Passing it on: Mentoring matters to Steve Ehrbar

Steve Ehrbar, CGCS, defines that “where-would-I-be-without-him” figure.

The Ohio native spent his Ohio State University summer internship under superintendent Al Muhle at The Country Club in the town of Pepper Pike roughly 30 minutes southeast of Cleveland. “I worked until 3:30 in the afternoon and came back later in the evening as night waterman,” Ehrbar says. “He (Muhle) saw I was interested, committed to the business. He said to me, ‘You’re going to work every day.’ I soaked up everything. To this day, I thank him so much. We still send Christmas cards to each other. I always thought if I can help someone, like he helped me, I would definitely do it.”

Ehrbar — director of agronomy at a highly anticipated golf course nearing its opening in Florida — has lived up to that “helping out” thing in a big way. Ehrbar estimates more than three dozen individuals have gone on to be superintendents or employed in other capacities in the industry after being guided on his watch, a sign of just how extensive his tree is and how much those people have branched out, most noticeably in Florida, where he has been located since 1985.

Among those who left and went on to flourish after their time with Ehrbar is GCSAA Class A superintendent Nick Sabatino. He worked at two different places for him. The courses may have changed, but the consistency remained. “It was the way he balanced out the pressure of expectations from membership and the team he leads. I never saw him lose his cool. He gave us enough rope to learn on our own and, ultimately, understood what happens falls on him,” says Sabatino, now at Hole-In-The-Wall Golf Club in Naples, Fla. “He was a boss, mentor, friend, and he could keep that balance. He’s as good as it gets.”

Ehrbar has touched lives. Clarence Covington will tell you. “I probably still would be an assistant if it wasn’t for him,” says Covington, once a spray tech for Ehrbar and now a GCSAA Class A superintendent and 14-year association member at Turtle Creek Club in Tequesta, Fla. “When I sought a superintendent job, he went to bat for me, 100%, no hesitation. To be in his circle means everything.”

To Ehrbar, seeing those who have blossomed under him advance themselves is what matters. “I’ve told anybody who worked for me, there’s no guarantees. I’ll put in a good word, but it’s not a free ticket. You’ve got to earn it,” says Ehrbar, 63, a 41-year GCSAA member at the 18-hole Jack Nicklaus Signature Course, Panther National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., which is scheduled to open this month. “I tell them to push themselves professionally. I was always pushing myself to be the best superintendent I could be. I had it in my mind when I got into the business that I wanted to be a good leader, somebody you can trust, and build a good reputation. For those who worked for me, seeing their success is what it’s all about.”