Following a career change, Superintendent Chris Navin and his team revitalize The Club at P.B. Dye

By |  August 8, 2023 0 Comments
Chris Naven (Photo: Edgar Artiga)

Chris Navin (Photo: Edgar Artiga)

Built in 1999, The Club at P.B. Dye in Ijamsville, Md., started strong. When it opened it was considered one of the finest clubs in the Washington, D.C.-area. But over the years the course fell into disrepair.

Those who were there to see it don’t hold back when describing the condition of the course in 2014 and 2015, calling it “a dog track,” and “a nightmare.”

“When I first played it many years ago, I said, ‘I’m never coming back,’” says Steve Bosdosh, PGA, one of Golf Magazine’s top 100 teachers for 22 years.

But Bosdosh was told he needed to see the course again, because of the positive changes going on.

“A friend of mine, who was the GM, invited me back to have coffee. He said, ‘We got a new superintendent.’” Bosdosh says. “I came back and played reluctantly. I thought, ‘Wow, this is pretty good.’ I brought some friends of mine back to play, and everyone is like, ‘Wow, this is really good.’”

Restoring the rock creek that splits the course’s third hole (before and after) was one of the first projects Navin embarked upon. It was symbolic to the owner, Whang Kyun Shin, that the course was on its way back. (Photos: Chris Naven)

Restoring the rock creek that splits the course’s third hole (before and after) was one of the first projects Navin embarked upon. It was symbolic to the owner, Whang Kyun Shin, that the course was on its way back. (Photos: Chris Navin)

 

It was so good that Bosdosh eventually agreed to move his golf academy to the course. Now, he says that superintendent — Chris Navin — is not only a friend but one of the most talented superintendents he’s ever worked with.

“He’s done way more with less than almost any other superintendent I’ve ever been around — and I’ve been around really good ones,” Bosdosh says. “I’ve been around some very high-dollar places and Chris gets more out of a dollar than anyone I’ve ever been around.”

This before and after shows how overgrown trees obstructed the view and tee shots on No. 15. The trees made the lower two tees unusable. (Photo: Chris Naven)

This before and after shows how overgrown trees obstructed the view and tee shots on No. 15. The trees made the lower two tees unusable. (Photo: Chris Navin)

 

Babe I’m gonna leave you

Navin sat in his car in the Harford County Public School parking garage for over two hours. In his hand was a typed resignation letter. In his stomach was a knot. He was about to walk away from his career in education and his six years as a 5th-grade teacher.

“I started working on a golf course when I was 15,” Navin says. “I was lucky in that my summers, I could go back and work at Maryland G&CC. John Vinson was the superintendent there at the time. He’s a friend, and I told him that I had a feeling that I didn’t think I could teach forever. That’s when he started talking to me about pursuing a career in turf.”

Navin had already tried transferring schools to see if it was just the place he was teaching at. He quickly learned it was not.

“I remember several days during those first days of spring, I’d be in the classroom, and I’d just be wondering what the guys were doing on the golf course,” Navin recalls. “My last year (teaching), the first 65-degree day, I’d tell the kids, ‘Come on, we’re having class outside.’ I’m just an outdoor cat.”

At age 30, the ‘outdoor cat’ was going back to school. He wanted a new career — one on the golf course.

With a mortgage and a young family, Navin enrolled in the turf program at Rutgers University. Two “grueling” 10-week semesters and two internships later, Navin’s new career path was set. He had internships at Maryland G&CC in Bel Air, Md., under Vinson, and another at Bulle Rock GC in Havre de Grace, Md., under Bill Lewis.

“I learned a lot about maintaining turf from John, and a lot about spraying and doing integrated pest management at Bulle Rock, about getting through the summers of the Mid-Atlantic,” Navin says.

Trampled under foot

Michael Kim’s background is in commercial real estate and investment projects. He worked for the owners of The Club at P.B. Dye, helping them improve their investments. He did not come from a golf background but found himself in one when the owners asked him to step in and help the club bounce back.

His first step was to remove the management company and pull maintenance in-house with a new superintendent.

