have a strong caddy program. Do you ban carts?
Viarengo We encourage walking—not only through the culture of the club, but the fact that the golf course was purposely designed to favor walking. Tees are very close to greens, and we have very little cart path areas.
Dan McFalls, our Caddymaster, does an excellent job promoting and building the program, thereby encouraging the use of caddies and discouraging cart usage. The club has 12 carts available for those that have the requirement.
C&RB What is your biggest agronomic challenge? What challenges does the weather in your area provide?
Viarengo Philadelphia weather, along with the extended Philadelphia golfing season, provides the biggest challenge to growing quality cool-season turfgrass. On our creeping bentgrass, annual bluegrass weevil has increasingly become a problem, as well as fairy ring. Those are two things we spend a lot of money to control.
C&RB How has your non-turf education in psychology and personnel management helped you in each of your roles at the club?
Viarengo A large component of what turf managers are responsible for are management- and business-related; therefore, their success can be dependent upon skills beyond the pure science and art of growing grass.
Managing a staff involves things like human resources and personnel, managing a sizeable budget, implementing various safety-training programs, and managing a workforce that is culturally diverse. Communication skills are paramount to your success, and the ability to do this successfully is further enhanced by education. It goes beyond agronomic knowledge, and I saw it as a priority to focus on continuing education. I believed it would help with opportunities that would present themselves in the future—and it has.
C&RB What has changed the most about golf course management during your career?
Viarengo From a golf club industry perspective, clubs have had to become more family-oriented (women and children), more casual (denim and shorts), and more receptive to the use of technology (cell phones, etc.).
From a turf-maintenance perspective, in 20 years, the green speeds have gotten faster, the accepted use of pigments on turf grass has increased, and the universal use of phosphites and growth regulators has grown. Overall, fairway turf quality has improved the most in 20 years.
I’m excited to see what equipment changes come in the future, to utilize GPS and robotics to reduce labor costs.
C&RB You also have a new indoor facility at Applebrook. What has been the response after you opened it?
Viarengo Our indoor facility was completed in 2018 and has been a tremendous addition to the club. Our Head Golf Professional, Dave McNabb, was the driving force in the concept and design of the building.
The facility has three bays, with one bay dedicated to clubfitting. All three bays have TrackMan technology. One bay can be used as a simulator.
We have two Foresight GC Quad launch monitors and a TrackMan 4 launch monitor. All three bays are equipped with retractable screens from Golf364 and operate as simulators, using the software associated with the launch monitor companies.
There is no video in the third bay—this bay is set up for clubfitting with equipment from Titleist, TaylorMade, Callaway and Ping. We thought this would be used mainly in the off-season when the weather is bad. But we have found, at least for the first year, that it gets heavy use in the summer. People are always trying to improve their games.
C&RB You are in an area with high-quality golf courses. Do you get people coming to play from other nearby clubs?
Viarengo Applebrook was originally conceived for empty-nesters as a golf-only club. They wanted a club that was informal and fun to play with their wives. We do a substantial amount of guest rounds and are a second club to many of our members. Our membership, as a whole, gets around to other golf courses. Our founders were from Pine Valley, Merion and Aronimink.
What is interesting is that our shoulder seasons are actually busier than our summers. We have many members who have homes on the coast, so we do not see them as much. That means our spring and fall months get more play. And even though the summers might not see as much play, that is also the time when we face the most challenges to produce optimal turf conditions.
C&RB Do you have people you consider to be mentors?
Viarengo I have been blessed to have such great role models. My father Raul, for my work ethic, dedication and persistence. Bob Alonzi, Paul Latshaw and Barry Anes are my turfgrass sensei. Bob had brilliant turf instincts, Paul was exceptional with people skills, and Barry’s passion for the industry is what got me drawn in early during my career.
C&RB What is your relationship with Applebrook’s course architect, Gil Hanse?
Viarengo I consider Gil Hanse to be a good friend of mine. He lives just up the road from the golf club and has a membership (although we don’t see him too often).
When my wife, Christine, and I first moved to Pennsylvania, we knew nobody in the area. Gil and his wife Tracey invited us over for Easter and we formed a relationship with his family and have remained close friends ever since. While he is a great architect, he is even a better person. I keep him up on what is going on at the club and consult with him regularly. I think it is good to get others’ input.
C&RB Beyond your duties at Applebrook, you are also involved with charity work—tell us about that.
Viarengo Along with my brother Jason (Vice President) and my wife Christine (Secretary), I serve on the Board of a private charitable foundation as President. The Walshins were close family friends, and the Marty and Iris Walshin Foundation was founded in 1999 with the purpose of continuing their generous giving after their passing.
The mission of the Foundation is to provide financial assistance to national and local charitable organizations, educational programs and scholarships, with a strong emphasis on children and young adults. We support both large and small organizations, many in Yonkers, N.Y. (where the Walshins were from) including St. John’s Riverside Hospital, Elizabeth Seton Pediatric Center, and ANDRUS. We also support Philadelphia-area organizations including the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and Heart of Hope–The Caralynn Titter Foundation.
SUPER IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Jared Viarengo, CGCS
Director of Grounds/General Manager, Applebrook Golf Club, Malvern, Pa.
Education & Training:
• Bachelor’s Degree, Northeastern University, Boston, Mass., 1993;
• Associates Degree, Turfgass Management, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Mass., 1997;
• Masters in Human Resource Management/Personnel Management, University of Maryland, College Park, Md., 2009
Years at Applebrook GC: 18 (since April 2001)
Years in Golf Course Maintenance Business: 30; started in high school in 1989
Previous Employment History:
• Part-time crew member, Candlewood Valley Country Club, New Milford, Conn., 1989-1995;
• Student Intern, 1996; Second Assistant Golf Course Superintendent, 1997-98; Interim Golf Course Superintendent, 1999—all at Winged Foot Golf Club, Mamaroneck, N.Y.
Certifications: Certified Golf Course Superintendent
Honors and Awards: Course awarded 14th Best in State, Golf Digest
GOLF COURSE PROFILE
Applebrook Golf Club
No. of Holes: 18
Course Type: Traditional/Links-style
Designer: Gil Hanse
Year Opened: 2001
Golf Season: March through November
Annual Rounds: 13,000
Grasses (Tees, Fairways, Roughs): Creeping Bentgrass (Tees, Fairways); Blue/Rye/Tall Fescue (Roughs)Grasses (Greens): Creeping Bentgrass
COURSE & GROUNDS OPERATIONS PROFILE
Annual Course Maintenance Budget: $1.8 million
Staff Size: 25 in-season, 10 full-time (year-round)
Green and Grounds Managers:
• Jared Viarengo, Director of Grounds and General Manager
• Matt Lipinski, Golf Course Superintendent
• Kevin Skarbek, Assistant Golf Course Superintendent
• Brad Bartlett, Turf Equipment Technician
Water Source and Usage: Effluent water, city water
Aerating and Overseeding Schedules:
Aggressive core aeration 2x per year
on greens, tees and fairways
Upcoming Capital Projects: Bistro/casual dining area