Joshua Kelley shares how he went from design school to director of grounds at the Ritz-Carlton GC

By |  December 14, 2023 0 Comments
Graphic: Golfdom Staff

Graphic: Golfdom Staff

When you ask a superintendent how they became a superintendent, you’ll likely hear one of a handful of answers. Maybe they knew someone who worked on a course or someone in their family plays golf. Joshua Kelley, director of grounds at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club in Orlando, Fla., took a different path. While studying to become a graphic designer, he realized he wanted to be on the greens.

“I’m from the Midwest, so I had a lot of friends who were farmers. When they weren’t working the farm, we’d all work on the golf course during the summer,” he says. “I played golf, but it wasn’t something I was necessarily passionate about. I just liked being outside.”

While in college for design and photography, Kelley worked at Panther Creek Club, a private golf course in Springfield, Ill., during the summers. Two years into his college career, he realized a career in graphic design wasn’t for him.

“I was sitting on the fairway mower one summer and decided right there that I didn’t want to sit behind a computer all day,” he says. “Soon after that, I changed my degree to horticulture and got my bachelor’s from Illinois State University (ISU).”

During his time at Panther Creek, Kelley took the opportunity to learn the many sides of golf course maintenance.

He held multiple internships at ISU and even worked at TPC Deere Run. After graduation, Kelley took a job as an assistant superintendent at Grande Vista Golf Club in Orlando, Fla.

Now, as the director of grounds at Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, he oversees the preparation for the PNC Championship, a tournament featuring pros and their family members, held in mid-December.

(Photo: Joshua Kelley)

(Photo: Joshua Kelley)

Challenging climate

Kelley says one downside to living and working in Florida, is dealing with the occasional hurricane.

“This past year, we went through two hurricanes, so that obviously brought a lot of challenges,” Kelley says. “We had to remove tons of debris from the golf course. Basically, the whole golf course was underwater for ten days after Hurricane Ian.”

(Photo: Joshua Kelley)

(Photo: Joshua Kelley)

Although a hurricane right before preparing for a major tournament begins is not ideal, Kelley says having his team, as well as the resort grounds crew, made cleanup a lot easier.

“I technically oversee two departments: the golf grounds team and the resort grounds team,” he says. “Each team consists of about 25 people, so in total, we have about 50 people that help out.”

Finding balance

Kelley also says that having both teams eases a bit of the pressure that comes with hosting a championship at his course. Whether it’s from the player side or the PGA Tour side, there are many different aspects the keeper of a championship course must take into account. From playing conditions to how the course looks on TV, finding the right balance to make everyone happy can be tricky.

“Often times, playing conditions lead to poor aesthetics and vice versa,” he says. “Sometimes having luscious greens leads to softer, wetter conditions that aren’t ideal for the PGA Tour players. You can’t control the weather, but being on TV is basically free advertising for the property, so you have to make it look good.”

Despite the challenges he faces at his course, Kelley says he wouldn’t want to be doing anything else. Because he didn’t have the most traditional start to finding golf course maintenance as a career path, he offers some advice to those who might be like him.

“It’s important to try and realize what you want to do and if being a superintendent is it, it’s also important to get the experience through internships and volunteering,” he says. “Volunteer at courses that hold major events. The more experiences you see firsthand and the more people you can meet will only make you stronger.”

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About the Author: Sydney Fischer

Sydney is a graduate from Kent State University where she received a bachelor’s degree in Public Relations with minors in Marketing and Advertising. While attending KSU, she held multiple internships and was a reporter for the Kent Stater.

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