Jeff Heaton wins 2021 Leo Feser Award

The Wisconsin superintendent’s wisdom on managing younger golf course employees has been chosen as the year’s top member-written GCM article.


Golf Gen Z employees
Jeff Heaton (far right), director of grounds at Lake Geneva (Wis.) Country Club, shared ideas for incentivizing younger staff members in his now award-winning GCM article. One of those strategies? “Our club offers deserving and proven employees an opportunity to attend low-cost online associate degree programs. ... The costs are incorporated into our operational budget,” Heaton wrote. Photo courtesy of Jeff Heaton

Jeff Heaton, the GCSAA Class A superintendent at Lake Geneva (Wis.) Country Club, has been named the winner of the 2021 Leo Feser Award from GCSAA. Now in its 44th year, the award is presented annually to the author of the best superintendent-written article published in Golf Course Management magazine — the association’s flagship publication — during the previous year.

An 11-year member of GCSAA, Heaton authored the story Bridging the generation gap, which was published in the January 2021 issue of GCM. The article offered tips for supervising and working with employees from different generations, honed through Heaton’s increased hiring of high school and college students to round out his in-season maintenance team at the resort course.

“I am honored, and a little shocked, to have won the Leo Feser Award,” Heaton says. “I set out to create a fun read for superintendents during a difficult time. It is rewarding to learn that in sharing my experiences, I may have helped others.”

Heaton’s story detailed steps he has taken to increase motivation and decrease absenteeism among this “Gen Z” workforce, generally between the ages of 18 and 24. Among those strategies were making lunch break optional and offering golf privileges. The approach proved largely successful, with some younger crew members even becoming interested in pursuing careers in the turf industry. “Perhaps there is more to this success story still to be written,” Heaton wrote.

“Superintendents from coast to coast can identify with Jeff’s challenges in filling out his maintenance staff and the unique direction he took to do that,” says GCSAA President Mark F. Jordan, CGCS. “But it was the lessons that Jeff learned about managing across different generations and his willingness to share those lessons with others that are especially noteworthy. I commend Jeff on his interest in writing this story for GCM and congratulate him on being selected as the recipient of the 2021 Leo Feser Award.”

Editor’s note: The training period lays the groundwork for how an employee performs and views their job. Get strategies for instilling attention to detail and inspiring buy-in among greenhorn crew members in Tips for better golf course staff training.

Heaton will officially receive the award at the 2022 GCSAA Conference and Trade Show in San Diego, on Wednesday, Feb. 9 at 2:30 p.m. in GCM’s booth on the trade show floor (No. 2455). He will also have his name engraved on a plaque that is permanently displayed at GCSAA headquarters in Lawrence, Kan.

The Leo Feser Award honors the late Leo Feser, a pioneering golf course superintendent and a charter member of GCSAA. Feser is credited with keeping the association’s official publication alive during the Great Depression. For three years, 1933-36, he wrote, edited, assembled and published each issue of The Greenkeepers’ Report — as the association’s magazine was known then — from his home in Wayzata, Minn. The award was first presented in 1956 and has been given annually since 1977. Members of GCSAA’s GCM Editorial Board Task Group select the winner of the award each year.

Past Leo Feser Award winners

2020: Tyler Bloom for Ready, willing and able: Inclusiveness in golf course maintenance
2019: Dave Waymire, CGCS, for The 10 commandments of successful golf course superintendents
2018: Brian Youell for Down, but not out: A superintendent’s recovery from a brain injury
2017: Chris Carson for 8 essential budgeting principles for superintendents
2016: Gerald Flaherty, CGCS, for Smarter, smoother labor tracking
2015: Tom Elliott, CGCS
2014: Jim Ferrin, CGCS, and Sam Samuelson, CGCS
2013: Logan M. Freeman
2012: Stephen Best
2011: Timothy J. Anderson, CGCS, MG
2010: Justin Ruiz, CGCS
2009: Steve Hackmann
2008: Tom Lavrenz
2007: Chris Carson
2006: Charles Fultz
2005: Mike Hansen
2004: Marsh Benson
2003: Robert Collins, CGCS
2002: Darren Davis
2001: James Peacock
2000: Chris Carson
1999: Michael R. Blanchard
1998: Donald F. Ewoldt Jr., CGCS
1997: Darren Davis
1996: Kenneth Lallier, CGCS
1995: Dan E. Rackliffe, CGCS
1994: Pat Holt
1993: Thomas A. Christy
1992: John A. Baranski
1991: Ken Flisek
1990: Gary Schinderle, CGCS
1989: Ted Horton, CGCS, and Mary Medonis
1988: Sherwood A. Moore, CGCS
1987: David E. Hassel
1986: David C. Harmon
1985: Theodore W. Woehrle
1984: Jerry W. Redden, CGCS
1983: Gordon C. Witteveen
1982: Louis E. Miller
1981: Paul N. Voykin
1980: Donald J. Pakkala
1979: Oliver Miles, CGCS
1978: Dan Jones
1977: James M. Hildebrand
1956: Tom Dawson Jr.