His Nebraska roots run deep, but Brian Woster has found a rewarding new home in Idaho, at Circling Raven GC.
Any success that he has had as a golf course superintendent, says Brian Woster, has been a case of being in the right place at the right time.
But for this humble Nebraskan, his ascent to the top of his profession has really been the result of preparation and drive when the opportunities presented themselves. And it began early, with Woster (pronounced woo-ster) earning an interim superintendent position before he graduated from high school.
Growing up in the Omaha, Neb., suburb of Ralston, Woster pursued a job on the maintenance staff of Lakeview Golf Course when he was 16 because he “needed the money” and it “was only a pitching wedge” from his home. As high school graduation approached, he told owner/General Manager Dallas Wendt that he was going to go to college to become a golf course superintendent.
Wendt then surprised Woster by telling him he would keep the superintendent job open for him until he graduated from college. Furthermore, Wendt would pay his tuition.
Woster found the perfect program at Central Community College in Hastings, Neb. Central offered a trimester system, so Woster loaded up on courses for the November-to-April session, then worked at the nine-hole Lakeview course the rest of the time. He completed his education at the age of 21 and then reported to work as Lakeview’s “official” Golf Course Superintendent in 1983, at an annual salary of $17,000.
Today, after 41 years in the industry, Woster pinches himself every once in a while about how his career has continued to find good fortune at every turn it’s taken since Wendt’s original generosity. “I’ve been blessed,” he says. “There were people along the way who had faith in me. And I get to work outdoors. That’s the best office you can have. Especially at Circling Raven—it is absolutely beautiful up here.”
Here’s how Woster related the other steps and details of his career story to C+RB:
C+RB How did you get from Nebraska to Idaho?
Woster Lakeview Golf Course was sold to a local golf course development company in 1998 and the new owners asked if I would take over an 18-hole course, Fox Run Golf Course, just across the river from Omaha in Council Bluffs, Iowa. The company had an agreement with designer Gene Bates to develop golf courses, and they signed on for a project west of Provo, Utah. They asked if I would be the project management superintendent.
I thought it was a good opportunity and left for what I thought would be a short-term project. We then signed a contract to do Circling Raven, but the company went bankrupt as we got on site. Gary Bates—Gene’s brother who joined him from White Construction—convinced the [Coeur d’Alene] Tribe to be its own contractor and subcontract parts of the project. It was a good move because it saved money and kept the project on task.
C+RB And you’ve stayed there ever since?
Woster Actually, I had only planned to be the project superintendent and then move back to Nebraska. But they asked me to be the grow-in superintendent after we were well underway with the shaping and it got to be time to start seeding and sodding. Again, I thought it was a great opportunity.
When the course was finished, they asked me to stay on as the superintendent. So I did. I love the country here and the Tribe is great to me. I’ll stay here as long as they will have me.
C+RB Where exactly is Circling Raven GC?
Woster The golf club is on the Coeur d’Alene Indian Reservation, which covers 345,000 acres in the northern panhandle of Idaho. It is located 25 miles south of Coeur d’Alene and 35 miles southeast of Spokane, Wash.
C+RB Who owns the course?
Woster The golf course is part of a complex that also features a casino and two hotels, all owned by the Tribe, which has 2,190 members. As part of the Tribe’s vision to create a “Destination Resort,” the course was designed and built to be an amenity to the casino that could attract more customers who may stay a few days and do some gambling along with the golf.
The Tribe is very proud of the course. We have several tribal members on the crew, and they take their work and protection of the land seriously. The money from the complex is used to fund tribal initiatives, including five percent of profits to education. Since gaming operations started, $33 million has been donated to education, and the Tribe also supports numerous other causes throughout the region and state.
The Tribe is my employer and I report to the Director of Golf. The Tribe is good to work for; I’ve learned a great deal about the tribal history and culture, and have enjoyed that.
C+RB Who plays at Circling Raven?
Woster A lot of our players come from those who purchase hotel/casino packages—a stay-and-play concept. The hotels have 300 rooms total. There are plans to develop the lake property and add activities associated with that.
We get a good mix of golfers. We get business groups, recreational ladies and men’s groups, families with kids, couples, retirees from the area and then those who will travel from afar to stay at the hotel. When it is hot down south in the summer, we’ll get some people who will come up to escape the heat. We get 30 to 35 percent from local play, which we consider members of the Tribe and people from the Spokane and Coeur d’Alene areas. We have very low fees: $89 for 18 holes including cart and unlimited range balls during the week, and $99 on weekends. It is a bargain.
C+RB What are your course maintenance challenges?
Woster Our summer is very dry—we might get 1 ½ inches of rain from mid-June to October. It’s quite a test for our irrigation system, and we do a lot of hand watering.
The most moisture, in snow and rain, comes from mid-October through March. Most of the snow usually comes from late November through January, but last February it seemed like it snowed every day.
During the winter, snow mold can be a challenge, so we do preventative treatments. Once in a while we get ice damage that will kill the turf in the low areas.
Weed control is also a challenge, as every hole has some native areas that can be invaded by noxious weeds. We use herbicides to control them. I am a minimalist by nature, so we use chemical applications sparingly as needed.
