Updated: Jun 1, 2020
It was early fall 2007. I already reported to college but was excused from baseball practice for the weekend because it this one was special: my sister was getting married in Manhattan (shout-out B and T). I caught the golf bug over the previous summer because I worked at a golf course while attempting to play summer baseball. I say attempting because I rode the pine a lot that summer.
The wedding wasn't until the evening and we decided to get a group together to go play some golf that morning. Our destination: Rolling Meadows north of Junction City by Milford Lake.
We had an eclectic group that morning and I'm not entirely sure who was all there. Damn near fifteen years ago at this point. Again, shout-out B and T... I'm sure there were uncles and cousins, and know my dad was there in another group. All I can say for sure is that my group was myself, my older brother, and two of our soon-to-be-brother-in-law's college friends. They also happened to be brothers so we had a sibling rivalry thing going on that morning.
I don't remember much about the round or how I was playing. I do know that we were having fun and knocking back enough beer that my brother and I needed a pact of silence to prevent getting in trouble with our sister on her big day. We finished up nine, reloaded the cooler in the clubhouse, teed off on the tenth and away we went.
We were deep in conversation and driving down the tenth fairway when my brother, who was driving our cart, took a big drink, screamed, then jumped out at full speed. He was waiving his arms, running, and yelling; it was a pretty wild scene. Through all the commotion, I still wasn't quite sure what happened. He was running in circles before he dropped to a knee in the middle of the fairway. It took me a second to get my bearings. I got the cart stopped and our playing partners circled back to see what the hell was going on. I was a little scared to be honest. I ran to my brother who was still crouching on the ground...
Me: "Dude, what the hell was that?! You alright?!"
Z: "There was a bee in my beer! It stung me on the tongue!"
The ensuing laughter carried us through the rest of the round. My brother was fine; it wasn't near as big of a deal as he made it out to be in the moment. Shit like that only happens to my brother. And I know the rest of us were glad we were there to witness it. Ended up being a damn good day and one that I will always remember for a whole bunch of different reasons.
That was my first memory of Rolling Meadows. I've been back several times since then and always have a great time. And every time I go back, the course is always better than it was before. That is largely due to the subject of this Super Spotlight: Nic Youngers. Appreciate Nic taking the time to answer our questions and have a little fun talking about his job, his course, and his life.
If you have the chance to get to Rolling Meadows, do it. Just make sure your beer has a lid...
JP: Give us a little background on you personally. Where are you from? Where did you go to school? How long have you been at RM? Any professional and personal accomplishments you want everyone to know about? Brag a little!
NY: I'm born and raised a Kansas boy. I grew up in Wichita before moving to Clearwater where I went to high school. I went to Kansas City Kansas Community College to play golf for a couple of years before going to Kansas State for a degree in Golf Course Management. I have been at Rolling Meadows for going on six years. Probably the biggest professional accomplishment has to be the zoysia conversion that we completed in 2018. It was a bear to take on, but so much fun! Definitely my personal accomplishment was becoming a Dad (#girldad) to my three and half year old twin daughters Leah and Laila. My wife Cortney is a rock-star taking care of our two kids, and me, who is also a kid.
JP: With two little ones and a rock-star at home myself, I know getting out and playing can be a challenge but how’s your golf game? Strengths, weaknesses of your game?
NY: My handicap is far better than my game actually is. Without a doubt my strength is my short game and recovery game. It makes up for the weakness of poor ball striking. Playing is difficult between work and family life, but I usually find time. I am lucky my wife tells me to get out of the house to play!
JP: How did you get into this? What is your motivation?
NY: I got into this because I knew I could not be locked in an office for eight hours a day. Roaming 130 acres with endless jobs to do sounded so much more fun. My motivation is like many in this field: work hard to attain perfection even when all odds are usually against you.
JP: What are some of the major projects you’ve tackled at RM?
NY: This list seems like it should be spread over twenty years, but somehow it has been crammed into six. Before I get into any of it, it is not possible to complete any of these projects without the support of my bosses, and the hard work of the staff that works at Rolling Meadows. Here are some of the highlights: 1) Zoysia Conversion in 2017-2018, 2) Irrigation controller install/upgrade in 2019-2020, 3) Driving range and chipping green construction in 2017, 4) Clubhouse remodel in 2019. I told my wife no more projects about four times now. Every time I tell her that, she knows another one is coming.
JP: Damn man! How do you have time to sleep?! That list is impressive, and I don't want to give you any anxiety, but what's next? You have to be running out of major projects?
NY: Hopefully we will be finished with projects for a while. I could see an eventual conversion of the rough to Bermuda, but that would be a few years down the road. Some of the smaller things coming would be a pavilion structure for larger events to have a place for meals and gatherings. Our fundraising board, The Friends of Rolling Meadows, has been the amazing driving force behind that project. We can’t be who we are at Rolling Meadows without them!
JP: What have been some of your biggest challenges at RM and how have you addressed those?
NY: When I started here, I had two great superintendents before me who got Rolling Meadows off to a good start towards a rebuild. The first thing I did was list the priorities of the course. As soon as I'd check one off the list, I'd move onto another. The list grows by one and shrinks by one each year. The biggest challenge that we took care of was the zoysia conversion. When I started here, the fairways were a mix of cool season turf. Minimal chemical and staff money made zoysia the logical choice for us. Once we completed the conversion, we were able to move onto other areas of the course because the fairways were no longer eating up the majority of our labor and chemical budget.
