Grant Yaklich proudly displays his American Legion Riders vest and his Harley-Davidson motorcycle at White Mountain Golf Course in Rock Springs, Wyo., where he oversees a 27-hole golf facility and a sports complex. Photos by Paul Ng
With a leather vest on his torso and a beard on his face that suggests ZZ Top more than topdressing, GCSAA Class A superintendent Grant Yaklich rolls out of White Mountain Golf Course in Rock Springs, Wyo., on his 2016 Harley-Davidson Road Glide Special.
“I’m probably not your typical-looking superintendent,” Yaklich says.
Looks don’t matter to Denton Kurtz. All he sees in Yaklich is a leader in the profession. “It’s his presence. He commands respect without having to do much,” says Kurtz, an agronomic sales representative for Simplot Partners. “People follow him, listen to him. He guides younger guys, and he’s willing to teach them, make them better.”
Yaklich, 54, never intended this. Years back, when he’d enrolled at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, he’d planned to major in psychology. The subject failed to fulfill him, however. “I got frustrated,” Yaklich says. He decided to take a semester off to ponder his future, and while he was making up his mind, he spent time working at Southridge Golf Course, which was being built in town.
Suddenly, Yaklich’s future was now. “That semester off turned into 30-plus years in this business,” the 26-year GCSAA member says. “I liked getting dirty, being hands-on, and trying to figure out what you need to do.” To expand his knowledge of golf course management, Yaklich took turfgrass classes at Front Range Community College. A defining period for Yaklich would come at The Country Club at Castle Pines in Castle Rock, Colo., where he worked as an assistant for superintendent Bo Cichuniec. “He challenged me every day. He taught me most of what I do today. It solidified what I wanted to do,” Yaklich says.
Cichuniec, who died in 2013, also helped fuel Yaklich’s passions outside of golf. Cichuniec volunteered as a disc jockey for veterans association events, and veterans are near and dear to Yaklich’s heart. His father, John Yaklich, served on a ship’s security detail in the South Pacific during World War II. His mother, Carrol, worked as a secretary for the adjutant general in the Department of Defense. And his uncle, Jake Plute, survived a gunshot wound in Normandy, France, in World War II. Yaklich has a keepsake from that era — the Purple Heart Plute received for being wounded in battle.
Veterans like his father and uncle laid the groundwork for Yaklich to pursue an association with American Legion Archie Hay Post 24 in Rock Springs. Yaklich is the director of American Legion Riders, a group of about 70 people who ride their choppers for a cause. They’ve raised money for members and their families who have suffered serious illnesses, have sponsored breakfasts for veterans, and have even provided eggs for children’s Easter egg hunts. This year, the nationwide American Legion Legacy Scholarship Fund raised $1.2 million through an event that included bikers riding through parts of the U.S. Funds help pay tuition for children of U.S. military personnel killed on active duty on or after 9/11. Since its inception, the event has brought in more than $8 million.
Yaklich (center) with assistant superintendents Deb Erwin (left) and Kyle Shuler.
Yaklich once considered a military life himself. But high school football injuries — including a broken nose and a bone that was cracked above his left eye — led to the formation of scar tissue, which created sinus and eye issues. It all prevented him from joining the service. He has now found a way to serve in his own capacity, though.
“Growing up, I always had respect for the military and what they did. People that serve us as citizens deserve a little better respect,” he says. “My grandfather was a farmer. He’d wave to the sheriff. He’d wave to the power company guy. I’d ask, ‘Do you know them?’ He’d say, ‘No. People who make your life easier, you need to be nice to them.’ What I do with the American Legion is out of respect for my family that did serve and for what our military does for us. What small offerings and remembrances we can make and do for them is a small token for the sacrifices they make on our behalf.”
Yaklich and his wife, Heidi (she rides a motorcycle too), have three daughters: Calie, and twins Rachel and Hannah. Other important people in Yaklich’s life are his boss, parks and recreation director Dave Lansang, and his staff, headed by top two assistants Deb Erwin and Kyle Shuler. At White Mountain, the team oversees a 27-hole facility and takes care of a sports complex. “They do a very good job,” Yaklich says of Erwin and Shuler. “They make it pretty easy for me to do mine, because I’ve got good people standing behind me.”
For American Legion member Jerry Stroud — who is among the millions of veterans honored this month on Nov. 11, Veterans Day — there may be nobody better than Yaklich to stand at his side. “He’s always there when we need him. Always willing to help,” Stroud says. “Just a biker, a good guy, with a big heart.”
Howard Richman is GCM’s associate editor.