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"The average golfer has no clue about all the different things going on at 5 a.m.," says Juba, 37, a Pennsylvania native. On a typical morning at the Raptor, an ensemble of 23 workers, 10 mowers, 12 utility vehicles, a leaf blower and a hole cutter descend on the course. As with an orchestra, Juba says, "all these various parts have to work together. If one thing goes wrong—if a belt snaps or there's an oil leak—it affects the entire operation."
And timing is everything, he says, a hint of tension in his voice. "The hardest part of my job is staying ahead of the golfers, who start teeing off at 6:30. They're on your butt fast! It's stressful because you're trying to work and someone's on top of you. How would you like it if someone came into your office and started rustling papers around while you were working?"
For Juba, stress beats boredom. A Class A PGA pro, he came to Grayhawk nine years ago and managed the golf shop. Two years later, selling socks and polos had grown tedious. "The grind was getting to me," he says. He transferred to the grounds crew because he loves "the faster pace." A former scratch golfer, Juba now plays sporadically and doesn't much miss it. "Priorities change. I have a daughter. You have to like what you do, and now every day's different, exciting. With this job I'm always learning."
Rafael Ruiz does not mow lawns. He creates works of art.
Between cutting the holes on the Raptor's greens, Ruiz recalls the surge of excitement he felt as a boy when a teacher or parent praised his latest drawing or finger painting. The 29-year-old father of four experiences a similar rush from a seemingly mundane chore: mowing the lawn.
For him, mowing is a form of self-expression. Of his many daily duties, Ruiz counts "striping" the Raptor fairways in a crisscross pattern his favorite part of the job. When he intertwines the ribbons of grass, he says, "I am mowing, but in my mind, I am not mowing. It's as if I am making art. I look and say, 'I like that. It's mine. It's my art.' " And what's an artist without a few admirers. "The golfers come and say, 'You did that very well. Great job.' That makes me feel proud."
Ruiz has worked at courses in the Southwest for 12 years, since leaving a job on a farm in central Mexico. "We don't have nothing in Mexico," he says. "If I was there, I would be taking care of cows." He signals toward the lush course and the burnt-orange McDowell Mountains in the distance. "But I get to work here."
A gig at Grayhawk comes with a perk: free golf. Ruiz sneaks in an after-work round now and then, walking the same fairways he sculpts. His favorite club? "The driver," he says. Whether at work or play, Ruiz loves striping it.
Gonzalo Pacheco is not a ditch digger. He's an investigator.
Beneath the Raptor's surface, one million feet of electrical wires thread their way to more than 2,000 remote-controlled sprinkler heads, which every night spray the course with 600,000 gallons of water—enough to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool. On this day, at number 17, the search is on for a malfunctioning wire. Pacheco is on the case, first helping to unearth the plastic tube containing a cluster of multicolored wires, then testing for the dead piece of equipment.