After caring for Salem CC’s Donald Ross course for 38 years and three major tournaments, Kip Tyler is keeping the options wide open for his post-retirement activity (or inactivity).
Knowing Kip Tyler’s background, it is not at all surprising that he is a golf course superintendent.
After all, he grew up in a golf-crazed family. He and his older brother Rick cut out and maintained a short course in an open field behind their back yard. And, he worshipped the world’s best golfer, fellow Columbus, Ohio native Jack Nicklaus.
“Our family loved golf,” Tyler says. “Mom, Dad, my brother and myself frequently would go out and play at Indian Run [Golf Club in Westerville, Ohio]. And we’d top it off afterwards with a Frisch’s Big Boy [hamburger] and fries. It didn’t get any better than that.”
Fast-forward some 50-plus years, and when December 31st rolls around, Tyler will retire after 38 years as the Certified Golf Course Superintendent at Salem Country Club in Peabody, Mass. Surprisingly, despite having a golf gene intertwined in his DNA, that career path almost did not happen.
“I worked for a veterinarian growing up, and I knew the dean of the vet school and several of the vet school grads,” he says. “I really thought I wanted to be a vet. But that lasted all of about a year—[after] I found out you had to get straight As, I knew that wasn’t happening.”
So Tyler opted to change to something more suited to his real passion—agronomy. His brother was already in the program and that, coupled with a love for the game and the outdoors, made his decision easy. After a few internships in the Columbus area, he got his big break after graduation by being named the superintendent of the No. 2 course at Medinah (Ill.) Country Club in the Chicago area in 1979. Six months later, he was promoted to be in charge of Medinah’s No. 3 championship course.
“That was a great experience, [with] high-level golf,” Tyler says. “I had great mentors in Don Pakkala and Pete Wilson. They showed me the ropes and taught me a lot.”
Content with his job and living in the Midwest, his career and life took another turn when he went to visit his cousin in Boston. As Tyler describes in this conversation with C+RB, the trip provided the big break to becoming the Golf Course Superintendent at the storied Salem Country Club, to care for its Donald Ross course. Tyler’s story also shows just how much the process of finding a job in the golf industry has changed over time.
C+RB How did you get the job at Salem Country Club?
Tyler Well, that is a long story. While I was at Medinah, I went to visit my cousin in Boston. I really liked New England—the history, the mountains, the ocean. It was beautiful, I thought. So I reached out to Bob Conley, who was the Superintendent at Winchester [Mass.] Country Club, and asked if he would show me around the course.
[Conley] told me there would be an industry gathering on Cape Cod over the next two days, and invited me to join him. While I was there, he introduced me to Wayne Zoppo, who was a long-time Superintendent at Agawam Hunt in Rhode Island. Wayne asked for my contact information and said if he heard of any openings in the area, he would get in touch with me.
So I wrote my information on a piece of paper and gave it to him. A few months later, I got a letter from Wayne and he tells me Salem Country Club is open and it looked like a good job. So I contact the people at Salem and they fly me out and I get the job. Just like that. No job boards, no Internet. It’s a lot different now.
C+RB Was it tough from a golf course management perspective to move from the Midwest to New England??
Tyler Not really. I think it is easier to maintain courses here. It is not as humid. We do have humidity here, but not for the long stretches they do back there.
The big challenges we have here are the Annual Bluegrass Weevils. They get worse and worse every year. And the nematodes in the greens. We seem to have the diseases pretty well under control.
Of course, the winterkill can be a huge issue as well. You rarely go a year without having some. In 2001, when we hosted the Senior Open, we were devastated. You cut seed in and cover the greens to recover. If it gets really bad, we will sod.
C+RB What makes the Salem course unique compared to others?
Tyler There are some great courses in the area. The one thing I always thought that made Salem is it’s a great walking course. It doesn’t beat the heck out of you if you walk it. It’s enjoyable to play. We have families, retirees, snowbirds. But it is one of the few clubs in the area that has a long waiting list, so that says something.
The greens are very challenging: Old Ross greens, sloping from back to front, restored to how they were originally designed. The bunkers do not come into play that much. They are all in their original place, and any that were added have been taken out.
C+RB Tell us about the three USGA majors that you hosted.
Tyler The Women’s Open in 1984 was my first major. The USGA was very hands on in terms of watering. I remember the Boston Globe headline on Sunday was “Charbroiled and USGA-Approved Greens.” We were finally allowed to water the greens. That was an eye-opener.
In 2001 for the Senior Open, we had the dead grass from the winterkill. Then we had thunderstorms on Saturday—the worst storms I had ever seen, and they stopped play. Lightning hit trees and irrigation heads were blown out of the ground. It was a fiasco.
And then at the Senior Open in 2017, everything went perfectly. The golf gods were on our side.
The big difference over the years was the size of the crew and the volunteers. In 1984, I had a crew of 12 and four volunteers. In 2001, we had a crew of 20 and around 50 volunteers. Then in 2017, we had a crew of 20-something, and 75 volunteers.
C+RB Why so long at Salem, and did you ever entertain leaving?
Tyler I had some opportunities to leave, but I never really got too close to doing so. I think I have survived because I had the philosophy that it was not my golf course. It belonged to the members. Of course, I could tell them what I think will happen. But in the end, if they want something done, you try to do it. I do not get involved in politics and go about my business. Tell it the way it is. Don’t shade the truth.
