Justin Woodland has been the superintendent at The Barn Golf Club in Ogden, Utah, since 2012. He was the club’s assistant superintendent for the 22 years prior. Photo by Freddie Lacey
If things had turned out differently, no doubt Justin Woodland and Mitchell Seamons would have been tight.
Woodland, a nine-year GCSAA member who oversees The Barn Golf Club in Ogden, Utah, shares traits with Seamons. “I always went for the underdog. I got my (rear) kicked numerous times because of that,” Woodland says.
Seamons’ mother, Laurie, tells a similar story about Mitchell. “When we moved from Twin Falls to Idaho Falls (both towns in Idaho), Mitchell came home one day from school and was livid because some of the kids were harassing other boys,” Laurie says, noting that the following day, Mitchell stood up for those who were being bullied. “He just had to say something, and then it was done. Mitchell was always very conscientious of the outcast kids.”
In time, Woodland and Mitchell Seamons would cross paths. Ten years ago, Seamons, then a college student at Weber State University in Ogden, was diagnosed with brain cancer. Woodland heard about it and intervened. His daughter, NiKell, had beaten a serious health issue as a youngster, and Woodland wasn’t about to let others endure the fight without help. He established the NiKell Woodland Scholarship at Weber State to benefit students with life-threatening and terminal illnesses. Seamons was the first recipient.
Although Woodland didn’t know much about Seamons, it didn’t matter. “He caught wind of it and just swooped in,” Laurie Seamons says.
It was a matter of Woodland just being himself — a benevolent soul who is unafraid to say what’s on his mind and who does what he can so that others can have more tomorrows.
“His honesty is built out of caring. He doesn’t beat around the bush,” says Pat Christoffer, GCSAA Class A superintendent at Red Ledges in Heber City, Utah, and a 17-year association member. “He has a passion for learning, a passion for the industry. He thinks about others, and he runs a great track. What more could you want?”
Family, fighting and Rudy
If you golf in Ogden, the Woodland name is undoubtedly familiar. The family bought The Barn Golf Club in 1987, although at the time, Justin wondered why. “It was one of the worst tracks I’d been on. There’d been no money in it. A dog track,” he says.
That identity would change, but it would take a family to make it happen. Justin’s grandparents, the Randalls, purchased the club, but the Woodlands have their fingerprints all over the public 18-hole facility, which in time became solid enough to host regional events such as USGA qualifiers and high school matches. Justin’s father, Kelly, and uncle, Shon, are co-owners. Justin’s brother, Kory, is the PGA club professional. Justin, assistant superintendent for 22 years, has been the superintendent since 2012.
The Barn Golf Club, located 2 miles east of Interstate 15 in Ogden, Utah, is an 18-hole, privately owned and family-operated golf course in the foothills of scenic Ben Lomond peak. Photo courtesy of Kory Woodland
It isn’t his only job, however. In his spare time, Woodland owns and operates Airgronomics, a company that uses an Air2G2 machine to laterally inject pressurized air into the soil of golf courses and athletic fields to relieve compaction of the soil while increasing water porosity and enhancing respiration. And next year, Woodland will serve as president of the Utah GCSA.
His father has no doubt that Woodland can handle all of his duties. “He plays about as hard as anybody and is the same when he goes to work. He’s all-in,” Kelly says. “He was a kid with a lot of energy. My mom thought we gave him Ritalin.”
Justin’s grandmothers played major roles in his life. A child of divorce at 1, he lived with the Randalls, including grandmother Colleen, who was quite a role model. “She was 5 feet tall, raised four kids on $3.35 an hour and was the strongest woman in my life,” he says. In those years, Woodland developed a knack for protecting others who were picked on. On occasion, it was painful. “Once I got a concussion. Another time I broke my hand. I would just stand up for people,” he says.
It’s no surprise, then, that only one movie has ever made him cry: “Rudy,” the story of undersized football player Rudy Ruettiger, who walked on at Notre Dame to beat the odds and lived his dream of playing in a game. “Because he was the little guy,” Woodland says.
Renowned former superintendent Matt Shaffer, a 38-year GCSAA member who oversaw Merion (Pa.) Golf Club, formed a friendship with Woodland. “Justin is the real deal. He is everything a father, husband, business owner, golf course superintendent and friend should be,” Shaffer says. “He doesn’t even know how to think of himself first. Never enters his thought process.”
An unforgettable gesture
Golf, the taco bar and banter had wrapped up at Gladstan Golf Course in Payson, Utah, following the Utah GCSA Championship this past August. Then came the big announcement.
GCSAA Class A superintendent Eric Gifford had come from his job at Riverside Country Club in Provo, Utah, for the luncheon portion of the annual chapter event. It had been a harrowing year so far for Gifford, whose son, Luka, required open-heart surgery in January when he was just 4 days old. Gifford’s mechanic at Riverside CC, Hector Velazquez, had launched an online GoFundMe page to help the Giffords with their hospital bills.
Woodland, 46, whose daughter NiKell had been diagnosed with leukemia 13 years earlier, couldn’t just stand by and watch. As the chapter event was nearing its end, Woodland presented Gifford with a check for $5,000 to help the cause. “He did it in front of everybody. I was just shocked, because that’s a lot of money,” Gifford says.
