After a 34-year career as a Superintendent of Wisconsin clubs, while also devoting time to professional organizations and as a local elected official, David Brandenburg has earned wide-ranging respect—and the honor of his own bobblehead.
You don’t get much more Wisconsin than David Brandenburg.
Born and raised in Beaver Dam, Wis., he has spent all but two months of his life in the “Dairy State.” And his entire professional career has been spent in the east-central part of Wisconsin.
“I’ve been fortunate,” says the soft-spoken 52-year old. “I like the area and I like my job. It’s been fun.“
Brandenburg’s fun has involved four decades associated with the game of golf, beginning with a golf outing with his brother and grandparents at the age of 12. That led to his first job during college as a dishwasher at Sunset Hills Golf and Country Club in Beaver Dam. Even then, Brandenburg displayed such a strong work ethic that his supervisors asked him to also work with the grounds staff.
SUPER IN THE SPOTLIGHT
And that move sparked a significant change in the direction of Brandenburg’s life. He decided to pursue a career in golf course management and became Golf Course Superintendent of Camelot Country Club in Lomira, Wis., at the age of 21. That meant leaving his pursuit of an accounting degree at the University of Wisconsin–Whitewater in the rearview mirror.
“It’s something that I really liked,” Brandenburg says of his initial taste of groundskeeping. “My parents were very supportive. They wanted me to pursue my passion. I was well into my accounting degree—about 50 hours—but this is what I wanted.”
Brandenburg’s good fortune continued with the guidance of Camelot CC owner Red Roskopf. Knowing he would eventually need some course work to supplement his experience and reading, Brandenburg began discussing alternatives with Roskopf. And the club’s owner was so impressed by his young grounds manager, he paid for his schooling in the turfgrass program at the University of Massachusetts while continuing to pay his salary.
“There were other options, but I heard good things about the program and went to Massachusetts,” Brandenburg says in explaining why he went outside Wisconsin for this education. “It was not a typical college schedule. You were in class for eight hours a day, so it was intense from that standpoint. But again, I was fortunate that Red Roskopf believed in me.”
Today, Brandenburg continues to count his blessings. He is now in his 23rd year at Rolling Meadows Golf Course in Fond du Lac—and, if he has his way, will end his career there, which would be a rarity given the increasingly transient nature of the golf industry’s workforce.
It’s not hard to envision that will happen, though, because Brandenburg, who is also an elected official in the small town of Theresa, Wis., is well-liked and well-respected by his peers, county officials, golfers and staff. In fact, he is held in such high regard that his friends had a bobblehead created in his likeness—a “very limited” edition, Brandenburg chuckles.
C&RB: Tell us about Rolling Meadows Golf Course, in terms of design and layout.
Brandenburg: The course was originally 18 holes, but a re-design [in 1996] by [Dick and Tim] Nugent expanded the course to 27 holes. The end result was 10 revised holes, 14 new holes and only three holes unchanged.
The 13 original greens have larger undulations, while the new greens are more subtle and can be harder to read. We have 50 bunkers and 12 ponds, so players can get into trouble if they stray out of the landing areas.
The back tees play over 7,000 yards, but we have five sets of tees plus some junior tees. We have found players have moved up a set of tees, to play a more enjoyable distance.
C&RB: How would you describe your clientele?
Brandenburg: Our golfers are what I would term your average recreational golfer. We have some pretty good players, but it’s a place for people to come enjoy themselves. We offer 30 leagues. That’s a huge part of our business. We average about 40,000 rounds per year, mostly from this region.
We do get a bit of a bump when the USGA or PGA will host a big event at Whistling Straits [in Kohler, Wis., 45 minutes away]. People will stay in [Fond du Lac] hotels and come to play our course.
We’ve also been fortunate that the economic downturn did not affect us like some other areas. We probably had a 10 percent downturn at the beginning, but we have stabilized. Our rates are really pretty good: $30 without a cart and $50 with on weekdays, and just a little bit more on the weekends.
C&RB: What other activities do you offer?
Brandenburg: We are pure golf. But we do host some outside activities. We will do an occasional wedding. The course gets other uses as well. We host three local high-school golf teams, conduct cross-country meets, hold a dog-sled race to raise money for the Make a Wish Foundation, and have other events through the year.
C&RB: What are your biggest agronomic challenges in maintaining the course?
Brandenburg: We do get some winterkill coming out of the winter. Maybe once every four years we have to do some seeding, but we just deal with it. We don’t get much disease. Our airflow on the course is good—we don’t have a lot of trees—so there’s plenty of sunlight, too.
The biggest challenges come with our soils, which are heavy clay. We can handle the short, heavy rainstorms. But the slow, long rains can cause us some problems.
|COURSE & GROUNDS OPERATIONS PROFILE
Annual Course Maintenance Budget: $500,000
C&RB: What is your reporting structure?
Brandenburg: We are county-owned, so I report to the county executive. I have had the same boss for all 23 years that I’ve been here, so that is a bit unusual. He reports to a Board of Supervisors, so I have touch with them as well. We also have an informal golf advisory committee that makes suggestions.
C&RB: Why so long a stay at Rolling Meadows?
Brandenburg: While I’m starting my 23rd year, it does not seem that long; more like 7 to 10 years. I still enjoy getting up each morning and going to work. I enjoy the people who play our course, and I like the people I work with.
Our Assistant Superintendent, James Juoni, started with me right out of college in 1992 and has worked for me at three different places. Our mechanic, Jeremy Ruplinger, worked with me as a high-school student in 1996-97, then came back to me full-time in 2012. Jeremiah Hoffman, our PGA Professional, has been here since 1994. So you can see that we have a long-standing team.
Also, I feel there is more work to be done, so I am still energized to keep improving the golf course.
C&RB: You are also an elected official?
Brandenburg: I was on our parochial school board for six years and ended that because of term limits. I was recently elected to my fifth, two-year term as a trustee for the Village of Theresa, which is about 15 miles south of Fond du Lac and has a population of just over 1,000. I initially got involved because of sewer issues, and I ended up getting elected. I have been the finance chair for seven years and was the temporary President for a while. We have monthly meetings and then committee meetings.
C&RB: You are also heavily involved in your professional association?
Brandenburg: I feel it is important to be involved, because it helps to advance your career and provides a great learning opportunity. I was on the Board of Directors for our state association, the Wisconsin Golf Course Superintendents Association, for 11 years and served two years as President.
I have been the business manager of the chapter publication, Grass Roots, for 10 years, and the editor since 2009. I was asked to write an article for the publication, then asked to do a few more. When the editor decided to step down, I told them I would do it. And here I am, still the editor. I have also been on several committees for my national association.
C&RB: Any hobbies?
Brandenburg: I like to golf, but don’t get to do it as much as I would like to. I play in a league. But my volunteering is really my hobby. I see it as my way to give back and help others.
C&RB: You really carry the flag for Wisconsin. You must be a big Packers fan?
Brandenburg: Actually, I am not really a big football fan. I follow it, but I grew up a baseball fan, which you can tell from my Twitter feed. I like the Cubs and the Brewers.