For 21 years, Matt McKinnon has walked, driven and bulldozed over the acres that make up Cragun’s Legacy Courses.
As the head superintendent of the Legacy Courses, McKinnon has seen big events, big storms and perfect afternoons.
The husband of Shelly and father of Austin and Blake took time away from a busy August schedule to tell us about preparing for a huge event in the CRMC Brainerd Lake Tour Showcase and much more.
Q: The CRMC Brainerd Lake Tour Showcase is fast approaching Aug. 19-22, do you and your staff do anything special to the course for that event?
MM: Generally, August is a busy month with a lot of events but three events we have are the PGA Juniors, Pro-Am and Korn Ferry Tour. With these events, it does trigger some special maintenance that we do not do every day.
We do start rolling greens more consistently for smooth, faster greens. This year, with the showcase, we will be adjusting some of our height of cuts for certain areas of the golf course. We will also be doing some evening maintenance to provide a higher quality playing surface.
Q: Why are the Legacy Courses at Cragun’s a good spot to host a Korn Ferry Tour Event?
MM: The 36 holes at Cragun’s Legacy Courses made this decision easier. We are able to host The Showcase on The Dutch Course while keeping Bobby’s open for the resort guests, members, and general public players. The large clubhouse, patio overlooking the course and large parking area will allow us to host an event of this size. We will have the post-tournament banquet in The Event Pavilion and allow for guests to spend the entire day at the course, without ever leaving the property.
Q: Do you believe the Legacy Courses are challenging enough for that level of golf?
MM: I feel that the golf course is challenging enough for the Showcase. We have many greens on the Dutch course with undulations and tough pin areas that can be used for the event. We also have many forced carry holes.
Q: Can you make the course more difficult and would that be a wise thing to do considering it will go back to public play after the event?
MM: I feel we can make the course more difficult just by pin and tee placement. The rest of it will come with the speed of the greens. Since we are a resort public golf course, we spend a lot of time each day making sure we do not have pins in the wrong area for general play.
Q: You’ve been at Cragun’s for 21 years. You’ve seen the course grow into itself, what has surprised you most about the two championship courses?
MM: I think the course matures a little bit each year. Since I started working here in 1998, we have seen our fair share of storms in the summer. The storm of 2015 I feel was an eye-opening experience. After losing a couple of thousand trees, the course just matured from the sunlight that it had not seen before. That really surprised me. Now today you would not even know that the golf course had a major storm four years ago. I feel the course really changed for the better. I love hearing that people had a great experience playing here. It does make me feel proud to be a part of making this place great.
Q: Is there a spot on the property or a golf hole that you enjoy more than the rest?
MM: My favorite area of the two courses is on the back of Bobby course. I think the views are great especially coming into 13 through 18. I like the shaping of the course, taking into consideration the surrounding landscape and tying it all together, so it looks very natural.
Q: While the golf season is half over, it’s never too late to educate golfers on proper course etiquette. What are some things you wish the golfing public would know to make your life easier?
MM: We spend a lot of time on divots and ball marks. They are a constant battle on the course all season, but the two times of the year that is the hardest is the spring and late fall. Due to the cooler weather and soil temperatures, it takes a lot longer for them to heal up than any other time of the year. If you take a divot and it does not explode apart you should just place it back down and step on it as it will heal itself a lot quicker than seed and soil.
Q: At this point in the golf season what are a course superintendent’s biggest concerns?
MM: For myself this year is the showcase event. This event is very important to me to do a great job and hopefully see the area get more recognition for all the great golf courses. The weather in August drives me crazy as a lot of things can change a golf course in a matter of hours. With the typical August heat and humidity, you could develop disease or get the heavy rains that we sometimes see that can wreck your day with bunker washouts to flooding.
Staffing is another concern going into this time of the year. It is hard to find the staff to maintain the golf course. I am very fortunate to have a lot of hard-working and dedicated staff return year after year to make this place great. The last three years we have been using international students to help maintain the course. Without these students, it would be a struggle to get things done. It takes a small army to maintain the Legacy Courses.
Q: Can you go out and enjoy a round of golf at Cragun’s or does it turn into a nit-picking session about things you would want to fix or change?
MM: Honestly, I have a hard time golfing at the Legacy. I spend a lot of time here all year and to come back to golf is more like work to me. I try to play with my family at other courses. I really love the game, but as I get older and only have so much time in a day, I would rather spend it with family.
Q: What are some of the more challenging aspects of your job?
MM: Managing maintenance of the course around play. We only mow 100% of the course twice a week ahead of play. So, when the rain comes, or an all course shotgun is scheduled sometimes things do not get mowed. I like consistency in maintenance, I feel it is where quality comes from.
*Q: How much has course management changed since you started at Cragun’s? Has science and technology made your job any easier?
MM: Staffing and budget has probably made the biggest change for us as it is hard to find staff. We have made some changes with how we maintain the course and have had to become more efficient at what we do. Every year, we must re-evaluate how we do things to get better at what we do. Growth regulators have helped us manage the courses a lot different over the years. If it was not for them, we could not mow the course only twice a week. Wetting agents have also made our job easier as this golf course is built on sand. Wetting agents have given us the ability to provide a firm surface without having to dry out the course completely.
Q: The idea for another course at Cragun’s has been mumbled about for a few years now. You were part of Bobby’s Legacy construction and the reconstruction of a few holes. Are you up for another course?
MM: I started working here six months after the Dutch Course was started, so I have seen the whole place from the dirt moving onto the finishing of the courses. At this point they have me busy with other areas of the property. In a few years if they decided to go ahead with another course, I would like to be part of that.
Q: In your opinion, when’s the best time to be out on the golf course — early in the morning or in the afternoon?
MM: I really like the early mornings on the course. You don’t have to worry about being in the golfer’s way and you can look at anything you need to. In the morning, with the dew on the turf, you can tell a lot about the course. On the other hand, I prefer to play golf in the afternoon.
Q: It was always joked about that when winter came around Scott Hoffmann could always be found ice fishing. How do you unwind from a long, busy golf season?
MM: I really like hanging out with my family. Most days in the summer I maybe get a couple of hours to see my family so come winter we are always together when we have the chance. I like working on projects around the home as it takes my mind away from the course even in the winter. Surprisingly there is stress/concern about the course in the winter.