Grounds Superintendent Andy Hakkarinen helps keep Wawonowin Country Club golf course lush

CHAMPION – When Andy Hakkarinen was first approached to talk about his job as grounds superintendent at the Wawonowin County Club in Champion, he was a little reluctant.

“I’m a behind-the-scenes kind of guy,” he said. “That’s the way I like it.”

Hakkarinen, however, is a major reason why Wawonowin is regarded by many as one of the best-kept golf courses in the Upper Peninsula.

“He doesn’t get enough credit for what he does,” Wawonowin General Manager Ryan Tunteri said. “He does a fantastic job with a limited crew.

“There’s a lot of upkeep with this course.”

Hakkarinen, 32, is in his fourth year in his post at the 18-hole course. The Negaunee native and 2000 Negaunee High School graduate began working at Wawonowin in 2003.

“I worked under (then-superintendent Glen Rochester) mostly on bunkers, the tee areas and whacking weeds,” Hakkarinen said. “I just moved up the ranks after that.”

He’s responsible for keeping his crew of five full-time and two part-time workers busy and “helping out wherever I can.”

His wife, Heather, is a member of the crew. So are Terry Currie, Terry Mattila, Raymond Chase, Jacob Nyquist, Jacob Wolf and Steve Sundblad.

“They should get most of the credit,” Hakkarinen said. “They do most of the work.”

A “typical” work day in the busier months has Hakkarinen arriving at the course at 5:15 a.m., giving assignments to his crew and checking the entire course to make sure everything is all right.

“I check the irrigation and make sure there are no leaks, that there hasn’t been any vandalism and (basically), do whatever needs to be done,” he said.

“I might pick up a push mower, cut some weeds, straighten up (course) ropes and pick up fallen branches.

“On really hot days,” the self-proclaimed “jack-of-all-trades” person added, “I check to make sure the irrigation pumps are working and turn on the sprinklers.”

Hakkarinen works with a $125,000 annual budget, which includes salaries, equipment purchases and other materials, like 200 bags of fertilizer each season.

The course opened late this season due to a harsh winter and cold spring, presenting Hakkarinen and his crew a challenge to get Wawonowin ready to open.

“We opened in early May, but last year, we opened March 27,” he recalled. “It was frustrating for me and our club members who wanted to get out on the course this spring.

“The course was so wet, we couldn’t drive carts on it the first week.”

A couple of greens – Nos. 4 and 14 – suffered winter ice damage and created “a lot of work” for Hakkarinen and his crew to repair the damage.

“There weren’t many growing days in the spring,” he said. “But when the weather finally got warm enough, the course just took off.”

Longtime Wawonowin member and regular course golfer Peggy Koski has noticed the difference.

“We had it a little rough on a couple of greens early, but they’ve come around remarkably,” she said. “The (grounds) crew has done a wonderful job.

“The course is in very good shape and I’m very pleased.

“Tell Andy to do something about the mosquitos, though,” she joked. “If he does that, he’ll be stellar (in my book).”

Roselyn Ruona of L’Anse, while getting in a practice round at Wawonowin in advance of the 87th Annual Upper Peninsula Ladies Golf Association Tournament July 13-16, said she thought the Champion layout was “in great shape.”

“The greens are in good condition and there doesn’t appear to be any winter kill,” she said. “The grass is cut well and the hazards are well marked.

“I’ve played here a number of years – in the U.P.’s at least twice – and when it was just a 9-hole course.”

Hakkarinen takes pride in golfers at Wawonowin who like the course conditions.

“Especially when the word gets around that we have a nice course here,” he said.

“When I hear that, it makes me feel good.”

He said the hardest part of his job is “keeping the guys busy and seeing what they can do next.”

“I’m always second-guessing myself if I’m doing things right,” Hakkarinen said. “I’m still learning on-the-job as I go along.”

He “can’t complain” about working outdoors every day, but said the best part of his job is “the people.”

“We’re a close-knit family at the course,” he said.

An occasional golfer who likes to play at Wawonowin to “get a different perspective” of the course, Hakkarinen said he has a couple of goals.

“I’d like to get a hole-in-one, or at least shoot par some time,” he smiled.

Craig Remsburg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 251.