Dave Ward is retiring from the Homewood-Flossmoor Park District June 30 after 17 years as superintendent of golf at Coyote Run Golf Course in Flossmoor.
“One of the things is I love the different work in golf course maintenance,” he said. But at 69, Ward is ready to bow out.
Ward has been working at golf courses since he was a student at Homewood-Flossmoor High School. He started as a caddie and worked at the driving range at Idlewild Country Club. The golf course superintendent asked him if he’d like to work after school trimming around trees and greens. He did that for two school years and during the summer.
That got him interested in environmental issues. He majored in biology at Illinois State University. Not sure what he’d do with a biology degree, Ward thought seriously about a career working at a golf course.
“I had, over the years, worked on grounds crews and gotten better jobs over the time. It got to be more fun, and I realized I could have a career in that,” he said. Midway through his junior year, he transferred to the University of Illinois and earned a degree in agricultural science. Between his junior and senior years, he got hired onto the grounds crew at Olympia Fields Country Club.
His first assistant’s job was at Oak Park Country Club. His first superintendent job was at Kenosha Country Club. He thought eventually he would end up working in the Minneapolis area, but a headhunter approached him about a job at Ravisloe Country Club.
“The guy didn’t know I was from the area when he tried to convince me about the job,” Ward remembers. He took that job in Homewood. Later he took the superintendent’s job at Olympia Fields Country Club. His last superintendent position was at Coyote Run.
“In my business, the average stay (as superintendent) is 10 years. Normally you wind up having to move. I never thought I’d be coming back down here. I move back to my hometown. It’s a great place to raise kids. I’ve had three different jobs here and never had to move. That is almost unprecedented,” Ward said.
After a long struggle to get control of the former Cherry Hills Golf Course, the park district went about redesigning the course. Working at a new golf course was an accomplishment, but it wasn’t the most difficult of his superintendent jobs.
“At Olympia Fields, we did a U.S. Senior Open and a U.S. Open, and we redid the golf course twice,” Ward said. “Definitely growing in the golf course (at Coyote Run) was a challenge and on my bucket list, but I’d done major, major renovation projects before this. So, I had done a lot of things that I had to do here (at Coyote Run).”
He got the park district to purchase a dog to keep the geese from the watering holes. Ward named the border collie Wiley.
“It was Coyote Run, and I thought of Wiley Coyote,” the cartoon character. Today the clubhouse restaurant is Wiley’s Grill, named in honor of the dog.
Ward has earned a reputation as an expert in native plants. He has meticulously planted various trees, grasses and flowering plants throughout the course. He also has included several flower beds to draw the monarch butterflies to the area in coordination with Audubon International.
Native plants are “kind of my passion, my hobby and any type of environmentalism,” Ward said. He’s volunteered to continue to tend the natural areas of the course.
His alarm won’t be going off at 4:05 a.m. every morning, but Ward isn’t sure his body-clock will allow him a longer night’s rest. He’s always been an early riser, and he’ll enjoy the quiet of the early morning.
“Retiring is scary for me just because I like what I do. I like the social aspect of working here. I feel like it keeps me in good shape,” he said.
As the days tick down, Ward’s thinking about how he’ll find time to get back to playing golf on a more regular basis and the options are wide open for travel, no matter what month is on the calendar.