Trent Manning (left), the equipment manager at Ansley Golf Club in Atlanta, is the winner of GCM’s 2018 Most Valuable Technician Award, presented in partnership with Foley United. He was nominated for the award by Ansley’s superintendent, Courtney Young, CGCS (right). Photo by Scott Hollister
The late Dorothy Parker — an America poet, author and screenwriter who earned two Academy Award nominations for her movie work — is credited with writing, “The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.” If you ever needed validation that Parker was onto something with that sentiment, you could do far worse than to study someone like Trent Manning.
The equipment manager at Ansley Golf Club in Atlanta, Manning possesses as inquisitive a mind as you’re likely to find in the golf business. That doesn’t necessarily make him unique — many who are drawn to mechanical work are driven by a curiosity to discover how things work. But not many have taken that natural curiosity to as many places as Manning has in his nearly 30 years in the industry.
A broad background in golf course management means Manning not only knows the nuts and bolts of the equipment business, but that he’s also well-versed in matters of irrigation, agronomy and staff management. He has given back to the industry through a long history of service to his local chapter, the Georgia GCSA, and on the national level with GCSAA. He gives time to his community, too, as a member of a volunteer search and rescue team. He’s a competitive barbecue judge, loves to fish, and is an enthusiastic and supportive family man.
As the four-year GCSAA member puts it, “I don’t get bored very often.”
At his core, though, Manning remains an equipment manager, and he is one of the industry’s most respected, whether you’re talking to his colleagues throughout the business or his superintendent at Ansley, Courtney Young, CGCS. And that respect shone through loud and clear in the voting for GCM’s 2018 Most Valuable Technician Award, presented in partnership with Foley United. A finalist for the second consecutive year, Manning won this year’s award over fellow finalists Patrick Drinkard from the Clubs of Cordillera Ranch in Boerne, Texas, and Hector Velazquez from Riverside Country Club in Provo, Utah.
“Things like the MVT aren’t things I seek out,” Manning says. “I like doing what I do behind the scenes. But to say I’m not honored to get this award would be wrong. I know it’s a special recognition, and I’m grateful to everyone who voted for me.”
An early adopter
It’s not too much of a stretch to say that Manning grew up in the golf business.
No, he didn’t have a mother or father who worked in the game or was obsessed with playing it. And, no, Manning didn’t have much interest in picking up the sticks himself when he was a kid. But in high school, a friend connected him with a job on the crew at Ansley GC, and that part-time gig planted the seeds for a long connection with the club, its superintendent, Young, and the business of golf course management.
Shortly after graduating from high school, Young offered Manning a job as the irrigation tech at Ansley, and Manning quickly snatched it up. Just six months into that job, the club’s assistant equipment manager moved on, and Manning transitioned into that role. And not long after that, when Ansley’s head equipment manager left, Young turned shop operations over to Manning.
Ansley Golf Club has a pair of Atlanta-area locations — the 18-hole Settindown Course in Roswell (pictured), where Manning and Young spend most of their time, and a nine-hole course near downtown Atlanta. Photo courtesy of Ansley Golf Club
In 2002, Manning took what might best be described as an eight-year sabbatical away from Ansley. He spent four years working for a company that specialized in sports field construction, another two with golf course construction company ForeFront, and then found a spot as a road technician for the Jerry Pate Co., one of the largest turf equipment distributors in the Southeast.
There, Manning first connected with Cory Phillips, who eventually became one of Manning’s closest friends. Now the equipment manager at the Golf Club of Georgia in Alpharetta, Phillips preceded Manning as an MVT winner, taking the top prize in 2015.
“Cory had been a road tech for a short amount of time when I arrived and kind of trained me on the job,” Manning says. “I think we sort of showed them that we could do less sales and more true tech work and still make some money. So that’s what we did, and it was really fun. Between he and I, we really set up that program and turned it into something really successful.”
