My name is Stephen Valente. At the time of writing, I am currently 27 years old and I am the current Deputy Course Manager of Nesklúbburinn in Reykjavik, Iceland. I am from Pennsylvania in the United States and graduated with a degree in Turfgrass Science from Pennsylvania State University in 2016. While I currently work in golf, the vast majority of my greenkeeping experience is in sports turf.
What attracted you to greenkeeping?
I got into greenkeeping because I’ve always loved sports and wanted to be around them, even though I was never really good at playing them. I was also attracted to the outdoor nature of the work
What’s the best thing you’ve learned during your career?
This might not be the exact answer you’re looking for, but I think the best thing I learned is how similar our industry is all over the world. I’ve stepped onto crews on three different continents now, and I’ve been able to contribute meaningfully right from the beginning. I’ve learned that all over the world, greenkeepers have the same goals and desires, and that’s a nice thing to know.
Most difficult challenge?
The most difficult challenge I’ve faced in my career was switching being strictly labour to managing labour. Here in Reykjavik, during the summer, I’m in charge of a 10 man crew. It’s my first experience being in charge. I’m getting better at it by the day, but it’s definitely a different kind of challenging I had never really expected or thought about.
In the summer of 2015, I was completing my university internship with the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Railriders (professional baseball, the AAA affiliate of the New York Yankees). It was the Fourth of July, and we had a sold out stadium with fireworks display after the game and everything, a real money maker for the team. It was a particularly dry summer until that point, but that night, they had predicted a meager amount of rain. We hadn’t watered the infield dirt that day, and thought it could stand to take a little bit of rain. When we woke up the next morning, it turned out the forecast was wrong, and over two inches of rain had fallen with no end in sight. The infield was an absolute swamp, completely unplayable. So we had to call in the entire front office of the team to help us first roll out the tarp and get it in on the infield. We pinned the tarp down and then took our two buffalo blowers and positioned them on two ends of the tarp, so that it would blow air underneath it and blow it up like a bubble, so that we could work underneath it while it continued to rain. We had to set up a bunch of portable flood lights and front office workers held flashlights over us so we could see what we were doing. It was so dark and humid, it was like working in a coal mine that was also a jungle. That day was 8 hours of stripping the infield conditioner layer off and replacing it with new material over and over again until enough moisture had been sucked out of it that it could resemble anything playable. It worked and the game was played. It’s funny looking back now that everything worked out, but that was probably the most physically exhausting day of my life
Inspiring words for young greenkeepers?
For people just starting out in the industry, I would tell them that they picked the right career path. More so in any industry I’ve ever been in, greenkeepers tend to be very supportive of eachother and, more importantly, willing to help eachother, whether it be labor or knowledge. It’s an industry where everybody wants everybody else to succeed. Another aspect I love about this line of work is how tangible the results are. When you start a project, you can see the results immediately. You can tell how much nicer an area looks after a fresh mowing and edging. Your greens start turning dark emerald green half an hour after being sprayed with iron. Sometimes the job can be thankless to the people we report to, but at least you and the crew can see your progress in the real time, and at the end of the work week, that is really satisfying.
My favorite sport is American Football. I’ve been a die hard fan of the Penn State Nittany Lions, my school’s football team, for my entire life
My dream job would allow me to be in turf and travel regularly. I love adventure, I love meeting new people, and I love learning how people do turf all around the world. My ultimate goal is to be a curator of a piece of turf that appears on TV on all 6 continents. I got three down so far!
What do you think of International Greenkeepers For Hire?
I think IGFH is an invaluable resource. It helped me in a direct way in 2019 when Daryl Davidson invited me to work on his crew at Sydney Uni, which was a dream of mine since the first time I stepped on the famous of USyd in 2015. I gained so much experience in my time down there. How many Americans could say that they’re accredited wicket curators in New South Wales? Aside from how I directly benefited from it, I appreciate IGFH because i believe communication is key. IGFH allows greenkeepers to share knowledge with eachother from quite literally everywhere on the globe. As the title would suggest, IGFH is an invaluable resource for job searching, but I think especially for those already set in a career, it’s a great way to hear new voices. They say you should never stop learning, and IGFH is a great way to keep up with new trends and ideas. Another reason I think it’s great is that it exists outside of an academic setting. I know in the US, most of the new ideas and new practices come out of university research. And while that’s always going to be what drives the industry, in IGFH, it’s regular greenkeepers sharing their own direct knowledge