Super Spotlight: Kevin Fowler from Cherry Oaks

Updated: Jun 1, 2020

It’s never a bad day when you get to play golf. However, there are times when things can be a little… off. Maybe your swing doesn’t cooperate. Maybe your mind is too clouded with work, family, or the bad habits of your playing partner, to focus on the task at hand. Maybe it’s the weather.

It was definitely the latter on the last day of the year in 2019 as I made the twenty-minute drive west to Cheney to tee it up at one of my favorite courses: Cherry Oaks.

I was working that night, New Year’s Eve, and wasn’t going into the office until late which meant I had plenty of time to get a round in. But I also had an important football game to watch that afternoon which meant if I wanted to play, it would have to be early. It was clear that morning, but as you might expect for December 31, it was pretty damn cold.

You know it was cold when the Canada geese are headed south.

There was only one other vehicle in the parking lot when I pulled in. It was the clubhouse guy Mark. Mark is a super friendly guy I’ve gotten to know over the years through my regular job and from playing golf out there so it was good to catch up with him while waiting for my playing partner to arrive. For as nice as Mark is though, he still wasn’t going to let us on the course until the temperature rose above 34 degrees. Like I said, it was pretty damn cold.

Cherry Oaks is one of my favorite local courses to play for a couple different reasons. One, there is always people like Mark out there. Cheney is the epitome of All-American small-town and the people who are a part of the course always make for a great experience. It feels like home even though for me, it isn’t.

Par 5, fourth hole. Taken from the cart path showing the correct line of play. Not my normal line.

Another reason why Cherry Oaks is so great is because it is always in immaculate condition. It doesn’t matter the time of year you catch this place: the conditions will be as good as it can be. Which is why Cherry Oaks has been recognized two times as one of the Top 25 courses in the country for value by Golf Advisor (2017 and 2018). And that is a testament to the guy in charge of the place: Kevin Fowler.

And, while the title of this post is called the "Super Spotlight," Kevin is technically the Director of Golf, as he oversees the clubhouse as well as the on-course operations, with the help of a Clubhouse Manager and an Assistant Superintendent.

I’ve known about Kevin for a while, but wouldn’t necessarily say I know him. I remember watching him play sports in high school when I was a kid. He was around the same age as some of my cousins so I’d heard his name plenty of times. He definitely didn’t know me until a random run-in a few months ago at a different golf course. I filled him in on what tMP was all about and asked him if he’d be willing to answer some questions sometime. He was nice enough to say yes and we really appreciate his time in answering our questions.

The goal of this post is to enlighten the golfer on some of the things behind the scenes that we don’t always get to see. Hopefully you’ll learn something to implement in your game to help your super maintain your course.

The creek bed short of the fourth green was dry, or frozen, on this day.

JP: Obviously, I know where you’re from but give us a little background on yourself personally.

KF: I was born and raised in Medicine Lodge, Kansas, and went to college at K-State. I got a degree in Horticulture with a specialization in Golf Course Management and a minor in Business. I worked at Wildcat Creek Golf Course in Manhattan during school then worked at Arkansas City Country Club for three years after school. This will be my seventeenth season at Cherry Oaks. I've served as President of the Kansas Golf Course Superintendents Association twice in 2008 and 2013. I’m happily married to Christina for what will be eighteen years in April, if she keeps me that long, and a dad to Kaitlyn (15), Casen (11), and Camrie (4).

JP: You mentioned that you worked at Ark City Country Club which was laid out by the famous Perry Maxwell. Did that mean anything to you then, as a young guy right out of school?

KF: At the time I took the job, no. I basically took the job as a challenge to improve the greens which had been neglected and I was able to do that in a short time frame. But as I was there, I did truly come to appreciate the fact that the original nine was designed by Maxwell. What a great layout! I continue to tell people that if I had unlimited resources, I would buy the place and install an up to date irrigation system. Man, the potential that tract has!

JP: I haven’t played there yet but it’s on my to-golf list for sure. How’s your game? What do I need to look out for when I get the chance for a match?

KF: My golf game, although not great, has come a long way in the last few years. I’m currently a 14.5 handicap. My irons are pretty decent but my driver can be erratic. Of course, I’m Titleist all the way!

JP: No free ads, but of course if Titleist is reading this, I'll be happy to leave that part in… How’d you get into this business? What was your motivation?

KF: I was not a golfer growing up but always enjoyed working outdoors and seeing the results of daily work. Once on the course, I fell in love with the profession. Nothing beats a golf course sunrise!

