Out on Top: Dan Francis, Wildwood Golf Club
How Spiio Is Helping Wildwood Golf Club Achieve Progress in a Pandemic
Dan Francis, Superintendent of Wildwood Golf Club in Middletown, Ohio, and participant in the Spiio Covid Relief Program, reflects on the challenges and victories of the past few months. With creative time management, a team of expertise, and the help of smart data delivered remotely from Spiio sensors, the club has managed not only to survive, but to flourish.
Dan Francis is the Superintendent of Wildwood Golf Club in the Cincinnati area. When asked about the motivation behind his career, he responds simply, “It was just the sport.” His love of golf began when he was first handed a golf club at 8 years old, and he credits golf with keeping him focused and centered during those difficult, “restless” adolescent years. He kept playing through high school and began working at a course immediately afterward.
Tracing the Journey
While working one day, someone at the course casually passed Francis a pamphlet for the Turfgrass Management program at Rutgers University and suggested that if he really enjoyed this line of work, he should check it out. At the time, Francis had reservations because he was already enrolled at a local liberal arts college. He began to realize, though, that while he was sitting in philosophy classes that felt irrelevant to him, he really just wanted to be outside and on the golf course. He decided to make the move, and he found that he really appreciated the hands-on learning experience offered by the Rutgers program. “Every class was involved and immediately applicable to my work,” he said.
“Every class was involved and immediately applicable to my work,”Dan Francis
From there, Francis took an internship with TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Verde Beach, Florida, in which he installed 22 Sub-Air units, participated in major renovations, and worked the 2006 Players Championship. That internship gave him valuable experience to set off his career. He came back to Ohio to work at TPC River’s Bend in Maineville (and to chase a certain girl, he adds). Shortly after he became crew leader at Glenview Golf Course, and then made the upward jump to work as a foreman. Six years later another promotion as Assistant Superintendent at California Golf Course. Four years later he crossed into the “private” sector as Assistant Superintendent for
the Heritage Club in Mason, and finally—in what he describes as a “leap of faith”—he applied at age 32 for the Superintendent position at Wildwood. His faith and hard work were rewarded, and he got the position.
Making It Work: Francis, Wildwood, and COVID-19
Being a golf course superintendent is never easy, and this is particularly true in Cincinnati. Francis describes the area as a “transition zone” for turfgrass, because both cold-climate and warm-climate grasses can grow there—which led one university expert on the subject to remark that it’s a place where “all grasses grow poorly.” So one can imagine how much additional strain is added in the wake of a pandemic and large-scale shutdown, as the world has experienced this year. In his characteristically jovial, friendly, and down-to-earth manner, Francis says, “It’s been…special.” “Special” is probably the best word to describe the challenges but also unexpected victories he, his family, and the Wildwood team have weathered.
“It’s been…special.” “Special” is probably the best word to describe the challenges but also unexpected victories he, his family, and the Wildwood team have weathered.Dan Francis
Managing the course and handling additional responsibility at home was made possible by incredible feats of teamwork in both places. Francis’ wife Katie works in the healthcare industry, specifically with hospice and veterans’ affairs. “You can imagine which of our jobs is more ‘essential,’” Francis says, to underscore the need they had to juggle both jobs—while taking care of their two daughters. The couple figured out how to tag-team, with Katie working during the day and Francis working primarily in the evening and helping their older daughter with school during the day. “Online learning for a kindergartener…I’d take work on the course at 97 degrees any day,” he remarks.
“You can imagine which of our jobs is more ‘essential’” .. “Online learning for a kindergartener…I’d take work on the course at 97 degrees any day,”Dan Francis
However, Francis is good at finding the silver lining. He has been grateful for the additional time with family, including the days he gets to spend with his little girls. He is also grateful for his general manager, Jordan Lawson, the club assistant, who he says knows just about everything there is to know about the course, and the team at Wildwood who have worked together to not only get through these last few months, but to come out on top. “The course has never looked better,” says Francis. He adds, “I learned a lot, and what I was able to accomplish in just a few hours each day was phenomenal.” On top of everything else going on in the last 65 days, Wildwood completed a master bunker renovation with Topp Shape Golf Enterprises. They were able to complete the job 30 days ahead of schedule, a very impressive feat.
Vision and Data: Utilizing Spiio Sensors and the Spiio Covid Relief Program
One of the factors in Wildwood’s success despite daunting obstacles is the long-term vision Francis and the team have. They aim to push the facility forward through science, data, and analytics. The Spiio sensor has been one important tool in that vision.
In an effort to give back and help superintendents in this strained time of reduced staff, Spiio’s Covid Relief Program offered free sensors and service. Francis and the Wildwood Club participated in the program, and through this period of remote work, the Spiio sensor allowed Francis to have eyes on the course right from his phone. He could make calculations in the evening based on the data he received, and the Assistant Superintendent could maintain the course throughout the day with that information.
“I’m a very visual learner; I like to see the data,”Dan Francis
Even before the pandemic, Francis (who had won a Spiio sensor in a lottery), notes that the benefit of the Spiio sensor was noticeable in continuing to improve the course. “I’m a very visual learner; I like to see the data,” he says. He noted in particular that the Spiio sensor helped inform Wildwood’s aerification of the course. He also found it useful in communicating with customers, many of whom are tomato planters and would ask him for advice about their own soil care.
Maintaining a high-quality golf course isn’t easy, and it often isn’t glamorous. Pandemics don’t help. The fact that Wildwood has come out this summer even better than before is evidence of Francis and his colleagues’ teamwork, vision, and smart use of data-driven practices. All in all, “It’s a tough industry,” says Francis. “We’re in it because we love it and it’s a way of life.”
All in all, “It’s a tough industry,” says Francis. “We’re in it because we love it and it’s a way of life.”Dan Francis