U.S. JUNIOR AMATEUR
His Care of The Honors Course Etched in Stone
July 23, 2016 | Ooltewah, Tenn.
By Stuart Hall
When David Stone arrived to interview for the course superintendent position at The Honors Course property in 1982, he realized the project was grander in scope than he imagined.
“I knew it was going to be a hard and big job, but I also knew it was going to be a lifetime opportunity,” said Stone, 67, on Friday while rocking in a chair outside The Honors Course pro shop, overlooking the 18th green.
What Stone never envisioned was turning the opportunity into a 34-year relationship. The club was a year away from opening when interviewed. This week, it is hosting the 69th U.S. Junior Amateur Championship, the fifth USGA championship hosted by the club. The week is doubling as an unofficial retirement party for Stone.
Will he miss it?
“Aww, I don’t feel like I will,” he said. “I still intend to live close. I get a membership at the club, so I am going to play a couple times a week and practice a little more. I’m going to do some more serious birding.”
A native Tennessean, Stone grew up on a dairy farm in Lewisburg, about 50 miles south of Nashville. He remembers going to a birthday party where cups were placed crudely into the ground for a putting contest.
“I thought, ‘You know, that might be fun,’ and so I learned how to play golf,” he said. “I’d go to the golf course and then come home thinking about how I could make my own hole so I could practice.”
Eventually, Stone would carry a plastic bag with him to the course and pilfer some of the bermudagrass that had grown from the green down onto the slope of the bunker and into the sand. At home, he would put the grass into pots, ultimately growing a large enough patch for his homemade hole.
“So, that’s how my turf career got started, but I was really just doing it so I could practice my golf,” said Stone, who majored in agronomy at the University of Tennessee.
In 1974, at the age of 25, Stone’s first job as a head superintendent was at the former Crocket Springs National in Nashville. He then spent five years at the Donald Ross-designed Holston Hills Country Club up the road in Knoxville, a course that hosted the 2004 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur.
Stone says he had plenty of chances to leave The Honors Course along the way, but the proverbial grass is not always greener. In 1995, Stone received the prestigious USGA Green Section Award, the highest award accorded a golf course superintendent.
“[The Honors Course founder Jack Lupton] gave me a lot of rope,” said Stone. “Even if he disagreed with me on things, he always liked to say, ‘I’ll give you enough rope to either hang yourself or prove yourself right.’ So the fact that he let me have a lot of freedom to do a lot of the things I wanted to do, well, that is huge. It’s very satisfying.”
In reflecting about his tenure at The Honors Course, Stone is most proud of typical superintendent achievements.
“I am proud I was able to convince the owner to switch from bermudagrass to zoysia, and it was a tough sell,” Stone said. “A few years later, he told me it was the best decision I ever made.
“I was also able to keep poa annua out of the bentgrass greens pretty much the whole 31 years we had bentgrass. And that’s unusual.”
Third, Stone helped create a chemical that stunted bermudagrass’ return once the switch was made to zoysia.
For years, Stone has roamed The Honors Course in his cart, armed with a Sibley Field Guide. He has identified 145 different species of bird on the property.
“Whereas in the past I would take a look to see what kind of bird it was and then move on, I may now follow it to see where it goes and see if it’s nesting here and what not,” he said.
He can do that now that he is retiring. He also toys with the idea of writing a book that would benefit other superintendents.
“Who knows … I never envisioned being here as long as I have been,” Stone said.
And The Honors Course is better off that he stayed.
Stuart Hall is a North Carolina-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to USGA websites.