|Bobby "Butch" Burney | News-Telegram Sports Editor|
June 26, 2004 -- After a virtual lifetime of playing and working on golf courses, Paul Chalupa knows there is more to being a course superintendent than grooming greens and mowing fairways, even if that is the most visible part of the job.
Continually perched atop a mowers or tractor is what the public sees, but that's only part of what goes into making a course lush, challenging and aesthetic.
Part horticulturist, mechanic and golfer, Chalupa is going into his fifth year as superintendent at the Sulphur Springs Country Club. During that time, the face of the course has undergone a gradual change that Chalupa believes will continue.
"We've made so many improvements in the last couple of years, and hopefully we're headed in the right direction," Chalupa said while taking a break atop a mower. "We got a fertilizing and spraying program set up, which you've got to do to see some real results - and it's not night and day. The things I'm doing now won't show up until a year from now or even two years from now. But, they'll gradually get even better."
Chalupa has played the SSCC course since he was 7 or 8 years old. Growing up, he worked on the course and in the pro shop and was a varsity golfer on the SSHS team. So, when he started working at a course in Texarkana for former Sulphur Springs graduate Billy Huckabee, he had a pretty firm foundation.
After four years as an assistant superintendent and mechanic, he took the job here in his hometown. It was pretty evident what needed to be done.
"The first summer I worked, it was difficult because we had no equipment; we didn't have a sprayer," he recalled. "It would take me all day just to get one job done, where now we can go and take care of fairways and greens and tees in one day pretty quick.
"We had to get new equipment, that was a key. And we had to get into a program."
He's talking about an approach to course management that includes schematic spraying and fertilizing.
"In your program, there's a lot of ways to groom a course. Spraying has a lot to do with how the course looks and plays, too. I'm not talking about just going out and spraying everything," he added. "You have to have a fertility program and a spraying program. It all goes hand-in-hand, and it makes a big difference."
In addition to the course management plan, the SSCC has undergone some more definitive changes in the last few years with the opening of four new tee boxes for the blue (championship) tees. Three of the new platforms force the golfers to hit drives over water, making the course more challenging.
Holes No. 16 and 18 now have island tees, while the new blue tee box on par-three No. 17 makes it the second-toughest hole behind dog-leg No. 2.
The new dynamics will come be tallied this year when the course is rated. The old rating, which helps determine course handicap, was from the white tees. But, the new rating will take into account white, blue and ladies' yardage.
"They'll do slope rating and yardage to figure out the rating," Chalupa explained. "What they're doing is figuring out how tough the course is."
The course opened in the '50s with nine holes, but added another nine about 25 years ago to get the yardage up to about 5,880 from the white tees and over 6,100 from the blues.
The other tangible difference when looking at the course is the number of new homes. There are now between 16-18 houses on the course, with at least half of them built since 2000.
Chalupa wants the quality of the playing surface to mirror the other improvements on the course.
"We've still got the old grass, and we've got a lot of different varieties of grass now," he said. "But, we're going to try to get to the new Tiff Eagle. That's what we're working toward.
"We just got a new fairway mower this year, and that's helping because we can do a few more things. Before, I had to try to groom it with what I was restricted to with equipment. Now, we're finally getting a few more options because the equipment is better."
He tries to play the course at least once a week because he knows there are things golfers see that a superintendent on a mower won't. It also gives him a better feel for the greens.
Being a superintendent allows him to be outside, which can be a blessing, depending on whether it's a beautiful spring day or a scorching summer afternoon.
"I like being outdoors and I like to work.," Chalupa said. "It's got it's pluses and minuses, as everything does. But, I think there are more pluses."