Right: Superintendent Justin Woodland (standing in the back) and superintendent Eric Gifford (seated, left, with son Luka) at Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City. Next to Woodland is his daughter NiKell. Photo by Freddie Lacey
Airgronomics is the vehicle Woodland uses to assist in fulfilling his wishes. After his business began to increase, he decided to use what he earns from those jobs to help industry kin, such as Gifford. In August, he took pay he received for an Airgronomics job at a Utah course to secure the check he would deliver to Gifford. “I thought we could help a brother out,” Woodland says. “I’m a super helping supers. They know I’m one of them. My whole concept is to put my money where my mouth is.”
Gifford and Woodland were acquaintances, but not necessarily close friends. They’d met two years earlier, and Gifford recalls Woodland inquiring about his golf course. “To be honest, and it’s probably more telling of me, I thought he was trying to get inside secrets on how to take care of his golf course. The more I learned about him, what drives him ... he’s got a huge heart. He’s a bit rough around the edges, and what makes him special is that he really doesn’t care what anybody thinks about him. He’s going to get involved. That’s just his personality,” Gifford says.
There is no disputing that. “I’m nonconforming,” Woodland says. “People will say about me, ‘Did he really just say that?’ But they know I’m going to be real and tell them exactly what I think.”
Airgronomics, a company that Justin Woodland owns, uses the Air2G2 machine to relieve soil compaction on golf courses and athletic fields. Photo by Freddie Lacey
Woodland’s wife, Dana, helped her husband in Gifford’s case. Besides working part time at the golf course, Dana has a job with a health care insurance company and assisted the Giffords with their hospital bills to ensure they weren’t paying more out of pocket than necessary. When Justin originally told Dana he wanted to give Gifford money, she agreed. “I told him to go for it. He doesn’t do it for anything. As long as everybody is happy, he’s happy. He’s a great, caring guy. Never a dull moment with him,” she says. Gifford also received assistance through the GCSAA Benevolence Fund, which allows members and their families who are experiencing hardship to make a request for financial aid.
Luka Gifford, by the way, is doing fine.
“You know, he (Woodland) could’ve just said, ‘Here’s 50 bucks. Good luck.’ Inside he’s an angel — one of the most selfless people I know,” Gifford says.
Wanda Maero lived in North Carolina — a significant distance from Woodland, who is her grandson — but that never stopped him from checking in on her.
“When I got cancer, he made a point to come to Charlotte to take me to some of my treatments,” says Maero, who now lives in Utah. “He said, ‘Let’s plant some bulbs so you’ll have something to look forward to in the spring.’ It was something to give me hope. I’d credit a lot of the way he is to his other grandmother. I think he was taught to be a kind person and care for other people. He tries so hard to please everybody. He spreads himself too thin, sometimes to his own detriment. But if I need anything, Justin is the one I call.”
Justin Woodland with his three daughters, (from left) Kelssi Bingham, NiKell Woodland and Bayleigh Woodland. Photo courtesy of Justin Woodland
NiKell, one of Woodland’s three daughters, feels the same way. “He’s always been someone I could turn to,” says NiKell, a 16-year-old high school junior who has been in remission for seven years. Her father found ways to make life more comfortable for her after she was diagnosed with leukemia, and those efforts included participating in the Make-A-Wish program, which grants wishes for children with critical illnesses.
“Make-A-Wish changed my life because I saw what it did for people and their families, allowing the siblings for a solid week to not have to worry and have some fun,” says Woodland, who launched his own Make-A-Wish tournament that raised $75,000 for charity. He borrowed the blueprint of Denis Petersen Memorial Golf Day, which is organized by Petersen Inc., an Ogden-based company that provides fabrication, manufacturing and machinist services. Petersen Inc. uses The Barn Golf Club for its annual event, which has raised almost $400,000 for local charities and people in need, including NiKell after she was diagnosed.
NiKell’s wish at age 5 was to visit Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, which she got to enjoy with her dad, who managed to overcome a queasy feeling during the ride in the giant pastel tea cups that spin around and around. “The Mad Tea Party ride was my favorite. No one went on it except me and him, even though he felt like throwing up,” NiKell says. “That’s the way he is. He thinks about what others want and need. On his birthday and Christmas, I have just given up. He never tells us what he wants. He just says he wants world peace.”
The Barn Golf Club is a family affair. From left: Shon and Kelly Woodland, co-owners; superintendent Justin Woodland; and Kory Woodland, PGA club professional. Photo by Freddie Lacey
Rob Despain, vice president of business development at Petersen Inc., has known the Woodlands for decades. He is impressed by Justin’s desire to be a student of the game and a superb superintendent, and he is convinced Woodland has concocted the best divot mulch anywhere. “We all could tear a page out of their (the Woodlands’) book on how to do more with less,” Despain says. “When Justin gets committed to something, he’s a doer.”
Laurie Seamons and her family are well aware of Woodland’s kind and compassionate side. On April 24, 2010, Mitchell passed away. He was 22. “For Justin to have come through ... I’m going to cry,” says Laurie, pausing. “When Mitchell died, Justin immediately responded. We haven’t spoken to Justin in years, but I was just thinking about him the other day.”
Woodland is hard to forget, but what he wants most is for others to be able to share memorable moments for as long as they possibly can. “I don’t want these donations to be about me. But if we can help out some people and bring awareness to it ... why can’t we all help out?” Woodland says. “We can’t save the world, but we can help a family. But it’s tough to know you can’t save the world.”
Howard Richman is GCM’s associate editor.