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Talent & Trouble: A Look at the Career of Clinton Bradley

A Look at the Career of Clinton Bradley
By: Doug Vogel

Article From:
The Greenerside, Issue 2: 2019 - Volume 50
Official Publication of The Golf Course Superintendents Association of NJ

Golfdom Magazine called him the Jersey Genius. The Passaic County Park Commissioners called him the answer to their problems. His friends and colleagues called him Kent. In later years, some colleagues didn’t call him at all. Clinton “Kent” Bradley, expert greenkeeper of the Passaic County Golf Course, was all of the above and much, much more. Inventor, innovator, educator, writer, organizer, entrepreneur, trailblazer, as well as opportunist and opinionated curmudgeon. His fifty-plus years in the golf course maintenance industry impacted everyone who came to know him -whether they liked it or not. Clinton Bradley was a native of New England and one of the early wave of greenkeepers that were American-born and college educated. He was a student of Professor Lawrence Dickinson and a graduate of the Winter School for Greenkeepers at the Massachusetts Agricultural College in the early 1930s. Established in 1927, Dickinson’s turf management program was the first of its kind in the United States. Along with the pioneering work of Dr. Charles V. Piper and Dr. Russell A.Oakley of the United States Department of Agriculture, golf course managers were now able to apply science to the art of greenkeeping and Bradley was all in. He would become the first in a long line of distinguished greenkeepers/superintendents to navigate the Massachusetts to New Jersey greenkeeper pipeline.

Bradley got his first break into the greenkeeping business when the newly opened Passaic County Golf Course in Wayne, New Jersey fired their greenkeeper John Cerretto. The club manager and Cerretto were often at odds with each other during the course’s inaugural season because the greenkeeper was “playing too much golf.” After surveillance by the park police verified the accusations, the park commissioners terminated Cerretto for negligence of duties in January of 1934. A search committee was formed and a job notice was sent out to the local greenkeeping associations. Some very respected greenkeepers of the era, including John Elliffe of the Winged Foot Golf Club and John Anderson of the Crestmont Country Club were interviewed. Both candidates withdrew their applications due to a low starting salary. Bradley , who was working as a salesman for Woodworth Bradley; a golf course, estate and park supply company in Newburgh, New York, was next in line and received the job offer.

He was appointed head greenkeeper by the Passaic County Park Commission on February 1, 1934. His starting salary of $125 a month came with housing and the stipulation that he had to supply his own heat. The young greenkeeper would work tirelessly his first season; making improvement after improvement to the maturing course and was rewarded with a new contract that included the addition of a coal-fired furnace for his house. With the county paying for his coal, Bradley’s wood splitting days were over. It was noted in the 1934 Park Commission minutes that the difference of Cerretto’s salary of $150 a month and Bradley’s $125 would save the county $300 a year and would help cover the stipend for the coal. Bradley served as Passaic County’s greenkeeper for ten years. During his tenure he developed many innovative turf management techniques and personnel management practices. He was a prolific writer and shared everything he learned about maintaining a golf course in professional trade journals such as Golfdom and The Greenkeeper Reporter. By today’s standards the articles seem mundane, almost absurd, but for Bradley’s contemporaries they were eye-opening knowledge. He was famous for his “how-to” articles in Golfdom. “How to Take Notes at Trade Conferences,” “How to Choose Mowing Equipment,” “How to Purchase Golf Course Supplies” were a few of his popular lessons in writing. His “X” Marks the Spot column in The Greenkeeper Reporter offered similar simple but helpful turf-related offerings. Those who read them became better greenkeepers. “Talk-O-Vision” was Kent’s most interesting article. Bradley enlightened his readers with his revolutionary method of communicating between crew members on the golf course.

