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The Sweet Smell of Grassoline

Inside dirt from the man mowing your fairways

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The hardest part of my long day is getting out of bed. My main alarm clock, placed across the room to physically force me out from under my warm blankets, goes off at 3:30 a.m. I also set a minimum of 10 to 15 alarms on my phone as a safety net.

My first move is to check the forecast. In the summer months here in Colorado, you can get away with shorts and a sweatshirt. In March or October, the morning debate is over how many layers of pants and sweatshirts to throw on. By 4 a.m. I am on the road, driving to Arrowhead Golf Course, diminishing my drowsiness one sip of coffee at a time. Working golf course maintenance requires this same routine nearly every day.

Maintenance greens mower
The secret is finding maintenance folks who love the game enough to spend more time on the course 
than at home. Photo by Could Be the Day

After I clock in, the boss goes through his morning meeting, during which the employees who can read their job on the whiteboard barely listen and the employees who can barely read either show up late or not at all. It’s less practical as it is just more part of the whole routine, preparing us for another day.   

When the meeting is finished, we go to our assigned mowers and head out. It’s always slightly dark, but at this point I am fully awake. My energy rises with the sun.

These morning hours are the best time of the shift. The air is thick and cool, the early light casts long shadows that stretch across the fairways, birds welcome the new day with their chirping. There is not a single golfer on the course.

The diesel engine of the fairway mower I’m driving cuts right through the center of this tranquility—a whirring reminder that I am still at work. But even the roar of these powerful machines is something I have learned to love. And the smell of fuel mixed with freshly cut grass adds an extra layer of satisfaction when you stripe a fairway with some crisp mow lines. I call it “grassoline.”

There is an art to this job that is often overlooked. Whether it’s a run-down city track or Pebble Beach, beauty is found in any course, and it’s our job to highlight it. That’s really what we do: maintain beauty. Carefully raked bunkers, weeding, mowing straight lines—it’s all part of the process. 

Not everyone loves the job. Some people land here because of their parole officer; others stumble upon it as a last defense against homelessness. To them it’s just another manual-labor gig. And I will be the first to admit that some of our tasks are grueling.

It’s obvious, but true: To appreciate maintaining a golf course, you first have to love the game. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been the first one onto the course at 5 a.m. and the last one off as the sun is setting and I can hardly see my ball on the 18th green. I consider it my second home, even though I often spend more hours at the course than at my actual house. 

The beginning and end of those days could not be more different. In the morning, I sip coffee and relish the solitude, where I am left alone with nothing but my thoughts and that constant engine hum. In the evening, I wash away the morning with cold beer as I play with my closest friends. 

I feel fortunate to have found a bridge between my blue-collar job and this upper-class course. Wealthy folks pull up here in their brand-new BMWs and spend more money in a day on greens fees and booze than I make in a week working here. Meanwhile, I pull up in a muddy maintenance cart that you can hear coming from a mile away, load my own bag and head to the first tee covered in grass clippings and sweat. It makes me smile every time. 

I know that when those members play, they’ll get frustrated. We all do. I just hope that in those moments they take a deep breath and look around. I hope they’re thankful to be surrounded by nature and appreciate the detailed labor that went into such a beautiful place.