Passing the torch

By |  August 30, 2017 0 Comments

Former Superintendent Leo Pellant (left) with Topeka CC’s new superintendent, Kent Morgison. Though he’s no longer in charge, Pellant still clearly cares about the course. “Leo came to me and said he wanted to take a few weeks off in the summer. I said sure, what are you thinking? He says he wants to work through the Divot Derby (member/guest) to help out,” Morgison says. “It shows you how much he loves this place, that he still cares enough to help us out during our busiest time.”

With only a handful of superintendents in its 112-year history, Topeka Country Club makes another switch… gradually.

For the first time since 1979, Leo Pellant was able to take some time off during the month of July.

Pellant started working on the grounds crew at the Topeka (Kan.) Country Club in ’79. In 1997, he was named the superintendent. In 2015, he decided not that it was time to retire, but time to start looking for his replacement. He wanted the course to find it’s next superintendent — only its third superintendent in the last 65 years.

“I didn’t want to completely retire, but I wanted to do more of this,” Pellant says, gesturing to a rough mower, “and less of the meetings.”

The course did a search and, with Pellant’s approval, hired Kent Morgison from nearby Perry, Kan. Morgison was told early on that this would be a unique working situation: The person he was replacing wasn’t leaving, he was going to be a member of the crew.

Valuable knowledge

“Some of my peers thought it’d be an awkward situation, but I’ve never sensed that at all,” says Morgison, who previously was superintendent at Alvamar CC in nearby Lawrence, Kan. “He’s been fully supportive of any changes I’ve made. I’ve not made any drastic changes; there’s no reason to when things were already going so well.”

Morgison and Pellant knew each other, but only from professional networking events such as GCSAA chapter meetings. Still, Morgison believed their personalities would mesh well.

“(Pellant) probably loves this place more than anyone,” Morgison says. “I look at that as an asset. Who better to rely on than someone who has been here for 30 years?”

Clay Meininger, president and COO of Topeka CC, says he was at first concerned with how it would work with Pellant on the crew working for Morgison, but that his concerns were quickly allayed.

“Leo and I discussed it, then Kent and I discussed it. Leo’s knowledge here is so valuable. After 36 years, he knows every nook and cranny,” Meininger says. “Leo’s assumed the role of another person on the crew, and he’s been supportive of Kent. We’re very fortunate all of his knowledge didn’t just walk out the door.”

“It was interesting to see Leo’s methods versus Kent’s,” says PGA Professional Cory Proehl. “Kent has dried out the property more… obviously times have changed. But I like to joke, it’s like Star Wars here. We’ve got Yoda training Luke. It’s cheesy, but that’s what’s happening with Leo and Kent.”

Morgison always respected Pellant and the work he did at Topeka CC. Morgison recalls playing the course as a kid, and being in awe of the place.

“I grew up in the area, only 20 minutes from here. When I was 10 years old, I remember playing Alvamar, and I thought it was a mecca of golf,” Morgison says. “As I got older, I felt the same way about playing here. It felt special when you got into this place. I didn’t know that it has been around since 1905, but I knew it was special.”

Morgison was bitten hard by the golf bug at a young age. By 16 he was working at Lake Perry CC in Ozawkie, Kan. He played on the golf team at Dodge City (Kan.) Junior College. He returned to Lake Perry for four years before going to 36-hole Alvamar CC in Lawrence (now known as the Jayhawk Club, and now 27 holes.)

“I’ve always loved golf, and I always wanted to be involved in the game in any way I could,” Morgison says. “When I was young and single at Lake Perry, I’d work as the superintendent in the morning, the pro in the afternoon and the bartender at night. I’d spend the entire day at the course.”

This being the third facility he’s worked for, he’s hopeful to have the same success as the person he’s replacing. Pellant spent 18 years there on the crew, 18 years as the superintendent and is now in his second season of being on the crew again.

“Everyone has been here so long. It’s just a nice club to work for,” Morgison says. “There’s pressure every day, but not overwhelming pressure like you get at some high-end country clubs, though we are a high-end country club.”

Attention to detail

Topeka CC Golf Professional Cory Proehl, like Morgison, is one of the few new people at the course. He started three years ago, when it was still Pellant in charge of the grounds. He says Morgison has made a few subtle changes since taking over, like keeping greens surrounds shorter.

Steve Sidebottom, another longtime Topeka CC employee, maintains the course greenhouse. “Steve comes in here seven days a week to keep this going strong,” Morgison says.

He says Morgison knows how to keep the course maintained with a golfer’s perspective in mind.

“To have a superintendent here who is also a player — Kent is below a 10 handicap — is fantastic,” Proehl says. “He’s a master at making the course pristine because he understands the game. I’ve (worked) at four different clubs, and this is my first time experiencing that. To me, that’s a match made in heaven.”

Meininger says the course always has been known for small, fast greens. Under Morgison, Meininger says, the greens have been taken to “another extreme.”

“Our greens have remained firm and dry all summer,” Meininger says. “Kent’s done a fantastic job… it’s all in his attention to detail.”

It might also be his long memory. Topeka CC recently hosted a high school golf tournament, and Morgison admits it’s hosting those events that are his favorite part of the job. It takes him back to those days when he was a young golfer, amazed at the conditions of the course, courtesy of the man who now works on his crew.

“For those high school kids — maybe it’s because I played high school and college golf — I know that could be the biggest event of the year for these kids,” Morgison says. “I try to treat all the events like they’re the biggest event of the year. Who wouldn’t want to make their facility look as good as possible?”

Photos: Seth Jones

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