Tony Taylor | Setting a Higher Standard
“I have yet to find a golf course maintenance challenge that I could not meet” Tony Taylor says casually, winking with a smile. And given Tony’s tenure in the golf industry, it’s easy to understand why. “There are many revealing indicators that help us identify issues with the health of turf, drainage issues, bunker performance, water collection and ‘use’ strategy, just to touch on a few key areas of golf course maintenance that are vital to the viability of a playable golf course”. These indicators come second nature to Tony and his team to identify, recommend, treat, and maintain an effective golf course maintenance program. “Yet many course owner/managers take either a passive or simple ‘bottom-line’ approach to these important elements which are foundational to a good playing course. And a good playing course gains natural reputation, more play, and ultimately a real increase in ‘bottom-line’. “But it doesn’t stop with just golf course maintenance; in my opinion, the overall experience to the golfer is what is critical and missing in many courses I have seen” expresses Tony.
Many who know Tony would agree he has truly mastered the art of golf course event preparation, stemming from effective golf course maintenance programs he has developed. There is also something to be said for being in the right place at the right time and having a solid work ethic and product.
Accolades of major golf event preparations go unnoticed at most tour events, though later in this story you’ll hear from some of golf’s highly respected names commenting on their impressions of course conditions in Asia. Tony’s company, Quality Golf has been directly involved with more than 20 major televised events and over 50 total events in SE Asia for the Thai PGA Tour, Professional Golf Tour of India, Asian Tour, and the European Tour. The earliest success started with the success of the 1997 Asian Honda Classic where Champion Tiger Woods first entered the international golf scene and then fast forwarding to this year, as Senior Consulting Superintendent for the Japan Open.
Tony’s experience and exposure to golf for more than 50 years has also vetted him as an ambassador to what great service should be. Being fortunate to have ‘the affliction [Feherty undertone] for the game’, and the countless golf courses he has consulted and played. He brings a keen perspective that many do not get to experience; including the many facets of designing, operating, upgrading, maintaining, and also managing golf courses throughout his career and company’s expanse throughout Asia/SE Asia.
The Evolution of Golf
\ The game of golf started as a stick and ball game, dating back to the 1400’s in Scotland. There is some interesting information found that a form of the game was played as early as 100 BC. In the formative days the game evolved in Scotland and was played on barren lands called links. With the increased popularity, golf moved from the coastal links inland where courses then became more developed with various natural features. One hundred fifty years later, membership clubs came into play, where a specialized “greens-keeper” tended the maintenance aspects of the golf course. Here is a great chronology of the history of golf on the International Golf Federation’s website (read more…)
In today’s game, a Golf Course Superintendent is a combination of both science and art. The process of certification is quite rigorous and can take more than 10 years of applied field experience, coupled with intensive studies covering many of the sciences; soil, microbiology, microorganisms, insects, horticulture, agronomy, water science, and the management of each as they are vastly symbiotic with each other. This is in addition to a comprehensive understanding of the game of golf; with all its intricacies and rules. Presently there are 35,000 Golf Course Superintendents worldwide with less than 5% who attain the title of Certified Golf Course Superintendent. Tony is now celebrating his 25th year of being a Certified Golf Course Superintendent and was a pioneer in the days of these development programs.
Tony Taylor’s Earlier Days
Born to a hard-working Italian immigrant family in western Pennsylvania, Tony’s mother had been widowed with five children, when he was just four years old. His grandfather, who fathered nine children, continued the traditions set in “the old country” and dug gardens for each of his children with Tony by his side. Tony learned from his grandfather’s strength, work ethic and love of the earth.
Tony’s upbringing taught him strong work ethics; enforced by his mother whenever he wanted spending money, he had to earn it. Golf was quite popular in the community of Ellwood, where Tony’s older brother Jim, who served as more of a father figure, was fascinated with golf, and at every opportunity he took Tony out to the local courses. Tony received his first set of golf clubs at age 9 (a gift from his older brother) and hence sparked Tony’s lifelong love of golf. Barely into his teens, Tony worked as a caddie on weekends, and performed golf-course maintenance weekdays. By 16 he knew the course maintenance aspects inside and out, and was promoted to foreman at his local course; Del Mar Golf Club. It was then that Tony made a life decision to make golf course maintenance his profession.
Mentorship under Jack Ferrante
Tony’s inspiration and mentoring comes from a slightly gruff, no nonsense, highly competent golf professional, Jack Ferrante. He was in both sides of the industry; golf professional and superintendent, an unheard of combination today. As Tony’s coach, he trained hard “if you want to be a professional at what you do, do it right the first time, if not right the first time, do it again”. Tony shares the following story about his mentor: “Under Jack’s supervision, I would work all day on golf maintenance till about 4pm, then after a bite to eat, he would teach me golf for an hour, then I would start the night water.” One morning, with arms folded, Jack asked me, “Did you water the greens last night? ‘Yes sir, I did,” I replied. “Did you water all the greens last night?” Sheepishly, I gave it up “No, I missed, the back left corner of #5 green.” “Yeah I know, I saw it,” Jack sternly replied. Amazed, I asked, “How did you know that, Jack?” “Because there was no dew on that area.” Tony reflected “Jack taught me I couldn’t miss anything, there was no room for almost!”
Incredible Golf Industry Exposure
Jack’s influence didn’t stop there. Warmly recalling memories, “Jack really made it happen for me.” “He got me into the first school of golf course operations, Lake City Community College.” “There I studied with Dr. Gene Nutter, well known for his role as Executive Director for the USGA and golf course management.” “Gene also started the very first superintendent training program.” Tony recalls “Dr. Nutter’s program produced luminaries. Among them, legendary Bobby Weed, the famous golf course architect and designer.” For over 20 years, Bobby Weed was responsible for courses in the Tournament Players Association and he designed the ‘Slammer’ and ‘Squire’ with Sam Snead and Gene Sarazen.” Just incredible history to be exposed to.
