People in Golf - Andrew H Johnston
With over 100 projects and 34 years of golf course design, construction and agronomy management, Andrew is one of the most accomplished and respected professionals in the golf industry.
Having spent the last 10 years at Asia’s pre-eminent golfing destination, Sentosa Golf Club, Andrew’s role initially started as a design consultant, and has since evolved into being General Manager, and Director of Agronomy overseeing all day to day operations at the club.
Andrew is recognised as a pioneer in agronomic philosophies and practices, and maintains a thirst to drive sustainable solutions throughout maintenance practices, that result in some of the best conditioned and highest quality golf facilities in the world.
“My father was very active in golf, he was a single figure handicapper and played out of the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs as well as Cherry Hills CC in Denver. My grandfather was also the Head Chef at the Broadmoor for many years.
Golf became a part of my life at a very early age and was a constant in our household whilst growing up. At the age of 16, I started working at Tanoan Country Club in Albuquerque, New Mexico, reporting into Superintendents’ Kevin Adams and Brad Emerick. They both mentored me and coerced me into a career in this great industry. Kevin went on to become the General Superintendent of a Company that built 90 Arnold Palmer Courses in a 10 year span.
“As I graduated from Michigan State in 1986, I continued to take guidance and work under Kevin as a Constructions Superintendent, working on and directly responsible for the construction of some fantastic properties such as Isleworth, Sanctuary Cove in Australia and The Prince at Mauna Kea in Hawaii. Since then, I’ve never looked back, and continue to enjoy everyday at the best office in the world.”
You wake up in the morning - what’s the driving passion?
Even today after 35 years in the industry, I can’t wait to get to the club. I wake up at 4:30 and am usually on site by 5:30am. Being on the property at sunrise is not only the most breathtaking moment of the day, it is a fundamental ritual for those of us that consider ourselves top level agronomists. It also shows the team as GM that I am supportive and there with them. I’ve always believed since I was young that starting everyday with conviction and the right plan of attack is essential for success.
Sentosa has made great strides in becoming a major force in Asian golf circles — what makes the facility stand apart?
The culture we have created over the past nine years to achieve excellence and never settle for anything less, has helped bolster our position within the world of golf. The drive and passion that exists throughout our entire team to present both courses as if everyday was tournament day, has led to a real buzz around the club, city and across Asia. Not to mention the fact that we have two championship courses, that are now major tournament host venues in their own right.
The updates by Bates Design Group in 2007 to the Ronald Fream Serapong design transformed the course into the true championship venue it is today, able to cope with modern advances in technology. The opening of the New Tanjong has seen the club’s perception elevated to stand shoulder to shoulder with the best in the world.
All golf courses globally are facing outside pressures to be environmentally more sensitive — what steps have you instituted on this front, especially with water usage and pesticide applications?
As a club the strides we’ve taken to ensuring sustainable practice are unparalleled within the region. Throughout the redesign of the New Tanjong, the environment and its wellbeing was at the centre of all operations.
We are now completely self sufficient when it comes to irrigating both courses, as a result of the integration of new water basins across the New Tanjong. We recycled the old path from the Tanjong Course and used it as the base for the new path, and also recycled tiles from the old cart barn and used them on the new iconic ‘pyramid’ house overlooking the property.
To conserve the excellent turf conditions synonymous with Sentosa Golf Club, we transplanted the old sandcaps from the fairways and greens onto the New Tanjong, meaning no sand was imported during the redesign, except for that used on the tee boxes.
This year will see us go ‘plastic bottle free’, and instead introduce water cooling stations all over the courses. On top of this, we’ll be purchasing a ‘digester’ which will serve to grind all horticultural and kitchen waste to then reapply as fertiliser onto our plants and shrubs all over the property. Further efforts have seen us earn a ‘Platinum Green Mark’ award for dedication to sustainable practice.
What distinguishes the newer Tanjong course from the Serapong layout?
The Serapong has become an emblem for golf in Asia, a result of its flowing layout, its unique backdrop and strength as a challenging Championship layout.
The design style of the New Tanjong is very different and reflects the historic values of Alister MacKenzie’s wonderful work with our own modern flare. Set on a slightly smaller footprint, and inspired by iconic sandbelt experiences with bunkering styles rarely seen on the continent, it provides a fantastic alternative to its big brother Serapong. The important thing is when walking through the doors at Sentosa it does not matter which course you play, you’ll enjoy them both.
In your role as General Manager — what is the biggest challenge facing Sentosa short and long term?
As General Manager, I’m faced with a wide range of challenges on a daily basis, from dealing with course agronomy to membership applications . However, I would say the biggest challenge in any business is making sure the team is working together in the most efficient way possible. Our team is what makes or breaks us. We can purchase the most robust systems and tools in the market but without a highly motivated team to use them, we’d be treading water. Honestly what makes Sentosa great is the men and women at every level that are committed to achieving excellence. Any challenges that arise, we face and overcome them together.
Your biggest pet peeve is what?
A selfish golfer that does not respect the golf course and compromises the experience for the people behind. Those that do not rake bunkers, fix ball marks, fill divots and deploy proper golf ethics.
Golfers all play mulligans at one point or the other - if you had a mulligan in your golf career - what would it be?
I’ve been extremely fortunate in my career, and had the opportunity to work for the King (Arnold Palmer). I was a golf course superintendent in the Florida Panhandle for one of the best bosses I ever worked for in Robert Craft; I ran a large construction company (Ranger Construction’s Golf Arm) and designed golf courses for the award winning Gene Bates. These experiences combined gave me the tools to design and run Asia’s Premier facility in Sentosa Golf Club. Reflecting back, I’m not sure I’d want to take a mulligan!
If you could change one thing in golf unilaterally what would it be and why?
Probably not the answer you were looking for, but it would be to give Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, Seve Ballesteros and others immortal status so they could continue to provide us with eternal leadership.
All of the major golf organisations — R&A, USGA, PGA of America, PGA TOUR, European Tour, LPGA — are searching for ways to get more people into golf. This is especially so with Millennials, women and minorities. If you were advising them — what would your counselling be?
There are some really smart minds working on this, and I don’t think I am in any position to give them advise. However, when looking at what the USGA and Augusta National are doing with things like drive, chip and putt, it’s great to see them moving the needle, and engaging with kids and young minds. We need more of this.
Best advice you ever received — what was it and who from?
It was from my mother who said “We often tell each other what we do wrong, however, we rarely tell each other what we do right.”