August 4, 2015 – Jeremy Laak does more by 9 a.m. than most people do all day. And on a good day, he’ll have 150 witnesses able to attest to his early-morning biddings.
Laak is the superintendent of course maintenance at Olympia Hills Golf Course in Universal City. His alarm clock has been going off at 4:30 a.m. for seven years, enabling him to arrive at the course as early as 5:30 a.m. to manicure the course and get it ready for the 100-150 golfers who will play through each day.
“The key for us is to stay ahead of the golfers, especially if we’re mowing fairways,” Laak said. “If you have to continually stop to let golfers go through, that four-hour job turns into a six-hour job.”
“About 85 percent of our work is done between 5:30 and 9:30 every morning,” he said. “We try to stay out of the golfers’ way. If we’re not seen, we’re doing our jobs.”
Laak was selected Golf Course Superintendent of the Year in 2012 by the Central Texas Golf Course Superintendents Association.
Sal Garcia, director of golf operations at Olympia Hills the last four years and a course employee for the past 12, said Laak brings a level of professionalism and a keen knack for keeping the course up to its playable best.
“That’s the beauty about our relationship as we drive around the golf course. He sees it in his eyes, and I see it through a golfer’s eye,” Garcia said. “So we work really well together on trying to figure out what is best for the golfer and the course.”
Olympia Hills, he said, is known as a tough course. Its 6,900 yards plays a tough par 72, with tree-lined fairways on every hole in the front nine.
“We don’t want to lose the playability of this golf course. There’s a stigma that we’re a tougher golf course, and it is. So we try to make it a fair test for all of the golfers,” Garcia said.
Laak said he received the award after Olympia Hills hosted a Central Texas superintendents’ tourney every year for about five years, giving its membership a chance to see the course – and to notice its improvements and playing condition.
“(The award is based) on how far we’ve brought the course within a year’s time, on how much we improved the course in one year,” Laak said.
“We’re known for always being in good condition. We get a lot of respect throughout San Antonio area golf courses for that,” Garcia said. “We’re known to have some tough par 3s. A lot people like to come out here because there are a lot of elevation changes, there’s wonderful scenery and there’s a lot of different animals you can see out on the golf course.”
This spring saw near-record rainfall that, surprisingly, the course withstood fairly well. A flood on June 17 turned the course’s 17th and 18th holes into a raging river, a spectacle that Garcia recorded and shows people to this day.
“It was a water hazard for sure. We didn’t sell carts, we sold rafts and canoes that day,” Garcia joked.
“That was one of the two biggest rainfalls I have ever seen here, but that’s the beauty about (Olympia Hills), with the engineers who had moved the greens up (higher). The course took some damage, but it wasn’t to the point where we had to shut down or anything. There was just a lot of debris on the golf course, some of the sand traps got washed out, but this course does hold up on these big rains,” he added.
Laak said several of the sand traps were washed out, and he had to divert his early-morning crews to fixing the traps before the golfers approached the next day.
“We didn’t have any golfers out here that day, but as soon as it stops, they’ll be right there, ready to play on through,” Laak said.
The course is known for its majestic views on holes 8 and 10, Garcia said.
“On 10, we have this wonderful canyon backdrop, a big limestone rock back to the rear and side. It’s just picturesque,” he said. “And on 8, you can stand up there and just practically see forever.”
The longest par 5 is the sixth hole, which plays 550 yards, while the shortest par 3, the fifth hole, is 189 yards. The course record, a 62, was set earlier this year.
The course has its regulars, and there are groups of golfers who play on the same day every week, and have held that spot for years on a course that debuted in 2000. But Garcia said he now thinks outside the box and tries to devise fun outings and tournaments that will attract regular golfers as well as those who don’t golf regularly so they can experience what it’s like to whack a ball around a green carpet the length of 70 football fields.
“We’re always trying to come up with that next idea to get that nongolfer out here,” Garcia said. “One thing I am looking into is buying an 8-inch cup instead of the 3-inch cup. Maybe move all the tee boxes up, and have that 8-inch cup, and just enjoy yourself. Golf’s already too hard. You’re already going to be in the heat, let’s just have a good time.”
One such idea is slated for Aug. 28, the first-ever “Roamin’ the Hills of Olympia Toga Run.” The event conjures up days of ancient Olympia, with people encouraged to come out for the toga party. The event will include a 5K and “a hilly 8K” for those who want a real challenge. A toga party featuring a variety of Greek-themed foods will follow the 5K and 8K. All participants will receive a shirt, a finisher’s medal, a glow necklace and access to the after-party.
Somewhere along the course, Garcia said, he plans to have the runners and walkers stop at one of the golf holes and hit a golf ball. Most likely a par 3, each Toga Run entrant will hit a golf ball, whether having just completed a round in the morning or never having held a golf club before. Prizes will be awarded based on things such as closest to the hole, shortest drive and best distance.
All proceeds from the event will benefit Special Olympics
“We’re always prepping for the next golf tournament,” Garcia said. “But we are just as interested in coming up with some kind of idea that will draw not just our normal base, but the people who don’t play a lot of golf, the ones who are really not golfers.”