As a young professional, it was easy for Tony to start building his career. Being top in his class from a respected college didn’t hurt, combined with a ‘can do’ personality– people enjoyed being around him for his knowledge and optimism. Early on his reputation was formed around setting a higher standard.
Tony took a less than ideal situation at Links of Spruce Creek in Summerfield, Florida, with a non-standard golf course design and construction problems and brought it to International Standards within one year, with the help of Golf Professional/Architect and longtime friend, Terry Doss.
Tony’s accomplishments and contributions to the golf world spans four decades. Here are just a few highlights from his earlier days:
“Where I really ‘cut my teeth’ so to speak was at Innisbrook,” says Tony, “as the standards I created there were well above normal conditions, to almost blemish-free playing surfaces, despite the tremendous golf traffic.”
Acknowledging his superlative work, are comments from Dominic Bengivengo, past President of Golf Hosts, who ran the property division at Innisbrook at that time:
“During Tony Taylor’s tenure, at Innisbrook he successfully prepared the golf course for the 1983 Florida Open and NCAA Women’s championships from 1982-1985. The golf course was presented in stellar condition for each of these events. He improved conditions at Island course within months after he arrived. He was recognized as new breed of golf course superintendents that had graduated from one of the finest golf course operations schools at that time. Coupled with his lifelong love of the game, it was evident that creating a stellar golf course environment was and still is his passion.” Dominick Bengivengo President of Golf Hosts, Innisbrook
Launching a Career
In 1992, after completing a contract in the US, the opportunity of a lifetime arose. Tony was offered a job in Thailand. He had never traveled outside the US and didn’t even have a passport at the time. Intrigued and excited but somewhat apprehensive, he said yes to a six-month contract.
Six months flew by; “Work kept pouring in, it just didn’t stop.” Tony said. From 1994 forward, “Can you help?” was the mantra. Tony had generated more work than he could handle and so his company Quality Golf was born.
Due to the explosion of newly constructed golf courses, Tony trained many Golf Course Superintendents and key staff that were both competent, and met his level of standards. Several people trained by Tony have since started their own golf businesses and are now leaders in their own right, in the U.S. and throughout Asia.
His winning personality and genuine interest in helping people gave him the wherewithal to connect with others in the business, so when a project started, it was easy for him to hire the right person for the project.
Tony is responsible for implementing a standardized system, the Maintenance Optimization System, in all the clubs managed by Quality Golf in Asia, beginning with the Thai Country Club in 1996 and 20 other courses since. As a matter of fact Thai Country Club was ranked the best course in Asia many times during Tony’s 14-year tenure. The Maintenance Optimization System includes course standards, standard operating procedures, staff training guidelines, and a compliance system for tasks and projects and more.
Golf Industry Accolades
World-renowned Golfers Vijay Singh, Jasper Parnevik and Ernie Els were impressed during the Asian Honda Classic at Thai Country Club. Singh was full of praise for the course conditions, saying “the fairways and greens were in great condition” and Parnevik and Els backed him. Ernie Els, who has been named to receive the 2018 Old Tom Morris (OTM) Award from the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA), went further to say, “It is in the best condition of any course I have played in Asia. It was a pleasure to play.”
Being in Thailand, Tony was closely connected to other Asian regions, namely Hong Kong. “While Hong Kong is very wealthy with a high standard of living, their golf courses were surprisingly substandard. “ Answering the call for help, Tony took the successful model he built in Thailand to the island’s three oldest courses at the Hong Kong Golf Club. Amazement, praise and appreciation followed. Tony’s involvements with international courses include: India, Bangladesh, and Sentosa in Singapore; applying each the standard of operation he created in Thailand.
The Royal Calcutta Golf Club in India is one of Tony’s most distinguished clients. The oldest course in the world outside the British Isles. Tony and his team have taken the course to International Standards, now hosting professional golf tournaments. Additionally, experienced in all phases of tournament preparations, Tony has under his belt over 20 televised events and over 50 total events in SE Asia, for the Thai PGA Tour, Professional Golf Tour of India, Asian and European Tours, starting in 1997 with the Asian Honda Classic. This year he will be the Senior Consulting Superintendent for the Japan Open.
Golf Course Management Products
Tony Taylor has also introduced and promotes Paspalum and an ultra-dwarf Bermuda grass called Champion, which is used on over 60 PGA Tour stops in the US, now the preferred turf used on many of the golf courses in Thailand and Asia. Although, he is still a big fan of the new Shade Tolerant Bermuda grasses, as these are the best playing surfaces for warm season turf on golf courses.
Tony’s wide range of skill and knowledge has made him a very valuable golf consulting commodity in demand with many top golf management teams, committees, club captains, and course owners. To this day, he keeps his head and hands in the various grasses and soil, which brings great personal pleasure. Tony and his team at Quality Golf have developed a state-of-the-art software management tool ready for introduction to the market in 2019. The system provides all of the benchmarking tools to measure specific aspects of a golf course, and then establishes a rating of that course, to fully evaluate, recommend, and improve the golf course, and therefore the owner’s’ investment.
Golf Popularity Growth in Thailand
In Thailand today golf tourism is at its highest ever, with golf holidays, tours and packages being promoted in volume. The country is one of the best year-round golf locations in the world and promotion to that fact has statistics booming. Most certainly know the name of Tony Taylor, now celebrating 25 years of service to the golf industry in Thailand and nearby countries, would most certainly be included with this success. Tony started out setting a higher standard and continues to do so with four decades of notable contribution in the golf industry with more to come.
Writer: J M Campos