Jason Ziegler, a fixture at The Oaks Club in Osprey, Fla., for the last 16 years, is the winner of the 2023 Most Valuable Technician Award, presented by GCM in partnership with Foley Co. Photos by Matt Houston
Dealing with distractions — and plenty of them — is part and parcel of a career in golf course management. Ask anyone responsible for any aspect of the operation of a golf facility, and they’ll tell you that juggling a complex and ever-changing
to-do list is something that just comes with the territory.
Take, for example, the team at The Oaks Club in Osprey, Fla. As the summer months transitioned into high season at this Gulf Coast facility located just south of Sarasota, GCSAA Class A Director of Greens and Grounds Gregory Jack and equipment manager
Jason Ziegler had full plates as they plotted the management of their 36-hole complex.
In addition to the day-to-day responsibilities common to golf courses in coastal Florida in August, the two were dealing with a host of special projects that they were trying to complete before Labor Day. They were also preparing to scalp the surfaces
on their Heron Course, The Oaks Club’s all-bermudagrass layout (the other 18, the Eagle Course, is grassed with seashore paspalum), as a control method for mites that commonly target bermudagrass.
Then there was the matter of Hurricane Idalia, which at that time was taking a menacing path near the Sarasota area less than a year after Hurricane Ian had hammered the same part of the state. Idalia eventually made landfall well north, but The Oaks
Club still had to deal with nearly 4 inches of rain and small debris cleanup once the storm had passed.
There was one distraction around this same time, however, that didn’t seem to bother either Jack or Ziegler. And those were the regular calls, texts, emails and general well-wishes they were receiving from family, friends, industry colleagues and
club members after it was revealed that Ziegler, a seven-year member of GCSAA, had been selected as the winner of GCM’s 2023 Most Valuable Technician Award, presented in partnership with Foley Co.
“It hasn’t reached the point of getting too out of hand, but it’s definitely been eye-opening and something we’re not used to in our part of the business,” Ziegler says. “Membership has been congratulating me, co-workers,
former employees ... you name it. It’s been a steady stream since it was announced, and I’m really grateful for it.”
Jack, a 19-year GCSAA member, says that no one deserves these kinds of positive distractions more than Ziegler. “I thought nominating him for the MVT was a great way to recognize all that he’s done for the club over his 16 years here,”
Jack says. “That he ended up winning was just an extra bonus. We’ve both been amazed at the outpouring of recognition he’s received. It’s not something we’re used to, but it’s certainly appreciated.”
a history of excellence
Ziegler is the 14th equipment manager to be honored with the MVT Award, which recognizes excellence among golf course equipment managers and the crucial role they play in the golf course management industry. Superintendents nominate their equipment managers
for the award, and a panel of industry judges — made up mainly of members of GCSAA’s Equipment Managers Task Group — narrows those nominations down to three finalists, who are then voted on through an online process.
Joining Ziegler in the final three this year were Chad Braun, the equipment manager at Town and Country Club in St. Paul, Minn., and a 10-year GCSAA member, and Bill Claytor, the equipment manager at Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio, and a
two-year member of GCSAA.
Foley Co. has been the presenting partner of the MVT since its inception, and Paul Rauker, Foley’s president & CEO, says the award remains as important today as it was when it was first handed out in 2010. “We work with golf course
equipment technicians each and every day, so we get an up-close-and-personal look at the vital role they play in our industry. We’re proud to sponsor an award program that acknowledges the contributions made by these professionals and congratulate
Jason on being the 2023 MVT Award winner.”
GCSAA CEO Rhett Evans adds, “Golf course superintendents know how important a good equipment manager is to the overall success of a golf facility. That’s why GCSAA has dedicated so many resources to supporting these professionals. Awards such
as the MVT are just another way for the association to highlight its commitment to serving this important group.”
At The Oaks Club, Ziegler and Gregory Jack (green shirt), the club’s GCSAA Class A director of greens and grounds, have been a dynamic duo since January 2021. Jack nominated Ziegler for the MVT Award.
Ziegler was bitten by the mechanical bug early in his professional life, so it’s never been much of a surprise that the 48-year-old’s career went in the direction that it ultimately did. He just wasn’t always sure whether golf would
be a part of it.
Right out of high school, Ziegler took a job on the crew at Southwest Point Golf Course in his hometown of Kingston, Tenn. It was a small staff — “Three of us in the summer, just two in the winter months,” he says — but that allowed
him the freedom to try his hand at most facets of golf course management and to tinker with golf course equipment for the first time.
He later moved to Florida, and after working a variety of other jobs, landed back on the golf course as a member of the crew at Deerwood Country Club in Jacksonville. He served in several different roles there, including irrigation tech, but at every
stop along the way, he always kept an eye on what was taking place in the club’s shop, where David Green was working as the club’s equipment manager.
“You could tell he really knew what he was doing,” Ziegler says of Green. “Very clean, very organized, very knowledgeable.”