“I don’t want to dwell on the past, but given that we were one of the top golf courses in the D.C.-area, this was a fall from grace and an example of how bad mismanagement can just tear down a course,” Kim says. “I was in search mode for a new superintendent, and that’s how I met Chris. It’s been an incredible story since then.”

(Photo: Chris Navin)

“One of our biggest savings was instead of renovating out-of-play bunkers, removing them and sodding them into grass swales was a much better option,” Navin says. “This not only helped save money during recovery but also for playability for higher handicapped players.” (Photo: Chris Navin)

 

Some of the course problems included:

  • 25 percent of greens were unusable because of patchy and dead surfaces;
  • 30 percent of fairways were dead or patchy;
  • Green surrounds were thin with Poa annua that wouldn’t survive the summer months;
  • Poa was the predominant turf type throughout the course, with 75 percent of the population on all surfaces; and
  • Trees were overrunning the course, restricting airflow and interfering with golf shots.

“It was a hot mess, and I’m not overstating it,” Kim says. “We had a moment in early August when we uniformly killed every set of tees. We were a laughing stock because of how far we fell from one of the top courses in the area. There was a lot of work to do.”

In January 2016, after two years as an assistant, Navin became the new superintendent of The Club at P.B. Dye. Navin and Kim use the same term to describe the task he was hired to do: “a turnaround project.”

“It was a failing business — losing lots of money every year,” Navin says. “It’s a family-owned business and, unfortunately, the original developer passed away a few years ago. The course stayed in the family, and we have full autonomy. We could make the changes we needed to.”

“The late Whang Kyun Shin, PBD’s founder, built the course because of his love of the game and his desire to share it with others,” Navin says. “He wanted our guests to enjoy the beautiful design and setting that our course offers. Although we wish he was still with us to enjoy it more than ever, we know Mr. Shin is with us in spirit.” (Photo: Chris Navin)

“The late Whang Kyun Shin, PBD’s founder, built the course because of his love of the game and his desire to share it with others,” Navin says. “He wanted our guests to enjoy the beautiful design and setting that our course offers. Although we wish he was still with us to enjoy it more than ever, we know Mr. Shin is with us in spirit.” (Photo: Chris Navin)

Good times bad times

In 2016, Navin had one goal: don’t lose grass. He wanted to show the owners that the course could survive a Maryland summer.

Of course, in his first year, it didn’t rain from the 4th of July until Labor Day, except for “90 minutes of Hell” on the last Saturday of July when it rained five-plus inches in an hour-and-a-half.

Mother Nature smiled upon the course in 2017 and provided a better weather year, enabling Navin and his team to start cleaning up the course. They also removed out-of-play bunkers. All the projects were done in-house.

“That was the first year we started hearing, ‘I haven’t been here in six years. I swore I’d never come back, but someone told me to give it another chance!’” Navin says. “We had a feeling we were on the right track at that point.”

In 2018, rain smacked the course with the wettest year on record with 70 inches of rain. To manage cancellations, the course liberally gave rain checks to outings. Navin and his team continued working on restoring the course, tree removal and general clean-up.

Around this time, new key players entered the fold: Kelsey Young, a young pro in the food and beverage business who Kim promoted based on her outstanding work ethic and attitude; Pete Collins, business development and marketing manager, who brought new ideas to the club to attract more players; and at Kim’s urging, Bosdosh relocated his golf academy to the club.

By 2019, it was all coming together. Kim started to see that a new attitude that began with Navin was pervading the club and its personnel.

“We have a really good culture here. In a good way, we’re in each other’s business, we are watching each other’s backs,” Kim says. “As an example, we’ll have a big outing and Chris doesn’t think a thing of it … he’ll have his team come over and help us out at the clubhouse, setting up and taking down.”

The 8th Hole. (Photo: Chris Navin)

The 8th Hole. (Photo: Chris Navin)

 

This year, the course celebrated a milestone that truly showed it was back on the map. In early May, the course hosted a U.S. Open Qualifier. The course played at a par 70, 7,100 yards. Only two players broke par, and the feedback was tremendous.

The man whose name adorns the course is grateful for Navin’s hard work.

