GCM – ‘A new sheriff in town’

Gardner Award Winner for Writing – Publishing: Environmental Stewardship Article – Commercial Publications

We asked Hal Phillips about his winning entry, “A new sheriff in town.”

Please briefly describe your winning project.
This started out as a straightforward feature on the superintendent at The Vineyard Club, which, on account of its all-organic maintenance stance, would have made a profile of any superintendent interesting. But the relationship between Kevin Banks and his predecessor, Jeff Carlson (whom I’ve known for 25 years), made it a study in mentorship and trends in how club hierarchies are developed today, in addition to organic turf maintenance.

What were your main objectives in developing this project?
There’s a lot of lip service paid to organics in the turf management realm, much of it from vendors. This seemed like a good opportunity to flesh out what was truly involved with being an organically maintained facility – wall to wall and by law – if not exactly by choice. I hadn’t realized that Jeff Carlson had stayed on with the club after Kevin Banks succeeded him as superintendent — not until I’d started researching the piece. That struck me as potentially very awkward for both parties, especially on account of the organic mandate predicating the club’s development. Getting to the heart of their relationship became central to the entire piece, even the wonky turf stuff.

What influenced your approach?
I’m not sure anything special influenced my approach, which was pretty standard: just unearthing the news value, for a specific audience, alongside the broader human interest. I did make sure to play the golf course, however(!). I had played it in 2010, when it first opened. It was great. As Gil Hanse had renovated there recently, it was an excuse to go back. And I absolutely love Martha’s Vineyard. Any excuse to go back there is more than welcome.

Please tell us what you think stood out in your winning entry.
I’m not sure how to answer that. Maybe because it truly did spell out, in human and vocational terms, what it’s like to maintain a very upscale golf course without chemical inputs. That and the peculiar fact that Banks was doing this with his old boss looking over his shoulder (approvingly, as it turned out). Who knows?!