Nathan Neumann has executed major course renovations at each step in his 19-year career, culminating with this year’s overhaul of the historic MacKenzie/Maxwell design at Oklahoma City G&CC.
Nathan Neumann says he’s not a glutton for punishment. But his actions belie his words.
During his 19-year career, Neumann, now the Golf Course Superintendent at Oklahoma City Golf & Country Club (OCGCC) in Nichols Hills, Okla., has executed a major golf course construction project at each of the four facilities where he has worked. The most recent, a complete overhaul of OCGCC’s historic course, is set to be unveiled to members at the end of 2019.
“I don’t think I am wired any differently than other golf course superintendents,” Neumann says. “We all want to see our golf courses be the best they can be. I am just fortunate that at each of the clubs where I have worked, the membership has made the commitment to improve the course.
“I look at it as a challenge,” he adds about taking on course renovation projects throughout his career. “But it is also a learning opportunity. When all is said and done, I have learned a great deal and have become a better golf course superintendent at the end of the projects. I would even say it has been fun.”
After coming on board at OCGCC in January 2018, Neumann began work on its course, an Alister McKenzie/Perry Maxwell design, in February 2019. His team is on schedule to complete the work by the end of the year, he says.
To finish the project in such a short time, club officials opted to close the course for the entirety of the work. While club members were afforded playing privileges elsewhere, there has still been plenty of curiosity, and traffic, at OCGCC.
“They [members] are proud of their club and are excited to see [the renovated course],” Neumann says. “But with the work going on, we really could not have them out walking around. So we organized some guided tours so they could see the progress. I think they will be pleased by what they see when it is done.”
While excitement might not be the best way to describe the significant effort required to undertake such a project, Neumann says the opportunity to work on such an historic design has been personally and professionally rewarding. Teaming with golf course architect Tripp Davis for the renovation, Neumann calls OCGCC’s course “a great layout that became a little tired and was in need of shine.”
“My first job was at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas, another Maxwell design,” he says. “You see some of the same features and strategies come into play here as there. It’s an honor to work on a Maxwell design. This is a special piece of property.”
Neumann took time from the final push to finish the project to provide these additional insights into what’s gone into the renovation, and his own career:
C+RB What’s been the scope of your project at OCGCC?
Neumann This project only involves the golf course. The clubhouse had been completed in phases in the years before I came.
It’s best to look at the golf course project in three parts: renovation, restoration and preservation. The golf course had been relatively untouched over there years. There had been some small tweaks through the years, but for the most part you had old structures—the greens were 45 to 50 years old, the irrigation system was 50-plus years old, and the grasses needed updating.
It was just time to upgrade and renovate the infrastructure. The club had been working with Tripp Davis on the master plan before I got here, but for the most part I have been involved from the beginning.
C+RB What was the restoration aspect?
Neumann We wanted to bring back the Mackenzie/Maxwell characteristics of the golf course and what they wanted from a strategic standpoint. The greens and fairway had gotten smaller, and trees were encroaching. We wanted to bring back the width and angles of attack. We had the good fortune of having some great historical aerial photographs to work with, and they really helped us in our work.
C+RB And for the preservation phase?
Neumann We wanted to keep the good aspects. So we want the routing and green complexes to stay as they were intended. We also made sure to keep all of the contours on the greens.
We are basically grassing the greens right now, and finishing a few in-house projects that we took on. We will be done on time. I think one thing that helped us is we took on a lot of work in-house. It was a challenge, but we knew it would pay off in the end. Our staff here did an outstanding job during construction with the in-house work.
C+RB You mentioned working on a Maxwell course at Colonial Country Club. Will this course have the “look” of his courses at Colonial or Southern Hills?
Neumann Absolutely. This is either the end of the first phase or the beginning of the second phase of the Maxwell design career. You can see the lineage here. Coming from Colonial gives me a greater appreciation of this course. You can see all of the Maxwell characteristics, especially in the greens and the way the holes lay into the land, and the routing.
C+RB How did you become a golf course superintendent?
Neumann I grew up in Waco, Texas and started playing golf when I was young. I also played on the high school golf team. We owned a family farm, but I needed to get a job to make some money to pay for things, so I went to work at Cottonwood Creek, the public course, on the maintenance staff.
It was great because you could work in the mornings and play golf in the afternoons. I loved it and it got me interested in doing it for a career. The superintendent there put me in touch with the superintendent at Ridgewood CC in Waco, where I learned more about golf course management as a career and worked a few summers there before going to college.
I would say that even though I have not played as much this year, being a golfer has helped me over the years in my work, especially on the renovation projects. It helps to see things from a playing perspective.
C+RB How did you end up at OCGCC?
