Mike Hermanson is the perfect example of what golf course superintendent Bill Spence means to others.
Hermanson, a veteran superintendent himself, is driving 60 miles round trip daily this week, awakening at 3 a.m. to do so, in order to be part of the volunteer staff for Spence during the U.S. Amateur at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass.
"That kind of stuff ... what can you say?" Spence (pictured far left in the green jacket in the second row) tells GCM. "For people to do that ..."
Spence, 61, seemed at a loss for words. The actions of his peers, though, speak volumes about the man. It is almost like old home week at The Country Club. Nearly half of the volunteer crew that numbers around 30 used to work for Spence, a 37-year member of GCSAA.
Spence arrived at The Country Club in 1984, previously working at places such as Pebble Beach and Kansas City Country Club. There, he got to know some guy named Tom Watson. Spence was in Kansas City from 1978 until he moved to The Country Club in Brookline, so he had a front row seat for Watson's glory years.
Check out this Watson story:
"One winter I'm headed up the driveway to the club, it's really cold out, and a golf ball shoots right in front of my car," Spence says, "so I drive around the clubhouse, back where the swimming pool is, and the snack bar. Tom's inside the snack bar area, has a sliding door open 3 or 4 feet, and he's in the middle of the snack bar hitting balls out the door, across the ninth fairway."
Although they now are separated in distance by more than just a fairway and a snack bar, Spence obviously meant a lot to Watson, who hasn't let distance totally come between them.
"I got an award a few years ago from the University of Massachusetts (where he earned a degree in plant and soil science), and I got a note from Tom afterward," Spence says. "When I worked in Kansas City, Tom loved being around our maintenance area, understanding how we planned what we did. For me to be around one of the greatest players who ever lived, to understand what he looks for and what is important and what isn't in a golf course, was good for me."
Spence seems to have been a good influence on those who have been around him during his time at The Country Club.
"He's one of the smartest people I know," says Scott Lagana, CGCS, of Oak Hill Country Club in Fitchburg, Mass., who as much as anyone organized the volunteer crew that is at Brookline to aid and honor Spence. "He's a good manager, a fine individual."
Updegrove says: "Bill is old school. He puts plant health before anything else. He has a very keen eye for details."
How much so?
"We have no white paint. Not one thing marked," Updegrove says proudly.
It serves as a badge of honor for Spence and his staff at a facility dripping in history. This is where 20-year-old amateur Francis Ouimet shocked the golf world by winning the 1913 U.S. Open. More recently, it was the site of the dramatic 1999 Ryder Cup in which America triumphed, thanks largely to Justin Leonard sinking a putt from almost a different zip code.
The golf course, though, has changed since that time. It's 300 yards longer (7,373-yard par-70) and 200 trees have been removed. There also is a new irrigation system.
Part of the credit for the change goes to architect Gil Hanse, who was at the course several years ago and made some observations that he relayed to Spence. Hanse now is overseeing the construction of the course in Rio de Janeiro that will serve as the site of Olympic golf in 2016.
"Gil said it (The Country Club) was looking rather tired, overgrown," Spence says.
Not anymore. The new look features vistas and elevation changes that had become hard to detect.
"We uncovered sugar maples, oaks and we have more light and less encroachment," Spence says. "It's almost like I work at a different place now."
One thing hasn't changed: Spence is on the scene. The fact that so many people whose lives he touched are with him this week makes it that much more enjoyable.
"I couldn't be better," Spence says.