In 1938, two-way radios were not yet an option for greenkeepers so Bradley developed an intricate method that was based on pantomime so the crew could communicate or “talk” through “vision” across long distances on the golf course. Think of it as semaphore with flailing arms and legs. His gesturingbased language never caught on but the article is so historically interesting that it has been republished twice in Golf Course Management in the last twenty years. Another article- “An Index to What a Greenkeeper Should Know,” with a co-writing credit with fellow greenkeeper Mel Lucas, Sr. was comprehensive and informative, but it was entirely written by Lucas. Bradley wasn’t above taking credit where it wasn’t due. Bradley also wrote editorials, reported on trade shows/conferences and unsuccessfully tried his hand with humor with his “Kibitzing with Kent” column. A tireless promoter of the greenkeeping profession, Bradley started the Greenkeeper Alumni Association of the Massachusetts State College in 1934 with the idea that graduates could raise money together to help fund Professor Dickinson’s research and supply much needed equipment to the classrooms. Networking was another of his goals for the association and may have been a factor in many graduates/alumni making their way to employment in New Jersey. Clint was also the chairman of the New Jersey committee that lobbied for the change of the job title Greenkeeper to Superintendent. He had already had his own title changed at Passaic County the previous year and carried his passion to the national level with fellow New Jersey superintendents. When support for change nationally was won, Bradley helped design the Greenkeeping Superintendents Association logo. No article about Clinton Bradley could be written without an acknowledgement of his mentorship of Sherwood Moore, CGCS. Moore is considered one of the greatest superintendents to ever keep a green and he learned many of his skills while under the watchful eye of Bradley. Well-known as an exploiter of young assistants, Bradley hired Moore right out of the Stockbridge School (UMASS) in 1936 and put Sherwood to the test leaving clerical work for the eager assistant to deal with. The young pupil excelled and absorbed all the turfgrass management innovations being tested at Passaic County. Many of Bradley’s techniques and ideas can be seen throughout Sherwood Moore’s distinguished career. World War II presented new opportunities for Bradley. He left Passaic County in 1943 to enter private industry engaged in war work. He supplemented his income by selling used parts which were hard to find due to scrap drives to support the war. His niche market grew exponentially. He started C K Bradley Enterprises and became a very successful golf course supply entrepreneur. He invented mow over tee markers and successfully sold storage shed kits. He marketed Best Tee tee towels with “improved” brass grommets and manufactured aftermarket bed knives, nuts, bolts and other repair parts. His proprietary Beau-Tee-Ball markers were made of maple and resin and coated with his own Kentelite plastic finish. He improved flag sticks, designed signage and imported bamboo poles. He bought up inventory of obsolete repair parts for pennies on the dollar and sold them to his large client base at a fair profit. To save labor for golf clubs, Bradley concocted a “hair-brained” idea that would have golfers rake their own traps. It caught on. He invented small bunker rakes and sold them by the thousands. His slogan was “When Superintendents talk, we listen to what they want made” and he lived by it every day. Bradley’s business acumen was beyond astute and he did very well for himself financially. It enabled him to own homes in Wayne, New Jersey and Dunedin, Florida.

He retired to Florida in 1970 but his relationship with the golf course superintendent was not over. In retirement, Bradley kept his eye on the pulse of the industry. His close relationship with Col. John Morley during the early years of the GCSAA enabled him to be privy to the inner workings of how the association ran. As the association and industry matured, Bradley’s views were stalled in a 1930-1940’s mentality. He became a serial letter writer and harassed GCSAA Presidents Charles Baskin, CGCS and Ted Woehrle with his “ideas” during the 1970s. “He started bombarding me with letters on the state of the association as he saw it, none of which were harmonious” recalled Mel Lucas, Jr., CGCS, past president of the GCSAA (1980). The Lucas and Bradley families were close in the early days in New Jersey and Kent took advantage of this relationship. “He would call me on a Sunday, rant and rave for an hour or so.” Lucas, Jr. revealed that Bradley had hoarded NAGA/GCSAA materials/ephemera. He offered them to the association for their archives but the historical goldmine came with a cost. The GCSAA board politely said no thank you to the retired opportunist. Golf historians will look back at the Clinton Bradley story and debate the motives of the enigmatic greenkeeper. Genius is often perplexing, and the slightly tarnished end cannot deny that his contributions were significant during the era when greenkeepers were trying to figure it out. The Jersey Genius lives on.

Original Source:  https://issuu.com/gcsanj/docs/2019_issue_2_gside_digital