Greg Kennedy

Greg Kennedy

End of an era: Birchbank superintendent retires

Greg Kennedy retires after 27 years of dedicated care and service as the course superintendent at Birchbank Golf Course.

Greg Kennedy will put the Birchbank Golf Course to bed for the final time this month, as the course superintendent gets set to retire after 27 years of dedicated care and service at the century-old course.

The Birchbank course has been his home-away-from-home for almost three decades, and in this his final season, the 18-hole, almost seven-kilometre long, 150-acre course has never looked better.

“Even with budget cuts, the course condition, I mean my crew and I talk about it all the time, we figure this is the nicest year we’ve ever had,” said the 59 year old. “Everything came together with the weather . . . So we were all pretty happy, and I am happy to go out on a good note.”

Birchbank golfers would agree, course conditions were pristine this season and even in less-than-perfect years the sprawling, scenic course is always a pleasure to play, thanks for the most part to Kennedy and his quality staff.

“They’ve been just great. I’ve been very fortunate to have a great crew the whole time I’ve been here, and without them I couldn’t have done it. It’s a team effort that’s for sure.”

Kennedy grew up on a golf course in Qualicum Beach on Vancouver Island, and worked at Qualicum and Eagle Crest Golf Courses before graduating from the turfgrass management program at University of Guelph in Ontario.

After graduation he became one of the youngest course superintendents in Canada at the age of 19, assisting then heading the grounds crew at Eagle Crest for about six years.

A brief stint at landscaping and law enforcement preceded a return to golf when Kennedy became a turf instructor at Fairview College in Alberta. He lasted five years in the northern agricultural community, until a job opened at Birchbank in the spring of 1987.

“I just wanted to get my hands dirty after that,” he said. “I was coming here (Trail) for one year and then work our way back to the coast, so 27-28 years later we’re still here.”

Kennedy has developed and groomed the Birchbank course into one of the Kootenays’ finest, replacing most of the greens, the irrigation, and electrical systems, adding over 20 sand-traps, improving its overall aesthetics with flowers, shrubs and trees, not to mention the everyday care and maintenance.

As a result, the Genelle resident has garnered awards and accolades, highlighted by the B.C. Golf Superintendents Association’s Superintendent of the Year in 2004, and was honoured at the CN Future Links Western Canadian Junior Golf championship hosted by Birchbank in July with the National Tournament plaque and a well-deserved nod for his almost 40 years of work as greenskeeper and course superintendent.

“He’s been a rock star,” said Birchbank professional Dennis Bradley following the tournament. “He puts in long hours and makes sure everything is done right.”

During his time at Birchbank, Kennedy also taught at Selkirk College in the golf management program for a decade, and in 1996 traveled to Malaysia to lay the foundation for a course-management program there.

But like most jobs, it is not without its challenges both on and off the course, particularly in the early years when Rossland-Trail Golf and Country Club included the Rossland and Birchbank courses.

“When I came here we had the two courses to take care of,” said Kennedy. “The 27 holes, we had the little nine-hole at Rossland. That was a challenge, we had to move equipment back and forth, and a whole different clientele than there was down here.”

Birchbank has undergone many changes since Kennedy started, and he has seen golfers, board directors, and golf pros come and go over the years, but he and his reliable crew have remained the one constant, always keeping up with the latest advancements, and supplementing his already vast knowledge with new courses on state-of-the-art methods, materials, and equipment.

Kennedy will climb onto his mower and ride off into the sunset at the end of November, and while he may be gone from Birchbank, he certainly doesn’t plan on staying away. Birchbank staff and members held a retirement party at the end of September and presented Kennedy with a membership among many other generous gifts.

Kennedy plans to keep working part time in another venue and will likely be a regular on the course, but content that gray snow mould is no longer his problem.

“I’ll be working somewhere, maybe a couple days a week, but I’ve had enough of the big worry, you know you can’t go home and not worry about the place, and I’ve done it for 27 years and it’s a young person’s job that’s for sure . . . but everything has to come to an end, but it’ll be tough, I mean it’s been my baby for all those years.”

*Birchbank welcomes Mark Lloyd to the position of superintendent. Lloyd was the former assistant superintendent at the Creston Golf Club.