LATIN AMERICA AMATEUR
Superintendent’s Career Path Skyrockets Thanks to LAAC
January 17, 2018 | Santiago, Chile
By Ron Driscoll, USGA
Darin Bevard, the director of championship agronomy for the USGA, ran into a potential stumbling block when preparations for this week’s Latin America Amateur Championship got underway in Santiago, Chile.
“Jose Manuel Medina [the superintendent for Prince of Wales Country Club] doesn’t speak much English, and I speak even less Spanish,” said Bevard. His solution was to invite Matias Romoli, the superintendent of Pilar Golf in Buenos Aires, which hosted the first LAAC in 2015, to join the agronomy team this week at the Prince of Wales course.
Romoli and Bevard worked together on course setup for that first LAAC, in a partnership and a lasting friendship that was forged by the immediacy of the impending inaugural event.
“The experience that I had with Matias at Pilar, plus the fact that he speaks very good English, made us really want him to help us here,” said Bevard, who noted that his call to Romoli was not out of the blue. “We had a great time in 2015 and we’ve remained friends throughout. It’s a relationship that we’ve maintained. I’ve got pictures of his baby on my phone.”
The 2015 LAAC acted as something of a springboard for Romoli’s career. It brought him an opportunity to work as a volunteer member of the greenkeeping staff during the 2015 Masters Tournament at Augusta National, as well as a role on the agronomy team that prepared the Olympic golf course at the 2016 Summer Game in Rio de Janeiro.
Said Romoli, “When Darin wrote me to ask whether I could be here this week, my wife immediately said, ‘You need to be there.’”
Little did Romoli know how quickly his career would be elevated when he got a call from Pilar Golf member Mark Lawrie in the fall of 2014, asking if he would be able to accommodate a group of golfers from Augusta National Golf Club.
“It turned out to be a bit of a ‘white lie,’” Romoli said with a laugh. “While I was driving them around on a tour of the course, I heard Mark and Ron Cross from Augusta National talking about cameras and TV towers and cables. I didn’t know what was happening, but it sounded huge.”
Lawrie, The R&A’s director for Latin America and the Caribbean as well as one of the three directors of the Latin America Amateur, soon informed Romoli that Pilar Golf would be hosting the inaugural LAAC, but time was short.
“I visited Pilar Golf for the first time only three months prior to the championship,” said Bevard, 48, who works out of a regional USGA Green Section office in Kennett Square, Pa. “For every LAAC since that first one, we’ve had a full year to prepare. But for that one, there was no fine-tuning things, it was ‘feet to the fire’ right away.”
Though Bevard and Romoli were thrown together by circumstance, they quickly found common ground.
“As a superintendent in the U.S., you’re very familiar with the products and equipment that are available, the grasses you are working with,” said Bevard. “It’s very different in Argentina; for instance, I found out that if it’s raining, Matias’s crew stops working. It’s part of their labor law.”
Having started his job at Pilar Golf just two years earlier, Romoli initially found the LAAC task daunting.
“This was my first big tournament ever, and the first few days I began to realize how big it was,” said Romoli, a graduate of the University of Buenos Aires agronomy program who had interned with the Argentine Golf Association. “But Darin was perfect for me because he’s patient, he has the knowledge and he keeps things calm. Yes, the pressure is heavy, but you need to stay focused.”
Romoli kept his focus even when nature threw a curveball, a soaking rainstorm that halted play midway through the final round at Pilar Golf.
“Later when I visited the superintendents’ building at Augusta, I saw maybe 50 or 60 squeegees [to remove water from playing areas],” said Romoli. “In Argentina, we have maybe four of those squeegees – in the entire country.”
“We removed the standing water after the rain with anything we had – dustpans, buckets, towels, the backs of rakes,” said Bevard. “Somehow we were able to resume play. The biggest thing was that Matias was going to figure out what it took to get it done. In terms of all the variables we encountered, I’ve never been a part of anything like that 2015 LAAC, which made it even more enjoyable when it was a huge success. And it’s only grown each year.”
Romoli has brought some of the championship practices he learned to his club and region, including using a soil moisture meter in preparing the course for the annual Argentine Open.
“We don’t have the same level of technology yet, but the gap is getting smaller,” said Romoli. His experience surely helped when he was asked to spearhead the effort to recruit superintendents for the Rio golf course, which was struggling to secure experienced workers.
“They asked me to help bring superintendents in from other parts of the continent,” said Romoli. “I probably spent 10 or 12 hours on the phone, and I was able to recruit 12 guys from Argentina to go. A superintendent from Chile was able to get another eight or nine from there.”
Having headed the Argentine Golf Association for 14 years before taking his role with The R&A in 2014, Lawrie has seen Romoli rise through the ranks.
“The LAAC has opened doors for him to experience probably the best events in the world,” said Lawrie. “For Matias to work closely with top people like Darin is a win-win; he’s been all over and relished every opportunity.”
This week’s opportunity is another case of Romoli and Bevard complementing each other.
“After just two days it had already paid off handsomely for me to have Matias here,” said Bevard, who has directed the USGA’s championship agronomy efforts since 2014. “Even when you’re speaking the same language, the lay person doesn’t understand some of our technical terms and jargon. But I think more importantly, Matias knows the pressures that Jose Manuel is facing, so when I ask him to communicate something he can do it in the proper way. We’re a team, working together to put on the best championship possible.”
Ron Driscoll is the manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.