By Ken MacLeod
The news that Jeff Wagner has left Boiling Springs Golf Course in Woodward to become the new superintendent at Stillwater Country Club has solved the question of who would succeed the popular and successful Jared Wooten. But it has raised huge concerns about what will happen at Boiling Springs, where Wagner’s incredible effort since 2015 was largely responsible for turning a run-down municipal course into a statewide attraction with the potential for greater things to come.
Chris Tidland, general manager and director of golf at Stillwater CC, is thrilled that Wagner has come on board to replace Wooten, who went to Cedar Ridge Country Club in Broken Arrow this summer.
“I think he’s going to be great and we’re excited to have him,” Tidland said. “What he did at Boiling Springs is pretty remarkable. To take on that task required a strong work ethic and great imagination. Not many people who saw it nine years ago thought it could become what it has in this period of time. A lot like Jared did here, he’s left it in a great place for the next guy to walk in and put their stamp on it. I went and played it a month ago and was blown away by the views and the exposed sand dunes and the conditions of the fairways and greens.”
Wagner said there were few jobs and locations that could have lured him from his post at Boiling Springs. He attended Oklahoma State from 2003-2007 and that where he met and fell in love with his wife Hannah.
“I can’t tell you how blessed we are and a lot of the appeal was getting back to the Stillwater community,” Wagner said. “It’s a feeling that brings a lot of peace and satisfaction. These people are all in on us and that’s a good feeling. You sprinkle a little Chris Tidland on top of everything and it makes it very special.”
At Stillwater CC, Wagner will inherit a course that Wooten left in “the best shape it’s ever been in,” according to Tidland, who has been around the facility since he was a star at OSU in 1991-95, helping the Cowboys to the 1995 NCAA Championship. Wagner’s task will be to maintain or improve that level while helping with new projects.
At Boiling Springs, the task falls to John Dunn to replace Wagner with someone equally passionate and hard-working. Dunn Golf Management runs Boiling Springs in an agreement with the city and it was he who hired Wagner in 2015 to begin the task or removing thousands of invasive red cedar trees, exposing the sand dunes and natural terrain, which make it an ideal site for great golf. After a renovation of the nematode infested greens in 2015, the course slowly built up from 5,000 rounds annually to more than 18,000 and more than doubled annual revenues. The City of Woodward, while supportive of Dunn’s efforts, still has limited funds to turn it into the gem it could be.
“What Jeff and Hannah did at Boiling Springs, with limited resources, is, well I’ve never seen anything like it,” Dunn said. “I have a lot of passion for my hometown (Woodward) and the site, but I realize it’s hard for the city to justify subsidizing a lot of money for golf. We’ve got to try to get the budget to where we can find the next Jeff Wagner.”
From public-private partnerships to possible involvement of the state tourism department and outside golf destination groups possibly linking Boiling Springs into a bigger draw, lots of ideas are floating around with no clear road map at this point. Wagner, Dunn and more than 7,000 golfers who visited Woodward this year from Oklahoma City, Tulsa and out-of-state would hope a way is found to preserve what Wagner has accomplished and continue to move forward.
“Jeff left his heart and soul out there,” Dunn said. “He’s the most amazing superintendent I’ve known in terms of passion, work ethic and working on his own to make things happen. He’s a superstar.”