Bill Whelihan, longtime superintendent at Haymaker Golf Course, was busy Friday cleaning out the desk at his office, which sits in a repurposed home that is positioned just off the edge of the driving range and among commercial steel buildings used to service and store equipment.
“I’m trying to clean out my office, and it’s not that easy,” Whelihan said. “It’s 25 years of accumulated junk.”
Whelihan was hired in 1995, and for more than two decades, he’s been the man taking care of the signature course since the first day it opened in 1997.
“Having someone who kind of wrote the book was nice to draw from,” said Cody Hasten, head professional at Haymaker.
Hasten is just in his second year at the course, which is owned by the city of Steamboat Springs. He said he was thrilled to have Whelihan on staff when he arrived last year.
“He built the golf course, so he had intimate knowledge of just about everything to do with the golf course — just having that knowledge base has been hugely helpful,” Hasten said.
As Whelihan took a break from packing boxes last week and took a moment to look out over the well-groomed grass, he recalled when the 18-hole municipal course was nothing more than a hayfield covered with piles of rocks.
“It was a lot of work,” said Whelihan, who was working at the Sheraton (now the Rollingstone Ranch) Golf Course at the time. “It was exciting. I came out here and was like, ‘Wow, we started out with a hayfield and ended up with a golf course.’ A pretty nice golf course, I think.”
The course was designed by Keith Foster and rolls across 233 acres. Haymaker is consistently ranked in the Top 10 Public Courses in Colorado and holds a 4+ Star “Places to Play” ranking from Golf Digest.
For most of his career, Whelihan has made caring for the course, which features at least four sets of tees per hole and plays from 5,059 to 7,308 yards, his main focus. In the summer, he was in charge of the people who tend to the grass, sand and the many fixtures that can be found on the course. In the winter, his employees take care of the clubhouse, the machines and paint everything from tee markers to signs.
“I think we have a good reputation around the state, “ Whelihan said. “It’s a cool deal, and it was a great job.”
Whelihan’s final day on the job was June 3, and the 66-year-old has already handed the reins over to his longtime assistant Adam Sando, who has been with the city since 2006 and has worked full-time at Haymaker since 2010. He has served as crew leader and assistant superintendent.
“It’s going to be big shoes to fill, but I’m excited for the opportunity,” Sando said. “It’s been wonderful working with him. If I could apply half the things that Bill has taught me over the years to my own career, I feel like I will be successful.”
Whelihan admits that it’s not always easy caring for a course that normally sees between 300 and 400 inches of snow each winter.
“It’s been in a coma for five months, then you come in and the snow starts melting and you say, ‘Why did I think this would be a great job?’” Whelihan said. “But as it gets warmer and things heat up, and it gets green and things start to grow, you are like, ‘OK, cool.’ We will fix what’s messed up, and we will be on our way, and hopefully, it will be better than last year.”
Whelihan isn’t sure what the next chapter will hold for him, but he said he will take it one stroke at a time. He said he doesn’t have any hesitation about leaving and feels like the course he loves is in good hands.
“If Adam wasn’t here, this would not have happened,” Whelihan said. “He has worked extremely hard, and he got the job, which is the best thing ever. He will be hugely successful, and I do not feel bad about leaving … he will do better than I ever did.”
To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatPilot.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.