Dave Braasch set his sights on a course-maintenance career at age 16, and then fast-tracked through turf-science school, internships and assistant positions to land the grow-in opportunity at the Janesville, Wis. club, where he’s remained for 19 years.
Dave Braasch (pronounced “Brash”) does not consider himself to be an overachiever. But other than when he’s on the golf course, he’s never been one to let the grass grow under his feet, either.
As a 13-year-old growing up in Chicago Heights, Ill., Braasch entered the workforce as a caddie, hopping on his 10-speed bike and making the daily 15-minute ride to Idlewild Country Club. When he turned 16, he sought out golf course superintendent Ted Mochal to join the turf team.
After graduating from high school, he went to college to major in turf science, did multiple internships and had a job by the time he graduated. At 25, he became the head golf course superintendent at Hughes Creek Golf Club in the far west Chicago suburbs, and at 32, he was selected to be the grow-in superintendent at Glen Erin Golf Club in Janesville, Wis.
That was quite a bit of activity to pack in a 19-year timeframe.
“There really wasn’t a master plan,” Braasch says. “When you’re 13, you really don’t have many work options. Some of my friends and their brothers were caddies, so I thought I would try it. As time passed, I figured I was already at the golf course, so it made sense to work on the course when I got old enough. I liked it enough to go to college to study for it and eventually make it a career.”
And what a career it has been, working for some of the most respected names in the business in the golf-crazy area known as Chicagoland. He’s been at Glen Erin, located just over the Illinois border in Janesville, for the past 19 years.
C+RB: Were you exposed to golf at an early age?
Braasch: My dad played regularly. I played some, but not a lot. I learned about caddying from my friends and that got me on the course. We had our fun. I remember one day when I was on the staff at Idlewood, Chicago Bears quarterback Jim McMahon came out with some teammates. He was quite the character. Let’s say he had fun that day.
C+RB: You have worked for some highly respected golf course superintendents. How did they help you as your career developed?
Braasch: I was fortunate to be exposed to some very good superintendents early in my career and that really helped to prepare me. I remember my first job at Idlewild, when [superintendent] Ted Mochal gave me some great advice: Always be on time and stay on the straight and narrow. I made sure of it, because I did not want to let him down.
When I was in college, I had to go through a formal interview process for my internship at Olympia Fields. There were kids from the big schools like Penn State, Michigan State and Ohio State interviewing as well, but I got the job. [Superintendent] Dave Ward let me work on a big irrigation project that helped me a great deal.
When I was an assistant at Innsbrook Country Club, Mike Crews included me in vendor meetings and with budgeting, and entrusted me with overseeing the crew. He exposed me to all aspects of the job.
I got my first head superintendent job at Hughes Creek, where the owner, Dave Meyer, was a retired, second-generation superintendent. He gave me a chance to grow and learn, but did not hover over me.
I took something from everyone, and that was invaluable in my development.
C+RB: How did the Glen Erin opportunity come about?
Braasch: A group of us were driving to upstate Wisconsin on a fishing trip, and one of my guys mentioned they were building a golf course off in the distance near Janesville. I did some research and found out that a friend was an investor in the project. He got me in touch with a managing partner, so I reached out and expressed my interest.
I applied for the job, but my friend didn’t think I should take it because of our friendship. However, the managing partner wanted me to take it. So I did. There were some other more-experienced people involved, but in the end I think they liked my energy and enthusiasm.
I went in confident I could do that job and tried to show that in the interview process. It is a good setup for me. I report to the managing partner, and he is hands-off for the most part. As a management team, we work well together.
C+RB: It was a grow-in job. Did you have that experience?
Braasch: I did not. But in the interview process, I think I was able to answer their questions and show my breadth of experience, having worked at some pretty good courses for some pretty good people.
I’ll admit it, there was a bit of a fear factor in doing your first grow-in. I relied on my network of superintendents and vendors. You ask a lot of questions, and you listen.
I got there early in the process. They started the rough grading in September 2001, and I started the next February. My focus was on the grassing and irrigation system. I would say it went smoothly, other than we discovered that the greens mix was contaminated as the design was taking place.
C+RB: What is the terrain of the course?
Braasch: It is rolling terrain with not much in the way of elevation change. There was not very much dirt turned in constructing the golf course.
It’s a fairly long course, but it is walkable. There’s not a great deal of trees. There are some chutes formed by the trees on the back nine, but other than that it’s wide open. We did have some shade issues on a few greens, but took care of those.
C+RB: What makes it a challenge, and what makes it enjoyable to play?
Braasch: In a word, the wind. It comes primarily from the west, but it can blow from almost any direction and that makes it fun strategically. The same course plays differently on different days. But that can make it very difficult as well.
Our greens are very big and undulating, and the fairways are firm and fast. It has a links course look and feel about it. We have a few pot bunkers, and we also have some deep ones, with fescue grass faces that can be a challenge.
C+RB: Who plays your course?
Braasch: As a daily-fee course open to the public, we get quite a mix of young and old, men and women. I would say we get fewer youth because they tend to play at one of the three municipal courses in the area. We’ll get people coming from the Chicago area, some come up from Iowa and then from all over Wisconsin.
