2022 Herb Graffis Businessperson of the Year: Alex Stuedemann, CGCS

By |  September 9, 2022 0 Comments
Alex Stuedemann, CGCS (Photo: Lawrence Williams)

Stuedemann says that while it will be hard to leave TPC Deere Run, he’s happy to be able to follow his own advice. “I continually tell people I work with to never stop learning,” Stuedemann says. “This is an opportunity for me to do that, and I’m excited I’ve been given the chance to do so.” (Photo: Lawrence Williams)

Lucas Glover called the course “immaculate.” Jordan Spieth described it as “awesome.” Nicholas Thompson said it was “in perfect condition.”

J.T. Poston certainly seemed to enjoy the conditions at the 2022 John Deere Classic, as he went wire-to-wire at TPC Deere Run in Silvis, Ill., to earn his second career win on the PGA Tour.

While Poston packed his clubs for a first-round tee time at the Open Championship at St. Andrews, Alex Stuedemann, CGCS, contemplated what the completion of the 2022 tournament represented to him. This was his 14th John Deere Classic — six as an assistant, eight as superintendent. It was also his final John Deere Classic as superintendent at Deere Run (get a behind-the-scenes look at the 2022 tournament here.)

This fall, Stuedemann hands the Deere Run reins over to his former assistant, Jonathan Graham. Stuedemann, meanwhile, moves up the TPC Network ladder and will become a director of agronomy for the PGA Tour. 

With those 14 professional tournaments at TPC Deere Run, and numerous other tournaments at TPC Twin Cities, TPC San Antonio and in South Korea, Stuedemann has grown his own network and helped courses succeed in providing professional-level playing conditions. In celebration of that success and his moving on from TPC Deere Run, Stuedemann is Golfdom’s 2022 Herb Graffis Businessperson of the Year.

Every GM’s dream

Darius Lane, public relations manager for John Deere Ag and Turf, was one of the two people who nominated Stuedemann for the Graffis Award. Lane said it was seeing Stuedemann in action at this year’s John Deere Classic that motivated him. He describes Stuedemann as a ‘natural-born leader.’

“What makes him worthy (of the Graffis Award) is his leadership and his patience. He spends as much time as necessary to support his team or anyone else that needs his time. He has the skill and expertise to provide the ideal playing conditions. He has an infectious personality and an ability to build up others around him,” Lane says. “He’s deserving of this award because he’s embodied every criteria it takes to win the Graffis Award without ever caring about recognition.”  

Mark Johnson, regional agronomist for the PGA Tour, knew Stuedemann when he was just a kid starting out in the industry. He says Stuedemann kept getting more responsibility because he kept meeting the challenges. 

“He’s every general manager’s dream, as far as a superintendent is concerned,” Johnson says. “He’s a go-getter, one of those guys that I can trust to do what needs to be done. He’s not going to make excuses. I know his general manager does not want to lose Alex because to find someone with the business savvy that Alex has in that role is very rare.”

“The guy bleeds TPC Network red, white and blue,” says Collier Miller, director of TPC agronomy for the PGA Tour. “That’s a guy that when the time came, we had an opportunity for him because he’s such a valuable individual to our network.”

Stuedemann is excited to embark on this new path in his career but says leaving behind TPC Deere Run was not an easy choice.

From left to right, Jarrett Chapman, assistant superintendent, Alex Stuedemann, CGCS, and Andy Cooper, assistant superintendent at the 2019 John Deere Classic. (Photo: Golfdom Staff)

From left to right, Jarrett Chapman, assistant superintendent, Alex Stuedemann, CGCS, and Andy Cooper, assistant superintendent at the 2019 John Deere Classic. (Photo: Golfdom Staff)

“I really, really love TPC Deere Run,” Stuedemann says. “My wife is from here; we met here, our kids (Sophia, 8, and Kaeva, 5) were born here. There’s a lot of history, and that’s the hardest part of the (leaving) conversation.”

Stuedemann says he thought about all the talented people who have worked with him and then progressed on in their own careers … and then decided that it was OK for him to do that as well.

“I looked at my career progression, and I said, ‘You know what? It’s time for someone else to have this seat and grow within this company. And it’s time for me to grow further as well,’” Stuedemann says. “My wife, Erin, who has supported me the entire way said, ‘yes, you’re going to be away a bit more, but you’re also going to get to share what you’ve learned in the business … and likely, from a mental standpoint, we’ll actually have you more at home.’”

‘This isn’t for you.’

Stuedemann wasn’t born into the game of golf. It was a bad first part-time job and a phone call from his dad that put him on the golf maintenance track.

Once Stuedemann turned 16, he started working with a friend at a Little Caesars near his house in the suburbs of Minneapolis. He’d work from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. on nights he didn’t have a soccer game or golf practice. It wasn’t the smell of pizza he learned to hate (he still enjoys a slice), it was being stuck indoors. He asked his dad for help. His father knew Jim Nicol, CGCS-Retired, who would eventually host the 2002 and 2009 PGA Championships at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minn. At the time, Nicol was the superintendent at a local muni course.

“My dad put in a good word, and I got an interview with Jim,” Stuedemann recalls. “He took one look at me and said, ‘You’re not gonna make it. This isn’t for you.’ But he hired me at $4.25 an hour!”

On his first day, Nicol dropped Stuedemann off at a grove of trees and handed him a string trimmer. Nicol told him to trim around the trees. Stuedemann asked, ‘When do you want me to be done?’ Nicol replied, ‘When all the trees are done.’

