Call him the Duke of the Intermountain

By |  October 11, 2017 0 Comments

Mel Duke at the IGCSA Education Conference & Trade Show with his Superintendent of the Year award

Since 1967, Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon, Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Godfather” was released, the Berlin Wall came down between East and West Germany, Nelson Mandela was elected president of South Africa and Apple introduced the original iPhone. Through all those years and events Melvin “Mel” Duke, superintendent at Toana Vista Golf Club, West Wendover, Nev., has always worked on a golf course.

Duke, after more than 40 years as a superintendent in Nevada and Utah, was recently named Superintendent of the Year and received the Distinguished Service Award at the Intermountain Golf Course Superintendent Association’s (IGCSA) Annual Education Conference & Trade Show.

“I’ve been a ground superintendent for 40 years and I received other awards from the Utah Section PGA. I worked at a golf course early in my career called Valley View Golf Course (Layton, Utah) and we were featured in Golf Digest,” recalls Duke, in an interview with Golfdom. “I mean that was a real big honor, but being selected as the Intermountain’s Superintendent of the Year by my peers was probably one of the best honors I’ve ever had in my life.”

“For guys that work in the industry and understand what we go through and what we have to do, it’s truly an honor for me and I’m humbled by it,” says Duke. “I often think of how hard this is to do and all the criticism that you get, and to have this happen, it really shows you that all the hard work pays off.”

According to the IGCSA website, the association’s Distinguished Service Award has been awarded since 1995, and Duke says that the award “tells me that I’m passing on what knowledge I have and the abilities I have tried to portray all my life.”

“I’ve had some really, really good assistants in my life and I think somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 to 18 superintendents worked for me at one time or another,” adds Duke. “I just hope that when I’m dead and gone, people will say of me that I helped others, and I tried to pass it on and helped them to become better at what they do.”

Duke credits all the success in his career to two brothers from Utah that gave him his start and nurtured his career, Ernie, Jr. and Gene Snyder.

He started his career with Gene in 1967 and in two and a half years, Duke helped him build two golf courses in St. George, Utah. Duke says, “He learned more than he could even imagine” during that time and that his agronomic plan is still 75 percent of the program he learned from Gene 50 years ago.

Duke had to leave his position with Gene after he got married to his wife in 1969 and the couple moved to Roy, Utah. Gene’s brother, Ernie, owned a golf course and was a golf professional in nearby Riverdale. Duke walked into the shop one day and was hired on the spot by the other Snyder brother. Duke worked at the course for four-and-a-half years.

“Between those two guys I kind of owe my life to them, and what has gone on in my life. I’ll always be indebted to them,” says Duke. “Gene taught me the business of growing and taking care of golf courses, and Ernie taught me the love of the game.”

Even after 50 years after he started in the industry, don’t expect to hear about Duke announcing his retirement in the near future. The 72-year-old says as long as he is healthy he will keep on working because he looks forward to waking up and going to work every day.

“How can you beat being out in nature, being paid to do something that you love to do and you can play at your job?” says Duke. “That is just the ultimate, best thing that could happen to any one person in life.”

Photo: Golfdom

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