Author: admin  |  Category: News  |  Comments (0)  |  Add Comment

Working On Hallowed Ground – Wilson Times

Friday, May 31, 2013 11:45 PM

Working on hallowed ground
Wedgewood’s Lancaster worked as volunteer groundskeeper at Augusta National

By Tom Ham | Senior Staff Writer

A lanky country boy from Pikeville terms 90 hours of volunteer toil at one of the country’s most hallowed venues the experience of a lifetime.

And he has an invitation to return next year. He yearns to fulfill the opportunity.

Daniel Lancaster, golf course superintendent at Wedgewood Public Golf Course, kicked back in his tiny office, adjusted his Masters cap and willingly reflected in detail upon his role as one of four “rookies” in the daily grooming and manicuring of famed Augusta National Golf Club back in early April during the week of the 2013 Masters, the first of four annual majors which was won by Adam Scott.

“I was honored,” declared the 35-year-old Lancaster, who returned to Wedgewood to assume his present duties some 2 ½ years ago. “The environment was incredible. It was a neat, neat experience.”


But landing the opportunity was involved and laced with uncertainty and anxiety.

Lancaster, a product of Charles B. Aycock High, Wayne Community College and Mount Olive College, talked with Wedgewood Manager Tommy Davis about volunteering his services during the week of the Masters. Davis promptly contacted Billy Fuller, who functioned as the Augusta National superintendent during the 1980s.

At Fuller’s instruction, Lancaster wrote current Augusta superintendent Brad Owens a letter and communicated with him via email. Owens responded that no volunteer slots were available.

However, approximately a week later, Owens emailed Fuller, informing him of a couple of cancellations and asking him to issue Lancaster an invitation. Lancaster immediately accepted.

But more complexity intervened. Lancaster was required to complete a 15-page document detailing his work history and providing a thorough background check. The prospective “rookie” grounds staff member received two different training emails as well as videos on golf etiquette and golf-course safety. Lancaster was sent a tournament handbook with the understanding that he was expected to be familiar with the club’s history in the event he was questioned by a patron.


“It was an extreme process,” Lancaster assured.

However, he hurdled the preliminary obstacle and found a place to stay in Aiken, S.C. — nearly an hour away from Augusta, where the prices were far too exorbitant for a rookie volunteer’s budget.

On Sunday, Lancaster showed for a mandatory two-hour meeting. He was assigned to a crew and his daily tasks were outlined. Staff attire was issued and Lancaster learned he would be paid a minimum hourly wage. During the next seven days, he would be on the course for 90 hours.

“I was nervous; I was shaking,” Lancaster admitted.

He was reminded that members of the maintenance staff could not carry cameras and were instructed to always stay out of range of television cameras. They were not to speak to golfers or patrons unless first addressed and a response was necessary.

“You can’t do squat,” Lancaster quipped with a down-South twang.

The work day started at 5 a.m. and Lancaster’s crew was first on the course. Until 6:30, time was spent mowing the practice range and walk-mowing around six practice greens.


Next, some 30 workers, including Lancaster, grabbed dew-whip poles, formed a wide line and dispersed loose grass and debris from the fairways. From 9:30 a.m. until 1 p.m. was set aside for lunch and watching golf during the practice rounds and four days of competition.

From 1:30 p.m. until 5, Lancaster and a Canadian who traveled to Augusta from Bangkok were inconspicuously situated behind the No. 13 green. Their responsibility was to keep the green clean and, if leaves fell or inclement weather arrived, they bolted into action. From 5:30 until 9 p.m., Lancaster mowed fairways.

The staff of 120, including some 70 volunteers, did nothing but work turf. Complementing their efforts was a landscaping crew of approximately 40.

“The first three days, my legs were Jello,” Lancaster related. “The first three days, my only thought was: ‘Daniel, don’t screw anything up.’ I could see myself destroying sacred grounds and my name being plastered on the ‘Do not come back’ list.

“The last few days, I was a lot more comfortable. I realized I wasn’t a complete idiot. With that amount of people, you can be detailed as you want.”


Lancaster was even flattered to learn that mowing fairways is a rarity for a rookie. That task, Lancaster was told, is usually reserved for volunteers who have been around 10 or 15 years.

Lancaster plays golf and, from Thursday through Sunday, he got glimpses of the world’s greatest players. But as would be expected from a golf course superintendent, he was more focused on the maintenance staff.

He pointed out volunteers not only came from around the world but from all walks of life. Several were former Augusta interns and many have been returning for 15 to 20 years. Lancaster cherished the opportunity to talk turf for some 20 of those 90 hours.

He expressed appreciation for the help he received from Assistant Superintendent Asa High. Lancaster found staff members amiable, supportive and willing to share knowledge. He sensed the essence of Southern hospitality down in Georgia from non-Southerners.


Lancaster was especially intrigued by the painstaking process of caring for the greens. He observed each green was mowed at least four times. If readings from the tension and firmness meters were not satisfactory, more mowing was necessary.

Then, the Stimpmeter registered the roll of the golf ball and, in the desired number failed to register, more mowing and rolling of the green or greens ensued.

Every strike of a golf ball, beginning with Monday’s practice rounds, is recorded. The data is assimilated to form a daily, weekly, monthly or yearly spreadsheet.

The Augusta staff, said Lancaster, includes a full-time meteorologist who operates from a state-of-the art facility. The three-acre maintenance area includes an elaborate 100,000 square-foot facility. The maintenance shop, insists Lancaster, resembles a NASA launching station.

Through his experiences, Lancaster learned much about the Augusta National terrain. He spoke of characteristics a TV camera cannot accurately convey.


“The course is all about the greens and the green surrounds,” he contended. “And there is not a flat shot on the whole course.”

During a practice round, he watched the players hit approach shots to the No. 5 green. Lancaster admitted he was dismayed that the most accomplished golfers in the world were hitting 50 percent of their approach shots into the water. However, he noted the seldom-mentioned No. 5 layout attests to the extreme difficulty of the Augusta National layout, which Lancaster described more spectacular and picturesque than he envisioned.

“It was fun and exciting,” Lancaster summarized. “I would really love to go back and, hopefully, go back every year. I can enjoy it more next year.”

He’ll be a “veteran” then and Lancaster has also been invited to return to Augusta for a week in September to witness the overseeding process. He’s eager to attend.

Lancaster jokes — or is he? — a major issue will be convincing his wife, Jennifer, the opportunity either in September or next April for the 2014 Masters merits the funds and vacation time that will be exhausted.


His background includes stops at the Emerald Golf Club near New Bern, Starmount Forest Country Club in Greensboro and as City of Goldsboro Parks Superintendent. And the impact of spending a week at Augusta National left him more appreciative of his situation at Wedgewood.

“I’m actually really proud,” Lancaster remarked. “Wedgewood is a far cry from Augusta, but I am really proud of the fact we can accomplish so much with six guys while it takes Augusta 120.

“I did see several things I would like to change but, for the most part, I think we do a really good job here in Wilson.” | 265-7819 |

Comments are closed.