2018 PGA Championship preview: Volunteer stories

By , and |  July 18, 2018 0 Comments

Jose Ballestero
Superintendent, Four Seasons Resort
Costa Rica, Guanacaste, Costa Rica

Jose Ballestero

Jose Ballestero

When Jose Ballestero became an agronomist in his native Costa Rica in 1999, he didn’t know where his career would go. He just knew he wanted to work outside, under the sun.

Ballestero, now the superintendent at the Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica, started out as an agronomist, selling organic products to farms, and then began selling to golf courses. “That’s how I got hooked,” he says.

Superintendent positions were few and far between, so Ballestero began working in golf course construction in 2002 at Peninsula Papagayo in Guanacaste, on the northern coast of Costa Rica. Four Seasons took over management of the property, and the superintendent, Steve Watkins, offered him his first job in golf course management as an assistant.

Ballestero’s next superintendent stints at Four Seasons Punta Mita in Mexico and Lucero CC in Panama taught him how to manage bermudagrass on the Mexican coast and bentgrass in the tropical Panamanian mountains before he and his wife, Margarita, returned to Costa Rica in 2017.

While at Four Seasons Punta Mita, he consulted with John Cunningham, who was then the director of agronomy at Four Seasons Las Colinas in Dallas. A few years later, Ballestero and Carlos Arraya, CGCS, both volunteered at the AT&T Byron Nelson tournaments that Cunningham hosted at Four Seasons Las Colinas.

“After that we’d see each other every year (at the Golf Industry Show), and we built a nice friendship,” Ballestero says.

It will be his fourth tournament volunteering, and it won’t be his last.

“It’s important for me just to keep learning — it never ends,” he says. “It’s an honor for us to be part of it, the 100th (PGA Championship). After all the hard work, you’re able to go and see these guys playing what you just worked on and you see it on TV, you feel like it’s the best place in the world for people who work in the golf industry. There’s nothing else I can ask for.”

— Abby Hart, managing editor

Leasha Schwab
Superintendent, Pheasant Run GC
Ontario, Canada

Leasha Schwab

Leasha Schwab

There’ll be a breath of fresh air blowing in from the North for the PGA Championship this year. Her name is Leasha Schwab.

Schwab is the superintendent at Pheasant Run GC in Ontario, Canada, and she is making the trip to the Show-Me State to not only take in the experience, but also to highlight the fact that there are many different faces in the turf industry.

The beginning of Schwab’s career was surrounded with questions and doubt. With a lack of female peers in the industry and countless stories of assistants getting stuck in their positions, she wasn’t sure she could make it a feasible, long-term career. These doubts led her to turn down an assistant superintendent position early in her career. It wasn’t until a year later, when she was in the final stretch of her schooling, that she decided to accept the position.

Not too long after, the superintendent left. The rest is history.

For her first time volunteering at a professional tournament, Schwab hopes her presence encourages everyone, regardless of background, to give the golf course industry a shot.

“I need to go because a lot of women have not been offered this and I want girls to see that this is something they can do,” Schwab says.

It will also be a learning experience. A key part for Schwab is to see how Carlos Arraya interacts with his staff.

“From what I can see, he has created such a great atmosphere and encourages his staff,” Schwab says of Arraya. “Being there will give me more of an idea of how I can be better as a leader.”

— Kelly Limpert, digital editor

Nicolas Garibay
Assistant superintendent, Venice G&CC
Venice, Fla.

Nicolas Garibay

Nicolas Garibay

Nicolas Garibay started his career in golf course management out of necessity. Recently married and looking for a way to support himself and his wife, he began searching for a job. He reached out to Carlos Arraya, then the director of golf course operations and the general manager of Hawk’s Nest GC in Vero Beach, Fla.

All Arraya could offer him was a part-time job as an operator. Even though Garibay had no true goals or passion for the trade, he accepted the position. Working at Hawk’s Nest with Arraya as his boss, Garibay began to develop a passion for the craft and desire to climb the ladder.

He went on to earn a certification from the University of Georgia in the principles of turf and turfgrass management. From there, he was promoted to second assistant at

Aerial shot of Venice G&CC

Venice G&CC is laid out to meander through 26 lakes on the property. (Photo courtesy of Nicolas Garibay)

Hawk’s Nest, then assistant superintendent. Garibay credits much of what he has learned to Carlos Arraya. “Everything that I have learned is from Carlos. He was my mentor and guided me.”

With hopes of one day becoming a superintendent, Garibay looks to once again learn from his mentor and others like him at this year’s PGA Championship.

“Most important to me is to help develop my skills to become a superintendent,” he says. “I want to see what it takes to be a high-level superintendent and the work that it takes.”

— Dillan Kanya, contributing editor

John “Robby” Robertson
Superintendent, Bird Bay GC
Venice Fla.

John “Robby” Robertson

John “Robby” Robertson

Golf is a family business for John “Robby” Robertson. His father, Tom, was a golf pro in Ohio before he headed south and purchased Bird Bay GC, an 18-hole executive course in Venice, Fla.

“I started working at (Bird Bay) when I was 11,” explains Robertson. “My first job was pulling goosegrass out of greens with a pocketknife.

“Later I found out there’s chemicals that actually kill that instead of a pocketknife,” he laughs.

Luckily, Robertson’s turf care skills have improved since 1983. After working at Bird Bay through middle school and high school and taking a hiatus while studying at Kentucky Wesleyan College, he returned in 1995 to run the maintenance operation.

Robertson refers to his father and himself as “seat-of-the-pants” superintendents, since neither of them have any formal education in golf course maintenance.

“My turf education is day-to-day experience and asking a lot of questions. I ask my fellow superintendents for help and information,” he says.

By chance, one of those superintendents was Carlos Arraya, CGCS, when he was superintendent of Venice G&CC, six miles from Bird Bay.

Hole at Bird Bay GC

Bird Bay Golf Club has 16 par 3 holes and two par 4s. (Photo: Robby Robertson)

“I went over one day because they were redoing the golf course and I wanted to see what it actually looked like,” Robertson recalls. “I met Carlos, and somehow we created a relationship that we’re like brothers.”

Robertson has visited Bellerive twice since Arraya took the reins there two years ago, and he’s looking forward to his first time volunteering at a professional event.

“To be able to work side-by-side with other top superintendents in the country and possibly learn new techniques to try to bring back to my course… you can’t pass it up,” he says.

— Abby Hart, managing editor

Check out the story of the superintendent behind the course of the 2018 PGA Championship.

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