Halderman digs in at The Orchards Executive Golf Course

Chip Halderman, superintendent and manager at the Lawrence, Kan. golf course, made a late-career transition to turf and hasn't looked back.


Filed to: Kansas, Irrigation

Chip Halderman at the Orchards Executive Golf Course in Lawrence, Kansas
Superintendent Chip Halderman has a handle on the situation at The Orchards Executive Golf Course in Lawrence, Kan. Photo by Roger Billings

On his first day as a superintendent, Chip Halderman wanted to dig right in. He probably didn’t have this type of digging in mind, however.

Halderman is the GCSAA Class A superintendent and general manager at The Orchards Executive Golf Course in Lawrence, Kan., approximately 2 miles east of GCSAA headquarters. It was uncomfortably hot on July 25, 2019, when Halderman took the reins. All Halderman could do was dig down deep and get after it. Seriously. He was underground.

“The water had to be turned off. We had no irrigation. We had a lot of leaks. That had to be fixed first. I was in a hole in the ground for the first week and a half,” Halderman says. “Turf school didn’t tell you about a 1979 irrigation system that was obsolete.”

Now it sounds as if The Orchards could not do without him.

“The difference from the time Chip got here to now is night and day,” course regular Marlene Mawson says.

The night-and-day thing certainly applies to Halderman in his professional life. Here is a man over 50 who took the leap of reinventing himself. Before coming to The Orchards, Halderman worked in health care for two decades. He was a laboratory radiology coordinator for two employers during that time, most recently at Lawrence Memorial Hospital, where he still worked for a brief period after he started at The Orchards.

A graduate of the University of Kansas with a degree in biology, in which he earned licenses and certifications, Halderman got his EMT certification at 19. He was a medic in the National Guard, which helped pay his college tuition. While working for Douglas County (Kan.) Ambulance Services, he’d occasionally be on duty at KU football and basketball games, the latter at legendary Allen Fieldhouse. He didn’t catch much hoops action, but …

“I heard the roars,” he says.

Halderman thought health care was his calling, and no doubt he was familiar with numerous facets of it. He worked in operating rooms, applied defibrillators to restore normal heartbeats and encountered patients in the emergency room, which was his background in the U.S. Army. He saw those who had suffered strokes and heart attacks, too. “To see an EKG change in front of your eyes and see the blood flow coming back and the heart beat properly … pretty amazing stuff,” he says.

He instructs his golf crew in a similar manner to how he learned to do things in the medical field — by example.

“I had really good mentors that showed us. We’d practice for the real thing. It was see one, do one, teach one back to the person that taught you. I do that with my people who work for me,” he says. “It’s the way we do it, get to that consistency you’re looking for. And it’s about patience. Nothing good happens fast. Bad things happen quickly.”

His inspiration to consider a new opportunity hit close to home. Halderman’s wife, Pam — whom he first met in choir class when they were in the seventh grade — had gone back to college and changed fields. Her decision to learn a new profession and follow through with it prompted Halderman to think outside the box — or, more simply, to think outside.

“I always took pride in my lawn,” he says.

Others knew it, too, or at least heard it. “He sings while he’s mowing, even in the neighborhood. They get a concert every time he mows,” Pam says about her husband, who was a member of the KU Men’s Glee Club during his college days.

Ultimately, Halderman chose to sing a different tune. He enrolled in the University of Georgia sports turfgrass management program and secured a certificate. “I thought I could do a lot of things with it. It was a fit for what I wanted to do,” he says. “I contacted The Orchards. The superintendent was retiring. They said, ‘We want you to work with him.’ As I got into it, I started to feel confident about a lot of my own maintenance. I love to put things together, slowly and meticulously so I don’t do more harm than good.”

Pam never doubted his resolve, or her own. “He was determined. It was like, ‘He’s doing this. He’s going to make it.’ What it says about us is we’re not afraid to take on a challenge. We want to keep our adventurous side.”

Their examples resonate with Brent Stephenson, formerly the director of agronomy for GreatLife Golf Management that previously operated The Orchards. “He took ownership in what he does. He was always learning. We taught him some things, and he applied it to the club. He is a sponge. We had all the faith in the world in Chip. He called me a mentor; that means a lot to me,” Stephenson says. “If you look back on his career and life, he isn’t afraid to take a risk, take a chance. It’s been very inspiring what he’s been able to do.”

Halderman, a six-year GCSAA member, has poured himself into the industry. He signed up to be a GCSAA grassroots ambassador. “I thought it’d help me know what the industry is all about. I thought it’d be constructive jumping in with both feet,” he says.

He’s all in at The Orchards, a nine-hole executive course. Halderman is working on monarch butterfly and bee pollinator gardens. He removed more than 120 trees to increase airflow and preserve moisture for the turfgrass. Halderman mentioned in April that the facility is contracting for a new irrigation system. He also continues to champion health, which fits working at a course that golfers can play and walk in 90 minutes or less. One golfer there incorporates a workout with golf. After hitting a shot, he runs to it.

It appears Halderman has become a long-running hit at The Orchards. Mawson, who was a pioneer in women’s athletics at KU, noted that the number of women who play at the course since Halderman’s arrival has tripled. “He is very respectful and goes above board to accommodate us,” she says.

That’s what it’s all about for Halderman, who has transformed The Orchards from the ground up since those steamy July days four years ago. “I enjoy seeing people and their progress, get better, keep them happy and healthy, and make their quality of life better,” Halderman says. “I think I’m getting better at figuring out what I’m doing.”

Howard Richman is GCM's associate editor.