After 20 successful years as a course superintendent, Jeff Eldridge tried his hand as a tax-service franchisee—but the pull of the turf quickly brought him back to the industry and eventually his current position at The Clubs of Cordillera Ranch.
Unsure about his career path as a golf course superintendent, several years ago Jeff Eldridge decided to join a friend by investing in H&R Block Tax Services franchises and managing several offices himself.
It wasn’t that Eldridge wasn’t successful. To the contrary, he had quickly climbed among the hierarchy of golf courses in Kansas City. He was recognized by his superintendent chapter for excellence, and PGA Senior Tour players ranked his course conditioning among the top five on tour. It wasn’t even that he was necessarily burned out. He had been in the profession full-time less than 20 years, and liked the work.
But Eldridge was looking down the road. He had a young family and wanted to be around and involved in their lives. He knew but one speed—run fast with your head down. Something had to give.
“I just didn’t like where I was,” Eldridge says. “It was not like it used to be. It seemed like a change would be good for me.”
Fast-forward some 10 years later and Eldridge is now the Director of Agronomy at The Clubs of Cordillera Ranch, located 25 miles northwest of San Antonio in Boerne, Texas. In the end, it was back to the golf course management profession, and Texas won out over taxes.
C+RB How did you first become a golf course superintendent?
Eldridge: I graduated from Emporia (Kan.) High School in 1983 and decided to study pre-engineering at Emporia State University. I liked the chemistry and the physics courses, but the calculus not so much.
I decided to move to Colorado because we had used to live there, and I liked the area. I wanted to establish residency and then go back to school. I spent a year pouring concrete foundations. It wasn’t fun work, but I enjoyed being outside. I knew I wanted to pursue a career that allowed me to be outdoors.
So I went to Colorado State in Fort Collins and enrolled in the Ag school. I just kind of gravitated to horticulture because I liked the science. I really did not know what a golf course superintendent did and had not had any exposure to them. I did not play golf growing up. But I did pick up the game with my college buddies and we began to play a lot at the public course. I fell in love with the game and that got me exposed to the golf course. I worked on a course during college, and that started me on the road to being a superintendent.
C+RB What was your early career path?
Eldridge: I returned home to Emporia after graduation and became a golf course superintendent at Emporia Country Club. That was 1989 and I worked there a year. There was an opening for an assistant at Deer Creek Golf Club in the Kansas City suburb of Overland Park and nine months after taking the position, the superintendent left for another job and I was promoted to superintendent. Deer Creek was a good course and a very popular daily-fee facility.
I moved to Lakewood Oaks in the eastern Kansas City suburb of Lee’s Summit in 1996, and then moved to grow in a new Jack Nicklaus Signature course, Lionsgate Golf Club, in 2000. I was there nearly 10 years.
C+RB And then you became a tax man?
Eldridge: Yes, a buddy and I invested in H&R Block Tax Services franchises. I had plenty of managerial experience, so I thought it would not be that difficult. And it wasn’t really, but ultimately it wasn’t a good fit. After about a year, I knew that was not the direction I wanted to go in. A few months later I made the decision to get back in the golf business.
C+RB How did that go?
Eldridge: It was hard. I had several interviews and made the final group for a couple of the openings. But in the end, it was hard for them to hire someone who was not coming directly from a golf course. It was discouraging, and there were times I thought it might not happen.
C+RB But you did make it back to the industry eventually, right?
Eldridge: I was fortunate. Bayer was looking for an area sales manager in Kansas City and I got the job. My territory was to cover several Midwestern states. I was on the road a lot, and was missing out on a lot of family activities. My kids were playing sports collegiately and in high school. I was missing a fair amount of games and that really got to me. After two years, I began to look for a superintendent position and again was fortunate to land at Lake Quivira Golf and Country Club in Kansas City.
Even though I left Bayer, I have nothing but good to say about the company, my bosses and the experience. I am a better golf course superintendent after working there. I learned so much working beside the likes of Dr. Wong and Dr. Golembiewski and other technicians. Plus, I talked to so many golf course superintendents and learned from them. It was a great learning experience and I’m glad I did it. It was priceless and I definitely learned to work smarter.
C+RB You had spent your entire professional life in the Kansas City area, so why then the move to Texas?
Eldridge: Cordillera is a Nicklaus course and so is Lionsgate. The regional GM over Lionsgate became the GM at Cordillera and reached out to me just after I started the tax businesses. That was 2010. I felt I couldn’t take it because I needed to give it a chance. They called me again in 2018 and with my kids out of high school I felt I could give it a harder look. It was a good opportunity, so I explored it and felt it was the right move for me.
C+RB That was quite a move geographically, though. What were the biggest changes from a turf-management perspective?
Eldridge: I had experience with all the grasses: zoysia fairways and tees, Bermuda roughs and bentgrass greens. But the biggest difference was managing the greens, because it stays hotter longer here in Texas than in Kansas City. Generally, in Kansas City you hoped to make it to Labor Day. Here, it stays that way through September.
The key is good air movement. We have one fan on several greens and two on No. 13, a par three with one of our largest greens. Plus, we need to make sure the greens get exposed to the morning sun. Tree management is important. We have removed a considerable amount of trees and that has improved turf conditions.
