A Golden State warrior
A longtime fixture in the California golf industry and a strong voice for equipment managers, Blas Huezo is the winner of the 2017 Most Valuable Technician Award.
Blas Huezo (left), the equipment manager at Barona Creek GC in Lakeside, Calif., is the winner of the 2017 Most Valuable Technician Award. He was nominated for the honor by Barona Creek superintendent Sandy Clark, CGCS (right). Photos by Scott Hollister
Throughout his long career as a golf course equipment professional, Blas Huezo has established a well-deserved reputation as someone who gives back to his industry, who advocates for his fellow equipment managers, who promotes the value and importance of that career.
“I have always felt that the technician deserves as much recognition as they can get — that they should be valued as much as anyone else in a golf course operation,” says Huezo, currently the equipment manager at Barona Creek Golf Club in Lakeside, Calif., just outside San Diego, and a three-year member of GCSAA. “I have always pushed that issue, to make sure that technicians feel that they’re important parts of the team and to make sure their supervisors or managers think that way about them too.”
It’s somewhat ironic, then, that Huezo was so caught off guard when the tables were turned and some of the recognition and appreciation that he has so regularly sought for his colleagues was directed his way in the form of GCM’s 2017 Most Valuable Technician Award, presented in partnership with Foley United.
“Totally surprised,” is how Huezo describes his first reaction to learning he had won the honor. “There are so many worthy candidates, and not just the other two finalists (see “A terrific trio,” below), but all the equipment managers who were nominated from all over the United States. I’m certainly humbled by the recognition, but I won’t complain about it.”
“You’re not going to find anyone any better than Blas,” says Sandy Clark, CGCS, a 27-year GCSAA member and Barona Creek’s superintendent, who nominated Huezo for the MVT Award. “You might find some who are equally good, but you’re not going to find anyone better. I just thought he deserved this kind of recognition, and that it was about time that I nominated him. I’m just so happy for him, and happy that others saw the same things in him that we all do around here.”
Born and bred
Blas Huezo was born with a wrench in his hand.
Not literally, of course. But in this case, that cliché has plenty of truth to it. For as long as he can remember, Huezo has been around cars, trucks and small engines, working on them, figuring out why they’re not working and how he can make them right again.
Barona Creek GC is one of the headline amenities at Barona Resort and Casino, located about 30 miles northeast of downtown San Diego. Under Clark’s watch, the club has won a number of environmental awards.
In large part, he has his father, Octavio, to thank for that. “My dad was a jack-of-all-trades,” Huezo says. “He built roads in Mexico, drove a bus for many, many years, but in his spare time, he was always working on vehicles that relatives had brought over for him to fix. So I was his sidekick, bringing him wrenches and screwdrivers and whatever he needed. Like it or not, I started picking up things just being around it so much.”
Blas’ education in golf’s mechanical arts really took off when he was in high school, after his father had moved on to a job as the equipment manager at La Jolla (Calif.) Country Club. He began spending his after-school hours helping his dad around the shop, and then in the summer, landed a full-time job at La Jolla CC, working on the golf course in the mornings and assisting his dad in the afternoons, mastering everything from engine tune-ups to sharpening and grinding reels.
His growing skill set and his regular visits to their facility to pick up parts attracted the attention of the local Toro distributor, then known as San Diego Toro. “They were looking for someone with experience, but they also wanted someone to maintain the facility itself, which I wasn’t really interested in,” Huezo says. “But the general manager, Rich Dunn, told me, ‘I can really use someone with your skills, who knows the equipment, knows what makes it tick, and I can teach you how to do the rest, to maintain the facility.’ At first, I turned him down, but when he mentioned what the hourly rate was ...”
Well, Huezo was hooked. The starting rate was only $2.65 an hour, but considering this was the fall of 1978, that wasn’t bad, and it represented an hourly raise of almost 30 cents over what he was making at the golf course. So, with his father’s blessing — “He told me, ‘Don’t worry. There are three more brothers behind you. It’s their turn to help me out.’” — he embarked on what would become a long career working on the distributor side of the business.
His time in distribution — despite different names over the years, what is now known as Turf Star/Western was where he spent the bulk of that time — gave him a vast array of experiences that built a deep reserve of knowledge about golf course equipment, how it worked and how to keep it running. He spent time behind a counter, in the parts department, hitting the field with irrigation technicians, working in the service department.
“Toro and that distributorship were my college and university,” Huezo says. “That’s where I learned and perfected almost everything that I know about this business. My father gave me a great foundation, but working in that area really expanded on all that he taught me.”
A new adventure
Huezo’s current job — one that sits on the other side of the golf equipment equation from where he spent a large chunk of his career — came about not long after he had left Turf Star to take a similar job with a local Jacobsen distributor, one that offered him the opportunity to spend more time in the field and in a sales role.
When Barona Creek’s longtime equipment manager announced he would be retiring, one of the first calls Clark made was to Huezo, someone he had worked with often during his time in equipment distribution. The call was not only to pick his brain about potential candidates for that opening, but also to see whether Huezo had any interest in becoming one of those candidates himself.
The son of a golf course equipment manager, Huezo has deep experience working on the distributor side of the golf business in addition to his time at Barona Creek.
Sure enough, he did, and one of the main reasons a switch into the shop appealed to him was the prospect of working for Clark. “From what I knew and what I had experienced from working with Sandy, he was a great person and a great boss. Whenever I mentioned his name, I heard nothing but good things. I looked at all of that, my future, where I wanted to go, and decided this was for me.”
The move couldn’t have worked out better for either party. In Huezo, Barona Creek found an equipment manager with a nearly unlimited amount of knowledge about the equipment he was charged with maintaining. “He knows the internal workings (of Toro and Jacobsen) better than a lot of people working there,” Clark says. “He knows what to look for, where to look for it and how to fix it when he finds it. That’s such a benefit to us.”
And in Barona Creek, Huezo found a true home, one that has allowed him to immerse himself in a job and an industry in a way he’d never had before. He’s been a regular presence as a volunteer at professional golf events in Southern California (he even traveled to Washington to help out during the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay), has continued to provide advice and guidance to his fellow equipment managers around the region, and now has the 2017 Most Valuable Technician Award to bring it all full circle.
Oh, and he also has one very proud father. “I know he’s going to be excited when he finds out about this award,” Huezo says about Octavio, who retired to Mexico a dozen or so years ago. “If it wasn’t for my dad, I don’t think I’d be where I am today, so this is as much for him as it is for me.”
Scott Hollister is GCM’s editor-in-chief.