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Mentoring: Followed the leaders

Industry veterans Paul R. Latshaw, Paul B. Latshaw, CGCS, and Matt Shaffer know a thing or two about mentoring, and gladly share what they’ve learned from their own mentors and as mentors themselves.

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Paul R. Latshaw (right), and his son, Paul B. Latshaw, CGCS. Photo by Fernando Gaglianese


Editor’s note: This article is part of a periodic series that highlights mentoring in the golf course management industry, and is presented in partnership with Syngenta and GCSAA TV. For more on the topic, visit The Mentor Channel at www.gcsaa.tv.

Ronald Reagan was president. Halle Berry had finished as first runner-up in the Miss USA competition. Jack Nicklaus had proved he still could win major golf championships in the twilight of his career.

Although it was 31 years ago, Matt Shaffer remembers 1986 vividly. At Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia, where Nicklaus won the Masters at the age of 46 that year, Shaffer recalls other magical moments he encountered on that piece of property as an assistant golf course superintendent.

Shaffer, who retired this past winter as director of golf course management at Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa., sees that experience beneath the Georgia pines as a turning point in his career. He had considered leaving the profession — partly out of boredom, and partly out of frustration over not being able to attain the breakthrough professional moment he was hoping for — until Paul R. Latshaw intervened.

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Merion Golf Club, where Paul B. Latshaw, CGCS, now oversees maintenance, is where Matt Shaffer served as director of golf course management until earlier this year. Photo courtesy of USGA


Shaffer needed to be mentored, and he’d found his mentor.

Latshaw, who would go on to become GCSAA’s 2017 Old Tom Morris Award recipient, had a track record of hiring superintendents who would advance to bigger and better things, (including his son, Paul B. Latshaw, CGCS, who oversees Merion now). Shaffer, who was keenly aware of the elder Latshaw’s reputation for molding careers, wanted in.

“When you worked for him, you would never be the same,” says Shaffer, who, in a way, was starting over again when he joined Latshaw’s team as his assistant following 13 years in a head superintendent role. “He changed my life and my career path that led to things I never would have had.”

As mentors, the Latshaws and Shaffer have for decades helped carve paths for those who’ve worked for them. All three of them have shared their experience, which was provided to them by their own mentors, with future generations. It is a gift that keeps on giving.

“To this day, I thank him,” says 25-year GCSAA Class A member John Zimmers Jr. — who left Oakmont (Pa.) Country Club this year for Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio — about the lifetime of opportunities that were spurred by his schooling under Paul R. “I still do job sheets the same way he did them. He’s just always been there.”

Making of a mentor

Paul R. Latshaw first learned about mentoring on a ship.

He’d joined the Navy as a teen, and got an eyeful about leadership from his superiors. “I found out during my combat days that if the ship goes down, we all go down,” says Latshaw, a 52-year member of GCSAA. “I’d be amazed at the morale. It was always better when you knew the rules, which went a long way in terms of production.”

His naval experience would eventually translate to being a mentor as a golf course superintendent. “I’m a firm believer that a superintendent is no better than the staff surrounding him. You build a team,” Latshaw says.

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Matt Shaffer, who was mentored by Paul R. Latshaw, spent 15 years at Merion, during which time it hosted the 2013 U.S. Open. Photo by David Campli


Sam Green participated on that team as an assistant for Latshaw at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md., and he recalls when a bunker renovation prior to the 1995 U.S. Senior Open there went awry. “We broke our trencher. He (Latshaw) came out, we hand-dug trenches in three bunkers, and he was right there digging with us,” says Green, now the chief operating officer of Aqua-Aid and a 23-year GCSAA member. “I learned work ethic from him. He didn’t lead by words — he led by example.”

Latshaw still visits superintendent Matt Morton at Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, Calif., from time to time, occasions that Morton, a 17-year association member, welcomes. “It’s about execution. Game planning. Being able to see a goal and work toward it,” Morton says. “He always taught me how to have long-term goals. He has an orderly way about him — very structured. He nurtured so many careers, and I’m so appreciative to have a mentor like that in my life.”

On Latshaw’s own list of mentors are people such as Robert Hancock, former president and green chairman at Country Club of Jackson (Mich.), where Latshaw became a superintendent for the first time in 1965. Fred Seitz, former club manager at Oakmont, where Latshaw was the superintendent for a decade, is also on that list. “He was a whiz with numbers. He showed me how to put together a budget,” Latshaw says of Seitz. “I learned things I didn’t know, which was important to my career.”

Latshaw didn’t have a manual or handbook for mentoring and leading his crew. “That’s not my style,” he says. His way was based on face time out in the field. “I wasn’t an office superintendent; I was on the course all the time,” Latshaw says. “You want to have people that want to do more, more and more, and you have to let them grow.”

A son rises

There is no question that Paul B. sees Paul R. as his mentor. Doubling as his mentor’s son, though, presented a challenge that wasn’t always so easy to navigate.

