By Michael Tollner, Bellevue Country Club
As the GCSA of NY heads into its third year, the association has elected a new president, one who has a strong vision for growth and development. I was fortunate enough to sit down with Steve Kurta, golf course superintendent at Tuscarora Golf Club in Camillus, NY, over lunch recently to discuss what he sees as his main goals for 2022 and beyond. Steve is someone I’ve gotten to know over the past few years, so the opportunity to learn a bit more about his past, his interesting career path to where he is today, as well as to sit down over a common interest for both of us, craft beer, was one I jumped on with excitement.
Steve has been heavily involved with GCSA of NY since its inception and was a key player in the consolidation process. He was one of three representatives from the former Central NY GCSA that served on the consolidation committee. He believes that as the association continues to grow it’s important to not lose sight of the founding chapters' regional identity and to try to honor that when possible. He believes one of the main goals of the association is service and that members need to see value in their membership. Doing that will require seeing things from the viewpoint of a prospective member and not just as the board president. As a former president of the Central NY GCSA, Steve brings a vision to this association that will help guide it for years to come. He’ll use that experience to reinforce the framework of the association for future presidents and directors.
But long before Steve became the president of the GCSA of NY, he was a young man with very different aspirations. Steve grew up near Detroit, MI, and his father and grandfather were long time owners of an auto repair business. In fact, Steve’s grandfather opened his shop in 1919, less than 25 years after Henry Ford built his first car in Detroit. Steve’s father worked in the shop as well, and eventually took over as the owner through the late 1980’s. As a youth, Steve learned the family business, and was groomed as a mechanic’s assistant, but he had other dreams than following in his father and grandfather’s footsteps. Steve learned to play the drums at a young age and wanted to be a studio musician. Steve was accepted into the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston. He would spend one year at Berklee before deciding he was ready to take his talents to the next level. He packed up and moved to New York City, where he felt that his skills would be a perfect match for the music scene of the Big Apple.
Once in New York, Steve began pursuing his dream, but ultimately determined that a career in music was not going to fulfill his aspirations of not starving. Returning to Detroit to continue his studies he found playing golf was a good outlet. It was around this time that he realized he may be better suited for grounds management, especially with his background in automotive repair. He enrolled in Michigan State’s turf program shortly thereafter, and in the summer of 1991, Steve interned at the famed Medinah Country Club in Illinois, where Hale Irwin had claimed his famous US Open victory the previous year. Working at Medinah was a great learning experience for Steve, and he would return to Michigan State for his final year of school after his internship, graduating from the program in 1992. Steve would return to Medinah after graduation and spent that year working on the special projects team. In early 1993 he would move back east again for an Assistant Superintendent position at Monroe Golf Club in Pittsford, NY. Steve was excited to begin this new step in his career at the Donald Ross gem near Rochester. He was the assistant at Monroe from 1993 until 1996, working for Superintendent Patrick Gertner.
In 1996, Steve accepted the superintendent’s position on the river course at Blackwolf Run in Kohler, Wisconsin, and once again would head back to the Midwest. Blackwolf Run is one of two golf facilities owned by the Kohler Company, the other being Whistling Straits. Steve worked at the Pete Dye designed Blackwolf Run until 1999, during which time the club hosted the 1998 US Women’s Open, which was won by Se Ri Pak. It was during this time that a job opened up back in Central NY and the desire to return to the Finger Lakes region seemed possible. Tuscarora Golf Club needed a new Superintendent. Steve thought the job had a lot of appeal and would ultimately make the decision to head east once again in 1999 and accept the position at Tuscarora.
Tuscarora was founded in 1923 and is an 18-hole facility known for tight fairways and fast greens. Designed by golf course architect Seymour Dunn, and later modified by Robert Trent Jones, Sr, it has long been known as the players club of the Syracuse area. Steve has made countless improvements to the golf course over the years. Currently, the club is in the planning stages of a new 6,500 square foot maintenance facility and is planning to begin site and utility work later this year. The goal is to have the building completed in the early part of 2023. In addition, Steve is planning to renovate 20 bunkers in-house over the next 3 years. All of that should keep Steve and his crew very busy throughout 2022.
Steve met his wife, Janet, while on a ski outing as he was leaving Medinah and arriving at Monroe. Steve and Janet have one child. Peter, 26, who recently retired as a professional ballet dancer with the Smuin Contemporary Ballet in San Francisco and is currently enrolled at Temple University in their Pharmacology program. When Steve is not at work, he and Janet enjoy skiing, both downhill and cross country, as well as cycling. Steve also enjoys motorcycles, lifting weights, and blacksmithing. He has taken classes in steel forging and knife making in recent years in NY and PA. Utilizing the welding and fabrication skills taught to him by his father, he enjoys upgrading and modifying the older equipment at Tuscarora. He has turned it into a hobby, and today enjoys building barbecues, smokers, kitchen utensils, and metal sculptures in his free time.
As you probably have learned reading about Steve, our association is lucky to have an extremely well-rounded president both on and off the golf course. Steve is excited for what the future holds for the GCSA of NY and will use his knowledge and experience to guide the GCSA of NY through 2022. Steve has already begun a great footprint for the continued growth and development of the association and is implementing strategies to make the third year of the new association our best yet.