Former Golf Course Builder Leads Sod Farm into 20th Year of Business
Superior Turf, Inc. in Tifton, Georgia has grown from 75 acres and 3 employees in 2002 to 25 employees and nearly 700 acres of production throughout south Georgia, making it one of the largest producers of turfgrass in the state. Owner Drew Veazey explains that the past 20 years of work have been busy.
Veazey started working in the turf business when he was just 15 years old. He worked for Ray Jensen with Tifton Turf in Georgia for a while before venturing into the golf industry. He traveled around and built about 10 golf courses throughout the Southeast including venues in Myrtle Beach, Hilton Head Island, Pinehurst and Alabama. Veazey went to college at Lake City Community College in Florida, which is where many turf and golf professionals learned the business.
One of the first courses Veazey worked on was at Treyburn Country Club in Durham, NC while working for golf course architect Mike Riley from Atlanta. He also worked with Bill Bergin and Rees Jones and eventually held an internship under Randy Waldrum at the Golf Club of Georgia in Atlanta in 1994. Veazey shared that the coolest golf course he helped build during that time was the Auburn University Club in Alabama. That last course motivated Veazey to switch from golf construction to sod farming full-time.
“After that, I entered into the turf business a little bit and eventually went out on my own in 2002 when I started Superior Turf,” Veazey said. Though he’d been a farming kid since his parents grew cotton and peanuts in Georgia, he was the first family member to work in the turfgrass industry.
”I had built my contact list up of superintendents and architects and I’d had a couple of people ask me if I’d ever thought about getting into the turf business. The turf business was booming and doing pretty well. My family came from a background in farming and my brother was in the golf course construction business at the time.”
Veazey felt inclined to bring a better product to the market and started by growing Certified 419 Bermuda. He said this was around the same time that the golf industry started demanding Georgia Certified sod so that’s when they stepped into the business.
Superior Turf, Inc. supplied a lot of Latitude 36® Bermudagrass to the Robert Trent Jones trails in Alabama. They also supplied a big job at the Grand Hotel in Mobile, Alabama last year. “We just got finished with the number one golf course voted by Golf Digest, the McLemore Club. We put Latitude 36 on that in North Georgia,” Veazey said.
Superior has sent sod overseas to Egypt, Africa, the Bahamas and Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. “We just completed a big project at a golf course in Santo Domingo with Latitude 36 this past year.”
Superior grows several turfgrass varieties, including CitraBlue® St. Augustine, EMPIRE® Zoysia, Innovation™ Zoysiagrass, Latitude 36® Bermudagrass and NorthBridge® Bermudagrass. EMPIRE was the first proprietary grass Veazey started growing about 8 years ago. Superior also grows Emerald Zoysia, Meyer Zoysia, Certified 419 Bermuda, common centipede, Santee® Centipede, fescue in the fall, Floratam St. Augustine and TifTuf® Bermuda.
Veazey said they cut anywhere between 10-17 loads of sod per day, Monday through Friday. Of their sales, he estimates 75% are for athletic fields and the landscape market and about 25% for golf courses.
Superior has a store near Dawsonville, Georgia called Superior Turf Atlanta Outlet where they drop sod and sell to homeowners. They also sell several pallets at a time to landscapers from this outlet. Veazey said like most sod farms in the area, they ship turfgrass into Atlanta every night. They have two employees at the outlet store, one is a sales guy and the other helps with deliveries.
Industry Changes and New Varieties
Veazey said there are a few notable changes in the sod industry over the past 20 years. “I think the demand for certified grass is a must and Georgia has a very good certification program. The golf industry has changed to so many different varieties now. It’s hard to keep up with the various changes from one year to the next.”
He said the universities develop so many new turfgrass varieties that it can be hard for sod farmers to keep up with sometimes. Veazey said each year he tries to explore the new varieties coming out. Currently, he has three on his desk that he’s deciding between. He said he’ll probably only do one of them and pass on two others just depending on what they are.
“We look at what the varieties are set up for. Are they set up as homeowner varieties or golf course varieties? We decide on whatever we feel like meets our demand. Are these good varieties to send overseas and do they have drought tolerance? That’s a big thing when we ship grass overseas since most of it is for resorts or places on the ocean where they have brackish water so those are the varieties that we look at,” he said.
He said they also look and see what the golf course industry and superintendents are saying since they’re in the field every day and see what their needs are. Veazey said they’re normally looking for a bermudagrass that can withstand high traffic or has good shade tolerance.
Another way Veazey said he’s seen the industry change over time is through the enhancement of automated sod cutters. “We can cut different size pallets and different shapes of grass; from slabs and super slabs to mini rolls and big rolls. That’s definitely changed and we can get more out the door with less help than we used to.”
They also supply washed sprigs for turfgrass installations. Veazey has a top-quality sod washing mechanism set up at the farm so he can prepare and ship washed sprigs to customers.
Superior Turf, Inc. has been open to trialing new turfgrass varieties in their early stages. Veazey said that the new turfgrass varieties are focused on water conservation aspects. “We have a chance to test them and see how drought tolerant they really are. I think we’ve saved water on the farm. These new varieties grow slower, so we can mow less, have fewer fertilizer requirements and water less.”
“We have to try new varieties or we can’t keep up with the changing aspects of staying up with the golf industry. Usually, these new varieties are good for about 10 years and then we move on to something else,” Veazey said. “We have to stay on the cutting edge of trying new stuff, that’s just a part of what we do in the industry.”
UAC Field Day
Veazey said it’s very rewarding to be a part of the UAC Sod Producers & Landscape Field Day which will be held at Superior’s Bellflower Farms in Tifton Nov. 2-3, 2021.
“I’m glad to have everyone come out and support all of the industry, and equipment, and latest technology and new varieties that are out and about. It’s a time everybody gets together to see what’s on the market nowadays and see what new technology has come out and that’s always a big thing. It helps to support the foundation behind all of it,” he said.
He explained the event is a great way to get competitors that are also good friends all together and it allows people to talk to Brian Swartz about new varieties he’s working on at the University of Georgia.
“We talk about different varieties that we have had success with and the ones we haven’t. It’s just a great time to get together once a year and also to show support to the certification program and pat those guys on the back for the good job they do,” Veazey added.
Over the past ten years, Veazey said the event has gathered a larger crowd each year. Last year they had great weather and he estimates a few hundred people showed up. He is hopeful for great weather at the event.
There are meetings on the first day that Veazey said will consist of great speakers on the cutting edge of technology for herbicides, pesticides, fertilizer requirements as well as learning trade secrets about what’s working for certain varieties. “It’s always interesting to keep an open mind about what you need to do and what you can do better, ” Veazey said.
To register for the UAC Sod Producers & Landscape Field Day on November 2-3 or learn more, click here.
Veazey said that it’s been a remarkable experience growing Superior into the turfgrass business it is today. Currently, their farms stretch from Tifton down to Ashburn, Georgia.
Veazey is married and his wife Wanda worked as a Pre-kindergarten Administrator in Tifton and just recently retired last year. Wanda and Drew have two daughters. Their youngest, Abbey, is currently taking classes at Valdosta State University. Their oldest daughter, Jamie, just graduated with her Master’s Degree from Kennesaw State University and accepted an agricultural communication teaching position at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College.
Veazey is a proud father and sod farmer. He looks forward to continuing his farm operations into the 20th year of operations next year supplying landscape contractors, builders, golf courses, parks, schools, universities, municipalities and homeowners throughout the south Georgia area and beyond with premium quality turfgrass sod.
This article was written by Cecilia Brown.