The Dave Johnson Putting Course at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, Calif. Johnson headed operations at Mission Hills from 1988 to 2017, overseeing 28 straight majors. Photo by Scott Hollister
David Johnson was an idea man. “He always had big ideas, big plans. He loved projects,” says David Hay, CGCS, director of agronomy at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, Calif., of his predecessor in the job for 29 years.
“He didn’t always take into account the details, how he’d take care of these things after he built them. He always said, ‘I’ll figure it out.’ And you know what? He always did.”
A case in point sits front and center this week as Mission Hills plays host to golf’s first major of the season, the LPGA Tour’s ANA Inspiration. Just east of the clubhouse is the Dave Johnson Putting Course, a product of one of those big ideas.
“The general manager’s office looked out on that area, and Dave (pictured at right) always told me the GM wanted the whole thing filled with flowers,” says Jared Taylor, the superintendent of Mission Hills’ Dinah Shore Tournament Course and a seven-year GCSAA member. “Dave kept telling him that they could do something better, something for families. He loved the idea of a putting course.”
“He had drawn it up, planned it out. He really wanted to build that putting course,” says Hay, a 38-year GCSAA member.
And eventually, he did, finishing the project in 2012. And true to his word, he and the crew at Mission Hills figured out a way to take care of it. Today, the putting course — which winds its way up and down slopes and features real, live bunkers on each hole — is cut two or three days a week with a Toro Greensmaster 1000 set at 0.15 inch, Taylor says.
Whether during tournament week or in the heart of a scorching desert summer, the putting course is a popular attraction among Mission Hills’ members, and also a poignant reminder of Johnson, who died unexpectedly just over two years ago, five weeks shy of serving as the host superintendent for what would have been his 29th ANA Inspiration.
The club held Johnson in such high regard that they posthumously named the putting course in his honor. The course’s flags bear his initials, and a stone near the first hole reads, “This course was conceived and designed by Dave Johnson, Director of Agronomy at Mission Hills Country Club for 29 years. Dave wanted a place where all members of the family could have fun together at the club. Enjoy your round.”
Photos by Scott Hollister
“Dave was such a quiet, humble guy, and he really loved this place,” Taylor says. “He taught me so much about this business in such a short time, and I can tell you we miss him every day around here.”
Scott Hollister is GCM’s editor-in-chief.