GAM News
GAM Superintendent Award of Merit: Al Bathum of Cascade Hills Country Club
April 5, 2021
Written By: greg.johnson@emailgam.org

  GRAND RAPIDS – Al Bathum, the superintendent at Cascade Hills Country Club, is going out with a bang.

  First he plans to retire in December after 29 years and one last golf season at Cascade Hills. In addition he will take part in the club celebrating its centennial year of service to members. Oh, and the club is hosting the 110th Michigan Amateur Championship this summer.

And one more thing: Bathum has been selected as the 2021 Golf Association of Michigan Superintendent Award of Merit winner.

  “I haven’t been as active with the Michigan Turfgrass Foundation as I used to be, and a lot has been going on here to keep me busy so I was surprised to join the group of guys who have won this,” he said. “I’m elated to be part of it. It’s always nice to be recognized.”

  The Superintendent Award of Merit is among a handful of awards normally announced with GAM partner associations in the spring during the GAM Annual Meeting. That meeting is being presented in a different format for the second consecutive year due to public health concerns and restrictions and award announcements will be made through GAM.org. 

Other nominees for the award included Craig Henderson (Spring Meadows CC), Clayton Novak (Harbor Point GC), John Rinehart (Twin Lakes Golf & Swim Club), Brian Gentner (Twin Beach CC), and Pat Whitman (Indian River GC).

  Bathum, 64, follows 2020 winner Steve Hammon of Traverse City Golf & Country Club and joins a list of past recipients that include Ted Woehrle, Clem Wolfrom, Fritz McMullen, John Fulling, Jay Eccleton, Steve Cook, Jeff Holmes, Phil Owen and Paul Galligan.

  John Barbour, a long-time member at Cascade Hills and president emeritus of the GAM, said Bathum comes to work every day with a selfless member-first mentality and that every decision he makes is for the good of the golf course and member enjoyment.

  “His innovation is demonstrated by a commitment to continual improvement in his course maintenance practices, evolving with new technology and new research in his 29 years,” Barbour said in nominating Bathum for the award.

“Al has also dramatically improved the health and performance of our old push up greens with 20-plus years of soil profile improvement by regular and relentless aerification and topdressing. His overall contribution to Cascade Hills is also shown by successful construction management.”

  A past-president of the West Michigan Golf Course Superintendent’s Association and director of the Michigan Turfgrass Foundation, Bathum has helped many former assistants move on in the industry, and his son Cam is currently an assistant on his staff. He also initiated with the club the succession plan for his retirement that includes a three-year transition to his successor Andy Gianino, a current assistant at the club.

  “I just thought it was time to retire,” he said. “We completed the bunkers, reversed the two holes (Nos. 14 and 15) to make the course even better and it’s really ready for the good players of Michigan,” he said. “I like to pick my spots, and I guess go out with a bang because things are in great shape here and Andy has learned the golf course and the way the membership likes things at Cascade Hills.”

  Bathum started working on golf courses while in high school and Ron Brandon, then superintendent at Warwick Hills Golf & Country Club in Grand Blanc, talked him into Michigan State University’s turfgrass program. Bathum returned to Warwick after MSU for three seasons as an assistant helping prepare the golf course for the season and the then PGA Tour’s annual visit for the Buick Open.

  He left Michigan for a few years and worked at two Atlanta, Ga., area clubs and with a golf course construction company, which included working on a project on the Par 3 course at Augusta National Golf Club.

  In 1987 he married his wife Karen. She’s a Fenton native and they decided to explore career opportunities in Michigan. A friend recommended he contact Jeff Holmes, the current Egypt Valley Country Club golf course manager who was then at Grand Traverse Resort in Acme. Bathum worked as superintendent on The Bear Course for five years before landing the head superintendent job at Cascade Hills in 1992.

  “Cascade Hills has a lot of great members, a lot of great people in leadership who really care about the golf course and understand what needs to be done,” he said. “I’ve also had a lot of great assistants over the years who have gone off and done great things in their careers, and a lot of great crew members.”

  He’s especially elated that his son Cam, who has a business degree from nearby Davenport University, has opted to work in the turfgrass industry.

  “I think the thing I like best about the job is seeing the results of what you do every day,” he said. “First off you have a great office on a golf course, and then when you build something or fix something or make the course as good as it can be it’s something you can see. That’s what Cam said when he decided to work with us. He told me, ‘you know Dad, I could sell insurance all day long, but I like seeing what I do.”

Other nominees for the award included Craig Henderson (Spring Meadows CC), Clayton Novak (Harbor Point GC), John Rinehart (Twin Lakes Golf & Swim Club), Brian Gentner (Twin Beach CC), and Pat Whitman (Indian River GC).

-Greg Johnson, greg.johnson@emailgam.org