Meet undergraduate students Cameron Irvine and Hayden Amtower

Hayden Amtower and Cameron Irvine sit on riding lawn mowers at a golf course.
Hayden Amtower (left) and Cameron Irvine

Cameron Irvine and Hayden Amtower, both students in the  Ratcliffe Hicks School of Agriculture, are studying turf management. They interned at  Cromwell’s TPC River Highlands during the Travelers Championship PGA tournament and stayed on to work at the course beyond the summer season.

“The internship with the TPC was one of the best experiences of my life, and it really sealed the deal on my interest in turfgrass management,” Irvine says. “I was able to learn everything from small maintenance projects to using big tractors and equipment. There was something new every day.”

“I had a great time because of the management and crew,” says Amtower. “We all got along well. I asked a lot of questions and learned a lot. The environment there was terrific.”

Irvine agrees. “The whole tournament experience was something unlike anything I have ever experienced, even without the fans this year. I was able to see the professional side of turfgrass management, but also learned the importance of good leadership and how it is displayed, how to keep everyone’s morale high. We were working long hours, but it was a blast, and I enjoyed every day of it. That’s a huge takeaway.”

“Both Hayden and Cameron are excellent students,” says Steven Rackliffe, extension professor in turfgrass science in the Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture. “They both demonstrate a strong passion to learn and truly enjoy turfgrass science and are great ambassadors for our program.”

“When I visited them this summer at their internship site, their supervisors gave them many accolades,” Rackliffe continues. “I was told that they were two of the best interns they have ever had. Their year-end performance evaluations from their supervisors pointed out many positive qualities including, being enthusiastic and having strong work ethic. It was noted that both Cam and Hayden had great attitudes toward their work. They were seen as dependable and inquisitive, and they used sound judgment.”

When choosing his major, Irvine thought turfgrass management would be a way to combine his love of sports and the outdoors. It was always a dream of his to attend UConn. To broaden his employment opportunities, he plans to transfer to the four-year baccalaureate program in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics (ARE) next fall and major in applied and resource economics with a concentration in business management.

His dream job would be a superintendent at a beautiful golf course. For the summer of 2021, he has secured an internship at the Vineyard Golf Club, on Martha’s Vineyard.

Irvine has enjoyed being a part of the UConn Leadership Learning Community. He says it has been a way to create social opportunities. He is also a member of the UConn Turf Club.

“The club is a lot of fun,” he says. “We did leaf clean ups in the fall for faculty and alumni, and they sent donations that enabled us to attend the Golf Industry Show in Orlando, Florida, last year. About ten of us we were able to network and see what the industry has to offer.”

As with other students, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected Irvine’s studies, particularly when it relates to hands-on experience. He says it’s been a struggle to focus and study. When asked what he thought was a pressing issue for his generation, he said that finding the important things in life amidst all the noise.

“We have a lot of distractions surrounding us all the time, and it’s difficult to sift out what is important to me and others,” he says. “It applies to everything.”

For Amtower, the UConn campus is close to home and he knew several students who were studying in the Ratcliffe Hicks program, so it felt like the perfect place to be. He too plans to transfer into the four-year program in ARE.

Amtower was not a stranger to the landscaping field when he came to UConn. During high school, he started a landscaping business and thought a degree in turfgrass management would help with his business goals. But he so enjoyed working in golf course management that he decided to pursue a career in the field. He also grew up playing golf with his father and relished being out on the course.

He has thoroughly enjoyed his turf classes and plant identification labs walking around campus. He says one of his best experiences has been being a member of Alpha Gamma Rho, the agricultural fraternity. He says, “It’s great getting to know other students with the same interests. If I need any help, I know a group of people in similar majors.”

Amtower hopes to intern at a golf course in the southern United States. “Next summer I’d like to go down to the Carolinas or Florida and get some experience with warm season grasses,” he says. His ultimate career goal is a superintendent position at one of the larger courses that hosts an annual PGA tournament.

Regarding an issue that concerns him, Amtower says that many of his peers are facing careers that require additional education while countless jobs are being replaced with automation. “We see it even on the golf course,” he says. “Computers automate sprinklers, and sprayers like the Spray Hawk drive themselves, so now that job only needs one person instead of two or three.”

By Kim Colavito Markesich