Jim Pavonetti, CGCS, on winning the Leo Feser Award

Jim Pavonetti’s article about golf course maintenance standards struck a chord 
with his peers — and won him the 2023 Leo Feser Award.


Jim Pavonetti
Jim Pavonetti won the 2023 Leo Feser Award for his story in the November 2022 issue of GCM about maintenance standards at his course, Fairview Country Club in Greenwich, Conn. Photo courtesy of Jim Pavonetti

The first several articles Jim Pavonetti, CGCS, authored about the golf course management industry were seen by only a few local golfers, very few of whom — if any — had any idea what goes into maintaining a golf course.

Two of his more recent works, on the other hand, were distributed to thousands of his peers intimately familiar with the intricacies of that demanding industry.

Care to guess which stories he found easier to write?

“I think it’s a lot scarier to write for your members, for the people signing your paycheck,” Pavonetti says with a laugh. “I’m way more worried about offending them. I don’t really care about offending other superintendents.”

While it might be hard to tell how Pavonetti’s first pieces — which appeared in his clubs’ member newsletters — were received, apparently the jury of his peers was anything but offended. Pavonetti’s article “Gold standards,” which appeared in the November 2022 issue of GCM (and available online at https://bit.ly/3X60KFE), won the 28-year association member the 2023 Leo Feser Award, which is presented to the author of the best superintendent-written article to appear in GCM over the previous year.

The Feser “year” runs from July to June, with the winner announced toward the end of the calendar year. Such was the case in 2022, the year of Pavonetti’s first GCM article (he also wrote “Diving into data collection” in the December 2023 issue of GCM; that article is eligible for the 2024 Feser Award). 

“When my article came out, three or four weeks later, they announced the Feser for the last year,” Pavonetti recalls. “I didn’t think about it when I submitted the article. The award wasn’t even on my mind. I just thought it was really cool to have an article in GCM. I’m always trying to do something new. When it came out, there was that little paragraph that says, ‘This article is eligible for the Feser Award.’ A couple of weeks later, they announced the (2022) winner, and I thought, ‘Oh, well. I didn’t win. It was my first try anyway.’ When the president called, he said, ‘I want to congratulate you on being this year’s Feser Award winner.’ I absolutely had it out of my mind. Having just won the environmental thing, I thought he was calling for that.”

Kevin Breen, CGCS, the 2022 and ’23 GCSAA president, might have benefitted from having Pavonetti on speed dial. After all, Pavonetti — the director of golf and grounds maintenance at Fairview Country Club in Greenwich, Conn., since 2008 — also claimed the Innovative Conservation Award as part of the Environmental Leaders in Golf Awards last calendar year. The ELGAs are presented annually by GCSAA and Golf Digest in partnership with Syngenta.

View of a clear golf course pond surrounded by a course and trees with the pond reflecting the sky
Hole No. 3 at Fairview Country Club, where Pavonetti has served as director of golf and grounds maintenance since 2008. Photos by Jim Pavonetti

Critical acclaim

Take it from another Feser Award winner: Pavonetti’s “Gold standards,” an in-depth discussion about the importance of establishing formal maintenance standards for individual golf courses, was worthy.

“What I liked about the article was that it really helps all golf course superintendents, regardless of their golf course status, budgets or whatever,” says Brian Youell, GCSAA Class A superintendent at Uplands Golf Club in Victoria, British Columbia, and winner of the 2018 Feser Award. “We’re always compared to Augusta National. But his article was so cleanly written, so easy to follow and applicable to any golf course with any crew or budget size. It’s about maintaining your golf course with the labor and resources you have.”

The article’s publication came at a great time for Youell, a 26-year association member, since it coincided with his efforts to update the standards he first created for Uplands GC in 2006.

“It was so easy to read and follow,” Youell says. “He spelled everything out so clearly. I know it helped his fellow superintendents. It’s a tedious process. But it helped that (Pavonetti) covered everything in detail. I followed some of his recommendations to make sure we didn’t leave anything out.”

