Thoroughbred colt: Chase Bonnell at Horseshoe Farms

The GCSAA Class A superintendent is the estate and golf course manager at the private facility belonging to Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay.


Chase Bonnell stands next to the Horseshoe Farms sign at the entrance to the club
Chase Bonnell is enjoying work and life at Horseshoe Farms in Culver, Ind. Photo by Maggie Nixon

Chase Bonnell doesn’t suit up for the Indianapolis Colts, but he is a key player for the owner.

A GCSAA Class A superintendent and 17-year association member, Bonnell is estate and golf course manager at Horseshoe Farms in Culver, Ind. The private facility features an 18-hole golf course. All of it belongs to Jim Irsay, owner of the Colts of the NFL.

For Bonnell, working for Irsay has rocked his world. “I would go to battle for him and his family any day of the week. He’s been so kind and generous to us. We live on the property, right off the fourth hole on the golf course. I kind of want to pinch myself to be back close to home and work for somebody so supportive,” Bonnell says. “And I’m proud to be a Colt.”

It sounds as if the feeling is mutual. “Chase is the bomb,” says Monte Poe, director of special projects for the Colts. “It’s his attention to detail and the way he sees everything. Jim (Irsay) says the same things. You would think it was Chase Farms.”

There was a time not all that long ago that Bonnell chased golf. He was immersed in the golf industry. Bonnell was on the rise after graduating from Purdue University, where he interned for Paul Grogan, now CGCS Retired, at TPC Deere Run in Silvis, Ill. There was something different about Bonnell that still sticks with Grogan. “He really understood the golf business, which was unusual for an intern. He was well versed in the golf industry. That helps you get ahead quicker,” says Grogan, a 41-year association member.

Bonnell made career stops at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, N.Y.; Olympia Fields-South Course in Olympia Fields, Ill.; and Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove, Ill. It was there he shined under then-course superintendent Jeff VerCautren. “I always said he was probably the smartest assistant I ever had turf-wise,” says VerCautren, a GCSAA Class A superintendent and 24-year GCSAA member now at True North Golf Club in Harbor Springs, Mich.

It’s obvious that Bonnell jumped right in when it came to big events, such as volunteering for the 2010 PGA Championship and 2012 Ryder Cup. He also was involved with GCSAA, including serving on the association’s Assistant Superintendent Task Group and in 2013 at the GCSAA Conference and Trade Show delivered a session titled “The Moneyball Age of Turf Management.” He has written for GCM, too. And he could play. “Best golfer I ever had as an assistant, head and shoulders above the rest,” says Sam MacKenzie, CGCS, director of grounds at Olympia Fields and 41-year GCSAA member.

As he aged and started a family, Bonnell saw his vision of the future change. He and his high school sweetheart and now wife, Amanda (she is house manager at the estate), are parents to Brynlee, Sloan and Teagan. All of them were instrumental in his thinking about what would be best for him, and them, moving forward. That thought process ramped up while Bonnell was superintendent at Cress Creek Country Club in Naperville, Ill.

“When I was at Winged Foot, I was going to work my bones to the dust. That was what I was preparing to do,” he says. “I’m still passionate about turf, but family drives me now. I value my time with the kids. The older you get, priorities can change.”

So, it worked out perfectly then on New Year’s Day 2020 when a cousin who knew somebody close to the Irsay family informed Bonnell that Irsay was looking for a new estate manager. A crucial aspect of the job was an opportunity to move back near home. A native of Star City, Ind., Bonnell learned the game and agronomics from his father, Steve, who with his father built a golf course and had experience as a club pro and superintendent in Indiana. Right about the time COVID-19 surfaced in the U.S., Bonnell aced his interview with Irsay’s camp and started his job March 13, 2020.

“It was kind of a leap of faith,” Bonnell says. Perhaps it also had something to do with fate. Horseshoe Farms, designed by Pete and Alice Dye in the late 1990s at the request of Bonnell’s father, was known as Mystic Hills Golf Club. Bonnell’s family eventually sold the course — located adjacent to Irsay’s estate — to Irsay.

At Horseshoe Farms, his plate is full, especially when the Irsays are there. His day begins in superintendent fashion, 4:30 a.m., as he oversees a wide array of tasks, including house cleaning, filling up four-wheelers, servicing boats and ensuring there are enough groceries on hand. “It’s like being a super, prepping and maintaining,” he says.

Bonnell works alongside superintendent Aaron Harvey, a 15-year association member. Golf is reserved for Irsay, family and his family guests; there’s no membership. Bonnell estimates the course sees 800 rounds a year (Irsay noted on social media that the 8,135-yard par-71 layout is the longest course in the world). Whoever plays, Irsay wants to be certain the course is mint. “He’s very passionate about it. He wants to retain this piece of Dye art. He’s proud to hold that mantle and present it the best way he can. Pretty cool to take care of it, be a steward of the course, and keep it in Class A shape,” Bonnell says. “We cut fairways under three-tenths of an inch, and the Stimpmeter is up to 13. There’s not that much foot traffic, but we still maintain it at world-class level.”

The entirety of Horseshoe Farms is a haven for Bonnell. The perks aren’t bad either. Both Chase and Amanda receive two tickets apiece for Colts home games. Just another reason for Bonnell to say this about taking the job: “It was 100% the right decision.”

Howard Richman is GCM's associate editor