“Chris has done a hell of a job, he has given that course a breath of new life,” says P.B. Dye, ASGCA. “When I first went around the course with Chris, I gave him a list of things that needed to be redone. I came back a year later and he had accomplished most of them. I was absolutely impressed.”

Dye, the son of Pete Dye, is 68 and says he knows how much work it took to get The Club at P.B. Dye back in shape.

“I’ve been in this business since I was six years old, I was cheap child labor. I know all the problems a course can have and what it takes to make it right,” Dye says. “Chris is a hands-on guy. He’s not scared to tackle a problem. He’s not putting a band-aid on a broken leg; he’s fixing it.”

Ed Gasper worked 44 years as a superintendent in the Washington, D.C. area, up until last month when he retired. Gasper recalls first meeting Navin and thinking the course had found its ideal superintendent.

“The course was going downhill and they needed that one guy with a vision, and that was Chris,” Gasper says. “We would drive around the course and he would tell me what he wanted to do. I could feel his excitement.”

Gasper adds that Navin made some smart decisions, like introducing Tahoma 31 to the course’s tee boxes, rebuilding bridges in-house and getting spotty fairways healthy with cultural practices.

Bosdosh raves about the way the course played in the U.S. Open qualifier. He says it proves The Club at P.B. Dye deserves to be on the national stage.

"This was the reshaping of the green complex of our 12th hole," Navin says. "The bunker had failed and was very deep with the surrounding mounds too steep to maintain safely. You can see the loader in the first photo at the top of the hill for scale." (Photo: Chris Navin)

“This was the reshaping of the green complex of our 12th hole,” Navin says. “The bunker had failed and was very deep with the surrounding mounds too steep to maintain safely. You can see the loader in the first photo at the top of the hill for scale.” (Photo: Chris Navin)

 

“When I first got here, we weren’t even good enough to host a Mid-Atlantic junior event,” he says. “We’re trying to host bigger events. We’re looking at hosting another U.S. Open Qualifier if we can get it next year, possibly a Maryland state championship for the men and an LPGA or Korn Ferry Tour event. It’s incredible, and it’s a fun place to be. But we can’t do any of that if we have poor conditions of tees, fairways and greens. And now, the tees, fairways and greens are as good as anywhere in the Beltway area.”

Like Kim, Bosdosh says Navin brings positive energy to the club with his friendliness and eagerness to keep improving.

“In the past, I’ve had superintendents that maybe didn’t talk to me but once a week. Chris stops by every day and asks about my wife and kids,” Bosdosh says. “He’s so friendly and approachable. In the past, I was hesitant to say anything about the course because I didn’t know how the superintendent was going to take it. Chris wants to know what’s good, what’s bad and what he needs to do better. It’s just a different vibe here.”

Outings are up, revenue has increased for seven consecutive seasons and, now, a new events center for the club is in the works. The turnaround project is complete.

“I’m truly honored to be selected as this year’s Herb Graffis Businessperson of the Year,” Navin says. “When I decided to make a career change, I had no clue how it was going to go. I took the leap, and after 11 years, to be honored in this way not only proves validation for me but for our club, which has also embarked on a journey of recovery, renovation and a commitment to the future.”

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About the Author: Seth Jones

Seth Jones, a 18-year veteran of the golf industry media, is Editor-in-Chief of Golfdom magazine and Athletic Turf. A graduate of the University of Kansas School of Journalism and Mass Communications, Jones began working for Golf Course Management in 1999 as an intern. In his professional career he has won numerous awards, including a Turf and Ornamental Communicators Association (TOCA) first place general feature writing award for his profile of World Golf Hall of Famer Greg Norman and a TOCA first place photography award for his work covering the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In his career, Jones has accumulated an impressive list of interviews, including such names as George H.W. Bush, Samuel L. Jackson, Lance Armstrong and Charles Barkley. Jones has also done in-depth interviews with such golfing luminaries as Norman, Gary Player, Nick Price and Lorena Ochoa, to name only a few. Jones is a member of both the Golf Writers Association of America and the Turf and Ornamental Communicators Association. Jones can be reached at sjones@northcoastmedia.net.


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