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Sitting down with Scott Ramsay

Scott Ramsay has served as superintendent of the Yale Golf Course since 2003. Directing a staff that fluctuates between 10 and 30 people throughout the year, he oversees the maintenance of the course, as well as its refurbishment. Under his supervision, the course has ranked first in Golfweek’s college course category for two years running. The Herald sat down with Ramsay to discuss the course, its future, and a little-known sport called “flogton.”

YH: What sparked your interest in managing a golf course?
SR: I was an engineering student at the University of Rhode Island, and I was sitting inside doing mechanical drawings and I couldn’t stand being inside any longer. So I took a basket-weaving course called Plant and Soil Science 101. One of the [professors] was a golf course manager and told me what a great career it [was].

YH: What’s the architecture of the Yale course like?
SR: The Yale Golf Course was built in 1926 by Seth Ranor and Charles Blair MacDonald (some people refer to it as a MacRanor). Their genius and the art to their science was how they would take a hole from Scotland or France and incorporate it into New Haven or Long Island or Chicago. We’re just trying to bring the Yale Golf Course back to that original 1926 design.

YH: So the course has worldly inspirations?
SR: Correct, correct. We have the Redan golf hole, which is our 13th hole, named after a famous golf hole in Scotland. We have another green that’s called the Barritz green, and it’s designed after the Barritz green in France. We mimic golf holes from all around the world.

YH: What attracted you to the Yale course specifically?
SR: The first time I played it was in 1984. I had never seen another golf course like it. It had inspired me then, and the job came open in 2003. At the time I was at The Orchards Golf Course, on the campus of Mount Holyoke. We were about to host the Women’s Open and I gave up the chance to host the fifth largest golf tournament in the world to come to Yale. It’s been the best thing I’ve ever done.

YH: What the course’s most distinctive feature?
SR: The scale. Everything is big. Every green is three to four times larger than any green elsewhere in the country. The movement, the topography, everything is magnified. And it’s a thinking [person’s] golf course. Some people don’t like it, because they have to say, “Oh, if I don’t hit it there, I’m not going to score well.”

YH: What do you consider the best part of your job?
SR: Seeing everything coming together. Restoring the look and feel—it’s almost as if you’re in the wilds of Maine, and yet you’re still in the city of New Haven.

YH: There have been several instances of labor strikes or protests. How has your relationship with the staff been and what have you done to redefine it?
SR: My first day of work was the first day of the work stoppage in 2003. So I had some time to get my bearings about the golf course and wait for the staff to return. We had a very good, professional staff but they were not really being supported.

YH: Walk me through how it was that first day, having to deal with labor issues.
SR: On day one, labor issues were huge. We were just coming off of a work stoppage and everyone was up to the challenge. There was a lot of yelling, there was a lot of difficulty, and I realized that my goal was to improve the golf course. And piece by piece, other serendipities came for the staff:being recognized, getting better tools, getting better hours, adding people to the workforce, incorporating the dining hall staff during the summertime. This past summer we had 12 students join our staff. We had members of the hockey team and football team stay all summer, and everybody worked together. It’s a brilliant thing. We come to a coffee shop like this and we might see a groundskeeper, a dining hall staff person, and an undergrad all sitting at the same table saying, “Oh, what a great summer we had.”

YH: What are some of the key changes you’ve made to make the Yale course the number one college golf course in America?
SR: My best ideas are borrowed. We took a picture from 1934, an aerial photograph with the original bunkering, the original tree lines, and we use that as our snapshot in time. We’re going backwards to go forwards.

YH: How have you addressed some of the environmental issues surrounding all golf courses, such as water conservation and tree conservation?
SR: Right now we’re one of the greenest golf courses in the country. We’re upgrading our irrigation system to the greatest and latest technology that’s available, and we’ve probably reduced our water usage by at least 30%. We are doing everything we can to [have] a softer, smaller footprint. But golf is not in the organic mode yet.

YH: I did a cursory Wikipedia search recently and discovered the sport of “extreme golfing.” Do you think the Yale course would ever expand to do something like that?
SR: We could, we could. Golf right now is in a challenging spot. Skiing was in the doldrums back twenty years ago. Ski areas were closing up, ski areas were not doing well financially, and then along came this goofy sport called snowboarding, which essentially revived ski areas. And to come up with a “goofy” game of golf could reinvigorate the game of golf, because golf is in the doldrums right now. Financially, it’s in the doldrums. Another game that you should look up is called flogton—it’s “not golf” backwards.

YH: How do you envision the future of Yale golf?
SR: We need to have snowboarding come to golf. Whether it’s flogton or extreme golf or marathon golf. It’s probably a sport we haven’t seen yet. Maybe it’s flogton.

YH: What’s your favorite hole, and why?
SR: Oh, that’s like asking me my favorite child. I’ll say the eighth hole, just because of its use of the land. It seems to be set naturally in the ground, but was completely 100 percent constructed, and the green is one of the biggest greens on the property.

YH: The Yale Course has been voted the number one college course in America, correct?
SR: Correct. A lot of people might call it hyperbole, but I think the golf course is as good a course as Yale [University] is a [University]. I don’t say that lightly. We are moving forward and we are the number -one college golf course. The other stuff is ancillary.

—This interview was condensed by the author.