Tim Busek’s Journey from the School of Hard Knocks to Superintendent of The Manor G&CC

Tim Busek (above right) often teams up with The Manor G&CC’s Head Golf Professional, Chris Marotto, to add extra flair to club events, such as the “Carnival of Broken Dreams.”

After quitting a landscaping job, Busek became the first and only Golf Course Superintendent of the ClubCorp property in Milton, Ga.  He developed success in his new profession with the help of a mentor who saw and developed his potential.

Tim Busek’s life was literally in the dumpster.

One year removed from dropping out of college, Busek was working as the member of a landscaping crew in Columbus, Ga., when one day he decided he’d had enough. He had just finished unclogging a trash compactor used to break down limbs and branches, when he told his boss he was quitting—without any definitive plans.

Busek was a talented baseball player as a youth and had career aspirations to teach and coach in high school. By his own admission, he became burned out on school, less than a
year shy of getting his degree. The landscaping job was just that—a job to make money to pay the bills.

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“I went back to my apartment, grabbed my clothes out of my dresser, and headed back to my parents’ home in Atlanta,” Busek said. “The first thing my dad did was to grab the newspaper and said, ‘Here are the want ads. You have 24 hours to find a job, or I will find one for you.’”

Ironically, Busek found himself back in a similar line of work. A quick scan of the position openings revealed that the Atlanta Country Club (ACC), located a few blocks from his home, needed help for its team. As the low rung on the ladder, his job would be to distribute and clean up pine straw. But unlike his previous foray into this type of work, Busek stuck it out—thanks in large part to the guidance of ACC’s Golf Course Superintendent at the time, the highly respected Mark Esoda.

“There was a lot of turnover in those type of jobs,” Busek says. “I later found out the crew had a bet I would not come back the first day after lunch—but I did. They had such a good team, and I liked being on the golf course.”

Busek is a bit of an anomaly for professionals in the golf industry, in that he had virtually no exposure to the game prior to his first day on the job at ACC. He did not play golf as a youth, and his parents were not members of a club or exposed to the game either. He didn’t even like mowing the lawn when he was younger. But even though he liked his new work, he was not sold on it as a career until after he had been at ACC for two years.

“I started to volunteer for other projects and ask a lot of questions,” Busek says. “And Mark [Esoda] was so good to me as a mentor. A position opened as the spray technician [focusing on fertilizer and pesticide applications] and he trusted me to do the job. I loved everything about what I was doing, and getting that position made me want to pursue it as a career.”

In reflecting on how far Busek came under his direction, Esoda, now the Director of Golf Operations for the city of Loveland, Colo., says “I cannot say enough good things about Tim.”

“He came to us so eager to learn,” says Esoda. “He was a sponge. Perhaps the best compliment I can give is one year I took a group of Boy Scouts to camp for two weeks and put Tim in change. It was June in Atlanta, Ga. That is not easy. But I had no concerns. I knew he could do it—and he did.”

After 10 years of “attending Mark Esoda University” and working his way up the organizational chart at ACC, Busek was selected in August 2005 to be the first Golf Course Superintendent for a new property, The Manor Golf & Country Club in Milton, Ga., just north of Atlanta—and he’s been tending its Tom Watson-designed course ever since.

C&RB Tell us about The Manor Golf & Country Club

Busek We’re part of a development where all homeowners are members of the club. It is owned by ClubCorp. The golf course is fun to play, but I would not say it is overly difficult. Tom Watson designed it for people to have fun. The fairways are wide. The greens are fairly quick, especially in the summer. We have a range, putting clock and chipping area. We hope to add a short-game area soon. We offer indoor and outdoor swimming and tennis, a fitness center and pickleball courts. We host some weddings and business meetings. We’ve held some Georgia State Golf Association competitions, and we will have 16 to 20 other outings during the year.

C&RB When did you come on board during the construction of the course, and what was it like to work with Tom Watson?

Busek The front nine had been constructed and grown in when I got here. Tom Watson was beyond amazing. He is such a classy person and was great with my staff. You can tell he understands the work of the golf course superintendent and respects our input. He was always asking me what a feature would mean in terms of ongoing maintenance. He wanted to know what it meant in terms of labor and expenses. And we stay in touch with his team for ongoing projects, to get their input and direction. I remember when we did the grand opening, he came back and spent all day with the members, playing the course and explaining why he did things as he did. He then signed autographs for everyone. It was supposed to last an hour, and he was there all evening.

