After working on a landscaping crew as a teenager, Brandon Haynes vowed to “never dig another hole in my life.” And when he started his first job at a golf course, he thought greens were artificial surfaces. But from there it’s been nothing but an enjoyable ascent to a “job I love” at California’s Oak Tree CC.
It’s a good thing Brandon Haynes didn’t take the advice of his 16-year-old self when it came to pursuing a career—if he had, he would have missed out on what he now calls the “best experience of his life.”
Haynes, now 47, is the golf course superintendent at Oak Tree Country Club, which is part of the Bear Valley Springs community in Tehachapi, Calif. His first exposure to anything resembling golf course work came as a teenager working on a landscaping crew, where he spent most of his time with a shovel in his hand.
“It’s funny,” Haynes says. “I hated it. I told myself I never wanted to dig another hole in my life. It was not a good experience. But here I am today—I have a job I love. I don’t mind that I have a shovel in my hand from time to time.”
The fact that Haynes is even a golf course superintendent is a story itself. Born in Arcadia, Calif., but raised in Santa Clarita, golf was not even in his vocabulary. He was into hiking and motocross activities. In fact, Haynes sheepishly admits that on his first day working at a golf course, he learned that the putting green was not an artificial surface.
So let’s get this straight: Haynes grew up not knowing anything about golf, disliking landscaping, and not knowing that putting greens featured “real” grass? How does one with that background become an accomplished golf course superintendent?
It’s a long story—and one marked by talent and determination.
C+RB Tell us about the progression of your career.
Haynes I graduated from high school in 1991 and became an electrician. I did that for four years and in 1995 decided to join the Army. I was a member of the 82nd Airborne stationed at Fort Bragg.
After my tour of duty was done in 1999, I came back home and became an ASAE-certified master automobile mechanic. About 10 years after I came back, I was visiting my father in Tehachapi, Calif., when I heard the golf course needed a mechanic. Actually, I was on the shooting range when a person there told me about the position, so I dropped off a resume with the course and I was hired almost right away. There was a dire need. That’s how I got into golf.
C+RB When did you trade wrenches for a Stimpmeter?
Haynes I began as the equipment manager in June 2010. It was not your typical equipment manager position, because they had a fleet of vehicles and equipment to service all of the needs of the entire Bear Valley Springs Association. It was a big job.
Four years into it, the assistant superintendent left the facility, and I was promoted to be both the equipment manager and the assistant superintendent. But that did not last long. My boss decided to change careers—get this, to work as an aircraft mechanic. Four weeks later, I was promoted to interim golf course superintendent.
C+RB How much did you know about turf management?
Haynes I felt I had learned a lot during my four years as the equipment manager. I was observant and I felt I had an aptitude for the job. There was a lot of on-the-job learning and training. Plus, I had been taking some courses with the Central California GCSAA. I felt I was ready for the job.
C+RB But was the job ready for you?
Haynes I was an interim for one growing season, just to see if I could handle the job. I really wanted it, but knew they were going to interview other people. Because it was a property managed by International Golf Maintenance (IGM), I not only had to be approved by them, but I also had to be approved by the golf Board and the Bear Valley Springs Association.
Everyone signed off on me and here I am. I was fortunate because of all the support IGM provides and the talented people they have. I learned so much from them. I remember Steve Gano, Director of Operations for IGM, gave me the book Best Golf Course Management Practices by Bert McCarty. I read it inside and out. I also started an online turfgrass program at the University of Georgia, and will be finishing it soon.
C+RB There seem to be several players involved. Tell us about IGM and Bear Valley Springs.
Haynes IGM is a company that handles all aspects of golf and landscape maintenance for private, resort, public and municipal courses across the country. It had the contract with Bear Valley Springs Association. The association governs the various amenities for the Bear Valley Springs gated community. Some of the other amenities offered at the property include: an equestrian center; more than 50 miles of hiking and horse trails; baseball/soccer complex; two stocked lakes; Whiting Center (gymnasium) for indoor hockey and basketball; three campgrounds; two large parks; large dog parks, and many other smaller activity areas.
We maintain all the turf and landscaping for the association grounds. I have regional agronomists and supervisors for IGM, but my position is similar to working directly for the course. All of us at IGM help the club with not only daily maintenance, but capital project planning and long-term improvements. We’re a private course, so we have a club President, a Greens Committee chair, and a General Manager.
C+RB What is the geography of the region and the golf course?
Haynes The property sits at the southern tip of the Sierra Nevada mountains and would be considered a semi-mountain-type course. We are at about 4,200 feet elevation. We do get all four seasons here, but we are open year-round. It could snow one day and the next you’re out there teeing it up. We have had snow in June before.