A few summers later, Stuedemann was off to college. His summers on the course were fun, but he was moving on. The next summer, he returned to the golf course crew. One of the assistants told him that if he wanted to, that job could become a career. 

Finally, it was his parents who nudged him the rest of the way. 

“My old man called me and said that the University of Minnesota has a (turf) program, and I should transfer back home and get into it,” Stuedemann recalls. “The first class I took was a landscape design class, and I was hooked.” 

Tournament prep at TPC Deere Run is a team effort with (from left) Ryan Kurtz, Austin Muller, Cameron Winters and Nate Steinbeck. (Photo: Alex Stuedemann)

Tournament prep at TPC Deere Run is a team effort with (from left) Ryan Kurtz, Austin Muller, Cameron Winters and Nate Steinbeck. (Photo: Alex Stuedemann)

Working in the network

A few things appealed to Stuedemann about working on the golf course. One was the independence it offered; no one was looking over his shoulder. Another was being able to immediately see the results of his work. He loved ‘killing himself’ with a flat spade around a ragged bunker and then stepping back and admiring it once finished.

And he’d be remiss, he says, if he didn’t add that he was impressed by the professional golfers. At TPC Twin Cities, he saw the likes of Lee Trevino, Chi Chi Rodriguez and Jim Colbert up close.

“They were playing on your golf course, and it was on TV,” Stuedemann says excitedly. “It gave me extra motivation, and it was all tangible. It wasn’t abstract (work) that came with other professions.”

After his time at TPC Twin Cities, he caught on as an assistant superintendent at TPC Deere Run, starting in 2002. He says it was a job he was not ready for. Others disagree.

“When we built TPC Twin Cities, Alex was already a star back then,” Collier Miller says. “We recognized (that) this person has the work ethic and communication skills. His personality and demeanor made him a pleasure to work with. That’s why we took him from Twin Cities to become the assistant at Deere Run.”

From there, Stuedemann became a project superintendent, then superintendent at TPC San Antonio. In 2012 and 2013, he was superintendent where it all started (sort of) at TPC Twin Cities, up until 2014, when he returned to Deere Run. Stuedemann doesn’t mention it himself, but there was also a month spent in South Korea, helping a first-time tournament course step up its game at the 11th hour.

“We’ve had an occasion here and there where we’ve had a challenge at a property,” Miller says. “We’d call Alex on the phone and say, ‘we could use some help.’ And he couldn’t get on a plane fast enough. He’s there helping us through the challenges.”

“(Stuedemann) is one of the most caring superintendents I’ve ever worked for,” says incoming TPC Deere Run superintendent Jonathan Graham (right). (Photo: Darius Lane)

“(Stuedemann) is one of the most caring superintendents I’ve ever worked for,” says incoming TPC Deere Run superintendent Jonathan Graham (right). (Photo: Darius Lane)

Pushing the limits

Jonathan Graham is excited to take over at Deere Run this fall but adds that he has big shoes to fill. Stuedemann, he says, has this presence that makes everyone feel secure that the smartest guy in the room has everything under control.

“He’s a risk taker and not afraid to make quick decisions. We would push the limits,” Graham says. “It’s a PGA Tour course, and you think it’s a high-dollar budget, but that isn’t necessarily the case. The location in Silvis, Ill. … the golf market isn’t huge. The amount they can charge per round as compared to a larger golf market, you have to be able to make financial decisions that are risky but that still benefit the property and allow you to hit your bottom line. He’s really successful at it.”

Still, that isn’t Stuedemann’s best skill as a superintendent, Graham says. It’s how much he cares about his crew.

“He’s very knowledgeable and direct but also one of the most caring guys I’ve ever worked for,” he adds. “He is very fair and promotes the team environment.”

Johnson says that caring heart will make him succeed as a TPC agronomist. 

“Alex’s personality is not intimidating,” he says. “He’s very understanding. He’ll cooperate with anybody. To follow the circus, as we call it, the PGA Tour from stop to stop, you meet all kinds of different people. Alex has the personality to manage that.”

Last fall, Deere Run undertook a bunker renovation. Weather challenges put the project behind schedule. It was four days before Christmas, and the crew was still slinging dirt. There could have been a revolt. Stuedemann says the team finished off the project without a single complaint.

“It looked like a bunch of people were taking care of their own house,” he says. “To me, that was most rewarding because everyone was fully engaged. They knew the goal. It wasn’t something you teach; it was just intrinsic. It was the moment I knew I had surrounded myself with fantastic people. There was no input needed, and it just felt extremely rewarding.”

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About the Author: Seth Jones

Seth Jones, a 25-year veteran of the golf industry media, is Editor-in-Chief of Golfdom magazine and Athletic Turf. A graduate of the University of Kansas School of Journalism and Mass Communications, Jones began working for Golf Course Management in 1999 as an intern. In his professional career he has won numerous awards, including a Turf and Ornamental Communicators Association (TOCA) first place general feature writing award for his profile of World Golf Hall of Famer Greg Norman and a TOCA first place photography award for his work covering the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In his career, Jones has accumulated an impressive list of interviews, including such names as George H.W. Bush, Samuel L. Jackson, Lance Armstrong and Charles Barkley. Jones has also done in-depth interviews with such golfing luminaries as Norman, Gary Player, Nick Price and Lorena Ochoa, to name only a few. Jones is a member of both the Golf Writers Association of America and the Turf and Ornamental Communicators Association. Jones can be reached at sjones@northcoastmedia.net.

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