JP: This is quickly becoming my favorite question: what are some things golfers do that piss you off, other than not fixing divots?
NY: NOT OBEYING CART RESTRICTIONS. We don’t do it to be mean. We work hard to produce a quality product, and simply staying on the path after a big rain respects that.
JP: Seems like a common thread from the supers we've talked to. What's the solution to that problem, other than banning all dumbasses? No carts after rains? Know it is a small number of golfers that are the problem but still, if you're all saying that, it is a big problem.
NY: I have had days where I have wanted to pull keys out of carts on the course when people can’t obey. I am lucky that it isn’t a super big issue at Rolling Meadows. If someone forgets and does drive off path, a kind reminder usually keeps them in check. But I would love to see that reaction if I drove up and took the key to their cart.
JP: That would be hilarious. Make sure you film it if you ever do pull someone's keys. That's the bad thing, tell us what aspect do you enjoy most about your job?
NY: Summer mornings. A greens mower and a cup of coffee with it are about as good as it gets. I also enjoy hearing what the customers have to say. They are the ones paying for a product, so their opinion is very important.
JP: A lawn mower with a cup of coffee sounds pretty damn peaceful. What is the one thing you do that has the biggest impact on players that most of us don’t know about/recognize?
NY: Tournament set up for our stroke play tournaments are where I love to impact the individual rounds. Moving tees up on hole five so the longer hitters can try to drive the green, sucker pin placements, and placing tees to make tee shots comfortable or uncomfortable for the player. I always try to be fair about it though. Golf is supposed to be fun, and nothing pleases me more than to hear, “I haven’t seen that before, and I like it!” out of a golfers mouth. I really get a grin out of hearing it when my assistant does something along those lines and I had no hand in it. He is growing as a professional and a person every day!
JP: Other than RM, give us a couple of your favorite places to play?
NY: Manhattan Country Club of course. I worked there for six years. I started there working for Cliff Dipman, and by the time he retired, I was engaged to his daughter. Cortney knows I married her just to have my beer drinking and sports watching buddy in Cliff. Cherry Oaks has a place in my heart too. I grew up with a junior membership there every summer. It’s always a treat to go back there even if I have to put up with Fowler! Of course Clearwater Greens has me. Playing there every year for high school golf practice, you learn how to land a shot yards short of a green because they have no pitch to stop a shot. 380 yard drives on rock hard buffalo grass fairways are fun too.
JP: Whoa, whoa. Backup a second. Your wife is the daughter of a super? Talk about that for a second. Are family gatherings dominated by golf course talk? Seems like you and Cliff have a great relationship but where does the family dynamic intersect with the super dynamic you both share?
NY: Cliff was married before and has a daughter, Kelsey, who lives in Chicago. Cliff married Christy, who had Cortney. So, Cliff is technically a stepdad, but it was always a true dad/daughter relationship. Cortney knew what she was getting into when she married me. She knew about the stress, long days, hot summers, and to save the honey-do lists for November through February. Cortney and Kelsey's relationship has been great the past few years because within six months of each other, they both had twins.
Cliff lost his battle with cancer in October 2019. So amazingly hard to grow grass every day without thinking of him. Working for him made me so much of who I am, but the relationship we had off of the course was far greater. We would talk shop for a few minutes, but it became more of talking about my kids/his grandkids, sports, food, and of course, “do you need another Bud Light?” I would talk to Cliff every day. As the cancer progressed, he lost his voice. We resorted to Snapchat, texts, and a white board to communicate. Let me tell you, Cliff had such a sense of humor even when he had to write a joke on a white board.
Cliff meant so much to me in the turf world, but at his funeral seeing grown men cry over the loss of him made me realize two things: 1) Cliff was a Dad to all of us who would give you anything. And 2) as myself, Cortney, Christy (Cortney's Mom), Kelsey, husband Mike, and Cortney's half-sister Linda, all embraced before the funeral began, we realized Cliff was training us all along for the days when he would be gone. He looked out for all of us, and now we have a tighter family relationship. It is thanks to him. Here's a great link to learn more about Cliff's life and legacy.
JP: Wow. That is an incredible story and thanks for sharing. I'm not an emotional person but need a second after that one. What a great way to remember someone who had such an impact on you... Hard to change directions after that but only have one more and maybe this is a time to pass along some of your knowledge (and Cliff's) to others out there: what is the one thing you see in golf courses that would be the easiest to fix? Thinking of small town places and how they might be able to fix something easy that they might not know about?
NY: The biggest thing with all courses is that they don’t realize what they are and what they need to be. They focus more on what the other guy is doing instead of what they can comfortably afford to produce a quality product for the customer. Whether we like it or not, the customer is always right.
Appreciate Nic for taking the time to answer our questions. And next time you're up in that part of the state, stop in to see what Nic is up to at Rolling Meadows. I'm sure he'd be more than happy to share a Bud Light with you and talk about his course. Remember, just make sure you cover up your beer.
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