We recently moved our Maintenance Department facilities, and that has helped us become more cost-effective operationally and logistically.
And as part of celebrating the 15th anniversary of our first full season this year, Circling Raven has retained Gene Bates to create a master plan for enhancing and revitalizing the golf course for the next 15 years. So it will be exciting to work with him to help implement that plan.
C+RB What makes the course fun to play?
Woster The golf course is very unique, with amazing views and terrain. It covers 620 acres and in that you have prairie grasslands, wetlands, valleys and rolling hills. On the back nine, you can only see the hole you are playing. It is very serene and there is not a house in sight from the holes.
The fairways are fairly generous and the greens are large without too much slope. The trouble areas are the native areas off the fairways. You also need to check your ego at the door. There are some forced carries, so you need to play the correct set of tees—if you don’t, it could be a long round.
C+RB Do you host competitions, groups and/or outings?
Woster We get a lot of group play from the casino packages. They also host conferences and conventions, so the attendees might play on the front end or back end of their meeting. We have had some PGA section events and a USGA women’s event.
We are scheduled to host an LPGA Symetra Tour event in August 2020, which should be fun. The remoteness and limited access to the course makes hosting a large PGA or LPGA event very challenging, though, concerning media support and spectator viewing.
C+RB What types of wildlife do you see on the course?
Woster Quite a variety. The wetlands attracts many types of birds. We also get moose, deer, elk, coyotes and have occasionally seen cougars and bears. We also have had a nesting pair of bald eagles on the course for several years.
The animals can create some damage on the course. And for some reason they really like the short grass and the sand. They do a number on the greens and like to frolic in the bunkers.
C+RB Do you play golf?
Woster I do, but not as much as I’d like to. I was actually on my high school and college golf teams. When I was seven my dad bought two sets of right-handed clubs for myself and my older brother. I am left-handed, but learned to play as a righty.
We actually began playing on a sand-green golf course west of Omaha, then when Lakeview was built we started playing there, because it was so close. It became a family thing to work there. Two of my older brothers worked there, and my mom worked in the clubhouse.
C+RB Nebraskans are fond of their state. Do you see yourself ever returning?
Woster You know what they say: You can take the boy out of Nebraska, but you can’t take Nebraska out of the boy. I love my Husker football team—everyone there does. But, I have been here so long and love it. I am a big hunter and fisherman and I would love to finish my career here, as long as they’ll have me.
Golf Course Profile
CIRCLING RAVEN GOLF CLUB
No. of Holes: 18
Yardage: (5 sets of tees) Forward. 4,708 yards; back 7,189 yards
Ownership (Resort): Coeur d’Alene Indian TribE
Type: Mixture of dense wooded areas (pine trees), prairie, links, hills and valleys.
Designer: Gene Bates
Year Opened: 2003
Golf Season: Opens second Friday in April and closes third week in October.
Annual Rounds: 20,000 +
• Tees, Fairways, Roughs: Mix of perennial Rye, Kentucky Bluegrass, Poa annua
• Greens: L93 Bentgrass mixed with Poa annua
Bunkers: 49 on golf course, plus 3 on practice area
Water Hazards: One pond in front of teeing area on hole No. 17, massive wetlands, and a creek that is dry in the summer.
Course + Grounds Operations Profile
Annual Course Maintenance Budget: Operating expenses are $380,000, not including labor and benefits
Staff Size: 28 (full-time and seasonal). Department also has responsibility for snow removal from casino parking lots and care of the casino landscaping and lawns.
Other Green and Grounds Managers: First Assistant Kalman Zaranec; Second Assistant Michael Allen; Equipment Manager Darak Bigler
Water Source: Irrigation pond, runoff, wells and effluent from casino
Aerating and Overseeding Schedules: This year, will aerate greens and approaches (core) the week after Labor Day (used to wait until closing of course). Will do core aeration of teeing areas between Labor Day and closing. Will solid-tine aerate fairways in spring and summer.
Upcoming Capital Projects: Just finished a new maintenance facility. Waiting on tribal approval of course master plan and renovation that would include the addition of nine holes.
Super in the Spotlight
Current Position: Golf Course Superintendent, Circling Raven Golf Club
Location: Worley, Idaho, population 257 (located within the Coeur d’Alene Indian Tribe Reservation in state’s northern panhandle.)
Education & Training: Central Community College, Hastings, Neb. (Associates Degree in Horticulture ,with an emphasis in Turfgrass Management, 1983).
Years at Circling Raven GC: 18 years (from January 2001)
Years in Golf Course Maintenance Business: 41
• Grounds Crew, Lakeview Golf Course, Ralston, Neb., 1978-1982
• Golf Course Superintendent, Lakeview Golf Course, 1983-1998
• Fox Run Golf Course, Council Bluffs, Iowa, 1999-2000
• Project Management Superintendent, Golf LLC, 2001
Honors and Awards: Circling Raven Golf Course has won numerous awards, including rating among the top 100 public-access golf courses in the U.S., as the top-rated golf course in Idaho, and as one of the top 5 casino courses in U.S.