Neumann The club conducted a national search for the position and I was interested in the opportunity. I thought it would be a good fit for myself and a great opportunity for my career. After a couple of interviews with the club, I accepted the job.
The fact I had done some previous renovations and that Colonial was a Maxwell design definitely helped out. Also at Colonial we did several course projects and hosted an annual PGA Tour event, and I was able to be a part of seven Tour events during my tenure there.
Colonial is an active place that is maintained at a tournament level and it provides a great learning experience. I still refer back to people like Scott Johnson and Scott Ebers who I was able to learn from there, and to what we did at Colonial. It was a remarkable opportunity.
At Wichita Falls Country Club, we replaced the irrigation system, drainage, and greens. It was a great learning experience as a superintendent working with a smaller budget and for how we improved conditions on the golf course. At Amarillo Country Club we completed quite a project, converting from warm-season to cool-season grasses on the entire golf course.
C+RB Going forward, what will be your biggest maintenance challenge at OCGCC?
Neumann No doubt, the weather will be the biggest obstacle. Oklahoma City is in the transition zone, so that makes it difficult. The weather here is all over the place. Managing bentgrass in the hot, humid summer has its challenges and then you have to manage bermudagrass in the cold winter, with the storm season in between.
C+RB What makes the course challenging and fun to play?
Neumann One of the unique things about our club is it that is a neighborhood club. About 80 percent of our members live within 2 ½ miles of the club. The members use all aspects of the club: pool, clubhouse, dining, athletic center, etc. We have a full membership, so it is an active place.
From a course perspective, golfers are going to have to think a little bit more about strategic placement of shots. That means how they approach greens, because we have some that move front to back, back to front and side to side. The terrain is rolling and there are not a lot of flat lies.
The hazards are strategically placed as well, and that makes it fun to play. If you place the ball in the right position, you can score well. I also think we have opened up the course a bit, giving the golfer better views of the property.
C+RB What has changed the most about being a superintendent in your career?
Neumann Three things stand out. First, the role of the superintendent at facilities has been elevated in the time I have been in the profession. We are now involved in so many more business-related activities for the golf course, and the club overall. Technology has also been a big change and a great improvement for us.
Labor is the third issue. Finding good workers and keeping them has been difficult. There are many options out there and our hours are a bit unusual, so we have to work hard at building and retaining our staff.
You could also go on to add a fourth item. Golfer expectations started high when I got in the business, and have only grown. You can best handle it be being a good communicator. Not only in what you say, but also by listening. You can always learn from the golfers, because they are generally coming from a different perspective.
C+RB What advice do you have for younger professionals in the business?
Neumann I would encourage them to learn how to delegate more. That is how you help others learn and grow in this industry. We work a lot of hours and take on a lot of responsibility. But I think I have become a smarter worker by giving others an opportunity. Plus it helps to implement some new ideas into our daily operation.
That is how assistants eventually advance, and it’s great to see them succeed. But it also helps to build the team as a whole, and you create depth in it.
Super in the Spotlight
Current Position: Golf Course Superintendent, Oklahoma City Golf & Country Club (OCGCC)
Location: Nichols Hills, Okla.
Education & Training: Texas Tech University, B.S. Horticulture and Turfgrass Management, 2001
Years at OCGCC: 2
Years in Golf Course Maintenance Business: 19
• Superintendent, Amarillo (Texas) Country Club, 2013-2018;
• Superintendent, Wichita Falls (Texas) Country Club, 2006-2013;
• Assistant Superintendent, Colonial Country Club, Fort Worth, Texas, 2001-2006
Course + Grounds Operations Profile
Annual Course Maintenance Budget: $1.5 million, including labor and water
Staff Size: 24 full-time maintenance staff
Other Green and Grounds Managers: First Assistant Superintendent, Garrett Barnes; Second Assistant Superintendent, Austin Welge; Equipment Manager, Gene Stephens
Water Source: Ponds and wells
Aerating and Overseeding Schedules: Greens, core aerating in May and September; Tees and Fairways, core aerating in July
Upcoming Capital Projects: Completion of golf course renovation and restoration by end of 2019
Golf Course Profile
No. of Holes: 18
Yardage: 6,947 yards (from back tees)
Course Type: Parkland
Course Designer: Alister Mackenzie/Perry Maxwell
Year Opened: 1911 (moved in 1927 to the Mackenzie/Maxwell design)
Golf Season: Year-round (predominantly a March to November season)
Annual Golf Rounds: 20,000
• Tees and Fairways, Latitude 36 Bermudagrass;
• Roughs, Common/Astro Bermudagrass;
• Greens, 007 Bentrgrass
Water Hazards: Two lakes and a creek