Tehachapi is about 45 miles southwest of Bakersfield. It is known for the Tehachapi Loop, a spiraling piece of the railroad that connects the San Joaquin Valley and the Mojave Desert. People come from all over the world to see it.
C+RB What makes the course enjoyable, yet challenging to play?
Haynes Our course is set in the mountain area on the valley floor and that does attract considerable wildlife. The views are scenic. Our terrain is slightly hilly with smaller greens and 30 bunkers total. Our greens are bentrgass with some Poa annua, and our fairways and tees are mostly rye. The course has no shared fairways, which means all holes have out-of-bounds on all sides.
We are a nine-hole course, but play 18 with alternate tees for the back nine. Our course plays a little on the shorter side, but makes up the difference with more precision shots needed during the round. You could walk the course, but with the elevation most people use carts.
We are a private gated community, so most of the golfers are from within the gates. Guests are welcome with an invite, so most of them are locals or out-of-towners visiting on the weekends. Most of our clientele are members in the retired age bracket, and then a mix of semi-retired folks and the weekend golfers of all ages who are attracted during the season.
C+RB What are your biggest agronomic challenges?
Haynes While the wildlife makes it interesting, we can have damage daily from feral hogs and elk, depending on the season. Other than wildlife, we have granite soils, which can be a challenge with providing a soil conducive to turf growth. We will get some fairy ring, snow mold, a little brown patch and Fusarium, but we stay on top of it. We are not in a hot, hot area, but because of the elevation we get the radiant heat. I do have to syringe in July and August because of that.
C+RB Have you picked up the game of golf?
Haynes I do play golf and try to play with the late men’s league on Tuesday nights during the summer. I won’t mention my handicap, but I do have a lot of fun playing. It’s not that I did not like golf when I was younger, it was that I was into other things. I do believe it is important for golf course superintendents to play and understand the game.
C+RB There are some Native American artifacts adjacent to your course, including some acorn-grinding holes. Were you involved in the preservation of that?
Haynes IGM volunteered to help coordinate the building and groundwork of the Kawaiisu Indian preservation area. We helped clean up the trails, installed the information boards for the different sites, put in reflection benches that were donated to help make the preserve, and helped create a parking lot for the public. It was a fun project, and we learned a great deal.
C+RB You have mentioned you like the outdoors. What are your non-golf hobbies?
Haynes I love many outdoor activities during all times of the year. I do a lot of hiking, mountain biking, skiing, wakeboarding, dirt-bike riding and anything else that I find challenging. I did get the chance almost four years ago to climb Mt. Whitney (the tallest mountain in the contiguous U.S., elevation 14,505 feet). It took us two attempts. For the first one, we got turned around about two miles from the top due to bad weather.
Super in the Spotlight
Current Position: Golf Course Superintendent, Oak Tree Country Club (Bear Valley Springs Assn.), Tehachapi, Calif.
Years at Oak Tree/Bear Valley Springs: 10
Years in Golf Course Maintenance Profession: 10
Employment History (all at Oak Tree CC):
> Golf Course Superintendent (2015 – Present)
> Interim Golf Course Superintendent (2014)
> Assistant Golf Course Superintendent (2014 – four weeks)
> Equipment Manager (2010-14)
Education & Training: Central California GCSAA Seminars; currently enrolled in University of Georgia online turfgrass program
Honors and Awards: Bear Valley Springs Association Employee of the Year, 2015.
Golf Course Profile
OAK TREE COUNTRY CLUB
Year Opened: 1971
Ownership: Private (Part of a gated community, Bear Valley Springs Assn.)
Golf Holes: Nine (plays as 18 holes, with a second set of tees for back nine)
Course Type: Mountain
Course Designer: Ted Robinson, Sr.
Par: 72 (36-36)
Yardage: White Tees play to 6,325 yards
Golf Season: Year-Round
Annual Rounds: Typically 28,000—in 2020, that increased to 40,000
> Tees and Fairways: Rye
> Roughs: Rye/Fescue
> Greens: Bentgrass with some Poa annua
Water Features: Pond in play on No. 7; golf course wraps around Gill Lake.
No. of Bunkers: 30
Course + Grounds Operations Profile
Staff Size: 7 full-time and 8 seasonal. Responsible for managing the golf course and the grounds for Bear Valley Springs Association (parks, ballfields, hiking trails, etc.)
Water Source: Lakes (well-fed); also use effluent on rough and perimeter head areas.
Aerating and Overseeding Schedules: Third week of April and September for aerating. No overseeding.
Upcoming Capital Projects: Nothing currently planned at the moment, but some thought of a bunker renovation in upcoming years.