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Merion East Course superintendent Patrick Haughey, a three-year association member (far left), out on the course with Paul B. (center) and Paul R. Photo by Fernando Gaglianese


“Working for your father, who is your mentor and the person you respect the most, you never want to let him down or disappoint, so you place a great deal of pressure on yourself to perform,” says Paul B. “The pressure to perform at a high level is something that has stuck with me my whole career, along with my father’s determination to always strive for excellence.” 

Paul B. worked for his father at Oakmont during his youth, and later as an assistant at Wilmington (Del.) Country Club. By that time, however, Paul B. had received a variety of mentoring, which was prompted by his father, who suggested that seeing how other superintendents got results would be wise. To that end, Paul B. completed internships for veteran superintendents Dick Bator at Pine Valley (N.J.) Golf Club and David Stone at The Honors Course in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Paul B. found some similarities between his father, Bator and Stone — many traits that would contribute to his advancement. Bator was a gifted hand-waterer, says Paul B., a characteristic shared by Paul R., and Bator’s tough-love style of leadership mirrored the elder Latshaw’s.

Stone, meanwhile, taught Paul B. the importance of golf course mathematics, such as how to make calculations on inputs and how to dig deep into the hows and whys of the business. “Of all the people I worked with, he really made you think about things in terms of agronomics and why things were the way they were,” says Paul B., a 30-year association member. “He would go to great lengths to explain something to you.”

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Natural areas and the iconic red wicker basket atop the flagsticks are classic features of Merion. Photo courtesy of USGA


Still, his father served as his main mentor, providing lessons that Paul B. takes to heart in his current role. “He expects people to be committed and leads by example,” says Paul B. “He’s always been hands-on. He delegates. He gets the most out of people.” Paul R., meanwhile, doesn’t take all the credit. “His mother (Phyllis) kept him in line,” he says.

Nevertheless, Jake Gargasz says Paul B. learned well from his father. Gargasz, GCSAA Class A superintendent at Crooked Stick Golf Club in Carmel, Ind., worked on two occasions for Paul B. — at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, N.Y., and Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio.

“There’s nobody better. He’s the kind of person who demands perfection and expects the most out of you on a daily basis,” says Gargasz, a 14-year association member. “He’ll tell you when you mess up but is quick to give you praise when you did as well or better than expected. I try to live up to that same type of mentorship with my staff. One of his goals was to help people move on. That is my absolute goal as well.”

As for being considered a mentor himself, Paul B. says it’s very much about forming relationships. “Ultimately, you spend more time with guys at work than you do your family. Some of my best friends in life are people I worked with. It’s the bond you build. You go through multiple seasons, build a bond, friendships. The common theme is they all want to be active and expect excellence,” he says. “It (being a mentor) is a lot of satisfaction. You feel like you helped them out. After all, you had a lot of people help to get you where you’re at.”

A turning point

It was a rude awakening, and Shaffer freely admits that he needed to be awakened.

“I thought I knew a lot when I went to work for Mr. Latshaw. I soon learned he was the one who really knew his stuff,” Shaffer says.

First, Shaffer was humbled. Then, he learned, absorbing Paul R. in every way possible. He can rattle off numerous examples. “He always said, ‘If you’re talking, you can’t hear.’ With his Augusta interns, he said, ‘That’s the seed crop, Mr. Shaffer.’ When I left there, I implemented an internship program everywhere I went. He’s not risk-averse — he gets completely prepared, then just pushes it. He’s a grass foreman. It was a basic approach to growing stellar turf. It was ag-based, proper water management, understanding the soil, having everything available for the plant when you need it,” says Shaffer, a 37-year GCSAA member.

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Paul R. Latshaw, left, enjoys visiting one of his protégés, superintendent Matt Morton, at Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, Calif. Photo by April Rocha


Six months into his stay at Augusta, Shaffer rejected a superintendent job interview elsewhere, much to Paul R.’s dismay. The man who thought he knew too much when he’d arrived to work for Paul R. had come to realize he would know for sure when the right time to move on had come. “He wasn’t happy,” Shaffer says of his boss. “And I told him getting a job and keeping a job are two different things. I said, ‘I want to know what you know.’”

In time, Shaffer would be ready to go. He stayed with Latshaw for two more years before departing to become superintendent at Woodcrest Country Club in Cherry Hill, N.J. His mentor had prepared him for the moment, even though Latshaw credits Shaffer for making it happen. “Matt was like a big old sponge. He took it all in, watched, observed. He did it himself,” Paul R. says.

Not entirely, according to Shaffer. “I was uncalculated when I was with him at Augusta. I was calculated when I left. He had to break me before I changed,” he says. “He fine-tuned the engine. When you work for him, you feel responsible to pass along what he taught you. He’s a mentor for life. He’s going to be there, even if it’s 40 years later. It’s not ‘You’re on your own now.’ That’s not how he operated.”

