Getting by with a little help from friends: Unlikely duo helps Wolf Creek

By |  September 23, 2015 0 Comments

The unlikely duo of a Haz-Mat Response company owner and a World Golf Hall of Famer team up to help Wolf Creek members improve their course.

Tom Watson with Todd Bohn Photo courtesy: Todd Bohn

Tom Watson with Todd Bohn

Wolf Creek Golf Club, located in Olathe, Kan., considers itself a “player’s club.” Of the 260 members, more than half boast single-digit handicaps.

However, those members also boast much more than impressive handicaps. Forget sand saves, some of these members save lives. Others are high-powered attorneys (but no lawyer jokes here, sorry). Judging by the parking lot, there’s also at least one high-end car dealership owner.

Then there’s the owner of a hazardous material response company and a World Golf Hall of Famer.

Those last two — Jack Stockdale, owner of Haz-Mat Response Inc., and Tom Watson, owner of five Claret Jugs, two green jackets and the 1982 U.S. Open trophy — are especially important to this story.

On borrowed time

Not to say that Jack Stockdale isn’t a stick, but he might not lump himself into that single-digit handicap club at Wolf Creek.

“I play golf… or something akin to that,” Stockdale, a constant joker, says with a big laugh. In a lifetime spent in the construction business, first as a ditch digger and pipe liner, Stockdale now specializes in dealing with big problems such as train derailments and chemical spills.

He did not know golf course renovation, but he did know Wolf Creek had a couple of big problems, and that they were of the expensive sort. Primarily, hole No. 5, a par-three, had a retaining wall that was deteriorating quickly, threatening to drop the entire green into the course’s namesake, Wolf Creek. On No. 11, another par-three, erosion was causing the front embankment of the hole to crumble.

Todd Bohn, a Kansas State University graduate and the superintendent at Wolf Creek for five years, says the situation on No. 5 green was keeping him up at night.

“If we lose that green, that’s $100,000 plus the hole is unplayable,” he says. “Ultimately we were on borrowed time.”

Stockdale joined the course’s board of directors, started listening to the costs involved with the two projects, and couldn’t believe the numbers he was hearing.

“I don’t have any skills in golf course renovation, but I knew we had a problem and I knew we didn’t have the money to fix it, and I knew it would be an even bigger problem eventually,” Stockdale says. “So my little brain got to whirling and starts to think, ‘how can you fix this the cheapest, easiest way possible?’

“I was thinking cheap and easy. Well, it wasn’t easy — I still had a full head of wavy hair when we started,” jokes Stockdale, who hides his current hairline under a Haz-Mat Response Inc. hat.“But it was cheap.”

Hello from Hawaii

In November of 2014 Stockdale brought in three of his employees and some heavy equipment. He paid his employees like he would on any other project, keeping it on the books of his hazmat company and off Wolf Creek’s.

Work rebuilding the retaining wall on No. 11 went swimmingly. They were even given more than enough free rock — more money saved — from a nearby church construction site. Work was completed in a few weeks. It seemed the golf gods were smiling.

“We initially started by fixing No. 11, and then Jack got wild,” Bohn says. “He wanted to tackle the issue we had with No. 5. That’s when we got Tom Watson involved, to tell us if he thought we were crazy, or if he thought we could do it… and if we could do it, what tweaks we needed to do.”

Count Bohn and Wolf Creek lucky, not just for members like Stockdale, but for a member unlike any other: Tom Watson. A legend of the game, Watson calls Wolf Creek his home course and treats the staff like family. (Example: When Bohn recently limped out of his utility vehicle following what he thought was a sprained ankle from playing basketball, it was Watson who demanded he see a doctor. Watson even arranged the appointment himself. It turned out Bohn had two broken bones in his foot and required surgery.)

January in Kansas can be less than pleasant, so Wolf Creek’s favorite son was spending the month in Hawaii, while Stockdale and Bohn were knee-deep in a construction quagmire. Thus began the string of text messages with photos to the Aloha State.

