How TPC Deere Run’s Jonathan Graham preps for his first John Deere Classic as super

By |  June 29, 2023 0 Comments
Graphic: Golfdom Staff

Graphic: Golfdom Staff

President Harry S. Truman famously had a sign on his desk that stated, “The Buck Stops Here.” The plaque was symbolic of Truman’s no-nonsense approach to decision-making and that he was ultimately responsible for his administration’s actions.

One could imagine a similar sign on Jonathan Graham’s desk at TPC Deere Run, but this one might say, “The Turf Stops Here.”

After a four-year stint as TPC San Antonio’s senior assistant superintendent, Graham returned in September 2022 to the championship course nestled along the Rock River in Silvis, Ill., to succeed his mentor, Alex J Stuedemann, CGCS, as superintendent of TPC Deere Run. Stuedemann advanced on as TPC’s director of agronomy.

July’s John Deere Classic is the 35-year-old’s first event as a superintendent. Unintimidated, Graham says he’s ready for the big stage and the scrutiny that accompanies it. While he’s worked the John Deere Classic as an assistant superintendent, Graham says his outlook as the tournament’s top turf guy hasn’t changed much, except for the level of responsibility now on his shoulders.

“Instead of me being in a supporting role where you go to a director of agronomy or a superintendent and ask for approval, now I’m the one making the decisions as far as agronomy, or purchasing or any of that stuff,” he says, adding this is an opportunity to keep developing his skills and to push himself professionally. “Instead of me asking if we can afford to do this or whether something is a good idea, now people come to me with those questions, and I’m the guy saying yes or no. That’s probably the biggest difference.”

TPC Deere Run Superintendent Jonathan Graham knows he can rely on his peers in the TPC Network to offer advice as he hosts his first John Deere Classic as superintendent. (Photo: JR Howell)

TPC Deere Run Superintendent Jonathan Graham knows he can rely on his peers in the TPC Network to offer advice as he hosts his first John Deere Classic as superintendent. (Photo: JR Howell)

Familiar faces

A masterful D.A. Weibring design, TPC Deere Run concluded a major bunker renovation at the end of 2021, so course conditions will be status quo for the upcoming event. Although, that doesn’t mean there won’t be challenges for Graham and his team as they balance daily play with preparing the course for the late-July tournament.

“There are things that we constantly see that we want to change or do differently,” he adds. “But it’s not necessarily anything that would make life more difficult.”

In addition to overseeing turf, Graham is now a people manager, and he was fortunate to inherit the core of Stuedemann’s team at TPC Deere Run. Many individuals were on staff during Graham’s first stint as an assistant.

“There were a lot of familiar faces when I came back, which made the transition pretty easy,” he says. “The great thing about the TPC Network is that they like to build from within. So, these guys have worked their way up the ladder.”

In fact, both of Graham’s assistant superintendents were interns when he was an assistant.

As a manager, Graham says no one person can ever do it all. Therefore, he recognizes that he must surround himself with a solid team of professionals.

“You can’t make enough time to do it all yourself,” he says. “You must learn to rely on the people around you. And that’s my biggest thing, knowing I’m not going to see everything in one day. I need to rely on the eyes of our trained individuals and listen to their feedback. I respect their opinions and want to listen as much as I can because they’re knowledgeable people.”

Outside TPC Deere Run, Graham relies on a network of turf industry pros to help organize himself and his outlook for the tasks at hand. Never the loudest person in the room, Graham admits he doesn’t hesitate to talk with people and ask questions. As a result, Graham has built valuable relationships with a network of superintendents, volunteers and PGA Tour agronomists by asking questions and gaining insights.

“The biggest thing is being able to ask, ‘Hey, what do you think?’” he says. “From building agronomic plans to budgeting, it’s great to have colleagues you can reach out to talk to about these issues because they have more experience than I have on these things.”

Graham counts Stuedemann among those valued resources. “Alex and I constantly talk about different things and probably talk more than we should for our new roles,” he says. “This course is one of his stops (as TPC’s director of agronomy), so we talk about different things and how we might do things differently, or things he would have liked to have done but never had the budget for, or if we can do some trials to test out new products.”

‘Just do your job’

One challenge that requires a crystal ball is staying ahead of Mother Nature and what she’s conjuring for western Illinois this spring and summer. One unfavorable scenario for the course is a lingering winter with a cold spring.

“It’s uncontrollable,” Graham says of the weather’s unpredictable nature. “Things can seemingly change in a split second. For example, we recently had an ice storm come through the middle of the night. I was (lying awake in bed) wondering how much of an ice layer was building up on the course while I was at home.”

In the end, Graham is confident he and his team will rise to the occasion and whip TPC Deere Run in shape for the John Deere Classic. One lesson he says Stuedemann drilled into his assistant superintendents was the value of “just do your job.” The phrase reverberates through his turf management psyche even today.

“We’d put it at the top of our Excel spreadsheets for tournament jobs … ‘Just Do Your Job,’” he adds. “If everyone just does their job, then everything will work out fine.”

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