New owner putting years of expertise into Pine Grove Springs Country Club
SPOFFORD — When Bob Maibusch first laid eyes on Pine Grove Springs Country Club, it wasn’t under ideal circumstances for golf.
“I came out at the end of January in 2015 and there was like three-and-a-half feet of snow on the ground,” Maibusch said. “That was the hardest nine holes I ever had to walk in my life.”
Despite having to trudge through the snow to see the course, he knew something special lay beneath the white powder.
“I didn’t know what was under all the snow, but the terrain out there was fantastic,” Maibusch said. “So I said ‘Let’s see if we can work something out.’ And we did.”
Since then, it’s been a non-stop whirlwind. Maibusch bought the course, sold his house near Chicago and moved to Spofford, living a stone’s throw away from the Pine Grove Springs clubhouse.
Maibusch has been hard at work fixing up the course, which had fallen on tough times. He’s putting a lifetime of experience into turning the 116-year-old course from a patch of land into a gem.
“I’m (at the course) for 12 to 14 hours, seven days a week, and then I go home and collapse,” Maibusch said.
Maibusch is a golf lifer. He attended Michigan State on a caddy scholarship, then spent 31 years as the superintendent at Hinsdale Golf Club outside Chicago.
Maibusch is also one of the few Master Greenkeepers in the United States, an honor given out by the British and International Golf Greenkeeper Association. He earned the honor in 1992, becoming the first American to do so.
But when Maibusch and his wife decided to move to New Hampshire, he thought his time with golf was over. Their children had moved out of the house, and his wife wanted to move back to New England, where she is from. Once they settled on New Hampshire, Maibusch looked around for what he could do.
“I wasn’t even looking to stay in the golf business, but then I saw this and one thing led to another and we were able to strike a deal,” Maibusch said. “So now I’m here.”
Maibusch is in his second year as owner of Pine Grove Springs. When he first arrived, he was a little shocked at the conditions.
“There were a lot of things wrong — and still are,” Maibusch said. “We’ve been slowly working on as much of that as we can.”
The first thing Maibusch did was re-seed the greens and tee boxes. Renovations are still going on. The biggest challenge has been trying to solve problems he never had to deal with during his 31-year stint at Hinsdale.
“We don’t have anything like this (course) in Chicago,” Maibusch said. “Our soils are different and I’ve never seen so much rock — there are boulders everywhere. In 31 years of digging up the same golf course, I probably dug up five boulders the size of a trash can. I couldn’t go 50 yards here without finding one.
“There was definitely a learning curve.”
Despite the early difficulties, Maibusch is pleased with the potential of his purchase.
“The layout is there and we’ve got the terrain,” Maibusch said. “There are so many positives to this property.”
Maibusch also is serving a much different clientele. Hinsdale is a private club where members expect and pay for certain conditions on the course. Pine Grove Springs members are looking for a nice place where they can hit some balls and have fun.
“I’ve had to adjust my way of thinking in terms of golf course conditions,” Maibusch said. “I was at a high-end private club in Chicago, and there’s a certain demand in terms of conditions. They wanted greens that were rolling 13 on the stimpmeter every day.
“Here, that’s not a concern.”
A stimpmeter is a device that calculates the speed of a putting green. A 13 means the greens would be running fairly fast, which Maibusch said would be “too demanding” for Pine Grove Springs.
Maibusch also is dealing with fewer resources at Pine Grove Springs.
“I went from a club where I had 22 people on my grounds staff, to where we have two — three if you include me,” Maibusch said. “It’s a whole different ballgame here.”
Pine Grove Springs doesn’t have the same equipment as Hinsdale. Maibusch said the only equipment the course had when he arrived was old and barely usable, so that was something he had to fix.
He was able to work his contacts from his days in Chicago to acquire some solid, barely-used equipment that gets the job done.
“There have been a lot of things that money wasn’t spent on — upgrading equipment, fertilizer or weed killer, things of that nature,” Maibusch said. “Those are the things we’ve been concentrating on.”
One of the bigger issues is the lack of a proper irrigation system on the fairways. Because the soil is so thin in some areas, it is difficult to input a root irrigation system, which makes it hard to keep the grass hydrated.
“When we get into hot and dry conditions, it’s pretty difficult to do much with the fairways,” Maibusch said.
But even with the struggles, reactions have been overwhelmingly positive.
“The members have been great,” Maibusch said. “They’ve been very encouraging. People notice that we’re trying to improve things, so that’s been helpful.
“Golf courses are always a work in progress. Some people think of golf courses as a static thing — there’s nothing static about them. It’s always changing.”
Maibusch has put in so much work that he still doesn’t know his way around the area. He spent last winter in Chicago tying up loose ends, and any time in New Hampshire has been spent on the course.
“I know how to get to Brattleboro and to Keene,” Maibusch said. “I literally have not seen any other areas around here.”
Maibusch’s renovation work has extended beyond Pine Grove Springs. His new house, which sits at the end of the course’s driving range across the street, also needs some touching up.
“The house is pretty much like the golf course was,” Maibusch said. “We need to do a complete renovation. It’s a bit of an adventure.”
The combination of re-doing a golf course and home is certainly an uphill climb, but Maibusch has taken on tall tasks in the past. He took the challenge of becoming a Master Greenkeeper after hearing about it at a national golf course superintendent convention in 1992. He found the booth for the British and International Golf Greenkeeper Association and signed up to join the organization.
After inquiring about it, Maibusch was told that nobody in the United States had ever completed the requirements, which sparked him.
“That was more of a personal challenge,” Maibusch said.
The qualifications to become a Master Greenkeeper included having the necessary experience — which Maibusch did — and having the course assessed by two officials. There also is a six-hour written exam. Maibusch passed with flying colors.
As a reward, Maibusch went to England for the Master Greenkeeper ceremony and was presented with his plaque by Prince Andrew, who was quite interested in what Maibusch did for a living.
“The prince was as down-to-Earth as a prince could be,” Maibusch said. “He was very into golf, but he hadn’t played golf in the United States yet, so he had a lot of questions for us about golf in the U.S. It was fun.”
Maibusch’s daughter works in the industry as well. In fact, she works on the grounds crew of Augusta National, the annual site of The Masters.
The Maibusch family heads to Augusta, Ga., every year the week of The Masters. Bob can get in using his superintendent card, and his daughter gets two passes to the tournament, which she gives to Maibusch’s wife and son.
“That’s kind of our family reunion week,” Maibusch said. “It’s a blast.”
Maibusch has also been able to play both the championship course at Augusta and the par-3 a handful of times.
“It’s beyond belief,” Maibusch said. “I had built up expectations for 30-plus years about it, and it still exceeded my expectations — that’s how good it is.
“In terms of conditioning, there’s no question Augusta is the best (course).”
Odds are Maibusch won’t be able to get Pine Grove Springs to that level, but he’s certainly trying to make it the best course that it can be.
“Ultimately, I want to make it a place that people enjoy coming to and will attract more people to come to it,” Maibusch said.
One thing is for sure: he certainly has the passion.
“I always say, if I hit the Mega Millions, the first thing I’d do is put about $3 million into this place,” Maibusch said. “This place could be just phenomenal.”