C+RB What makes the golf course enjoyable, yet challenging to play?
Eldridge: I think our terrain makes it enjoyable. We have quite a variety when it comes to the layout of the holes. We are in the Hill Country and there are some amazing views. We really aren’t a parkland course, although we have trees. It really isn’t a prairie course, but we have areas of native. It’s unique with elevation.
The fairways are generous, so it isn’t hard to keep the ball in play. But we do have small greens, and the bunkering in the fairways and around the greens means you need to be strategic in your placement.
C+RB You mentioned the heat—what other weather challenges do you have?
Eldridge: Water management is an issue because although we get as much rain annually as in Kansas City, it is generally more spread out and then comes all at once. We will go quite a while between rains.
Another interesting difference is the layer of clouds we get several mornings, when the wind comes from the south. The early mornings can be cloudy and that does not make for good bentgrass growing conditions.
We really don’t get snow, maybe flurries once in a while. We will have frost delays in the mornings from time to time. That is really the only time we close down.
C+RB What about the agronomic challenges?
Eldridge: We get some bacteria wilt on the greens early in the summer, so we must watch that. We’ll also have some large patch issues with our zoysia. We treat with fungicides, aerate and make sure to manage the thatch.
We do not always have the best water quality, so we do acid injection to manage the bicarbonates. We also have a system to mitigate the high sodium and chloride levels.
Our par-three No. 16 green is a challenge, so in addition to a fan we also just finished installing a Sub Air system. We also exposed the drain cleanouts, to help vent the greens down to the drain tiles.
C+RB What’s your management structure?
Eldridge: My duties are more strategic and facility-wide. I manage a contractor responsible for the non-golf grounds, do the budgeting, establish the spray, agronomic and tree-management programs, and do the ordering. You might say my view is from 30,000 feet.
I’m out on the course, but I try to let our superintendent, Kris Negley, handle the day-to-day operations. I also oversee the projects and make sure we are positioned to have a golf course that meets the expectations of the golfers. I report to a General Manager and ultimately the owners, DH Investments.
C+RB What has business been like in 2020?
Eldridge: My goodness. It’s been busy. We generally average 23 to 25,000 rounds a year, but we’ll approach 30,000 by the end of the year. People want to get out and play, and golf is a good activity during the pandemic.
C+RB “The Clubs” of Cordillera Ranch means just that—several clubs in one, correct?
Eldridge We cover 8,700 acres. There is rafting and kayaking on the river, hunting, fishing, equestrian, swimming and tennis. There is a lot to do. If you are an active person, this is a perfect place for you. Our membership is a good mix of businessmen, families, retirees, etc. We have a good junior-golf program and with all the activities, families are attracted to us. We do a couple of fundraisers, but don’t really host outside events as a rule.
Super in the Spotlight
JEFF ELDRIDGE, CGCS
Current Position: Director of Agronomy, The Clubs of Cordillera Ranch, Boerne, Texas
Years at The Club at Cordillera Ranch: 2
Years in Golf Course Maintenance Profession: 33
> Golf Course Superintendent, Lake Quivira Golf and Country Club, Shawnee, Kan., 2013-18
> Area Sales Manager, Bayer Environmental Science, Kansas City, Mo., 2011-13
> Golf Course Superintendent, Nicklaus Golf Club at Lionsgate, Leawood, Kan., 2000-09
> Golf Course Superintendent, Lakewood Oaks Golf Course, Lee’s Summit, Mo., 1996-2000
> Golf Course Superintendent, Deer Creek Golf Club, Overland Park, Kan. (assistant first nine months), 1990-96
> Golf Course Superintendent, Emporia (Kan.) Country Club, 1989-90
Education & Training: B.S. Horticulture (Turfgrass Concentration), Colorado State University, Ft. Collins, Colo., 1987
Honors and Awards:
> Heart of America Golf Course Superintendents Association (HAGCSA) Superintendent of the Year, 1993
> HAGCSA Chester Mendenhall Award (meritorious service), 1999 & 2008
Golf Course Profile
The Clubs OF Cordillera Ranch
Year Opened: 2006
Ownership: Private (DH Investments)
Golf Course Type: Cut out of the Hill Country with trees, native and elevation
Golf Course Designer: Jack Nicklaus
No. of Holes: 20 (18 plus 2 practice holes)
Yardage: Longest (Gold): 7,464 yards
Golf Season: Year-round
Annual Rounds: 23,000-25,000 typically (will approach 30,000 in 2020)
Tees and Fairways: Zoysiagrass
Water Features: Numerous ponds, streams and waterfalls
Course + Grounds Operations Profile
Staff Size: 25
Other Managers: Kris Negley, Golf Course Superintendent; Sarah Jackson, Assistant Superintendent; Patrick Drinkard, Equipment Manager; Nick Menger, Irrigation Assistant
Water Sources: Multiple—well, river, runoff, recycled, potable
Aerating and Overseeding Schedules: Overseed driving-range tee area (Bermuda); Aerate greens, spring and fall; aerate tees and fairways once and verticut three times
Upcoming Capital Projects: None planned. Just completed sodding collars, fan installation and a driving-range tee project.