Mark Williams, the winner of GCM’s 2022 Most Valuable Technician Award, replaces tines on a walk-behind aerator in preparation for a greens aerification scheduled at his club, Nicklaus Golf Club at LionsGate in Overland Park, Kan. Photos by Roger Billings
Sometimes, the brightest times in life come amid the darkest of days. Mark Williams is living proof of that.
The summer of 2022 was not particularly kind to Williams, the equipment manager at Nicklaus Golf Club at LionsGate in Overland Park, Kan. The 53-year-old Williams was battling health challenges that had kept him off the job for several stretches and resulted
in a few hospital stays as doctors tried to deal with the situation.
The hospital stays were difficult, Williams admits. There was concern, obviously, over his well-being, what the future would bring and what it would all mean for him and his wife, Tonya. He battled guilt over missing work and not being able to support
the small-but-mighty team at Nicklaus GC, knowing that someone was having to pick up his duties while he was away.
But it was during one of those hospital visits that a bit of that brightness broke through, in the unlikely form of GCM’s Most Valuable Technician Award, presented in partnership with Foley Co.
“I remember being in the hospital, kind of feeling sorry for myself, when Jacob (Rockhold, CGCS, the superintendent at Nicklaus GC) called and told me I was a finalist for the MVT,” Williams says. “It was such a surprise, because I didn’t
even know he had nominated me. I honestly cried like a baby, because it meant so much to me in such a challenging time of my life.”
Things would only get better from there. Most importantly, Williams’ health has improved to the point that visits to the hospital are a thing of the past, and he’s back on the job full-time. And several weeks after getting the first dose of
good MVT news, he got even more — Williams had been selected as the overall winner of the 2022 award through an online voting process.
“Unbelievable,” Williams says. “Really at a loss for words.”
Rockhold, who has been in charge of maintenance at Nicklaus GC since 2019, says nominating Williams for the MVT was the least he could do to recognize someone who means so much to so many at the club.
“He does so much for us and does such a good job, and he kept that all up when he was going through everything he was dealing with outside of work,” he says. “I couldn’t think of a better way to acknowledge that and honor Mark
than by nominating him for the MVT. I’m just happy so many other people agreed that he was deserving of the honor.”
Jacob Rockhold, CGCS, (left) the superintendent at Nicklaus GC at LionsGate, nominated Williams (right) for the Most Valuable Technician Award that Williams ultimately won.
Jack of all trades
Williams was born and reared in Las Vegas and got his first experience in golf course management as a crew member on desert golf courses. The work not only opened a door to his eventual career, it also acclimated him to working outside in less-than-ideal
weather conditions. He still admits to loving hot weather, even though Kansas City’s heat and humidity is far different than what he grew up with in Las Vegas.
During his time working in Vegas and then after moving to the Midwest (“I was chasing a girl,” he says with a laugh about following Tonya to the area), Williams cycled through just about every job the business had to offer. “I was a
crew member, a project manager on the crew,” he says. “I’ve done irrigation work, done the mechanic thing, was a superintendent at a nine-hole course. There’s not much that I haven’t done, really.”
Williams added to his well-rounded industry experience with two stints at distributorships in Kansas City that bolstered his equipment knowledge at a manufacturer’s level — Kansas Golf and Turf, a Jacobsen distributor, and Professional Turf Products, a Toro distributor. For Rockhold, all that experience adds up to peace of mind.
“It’s nice to not have to worry about what goes on out there,” says the four-year GCSAA member while gesturing toward the shop area at Nicklaus GC. “With all the things that we have to do as a superintendent, I never have to worry
about Mark. We communicate every day about parts we might need, certain machines that might need work, budget stuff, but for the most part, I know Mark is going to make the right call every time, and I trust him to do that.”
That comfort level revealed itself on Rockhold’s first day on the job three years ago, which in a case of unfortunate timing was the same day as a previously scheduled greens aerification at the club.
“There was a game plan in place before I got here, but it was still a lot for your first day at a new job,” Rockhold says. “But I get here, and Mark is already out there walk-aerifying greens. Then he’s running a core harvester,
he’s topdressing, he’s jumping in wherever he was needed.
“I knew right out of the gate that this was going to be a guy who would pitch in and help out wherever and whenever we needed. I know a lot of equipment managers will be out there on days like that, checking equipment and making sure everything
is running right, and Mark definitely does that. But he always goes the extra mile, and he’s been doing that for 35 years.”
(From left) GCM Editor-in-Chief Scott Hollister, Rockhold, Foley Co. CEO and President Paul Rauker and Williams following the award presentation in August. Williams received a $2,500 prize for winning the MVT, while the Heart of America GCSA received $1,000 as the winner’s home chapter.
In the field
Williams views himself as a hands-on equipment manager, one who finds value in spending as much time on the golf course observing day-to-day maintenance as he does in the shop. That ethos is largely a product of his time working for the Jacobsen and Toro
distributors, he says, when most of his time was spent on the road, visiting customers and providing up-close-and-personal troubleshooting services.
“I like to go out and watch everything in operation, because operators aren’t always the best in telling you if something is wrong, most of the time because they just don’t know better,” Williams says. “There are things that
I see or hear or notice based on experience that they just don’t, and that’s easier to do on the golf course than it is in the shop.”
That hands-on approach is one that Rockhold appreciates. He also cites the attention to detail that Williams brings to his work — evident in everything from shop organization and environmental awareness to budget management and safety initiatives
— as areas that set Williams apart from other equipment managers.
Williams inspects a fairway mower along Nicklaus GC’s fourth hole.
But above all else, Rockhold says it’s Williams’ positive attitude that benefits the team at Nicklaus GC the most. “Without a doubt, it’s his best attribute,” he says. “There’s never any growling or complaining.
If someone brings in something that’s broken, there’s never any anger or frustration from him. It’s always, ‘Don’t worry about it. Here’s how we’ll fix that.’
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen Mark mad, and it’s something I notice and try to emulate myself.”
Throughout his more than three decades in golf course management, Williams says he’s always prided himself on sharing what he’s learned with up-and-comers in the business. And the main piece of advice he shares is one that he tries to practice
what he’s preaching every day.
“There are no shortcuts,” he says. “If you’re going to do it, get in there and do it right the first time. There are times you have to patch things and make do, of course, but for the most part, I’ve found that I’m
happier, and those I work for are happier if you tackle the problem when it presents itself and get it solved right then and there.”
The grinding room at Nicklaus GC at LionsGate features all Foley equipment.
The MVT payoff
When it comes to the annual MVT Award, the winner certainly does receive the spoils, as do the superintendents who nominated that person for the award and those who supported them throughout the contest.
For his part, Williams will receive a $2,500 cash prize and a free year of GCSAA membership for winning the 2022 award. He and Rockhold will receive complimentary registration and a travel stipend for the 2023 GCSAA Conference and Trade Show in Orlando.
And the winner’s home chapter, the Heart of America GCSA, receives a $1,000 check to acknowledge its support of Williams during the voting process.
Williams’ fellow finalists in this year’s competition don’t walk away empty-handed. Tracey Corn, from Omni Grove Park Inn in Asheville, N.C., and a one-year GCSAA member, and James Blackwelder, from The Club at Carlton Woods in The Woodlands,
Texas, each receive a free year of GCSAA membership and complimentary registration to an upcoming conference and trade show for earning a spot in the final three.
Scott Hollister (email@example.com) is GCM’s editor-in-chief.