C+RB What has changed the most over the years about being a golf course superintendent?
Tyler Well, when I first started in the industry, your job was to keep the greens alive and in the best shape possible. Then it moved to greens, tees and fairways. Now it’s those, plus tree lines and everything else. And, of course, green speeds getting faster. The intensity of maintenance is something now.
C+RB What are your retirement plans?
Tyler Well, I have a 99-year-old mother in assisted living. When I get home from work and drop my goose dog off at the house, I go see her. So I will get to spend more with her.
I say to people that on that third day in a row in August when it is going to be 92 and hot and humid, I am going to get up and sit on the deck and drink my coffee and decide whether I am going to get in my pool at 10 a.m. or 11 a.m. I’ve got no plans.
There is a superintendent who has offered me a no-stress, part-time job mowing. I’ve always told people I wanted to work in the produce department of Shaw’s Supermarket. Or maybe I could work at a local garden center. I’m really looking forward to not having to worry about a golf course 24/7, sitting in front of my computer at night setting the irrigation system.
For now, I am just going to relax. I hope to start playing golf again. I was on the high school golf team and played a fair amount for a while. But when you work on the golf course, you really don’t have that much time.
C+RB Did you work at a golf course while attending Ohio State?
Tyler I did, but I also worked four years at the Ohio State ice rink. I did everything from selling ice skates, to guarding the rink, to driving the Zamboni. I never got to make ice for the games, but I did for practices. I was the guy who skated around and moved the nets and squeegeed the ice. Kind of a “superintendent of ice.” There’s a new rink opening up not too far from me now—I might just apply, given my background.
C+RB And your Columbus and Ohio State connections means you’re a big fan of Jack Nicklaus, right?
Tyler Definitely. When Muirfield [Village Golf Club] opened, I was one of the invited guests to watch the opening round between Nicklaus and Tom Weiskopf. There were about 1,000 people invited. We were neighbors with a land developer involved with Muirfield, so he got some tickets and invited my family.
In fact, in the book written about Muirfield, there is a picture and there I am, front and center near the 15th green, with my long hair. Later Jack sent a letter after the 2001 Senior Open and he complimented me on the golf course. That was one of his last chances to win a big-time tournament. I got to meet him and talk with him when he played. That was nice.
C+RB For other sports, have you become a Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics fan after all your years in the Boston area?
Tyler I root for them, but I am not fanatical. I am still very loyal to the area I grew up. I follow the Reds, the Bengals, the Browns, and of course, the Buckeyes. Because when you grow up in Columbus, that is what you do.
I am still a big Buckeye fan—it’s great to have the Big 10 Network to watch all the games. I am still pretty much an Ohio guy, even after all of these years.
The ironic thing is when I was young, at night I listened to a sports radio show on WBZ radio out of Boston. They talked about the Bruins and Celtics a lot, so I have more of an affinity for them.
C+RB Finally, your real name is Jed. Why do you go by Kip?
Tyler Back in the day, I was given the name Jed because my mother was Jean Edith Diehl. I guess Jed was not sophisticated enough, so my grandmother liked Skip or Skippy and would call me that. But my brother could not get the ‘S” out, so he called me “Kip.” And that is what I go by today.
Super in the Spotlight
Kip Tyler, CGCS
Current Position: Certified Golf Course Superintendent, Salem Country Club, Peabody, Mass.
Education & Training: B.S., Agronomy, Ohio State University, 1978
Years at Salem CC: 38
Years in Golf Course Maintenance Business: 41
Previous Employment History: Internships, Brookside CC, Worthington, Ohio; Blackhawk GC, Galena, Ohio
• 2001 Superintendent of the Year, Turfnet
• Six Years on Board, Golf Course Superintendents Association of New England
• Speaker: Canadian national, GCSANE, USGA regionals, Maine Turfgass Conference
Golf Course Profile
Salem Country Club
No. of Holes: 18
Yardage: Back Tees, 6,916 yards; Front Tees, 5,174 yards. Six sets of tees in total.
Course Type: Parkland
Course Designer: Donald Ross
Year Opened: 1895 (course was nine holes and moved to two different positions before moving to its current location in 1925, at 18 holes in length)
Golf Season: April through November
Annual Rounds: 22,000 to 25,000
Grasses (Tees, Fairways, Roughs)
Fairways: Bentgrass and Poa Annua
Roughs: Mixture, primarily Bluegrass, Fescue, Rye
Grasses Bentgrass and Poa Annua
Number of Bunkers: 57
Water Hazards in Play: A pond comes into play, and small creeks not so much
Course + Grounds Operations Profile
Annual Course Maintenance Budget: $900,000
Staff Size: 21 (includes students, seasonal and full-time)
Other Green and Grounds Managers: Matt Narey, Assistant; Eli DesRochers, Assistant; Richie Selvo, Equipment Manager
Water Source and Usage: Well field pumps into two holding ponds
Aerating and Overseeding Schedules: Greens, April, August and October; Fairways, April and October
Completed and Upcoming Capital Projects:
Currently working on a drainage project for greens; completed a total of 9 holes and putting green in May 2019; will finish the remaining 9 holes in the fall. Over the years, renovated all bunkers and tees, and driving range twice. New irrigation system installed in 1999. In 2015, the greens were restored to the original Donald Ross design, and about 500 trees were removed.