Dennis Lyon, CGCS Retired, was another superintendent who reached out to Pavonetti about his winning article. Lyon, a 50-year association member and its president in 1989, routinely contacts superintendent authors when their articles make it into print.

“I’ve written quite a few articles for GCM, and seldom do I hear anything from anyone,” Lyon says. “If I see an article from a superintendent, I comment.”

Though he might comment on most superintendent-written articles, Lyon recalled that Pavonetti’s in particular struck a chord.

“It’s not what we love, but it’s what our job requires us to do. We know, to be effective managers, that we have to know how we’re spending our time, how we’re spending our employers’ resources, their money,” Lyon says. “Our job is to be as effective as possible, so I agreed with the content of his message.”

Job security

Pavonetti’s award-winning article was years in the making — but not necessarily because Pavonetti was laboring over it.

Based on an observation he made early in his career, Pavonetti has established maintenance standards at every facility he’s served and revisits them regularly.

“I remember watching superintendents, as they entered into the last half of their career … I watched people who were basically getting let go because courses wanted to bring in a new superintendent,” he recalls. “They’d want to bring the golf course to the next level. I’d say to myself, ‘If that superintendent had defined the next level by creating what the standards are and what they could do to make the tees better, the greens better, the fairways better, versus what they already do every day, the present superintendent would be the answer, and they wouldn’t lose their job basically for no reason.’”

Roughly a dozen years ago, Pavonetti started serving as an editor for Tee to Green, the chapter publication for his local chapter, the Metropolitan Golf Course Superintendents Association. The longer he served in that role, the more he wrote, and the easier it became.

An article about creating golf course maintenance standards developed … then stalled.

“I wrote it just before the pandemic for our chapter newsletter. Then during that year, 2020, the newsletter didn’t come out. We only had one or two newsletters instead of six,” Pavonetti says.

Just as he regularly revisits his facility standards, Pavonetti regularly revisited his article about those standards, constantly “tweaking” it until it finally hit the pages of the July 2022 issue of Tee to Green.

“It sat on the shelf for two years,” Pavonetti says. “Once I was done, I felt it could be something for a broader audience, not just the metro area. I got a lot of feedback about it. A lot of people thought it would be a great idea, so that’s why I contacted (GCM).”

Men watering a golf fairway with a hose during the daytime
Hand-watering fairways at Fairview CC. Pavonetti stresses that establishing maintenance standards and sharing them with stakeholders is critical, especially in the budgeting process.

‘Putting it into practice’

Now 52, Pavonetti finds himself in the later stages of his professional run, just as some of the unfortunate superintendents who inspired his article. And the parallel isn’t lost on him.

“Here I am in the last half of my career, and I’m putting it into practice,” he says. “I’ve watched it for decades. There’s really no reason, when you’ve had a guy there for 25 years … I get it when a club gets to the point it wants to make everything better. But there’s really no point in switching superintendents — if that superintendent did his or her due diligence in explaining what he or she did with the budget they had.”

Or, as Youell, entering the 44th year at his club, so succinctly put it, “You always have to be so driven. It’s so competitive out there. This helps you get to the point they say, ‘Holy (expletive), what are we going to do when he decides to retire?’”

Pavonetti says, with one child in college and another in her last year of high school, retirement isn’t far from his mind, but he says clearly defined standards come in handy well before the end stage of a career.

“Maybe at the first green committee meeting of the season, you pull ’em out and show them what you accomplished in 2023 and what we see going into 2024,” he says. “One of the benefits of having standards is, say you get a new president or general manager. Somebody wants to say the club could be doing a lot better if you cut your budget by $150,000. You open your standards manual and say, ‘Right now, we’re walk-mowing tees with three guys. We could save $35,000 by triplexing tees.’ They might say, ‘Well, we don’t want to do that.’ If you can show them where the money is going, it might protect you and your budget. But if you don’t have those standards, you can’t do that.”

Andrew Hartsock (ahartsock@gcsaa.org) is GCM’s senior managing editor.