GCSAA News


Golf course superintendent Tom Height has a blast with pyrotechnics

GCSAA member makes July Fourth a family affair in fireworks show

Lawrence, Kan. (July 3, 2017) – When Tom Height gets together with his in-laws for Independence Day, it’s always big and loud, and there is bound to be an explosion.

Height, a 16-year member of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA) spends most of the year as superintendent at Pleasant Valley Country Club in Connellsville, Pa. But for Fourth of July celebrations, he trades the fairways for fuses as part of an annual fireworks show in Ralston, Pa.

Height married into pyrotechnics. When he met his wife, Angela, more than a decade ago, he was quickly indoctrinated into her family pastime. Angela’s father, John Orr, and uncle David Orr have been overseeing the Ralston show for 25 years, plus put on a few additional displays every year. Along with other family members, Height now helps with the setup, wiring and firing.

“We’re an old-school display where we do a lot of hand-firing,” Height said. “You light them with a flare at the end of a pole. During the show, I’m right there on the ground, next to the tubes, setting them off.”

While golf and fireworks may seem words apart, Height said both pursuits require a great deal of coordination and attention to safety. And just like his early mornings on the golf course, he’s out on the fireworks field many hours before the audience.

“There is a lot of coordination and setup for six to eight hours beforehand,” he said as he was preparing for the 2017 show, which took place on July 2. “The actual firing is the easy part. Safety has to be your biggest concern.”

Fire safety comes as second nature to John Orr, who, when not planning out how fireworks the size of basketballs will burst into the air, serves as Ralston’s fire chief. Height says this commitment to safety is being ingrained in his young sons, J.P., 4 ½, and Russ, 3, who are already showing an interest in the family “business.” The boys are among the 25 or so family members who join the celebration from the sidelines, while seven to 10 others work on the firing crew.

Out among the darkness and smoke near the tubes that hold the fireworks until they are lit, Height rarely gets a glimpse of the show as it’s happening, so he enjoys going to other fireworks shows. But he is rewarded by the reactions of the thousands of spectators who usually attend the show.

“Getting to stand back and see people enjoy your work on the golf course is very similar to seeing people enjoy the show,” he said.

Height began working on golf courses as a summer job in high school, but it took a superintendent letting him know that it could be a career that led him to graduate from Penn State’s turfgrass management program. A native Pennsylvanian, he’s found good support from his employers at Pleasant Valley CC for his explosive exploits off the course.

Height’s interest in pyrotechnics has grown beyond the annual family production. He attends seminars to keep up with the latest trends in fireworks, and sees the day coming when the family show will be fired electronically via computer.

“It’s our family fireworks, and we enjoy it that way,” Height said. “It’s something that I never thought that I would have the chance to do, but now it’s turned into a hobby of mine. It’s one the greatest adrenaline rushes I’ve ever had.”

About GCSAA and the EIFG
The Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA) is a leading golf organization in the United States. Its focus is on golf course management, and since 1926 GCSAA has been the top professional association for the men and women who manage golf courses in the U.S. and worldwide. From its headquarters in Lawrence, Kan., the association provides education, information and representation to nearly 18,000 members in more than 78 countries. The association’s mission is to serve its members, advance their profession and enhance the enjoyment, growth and vitality of the game of golf. Visit GCSAA at www.gcsaa.org or find us on Facebook or Twitter.

The Environmental Institute for Golf is the philanthropic organization of the GCSAA. Its mission is to foster sustainability through research, awareness, education, programs and scholarships for the benefit of golf course management professionals, golf facilities and the game. Visit EIFG at www.eifg.org. or find us on Facebook or Twitter.