Michael mania at Arroyo Trabuco

Superintendent Michael Wolpoff and club pro (and rising golf star) Michael Block are a team to be reckoned with.


Aerial view of Ghost Creek golf course
Arroyo Trabuco Golf Club superintendent Michael Wolpoff, right, and now-well-known club pro Michael Block make quite a team. Photo by Bill Casper

Michael Wolpoff is a gamer on and off the course. These days, he and his well-known club pro are on their game.

Wolpoff, a GCSAA Class A superintendent and 25-year association member, oversees a facility — Arroyo Trabuco Golf Club, in Mission Viejo, Calif. — where the talk of the golf world in recent months serves as club professional.

In fact, the figure who has been the man of the hour, not only at Arroyo Trabuco but also the entire golf universe, will keep this story rolling with his assessment of Wolpoff (spoiler alert: It’s all good). Michael Block, who burst onto the scene in May by creating a stir with his performance during the PGA Championship (including that riveting hole-in-one on Sunday while paired with four-time major champ Rory McIlroy) at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, N.Y., is armed with superlatives about Wolpoff, who dabbles in building computers and pinball machines and is the guy Block touts as the star at Arroyo Trabuco.

“Mike has transformed our golf course from average to one of the best in Southern California in just a few short years. He has brought so many different types of technology to his arsenal, and it has transformed our course,” says Block, who tied for 15th at the PGA Championship, adding, “As I have always said, I truly feel that the most important position in golf operations at the club is the head superintendent. The golfers are here for a great experience, and by far and away the most important part of the experience is having a course that is in stellar condition. Michael is one of the smartest people I have ever worked with, and it has been very easy to trust him when he asks my thoughts about doing something to the golf course, which is huge for the head golf professional to have with the superintendent.”

Wolpoff and Block have elevated the club, partly based on media that swarmed the place after Block’s performance. When Block received an exemption following the PGA Championship to play in the Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas, Wolpoff was invited by club officials to travel with them and watch Block play. What a whirlwind it has been in a four-month span.

“We certainly have had some increased interest with the press Michael has received,” Wolpoff says. “There is certainly a buzz.”

Wolpoff, 49, has had things humming at Arroyo Trabuco since that day Block toured him around the facility for his job interview more than five years ago. He certainly arrived with stellar credentials. Wolpoff was off and running after his internship 23 years ago at Country Club of the Rockies under Kevin Ross, CGCS Retired. Ross quickly knew Wolpoff was the real deal. “He came to me kind of green, but he was intelligent. I called him Techy. When the internet started, I didn’t know what it was. He said, ‘You ought to have one (computer) here.’ I put him in charge, he set it up, and we had dial-up internet courtesy of Michael Wolpoff,” Ross says.

Wolpoff followed that with an internship under legend Paul R. Latshaw at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md., and worked the U.S. Open there in 1997. Wolpoff went on to become a second assistant at Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, Calif., and in the same role later at Pebble Beach Golf Links, where he led a 14-person crew to prep bunkers in the 2000 U.S. Open, which Tiger Woods won by a whopping 15 strokes.

It was not, however, what he expected out of life. “I had hope, dreams, of being a (music) conductor. I played clarinet, the flute, a saxophone. Based on my ACT, I accepted an offer to attend Michigan State,” says Wolpoff, whose father, Milford Wolpoff, was a professor for 50 years at rival Michigan. Not long after landing at Michigan State, Wolpoff changed his tune about a career path.

“I went to the turfgrass field day. I was blown away,” says Wolpoff, who went to work on a sod farm. Fast forward to recent times. Wolpoff had been stationed at Friendly Hills Country Club in Whittier, Calif., when he moved on to Arroyo Trabuco. “I didn’t know much about it; it kind of fell into my lap,” he says. “It’s a great work environment and even greater ownership. There’s a reason why people like Michael Block have been there since construction and opening.”

As for his relationship with Block, whose top-15 finish at the PGA Championship qualifies him for the 2024 event, Wolpoff says, “The biggest thing simply is trust. When he wants something specific, he’ll let me know. With mowed collars, he asked if we could get that a little tighter, and that he was going to get bunker feedback. Sure enough, he got good feedback on it.”

Arroyo Trabuco uses 100% reclaimed water and is all bermudagrass except for Poa annua greens. His main challenge is the mixture of high-salinity water and rising temperatures in the summer that need close monitoring. To stay on top of things, he has moisture meter tools, such as TerraRad from ASB taskTracker, whose passive microwave sensor units accumulate moisture data. He uses it from his cart four days weekly and scans fairways in just 2 to 2½ hours. It features a data map that is color coded and shows him moisture levels. Since May, the efforts have shown promising results, with an expected reduction in water use of up to 12%. “That is pretty substantial on 35 acres of fairways,” he says.

Away from the club, Wolpoff enjoys that virtual pinball machine. He credits his dad for his techy genes. “He always was on the cutting edge of technology,” Wolpoff says. Wolpoff built PCs in his early 20s and entered the gaming side of it, which led to the pinball fascination. His most recent pinball machine took less than seven months to build and incorporates a cabinet and backbox that are put together similar to furniture from Ikea to house it and the circuitry, to entertain his loved ones, including his wife, Tricia, and children, Owen, Keaghan and Bailey. “It’s another level of cool. And a lot of fun,” he says.

Back in the day, Wolpoff proposed to Tricia and got engaged at Disneyland. What a ride it has been for him, especially this year at the public facility that draws roughly 60,000 rounds annually. Wolpoff is in bunker-renovation-planning mode at the club, which now is squarely on the map. “It’s been a hidden gem of Orange County,” Wolpoff says. “I don’t think that’s the story anymore.”

Howard Richman is GCM's associate editor.

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