It didn’t take long for Green to notice Ziegler’s interest in that side of the business, so he eventually tabbed him for a job as his assistant at Deerwood. When Green later left the club (the eight-year GCSAA member is now the equipment manager
at the Pablo Creek Club in Jacksonville), Ziegler had shown enough to earn the top spot at Deerwood. After a short time in that role, he headed to Lake City Community College (now Florida Gateway College) to formalize his equipment management training.
The degree he earned there opened doors to several jobs at golf facilities in the Sunshine State, including a three-year stint at the Slammer and Squire at World Golf Village in St. Augustine. But it also equipped him with tools that could be applied
off the golf course, which helped fuel a desire to run his own business and ultimately led to the creation of a lawn-and-landscape shop that sold and serviced equipment.
“I basically ran the front of the house and had a partner who took care of the back of the house — the finances, the marketing, that kind of stuff,” Ziegler says. “It was a partnership that worked really well, and I enjoyed doing
something new and running my own business.”
Golf, however, was never far from his thoughts, and its absence eventually made the heart grow fonder. After running his own business for four years, Ziegler sold his interests to his business partner and took a job working for turf equipment distributor
Kilpatrick Turf, servicing customers along the northeast coast of Florida. He held that job until The Oaks Club came calling 16 years ago, and that’s been his professional home ever since.
As Jack was preparing to join the team at The Oaks Club in January 2021 following a stint at TPC Treviso Bay in Naples, Fla., the first person who reached out to him to welcome him to Sarasota was Ziegler.
“He just called out of the blue. It was actually a nice surprise,” Jack recalls. “He just wanted to congratulate me and get to know me a little bit. We had a good conversation; he was able to give me a lay of the land here, and I was
able to tell him what I was hoping to accomplish. It really set the stage for a strong relationship.”
In Ziegler, Jack found someone with an incredible depth of institutional knowledge about the inner workings of The Oaks Club, someone who had worked with the three previous people who had served in the role Jack was about to assume, and someone who could
offer guidance about what had worked and what hadn’t at the club.
And from a practical perspective, he found an equipment manager who had been instrumental in keeping an older fleet fully operational despite the rigors of maintaining 36 holes of golf for year-round play. Upgrading that fleet had long been on the maintenance
department’s wish list, but for one reason or another, those upgrades never materialized. And even after that process finally began upon Jack’s arrival at the club, the wait continued as they navigated the same supply chain issues plaguing
other golf courses around the country in their attempts to get new equipment.
“A lot of people might get frustrated or have a bad attitude about some of the things we’ve had to deal with in that regard, but not Jason,” Jack says. “He just always seems to find a way to overcome whatever adversity we might
be facing. He’s really a humble guy who isn’t looking for recognition for what he’s doing. He just likes being a part of a team and getting things done.”
Jack and Ziegler lead maintenance efforts at the 36-hole facility that featues one bermadagrass course and one seashore paspalum.
The total package
Ziegler’s influence at The Oaks Club goes far beyond the wrench-turning and diagnostic expertise that he brings to the table, however. He’s an armchair agronomist of the highest order, having picked up plenty of turfgrass management tips and
tricks over his years in the business. He’s an exemplary teammate, whether by chipping in as needed around the golf course on a day-to-day basis or leading storm clean-up efforts like he did following Hurricane Ian last year (Ziegler was among
the first on the property after the storm passed, grabbing a chain saw to start clearing roads so club members and residents could move about).
And he’s also developed into a mentor to others looking to get into the equipment-management game, in much the same way Green and others did when Zeigler was climbing the ladder. At The Oaks Club, he oversees three other technicians — Gustavo
Gomez, Pedro Gallo and Yoel Jerez Alvarez — who work exclusively in the shop, each focusing their attention on tasks they’ve shown specific proficiency in, from reel grinding to two-cycle engine repair.
“I do feel like I’ve transitioned into more of a mentor role as time has gone along,” Ziegler says. “Maybe too much; those guys hate when I get too involved and try to do things myself instead of letting them do what they do best.
That can be a struggle for me, but I’ve grown into it, and it’s something I really enjoy.”
The complete package that Ziegler brings to the shop at The Oaks Club is likely what attracted the attention of MVT voters, even though garnering outside attention for what he does on the job has never been a part of his plan. But that doesn’t mean
he’s not grateful for the award and the $2,500 cash prize and trip to the GCSAA Conference and Trade Show in Phoenix that comes along with it.
“I’m equal parts thankful and shocked about all of this,” Ziegler says. “When Gregory told me, I literally didn’t know how to respond. After I processed it all as I drove home, I had to reach back out to him to thank him
for all the effort he put in to make this happen, because I couldn’t find those words right after he told me.
“I had never thought much about awards like the MVT before, but now that it’s happened, I’m just thrilled. Really overwhelmed.”
Scott Hollister (email@example.com) is GCM’s editor- in-chief.