JP: What are some of the major projects you’ve tackled at Cherry Oaks?

KF: The addition of the back nine was the reason I came here. We accomplished that in my first and second years here. Concrete cart paths would probably be second. We have been able to concrete all 18 holes and a walking trail with grants, donations, and the Friends of Cherry Oaks, a feat I never thought possible. We’re currently adding two on course restrooms this off-season.

JP: So, you came to Cherry Oaks to develop the back nine. Maybe give us some background on the history of Cherry Oaks and who you worked with on building the back nine?

KF: The front nine was designed and constructed by Johnson Golf Course Builders out of, I think, South Sioux City, Nebraska, in 1993. Play began in the fall of 1994. Marty Johnson and company also designed the back nine. Construction began summer of 2004, opened for play summer of 2005. I started at the course April 1, 2004, and the construction crew arrived in June. Wow, what a summer! I was basically the point person between the crew and the city. It was a whirlwind. Greens were seeded October 14-15, 2004, as we were in the hospital having our first child.

JP: Holy smokes. Trial by fire there a little bit! Kind of leads into the next question as that was a pretty serious challenge, but what are some of your biggest challenges at Cherry Oaks and how have you addressed those?

KF: Convincing golfers that Cheney is not that far from Wichita! Seriously, you can get to Cheney from west Wichita faster than getting from west side to the east side! Honestly though, it is producing the best playing surfaces we can with limited resources. I know this is probably everyone’s challenge but it gets tougher every year. The City of Cheney is a great place to work and provide me with almost everything I ask for but the golfers expectations continue to outreach our resources. Televised golf is great but golfers do not realize that those courses do not look like they do every week of the year!

JP: Great point about TV and how it has changed the golfer’s perception about what is golf. That’s something I hadn’t thought about. You kind of joke about getting golfers from Wichita to come out, but have you been successful in that? I imagine technology has helped spread the word?

KF: Advertising and GolfNow has helped. But more importantly is word of mouth. Once people come out, they're hooked.

JP: Apart from people not fixing divots on the greens, which pisses everyone off, what is the one thing that golfers do regularly that pisses you off the most?

KF: Not following the posted rules! If I say it is cart path only, it is cart path only. I’m not keeping you on the path because I want to make you mad, I have a reason for it. Either it’s too dry or too wet! Another is keeping the cart on the path around greens and tees. And spitting chewing tobacco or sunflower seeds on the green. Do you want to putt through someone’s spit or seeds? Come on man!

JP: What aspect do you enjoy most about your job?

KF: The finished product. There’s nothing more satisfying than looking at a freshly cut golf course.

JP: What is the one thing you do that has the biggest impact on players that we players don’t know about or acknowledge?

KF: Daily mowing. Mowing the greens everyday during the growing season. Some courses may skip a day here and there and may rotate mowing and rolling, but for me at least, I see the benefit of consistent mowing.

Long par 4, first hole at Cherry Oaks in Cheney, KS.

JP: Whoa. I expected you to say you did a lot of mowing, but every day during the season? That's got to take up some serious time. Walk us through what your typical day looks like during the season. We golfers complain about the time it takes to play a round but I don't think we realize just how long it takes someone like you to get it ready for us hackers.

KF: The greens are mowed seven days a week by two people. That takes two hours each day. Three days a week we mow the tees and collars. That takes three hours. Fairways are mowed nine holes a day by one person and usually takes four to five hours, depending if golfers catch him. Rough mowers run daily anywhere from five to seven hours. Plus, all the other duties: cutting cups, water jugs, trash, weed eating. We typically start our engines an hour ahead of play to try and stay in front of players. On tournament days, we get everything done before the tournament begins which means some early mornings!

JAP: Apart from your course, where are some of the places you like to play?

KF: I enjoy playing Wildcat Creek in Manhattan, where I got my start. I like Rolling Hills in Wichita too.

JP: Alright, last one, give those reading out there who might be a super or helping take care of their local course a tip. What is one thing you see golf courses do that would be the easiest to fix?

KF: Over watering. A lot of courses set the irrigation and don’t check it for months. Over watering can be worse than under watering. It’s important to understand what your greens need and then stay on top of that need.

If you have any questions for Kevin, feel free to check out Cherry Oaks online by clicking here. Or, better yet, go visit his course in person. He'll be around there somewhere and I promise you won't be disappointed. Thanks again to Kevin for his time and let us know what you think in the comments below or on our social media platforms. As always:

We’re glad you’re here.

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