Mike Yenny, GCSAA Class A superintendent at The Mayfield Sand Ridge Club outside of Cleveland, benefited from how Shaffer operated. “He taught you how to think outside the box, and that if you know what you are doing is right, don’t be swayed to do something that isn’t best for the turf and the course,” says Yenny, a 36-year association member, who was hired in 1991 by Shaffer in Hershey, Pa. “He was really about building a staff and wanted to help provide us with training and education. He’s a big part of my success.”

Arron McCurdy, who worked for Shaffer at Merion, followed a path similar to his mentor’s, taking one step back with the hope of ultimately taking multiple steps forward. McCurdy had been an assistant superintendent before coming to Merion as an assistant-in-training. “I just knew I needed to get myself in position properly. I needed someone to mentor me, somebody who had a proven record of preparing you to get jobs,” McCurdy says.

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Flanked by people they’ve mentored, Paul B. Latshaw, second from left, and his father, Paul R. Latshaw, second from right, helped shape the careers of Jake Gargasz (far left), superintendent at Crooked Stick Golf Club in Carmel, Ind., and John Zimmers Jr., who oversees The Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio. Photo courtesy of Paul B. Latshaw


At Merion, McCurdy, a nine-year association member, would eventually become superintendent under Shaffer. He watched, learned, and moved on. Today, McCurdy is the GCSAA Class A superintendent at Metedeconk National Golf Club in Jackson, N.J., and he still talks frequently with Shaffer, though it isn’t always golf-related. “Working for him was fun. We laughed a lot there,” says McCurdy, “but we worked hard always trying to be the best. He let us make mistakes. You’d take the blame for the mistakes, but to him, that’s how you’d learn. I tell my staff that if I tell you everything, how are you going to learn?”

Still going strong

If you’ve spent any time at Merion this year, you may have seen the Latshaws and Shaffer together. That possibility could carry on for years to come.

Earlier in 2017, Paul B. departed Muirfield Village to replace Shaffer at Merion. It placed Paul B. less than an hour from his father, who resides in Pennsylvania. Shaffer, who plans to remain active in the industry, stayed on for several months to aid in Paul B.’s transition, although the younger Latshaw did have a background at Merion (he’d been hired as its superintendent in 1992).

“They both have a great work ethic. You can’t keep up with them,” says Shaffer of the Latshaws, although his following statement may start a family feud: “Paul B. is unstoppable. I think he could outwork his dad.” Shaffer says he’d tease — perhaps even challenge — Paul R. with such comments back in their Augusta days. “I’d mess with him, would say, ‘You can’t pull this off.’ Then he would just dig in.”

Merion is scheduled to begin a major restoration in 2018, and Shaffer, who lives near Penn State University, says Paul B. can contact him if needed. Whether he gets that call, well, Shaffer isn’t fretting. “Paul is up to the task,” Shaffer says.

Undoubtedly, his mentor would be pleased to hear that.


Be advised

Looking for a person who was mentored by Paul R. Latshaw, Paul B. Latshaw, CGCS, and Matt Shaffer? Frank Heery fits that bill.

Heery, national agronomic sales representative for Turf Max, worked for Paul B. as an intern at Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa., was an assistant for Paul R. at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md., and worked with Shaffer when Shaffer was a volunteer on Paul R.’s crew for the 1995 U.S. Senior Open and 1997 U.S. Open, both held at Congressional. The trio’s styles of mentoring sometimes varied, and that was just fine with Heery, whose superintendent history includes stops at Denver Country Club, Westmoreland Country Club in Wilmette, Ill., Overbrook Golf Club in Villanova, Pa., and The Club at Mediterra in Naples, Fla., where he was director of agronomy.

“Having worked with those three, you could say, ‘What would Paul R. do in this situation? What would Paul B. do? What would Matt do?’ Then you could digest that,” says Heery, a 24-year GCSAA member.

At Merion, Heery says Paul B. allowed him the freedom to develop skills. “He would let me work through things, get my feet under me. The work ethic there was something I was not familiar with. You really didn’t ask questions; you learned from observation. Nothing was ever handed to you, and you had to go the extra mile to find out what was going on with something. That’s where I totally learned I could be a greenkeeper and had a passion for it,” Heery says.

At Congressional, Heery says Paul R. gave him quite the compliment when he called him a “farmer” based on his degree in agronomy. “He says I could get to the root of a problem and see things and was able to rely less on things such as fungicides,” Heery says.

Shaffer, meanwhile, taught Heery how far you could push greens. “He gave turf less and less water, made the plant dig deep to get that water,” Heery says. “He would get rid of the weak, weed it out, get something stronger.”

Heery cherishes all that he gleaned from the three. “They all were instrumental in my career,” he says.


Howard Richman is GCM’s associate editor.