Making sure the grass is greener


The job is more than just clipping grass.

But for more than 15 years, Chad Oden, superintendent of Greenfield’s Arrowhead Golf Course, has been hearing the same thing.

“People always tell me, ‘You have the greatest job in the world, because all you do is mow lawns.’

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Usually, he just laughs it off, thinking “Yeah, right.”

The truth of the matter is, most weeks Oden rarely finds himself aboard a mower.

More often he can be found under one of Arrowhead’s 24 mowers or 60-plus golf carts, tinkering with a loose blade or fiddling with a faulty engine.

As superintendent, mechanic is just one of the jobs that comes with the territory. He’s also a landscaper, a botanist, an irrigation specialist, a personnel manager and pretty much whatever else the facility requires of him.

In fact, that’s sort of his day-to-day mantra.

“Whatever needs to be done, we do it.”

Oden expands here on what it means to be a golf course superintendent.

Q&A WITH ARROWHEAD’S superintendent

How would you describe your primary responsibility as superintendent?

“I have a crew of about eight guys who I guess you’d say I manage. Basically what we do is keep things alive. I like to say that we have a living product. I would say I spend a good amount of time on the greens. When you’re cutting grass below five-thirty-seconds of an inch, it’s a challenge to just keep it alive.”

What makes it so difficult?

“The diseases. I think what most people don’t realize is how many diseases we deal with. There are so many of them. Some of the more common ones are dollar spot, brown patch and pythium blights. You just have to keep those and all the other ones in check. And it’s not only that, it’s the people trampling all over it. There is constant traffic on that turf, and then you factor in Mother Nature and watering it correctly. There’s just a lot to it.”

How does technology play a role in your job?

“Early on, when I first started, we didn’t have a computer system to handle irrigation. Back then, I would have to go around turning sprinkler heads on by hand. There were times when I’d maybe get two hours of sleep, depending on (irrigation schedule for different parts of the course). I lived on the golf course back then, and I was working or on call practically 24 hours a day.

“Now, we have a computer system that controls our sprinklers that we can program to tell it when and where and what to water. I have it tied into my iPad, and I can access it from my phone, so I can do it from anywhere. It takes me minutes now instead of the hours it used to.

“We got that (computer system) around 2002 or 2003. It’s been great. It’s opportunity cost. Instead of spending all that time manually running an irrigation system, I’m freed up to work on other things.”

How many hours a week is spent mowing?

“We mow greens six days a week, most fairways three days a week and roughs twice a week. So we probably spend at least 100 to 150 hours a week mowing, depending on weather conditions. We like to keep it mowed for our golfers. That’s our main focus, providing a good experience for our customers. I like to make sure the course looks clean and doesn’t have clippings lying around all over the place.”

What would have to have happen for you to think Arrowhead looks perfect, like there is nothing more you or your crew could do to make it look better?

“Impossible. That will never happen. I’m being serious. To be good at your job, you can never be satisfied. Maybe if it looked like Augusta (laughs), then I’d be satisfied.”

Nine holes of Arrowhead were built by your grandfather. Another nine were built by your father and current owner Gary Oden. Do you plan to take over the course in the future?

“That was the original plan (laughs). As you know, the course has been in my family (since 1974). I’ve been around it since I was 2. Now I’m 42. … (But) I’ve really fallen in love with the turf end of things. I really enjoy the science of it. I’ll say this: Whatever is needed, that’s what I’ll do. If I end up owning it and running the whole thing, that’s fine with me. I just love being around it.”

What’s the best part of your job?

“I really enjoy working outside. I’ve said to people before that sometimes it’s like I don’t have a job. I just have a really big yard.”

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Name: Chad Oden

Job: Superintendent of Arrowhead Golf Course in Greenfield, 16 years.

Age: 42

Family: Wife, Leslie; children, A.J. (10) and Kyle (9).

High school: Greenfield-Central.

College: Purdue (bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership, with minors in management and accounting).

Favorite course (other than Arrowhead): Royal Hylands in Knightstown. “I love the layout there,” Oden said. “I also like the golf course in Kokomo, Wildcat Creek … and Salt Creek down south (Nashville).”