We have four high schools that practice here as well. We do have an extensive practice area and that is a draw. Our low-mow bluegrass range tee is about 175 to 200 yards wide and 20 to 30 yards deep. We have a 9,000-sq. ft. putting green, and we are looking at expanding the area with a short-game practice area.
C+RB: Why no water features on the course?
Braasch: The course is actually leased land, owned by the Southern Wisconsin Regional Airport. Part of the agreement is we could not have water on the course because it would attract waterfowl and of course, flocks of birds can disrupt flights.
It is a regional airport with a lot of private planes. We have some light industry and a few large company headquarters in the area, so it is a fairly busy airstrip.
Interestingly, Air Force One has landed there three times. It’s quite a sight to see it land and sit there on the runway. One time, President George W. Bush was speaking with a bullhorn and yelled to the golfers to “hit it straight.”
C+RB: What course management challenges do you face?
Braasch: I may be a rarity in that I pray for humidity. We don’t get a lot of rain and we have the one well and pump. You factor in the wind and then our sand/gravel base, and the water does not stay in the greens as much as you would like.
So water management is my biggest challenge. Sometimes you cannot keep up with the moisture loss. We do some hand-watering to address some dry spots. Other than that, we do not have huge weather challenges.
C+RB: What does the facility offer other than golf?
Braasch: We are a pure golf course. The only other feature is a 12,000-sq. ft. banquet hall. We host quite a few weddings and outside events. It is a popular venue.
C+RB: Have you ever had the opportunity to play golf with anyone famous in your career?
Braasch: I had the opportunity to play 18 holes with Alice Cooper at Glen Erin. Nice guy and a hell of a golfer.
C+RB: Outside of golf, you’ve become significantly involved in youth hockey?
Braasch: Yes, my son is 16 and plays youth hockey. He got hooked on it when he was five years old, when we visited some relatives in Minnesota. I did not play when I was young, and I never really was a big fan of the sport. But he’s picked it up and now we travel all over the state to play. I have dedicated a lot of time and became the president of the Beloit (Wis.) Youth Hockey Association. That became an even more difficult job during the pandemic, as the rinks closed down for a short while.
Super in the Spotlight
Current Position: Golf Course Superintendent, Glen Erin Golf Club, Janesville, Wis.
Years at Glen Erin GC: 19 1/2
Years in Golf Course Maintenance Profession: 32
> Golf Course Superintendent, Hughes Creek Golf Club, Elburn, Ill., 1995-2002
> Assistant Superintendent, Innsbrook Country Club (Mike Crews, superintendent), Merrillville, Ind.
> Assistant Superintendent, Eagle Brook Country Club (Brad Johnsen/Larry Flament superintendents), Geneva, Ill.
> Internship, Idlewild Country Club (Tony Brzinski superintendent), Flossmoor, Ill.
> Internship, Olympia Fields (Ill.) Country Club, (Dave Ward superintendent)
Education & Training:
> Associate’s Degree, Applied Science (Turf Management), Joliet (Ill.) Junior College, 1990
> Bachelor’s Degree, Plant and Soil Science, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, Ill., 1992
Honors and Awards:
> Board of Directors, Midwest Association of Golf Course Superintendents (Editor, President)
> Ray Gerber Editorial Award, Midwest Association of Golf Course Superintendents, 2000 (Article: “Be a Lifesaver, Basic Medical Procedures You Should Know!”)
> (Non-industry related) Volunteer of the Year Award for the 2020-2021 season, Beloit Youth Hockey Association, Beloit, Wis. (President of BYHA)
Golf Course Profile
GLEN ERIN GOLF CLUB
Location: Janesville, Wis.
Year Opened: 2003
Golf Course Designer: Greg Martin, Martin Design Partnership, Batavia, Ill.
Golf Course Type: Links with a splash of wooded holes
Tees and fairways: Low-mow blue
Far Rough: Fescue
Greens: L-93 and Providence
Golf Course Holes: 18
Yardage: Orange tees: 6,849; White: 6,349; Green: 5,786; Red: 5,021.
Golf Season: March through November season, then weather permitting
Annual Rounds: 25,000 (19,000-21,000 prior to pandemic)
Water Features: None
Bunkers: 74, with mostly fescue faces
Course + Grounds Operations Profile
Annual Course Maintenance Budget: $320,000
Staff Size: 13 (rotating schedule)
Other Green and Grounds Managers:
Larry Daily, Assistant Superintendent; Chris Burns, Part-time Equipment Technician.
Water Source and Usage:
Well for a water source; usage ranges from 11 to 21 million gallons annually.
Aerating and Overseeding Schedules:
Solid-tine greens with half-inch tines four times per year— twice in spring and twice in late summer/early fall. Course has sand greens, so just the organic matter is managed on them. Tees are core-aerified in late summer/early fall. “Fairways are a challenge; we continuously destroy gear boxes, because of rocks, on conventional aerifiers,” says Golf Course Superintendent Dave Braasch. “We have moved to using aerivator-type machines for compaction relief.”
Upcoming Capital Projects:
Bunker renovation, more than likely installing the Billy Bunker system.