As part of The Manor G&CC’s regular junior golf clinics, Busek and his staff give presentations about the course maintenance operation that includes hands-on learning about moisture meters and soil thermometers.

C&RB Were you surprised that you were selected to be the superintendent for a new golf course under construction, when you had not come up through the traditional ranks with a formal turf education, and did not have previous head superintendent experience?

Busek I really thought early in my career that not having the formal education would hurt me when it came to getting a job like this. But that is where Mark [Esoda] was so good. First, we were always doing projects at Atlanta Country Club, and he would put his assistants in charge of them. For example, I was in charge of quality control once. I had to make certain the greens mix for seeding was perfect. That prepared me for the job. Also, Mark was always pushing me to interview for jobs. He wanted me to have the experience. There was no doubt I was ready because of his help.

C&RB You are on the Board of Directors for the Georgia Golf Course Superintendents Association. Why did you become involved?

Busek I had no choice! Mark was such a big supporter of our state and national association. They provide so many resources to help us. Because I didn’t have the college turf degree, Mark made me go to chapter events to get the education I need. Plus, there is no profession that I am aware of where the members help each other so much like ours. We know for the good of the game that we need to share best practices. So I continue to be involved in the chapter, because I want to give back because of what others did for me.

C&RB Water can be an issue in Georgia, especially in the summer. How does your course deal with that?

Busek We are fortunate that we constructed a state-of-the-art water re-use facility for the housing development and the golf course from the very beginning. We do not have any quality issues, but we can push the supply during drought. We have priority over the homeowners, but we have not had major issues because of our outreach and education to the homeowners. We have a water committee that helps the homeowners understand how they can use water more efficiently and effectively.

Water for The Manor course is available from a re-use facility built for the property, but Busek is still a strong advocate for conservation, both with homeowners and in public circles.

C&RB You are heavily involved in advocating for the game and are involved in government relations activities. Why is that?

Busek When I was at Atlanta Country Club, we had a major drought, and golf courses came under fire as water “wasters.” We really weren’t prepared to answer the criticism. So the chapter got organized, collected the research, created messages and built relationships with the media and government. Mark [Esoda] was a key player in that. I learned from him. I have joined our grass-roots advocacy program for our state and national associations. We meet with our state legislators and regulators, and our national congressmen to inform and educate them. It has made a world of difference. We now have great relationships with those who make policy and have open lines of communications with them. We felt were not being evaluated appropriately. They now understand how golf courses are efficient users of water and a leader for other industries to follow.

C&RB What are your major challenges in managing The Manor’s golf course?

Busek We really do not have much disease pressure. I would say the biggest challenge is from wear and tear from golf cart traffic. We have to watch that and control the patterns.    There will be areas that we have to sod out coming out of the winter. But more than anything, we have had to do more with less. Before the recession hit in 2008-09, we had a budget of $1.2 million and a staff of 20. It got down to $500,000 and a staff of eight at one point. We’ve come back a little, but the experience tells us that there are just some things that we cannot do that we used to. You focus on what impacts playability. Labor continues to be a challenge as well. It is getting difficult to find and retain staff. We compete with other industries that have a little better hours and where the conditions might be better or more controlled.

C&RB What are the biggest changes in golf course management you’ve experienced during your career?

Busek Without a doubt, the technological advancements have been a huge positive. Our water facility is an example. But we also have new ways of monitoring our soil moisture where we have the ability to pinpoint our water use. In the past, we made our best guess. Now we can be much more exact, and that leads to improved plant health.

C&RB Where have you developed most as a golf course superintendent?

Busek I think the biggest thing I found in going from an assistant to a head superintendent is the need to be a good communicator. I was fortunate to learn from the best. But you need to be in continuous communication with the golfers, the homeowners, the others on the golf club staff, and your staff. I get out on the course and spend time with each group. I have a great relationship with our golf pro, Chris Marotto. We play together at events and support each other. That makes a big difference in facility success.

C&RB Do you play much golf?

Busek I do not play as much as I want to, but as my children are growing up I am getting some more free time and will play more. I think it is important. A group of superintendents in the area get together and play one of our courses, and then offer critical feedback. That has been very good, because it lets us see what others are doing, it gets us out playing, and it allows us to learn how we can improve what we are doing.