New chairmen lead Pine to Palm into ninth decade
Incoming chairman Vern Schnathorst and assistant chairman Dave Johnston to take over Detroit County Club’s historic tournament.
The 89th edition of the Pine to Palm golf tournament begins Monday, Aug. 16, at Detroit Country Club in a year of transition into the ninth decade of the tournament and with an exchange of chairman duties from outgoing chairman Jim Bruflodt to Vern Schnathorst and assistant chairman Dave Johnston.
Both Schnathorst and Johnston have been volunteers at the tournament for more than two decades.
“I started helping with the ball spotters over 20 years ago,” Schnathorst said. “That was back in the day when we had 15 ball spotters at a time. Now, we’re down to about five.”
Like many volunteers, Schnathorst played the Pine to Palm a couple times in the late 90’s, before transitioning into a number of roles at the tournament.
“It was a lot of fun,” he said. “The reason I haven’t played in it is because I volunteered to work for it. With football and my summer schedule, it was easier to volunteer my time.”
Schnathorst also has a long history on the coaching staff of the DLHS football program.
Transitioning into the chairman role is largely in part due to the efficiency created under Bruflodt’s leadership the past few years.
“Part of the reason I took it is with the computer registration, that simplified things,” said Schnathorst.
The tournament began taking online registrations in 2008, but not until the COVID-year, did everything go full digital.
“If I had to do what Jim did with registration and the phone calls, doing it all of it manually, I wouldn’t have taken it,” Schnathorst said. “I just don’t have the time. Not that it’s ever going to be real easy, but it’s gotten much easier with the use of technology. We’ve streamlined some things in that regard.”
Bruflodt will remain part of the tournament in a lesser role after this year. He is joined by former chairman Bob Gorden and a host of other veterans that help keep the tournament running smoothly.
“The other thing is Jim (Bruflodt), Bob (Gorden), Dave (Johnston), Becky Dupree, Ted Cihak and other key people are not going away,” said Schnathorst.” They’re going to continue to volunteer.”
Bruflodt asked Schnathorst to take over and he is admittedly the best fit for the job.
“It is an honor because it’s absolutely one of the best amateur tournaments in the United States, there’s no question,” Schnathorst said. “Everybody before me has done a great job, so I don’t need to reinvent the wheel, but follow the blueprint they left for me.”
Part of the blueprint has been the unseen efforts of Johnston, who has been at the forefront of the digital upgrades to scoring and scheduling with Ted Cihak.
Cihak spent a lot of time designing a system specifically for the Pine to Palm.
Prior to that, Johnston was running scoring and scheduling on five different computers trying to administer the separate aspects of the tournament.
Cihak worked on custom programming to be able to run it as one tournament until the team decided to use the Golf Genius website and mobile app to free up time for both volunteers and players.
“Golf Genius lets you do that without having to have all these computers and it’s cloud-based so everything is kept on their end,” said Johnston. “All we need is a laptop and we’re good. It has all the tools we need.”
Fans can keep track of their favorite players online at Golf Genius or by downloading the app, along with the information provided at the tournament website https://pine2palmgolf.com/ .
For workers at the tournament, especially in the key aspects of correct scoring and scheduling updates for all seven days, the upgrade has eliminated what used to be very late nights.
“The latest part of the night now is making the display boards for the spectator’s enjoyment,” said Schnathorst. “Other than that, it’s been streamlined and it’s really nice. People don’t have to be here; they can see how matches are going, watching one match and looking at another.”
The app also alleviated an employee who used to have the unenviable job of spending the entire day inside the clubhouse answering phone calls, typically a volunteer from the high school girls golf program. Results and tee times for players and fans were basically unavailable without calling ahead. This made the phone job even more demanding during weather delays.
Johnston and Schnathorst are taking over in complementary roles. Schnathorst sees a lot of the tournament, including leading the championship pairing and is in front of everyone from players to fans. Johnston’s multiple responsibilities keep him secluded much of the tournament running the back of house.
“When I get a chance to wander around I try to see as much as I can,” Johnston said. “Being the clubhouse director and in charge of the food and beverage, I’ve got two plates going. What we decided with this change was Vern was going to be the face out there and I’ll watch this back for him, so he doesn’t have to worry about that.”
Johnston, Cihak, Dupree and the scoring and scheduling group are a close-knit team that has been backing up the chairman from the upcoming Schnathorst run, back through Bruflodt and Gorden. It’s a well-oiled machine.
“We had a specific set of goals we wanted from this new software and Golf Genius to get it done,” said Johnston. “We wanted golfers to know when they’re done and when they’re next.”
That was as much about allowing participants to plan their time off the course as well as during competition.
The COVID year also brought about a big change that got plenty of applause from players.
Last year, the number of golfers was reduced to 450.
“We maybe would have gotten over 500 in the past, but we had so many people come up to us last year, like Greg Melhus, and the veteran Pine to Palm guys that have played a long time that commented on how much better they enjoyed it because they were able to play faster and it wasn’t taking as long,” said Schnathorst. “We’re only maybe 40 golfers off where we would normally be anyway. We just decided we’re going to keep it at that number to keep it more manageable. That way, if you get some bad weather on a Thursday or Wednesday, your busier days, you still have more time to fit it in.”
The Pine to Palm is the largest of the three Resort Circuit tournaments (Resorters, The Birchmont). This year’s field currently sits at 464 players.
For the two chairmen taking over the tournament, the decision to do so got them out of their respective comfort levels.
“The hardest part was convincing the two of us because we both got used to being where we were,” said Johnston.
Schnathorst sees his job as a group effort, aside from when the tournament needs an executive decision.
“Moving forward, if we get the right people involved, some person can be called the chairman, but I think if you can share the responsibilities through four or five people, not just one or two, that’s just going to help,” he said.
“You have to have that one person to make that one decision,” said Johnston. “Someone has to eventually say yes, and end the discussion and I think Vern will be perfect for that job.”
Schnathorst has the support of the full volunteer staff, including tournament stalwart and official starter Mark Gunderson .
“He’ll do a good job,” said Gunderson. “He feels the same way about the tournament that I and other people do. There’s no doubt in my mind that he will be successful.”
Read more stories by Robert Williams here .