Golf Course & Ground Management
Interview with Matt Ward
Bob Farren is among those richest of men who’s enjoyed his work so much that it’s been difficult to distinguish between vocation and avocation. But make no mistake, Farren, the Vice President of Grounds and Golf Course Maintenance at Pinehurst Resort since 2008 and a grounds staff member since 1982, has discharged his duties so well that in 2019 he was inducted into the Carolinas Golf Hall of Fame.
A native of Welch, W.Va., Farren grew up in the golf business as his father was a superintendent at a public course less than a mile from the family home. Farren attended Marshall University to study recreation and tourism and graduated in 1979, all the while keeping his eye on the golf industry. In his three-plus decades at Pinehurst, Farren has been a part of and led a grounds crew that has worked three U.S. Opens, a U.S. Women’s Open, three U.S. Amateurs and other USGA events. The U.S. Open returns to Pinehurst in 2024.
You wake up in the morning — what’s the driving passion?
I continue to wake up each morning knowing our team in Golf Course Maintenance are the stewards of one of the most iconic golf destinations in the world. We strive to find ways to ensure our guests and members are provided the best conditioning levels that some may ever experience.
The biggest lack of understanding most golfers have for what superintendents do on a daily basis is what?
I would say that most golfers, unless they have served on a Board at a private club, have very little understanding of the cost of maintaining a golf course. Many of the challenges facing facilities today are centered around not having the resources to meet the expectations of the members and guests. The superintendent must be part of the solution to introduce economically sustainable management practices but it is equally important for the golfer to have equally sustainable expectations.
The person who had the biggest impact in your career development was who and in what way?
My father was a career-long superintendent and introduced me to not only the rewards of golf course management as a career but also the work ethic and love of the game required to be successful. He allowed me to understand the balance of the “art and science” of the profession. One must “practice the art” and “apply the science” in proper proportions to be successful.
You’ve been the lead person in terms of turf preparation at Pinehurst for many years — what’s the most compelling part for you in terms of that relationship?
I have always strived to be sure others in leadership positions at our facility view the golf course maintenance division as something more than an expense center. The golf maintenance department at most facilities comprises the largest budget, highest number of employees and the most resources to accomplish many things for the facility. It is up to the superintendent to be willing to reach out and embrace the idea of being a resource for the entire operation.
Pinehurst has always played a leading role in holding big time golf events — with the ’24 US Open coming back for a fourth time. What kind of pressures are inherent with such situations and what key lessons have you learned?
We have a wonderful relationship with the USGA in all aspects of the Championship. The continuity of our agronomic team reaching back through all of our Championships is invaluable. We have learned, especially as we prepared and presented the 2014 back-to-back Championships, that it is a marathon and not a sprint. You must take measured steps with a lot of patience and preparation. The real key is to embrace the experience and intentionally take time each day to reflect on what a great opportunity it is to be part of history.
What do you think Donald Ross and Richard Tufts would think of Pinehurst today if they were both alive?
I truly feel as though they would say “well done” as we have continued to honor what Pinehurst is to the game and recognized the importance of their contributions for what we are today. Pinehurst No.2 has certainly stood the test of time against the best players in the world and is presented very much today as it was during the lifetime of Donald Ross. I believe Mr. Tufts particularly would be proud of our continued focus on celebrating amateur golf with the Women’s and Men’s US Amateur’s, the US Four Men’s Four Ball Championship and certainly our continued North South Men’s and Women’s Championships.
If you could change one thing in golf unilaterally — what would it be and why?
The expectations of many golfers that feel as though they should play on the same level of test as the elite players. The demand for extremely fast greens and players playing from tee positions that offer a length of course that far exceeds their ability simply adds time to the time it takes to play a round and a sense of frustration for the player. Perhaps most importantly I would like to see more match play culture for friendly competition. Playing courses to suit your ability along with match play versus medal play would go a long in solving what many say is the greatest threat to the game and that is pace of play.
What specific actions should the golf industry be taking now given the importance of water and how golf is generally perceived by the larger non-golfing population?
Very much the same as we have been doing for years. The USGA Green Section has for decades been supporting funding for turf research throughout the country to identify drought and disease tolerant turfgrass. The industry has made great strides with University Research and the involvement of professionals in the field to enable us to provide outstanding conditioning levels with fewer and fewer inputs of water and other products.
I am always amazed when the announcers on television today talk about how the improved equipment (balls and clubs) and player fitness routines have led to lower scoring but say little about how much the conditioning levels have improved over the past thirty years. If one questions this all they need to do is watch some of the past broadcasts of the 1960’s and 1970’s. Speaking specifically to water use I feel the most important thing is to continue to adjust the culture of expectations to be more tolerant of less lush turf and embrace firmer and faster to be good conditioning levels.
Given your expertise — what’s the first things you notice when coming to any golf course?
Frankly just the simple hospitality of the staff. I personally prefer very basic presentation of the range and course without so many obstacles of range furniture, ball washers, golf carts, etc. Just keep things simple and let me enjoy the round with old friends or perhaps new acquaintances.
Best advice you ever received — what was it and who from?
Simply enjoy each day and strive to make a difference in what you do.
Photos: Courtesy Pinehurst Resort
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