But life on the road was not an easy one. “In one year, I put over 70,000 miles on the service van I was driving,” Manning says. When the opportunity to return to Ansley in 2010 as the head equipment manager presented itself following the retirement of another club stalwart, Larry Friedman, Manning jumped at the chance.
Young acknowledges just how much he and Ansley benefit from having someone with Manning’s institutional knowledge in the shop, and how lucky he has been as superintendent to have just three equipment managers at the club in its 28-year history.
“He’s been a consistent piece here and is definitely a sounding board for me on a whole lot of things,” the 34-year GCSAA member says of Manning. “If we’re going to do a major project or anything significant here, Trent is one of my go-to people.”
Driven to serve
Just as easily as Young credits Manning for the key role he plays at Ansley, Manning returns the favor when talking about his education in the golf business. Most notably, Manning cites the example set by Young as it relates to industry service and the value — both personally and professionally — that comes from giving back.
For many years, Young has had a regular lunch date with a group of fellow Atlanta-area superintendents that he affectionately calls “The Lunch Bunch.” The group trades stories and tips on what has worked and what hasn’t on their golf courses, and basically serves to support and encourage each other through good and bad times.
Early in Manning’s second tour at Ansley, Young suggested that Manning follow the same blueprint with other local equipment managers. “I told him that I got a lot of value out of those lunches, and that I thought he would too if he did something like that,” Young says. “Well, the deal with Trent is, if you put something out there like that, he’s going to run with it. And that’s what he did.”
Soon, the equipment manager version of The Lunch Bunch was a fixture on the calendar for many of the area’s golf equipment managers.
“We normally have them at someone’s shop, but it’s just a chance for us to trade some shop talk, share some stories, learn about how other people are doing certain things, tour other people’s shops,” Manning says.
That experience turned out to be a gateway to more industry service for Manning. He became more deeply involved with the Georgia GCSA, helping spearhead the chapter’s annual equipment manager seminar, which routinely attracts more than 100 participants from all corners of the state. And he began to volunteer regularly with the national association, serving on the Equipment Managers Task Group as it crafted GCSAA’s Turf Equipment Technician Certificate Program.
“I guess it’s in my personality, but I’ve always been interested in giving back to the industry and trying to help other people out,” Manning says. “I’ve found a lot of equipment managers are that way. We’ll help anybody out when we can, for the most part.”
And Manning hasn’t limited that desire to help out to just his colleagues in golf. He has been a volunteer member of the Cherokee County Search and Rescue Team since 2009, a unit that’s called into action about once a month. “It’s mostly to help find young kids who’ve wandered off or elderly people who might have gotten lost in the area,” Manning says. “We’re fortunate that in most cases there are good resolutions to those situations, but I’m just happy that I can help out the community in that way.”
Young remains in awe of all that Manning accomplishes, both on the job and in his personal time. “He does a fantastic job here,” he says. “He does his volunteer stuff for the chapter, the volunteer stuff for GCSAA, his search and rescue duties, everything he does with his kids and his family. It really is a big deal that he manages that all, but he just sort of shrugs it off and will say that he just likes doing that, keeping busy.”
Humbled, but honored
When conversation turns to the MVT Award and to his status as the program’s only two-time finalist — he was a runner-up last year when Barona Creek’s Blas Huezo won the award — Manning’s humble nature comes to the surface. “I don’t really have any interest in the spotlight. It’s like the search and rescue team — we’re not out there to get ourselves in front of the camera. We like helping out others, but we’re more comfortable behind the scenes,” he says.
But if Manning is reluctant to toot his own horn, Young will gladly do that for him, which was the primary reason he nominated Manning for the award in back-to-back years in the first place.
“I feel like it’s important to recognize people, and in this instance, I’m glad that there is a venue to do just that,” Young says. “Trent absolutely deserves it, and I’m just pleased that others in the industry obviously saw a lot of the same things in him that I do.”
Scott Hollister is GCM’s editor-in-chief.