At first, Dale Hahn shied away from moving to Las Vegas from the San Diego area to take over as superintendent of the PGA Tour’s private TPC Summerlin. But 19 years later, and after overseeing 20 PGA TOUR events, he is thrilled to have made the move. In the second of our two-part series honoring Southern Nevada superintendents, here’s some of Dale Hahn’s story. –By Brian Hurlburt, Founder, LasVegasGolfInsider.com
As shadow Creek’s Greg Niendorf shared in our first article, being a superintendent in Las Vegas is a 24-hour a day, 365-day a year challenge. Hahn, who prior to taking over at TPC Summerlin was the superintendent of Morgan Run Resort and Pala Mesa Resort, agreed.
“The importance of irrigation is what comes to mind first when I think about what it is like to be a superintendent in Las Vegas,” Hahn said. “The fact that it’s such a hot town in the summer months, that if one sprinkler stops for a day or two, you lose grass, makes it very challenging. You don’t get that (many places) in the country. So, we’re extremely reliant on our irrigation systems and our irrigation staff. A good irrigation staff can make or break you. We have to constantly check our irrigation, and always be looking for signs of drought and or wilting. I think most superintendents in the valley would agree that the bulk of their days are scouting, looking for problems and trying to rectify them before they cause any loss of turf.”
Unfortunately for Hahn and his team at TPC, one of his scouting missions in 2020 turned up a problem. During the summer of 2021, the TPC was closed for two weeks and an ongoing effort to save the greens prior to the Shriners Children’s Open was put into action. As with everything he does, Hahn put every ounce of effort into the proper solution.
Nematodes were discovered and that is one of the last things a superintendent wants to find. A nematode is a microscopic worm that bores into the root hairs and feeds on the sugars in the root. The result is that it restricts the plant’s ability to uptake nutrients and water. Hahn, along with the PGA TOUR network, relied on expert advice from Dr. Jim Kerns, a leading entomologist from North Carolina State University, and a plan was put into place.”
“The stress was like a marathon runner who didn’t drink water the last 10 miles,” Hahn said, comparing the greens to a real-world situation. “They just didn’t have the ability to cool themselves. … When we talked to the membership, we said, ‘look, here’s what we did. We identified the problem. We called the leading expert in the field and we followed his program to the letter. What more can you do? So, our membership has been extremely understanding, which has been really nice.”
A lack of effort was never the issue for Hahn and his team.
“I tell the members this all of the time … I make my share mistakes, we all do, and I’m certainly not the smartest man in most rooms, but the mistakes are never made from a lack of effort,” Hahn said. “I think that if there’s something that I pride myself on, it’s the effort I put into the day. We’re dealing with mother nature and there’s a lot of things out of our control. This summer was a good example. We had a really rough summer, especially the end of the summer. But when I look back on that, I don’t know that I would do anything any differently. We had all the preventative measures in place. We were working long hours and grass was just kind of melting away right under our noses.”
The greens healed in time for the Shriners Children’s Open. Sungjae Im won by making a boat-load of birdies, which meant that the greens were very puttable and true just a few months after almost being lost.
“The Tour players like the course here and I think that it is a nice feather in our cap that we don’t get a lot of complaints,” Hahn said. “Tour players are generally happy to be here and have a good time. … It’s a lot of work leading up to it, but when it’s all over, you smile and grin, and realize it was worth the work to host the best golfers in the world. There’s not a lot of clubs that get to do that.”
Hahn is active in the Southern Nevada Golf Course Superintendent’s Association and a major initiative of the group is First Green, a program that introduces the agronomy industry to young students.
“It’s exciting that the kids get to be outside learning about golf courses and how they’re maintained,” Hahn said. “They are very attentive and they ask lots of really good questions. I believe the ‘hands on’ learning experience is much more memorable for the kids.”
Hahn strives to create a team environment, whether it be during First Green events, Shriners week or the other 51 weeks. It’s something he learned from mentor Bob Dobek, a former captain of the United States Olympic hockey team and longtime JC Resorts Corporate Director of Golf Course Maintenance.
“Working side by side with Bob and seeing how he played to everybody’s strengths made a deep impression on me,” Hahn said. “You are always going to have a variety of staff working for you and if you can get the right guy in the right role, then everybody wins. He always saw the good in people and he made everybody around him better.”