“The challenge for me was communicating with (Watson) and getting feedback while at the same time getting Jack out of here as soon as possible, since it was costing him money,” Bohn says. “But we wanted to get it done right.”

Or, as Stockdale puts it, “Todd was so particular about everything, he sounded like my wife.”

Hole integrity

Apologies to Mrs. Stockdale, but Bohn was “particular” for good reason. When a course stakes its reputation on being a player’s course and one of the most difficult courses in the area, a renovation that makes a golf hole easier — donated or not — could spell doom.

Watson, who regularly practices at the course, says the difficulty of Wolf Creek is his favorite thing about the course.

“(Wolf Creek) requires you hit the ball with irons very, very crisply, solidly,” Watson says. “The greens have a lot of pitch to them, and stop the ball well when they are in good, firm conditions. It takes some skill, and the golf course has a whole lot of variety to it.”

The course was designed by Marvin Ferguson and opened in 1971. CE Golf Design renovated the course in 2006. Watson says the integrity of No. 5, which he calls the signature hole of the course, was important. That’s why he and design associate Bob Givens made a tough decision when they elected to take out the retaining wall that previously fronted the green.

“I would have liked to see the retaining wall go back in, but it’s an expensive project,” Watson says. “Bob Givens came up with the idea to bank it down to the creek. I said to Todd, ‘The most important thing is we can’t let the bank play too easy where the ball would hang up on the bank — that would ruin the integrity of the hole.’ So I asked them to steepen the bank so that it can be cut to a certain length that a ball, when it’s hit there, will go into the water.”

Easy enough? Not quite. For the insertion of the slope and a new bunker, the creek had to be widened to two and a half times its previous width.

Stockdale and his team dammed the creek and pumped it in frigid weather. They then began moving the silt that had built up over years. Then the dam broke, and they had to wait 10 days to pump it out again and essentially start over.

“(The work on No. 11) went really, really well. The work on No. 5 was a little more difficult, to say the least,” Stockdale says. “I knew when that rain came, the dam wouldn’t hold.”

Frustrated but not willing to give in, Stockdale, his crew and Bohn got back to work. After a five-week grind, the project was finished. Watson was impressed, both with the end result and the speed of work.

“How fast it was done was remarkable,” Watson says. “I don’t know what the cost was, but with Jack donating quite a bit of his time and equipment, it became a win-win.”

“My crew and (Stockdale’s) crew, we worked as a team and we got it done,” Bohn says proudly. “We were able to accomplish a lot. His crew is top-notch. And it doesn’t hurt to have one of the greatest players to ever play the game to help with the architectural work.”

For Stockdale, he was just relieved to be done. Don’t expect him to be applying to the Golf Course Builders Association of America any time soon.

“It was interesting work, but I won’t be volunteering any more. I’ve had my fill of golf course work,” Stockdale says.

A lifetime par

With extra money in the club’s pocket thanks to Stockdale’s donated time, the course set its sights on a new project: building a new practice putting green.

This time Wolf Creek went with the professionals: Lee’s Summit, Mo.-based Mid-America Golf. Their new practice putting green is flatter and twice the size.

“It’s instrumental to have a (quality practice area) at your club,” Watson says, “because people don’t have as much time, sometimes they just want to practice.”

If both Watson and Stockdale are happy, then Bohn is happy. Bohn, meanwhile, is recovering nicely from his foot su rgery (Watson texted him from the Open Championship at St. Andrews to find out the diagnosis) and the renovated holes have benefitted from a mostly pleasant summer with plenty of rain.

Stockdale’s contribution is now honored with a plaque on No. 11.

“I was just looking for a way to help the course that was cost effective,” Stockdale says. “It may have been more than I bargained for. We had a great big hole in the ground. I couldn’t just walk away — I would have had to find somewhere else to play.

“But it turned out good; I get a lot of compliments on it.”

But do his playing partners at least give him a stroke when he gets to No. 11 tee?

“I don’t even put a tee in the ground,” he laughs. “I write down a par, and drive on to No. 12.”

All photos courtesy of: Todd Bohn

This article is tagged with , and posted in Course of the Week, Maintenance

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

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