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Johnson retires from New Richmond Golf Club

Tom Johnson has seen the New Richmond Golf Club grow from a nine-hole course to one of the most popular courses in the Twin Cities area in his 38 years as golf club superintendent.

Golfers are putting their clubs in storage. Snowbirds are heading south.

And for the 38th and final time, New Richmond Golf Club Superintendent Tom Johnson is preparing the course for its winter respite.

Johnson is retiring at the end of the year. Chip Norman, who has been his assistant for 22 years, has been hired as his replacement.

For more than 30 of his years at the course, Johnson and club manager Gary Johnson formed a dynamic leadership team that brought the course from a locally known nine-hole course to one of the most highly sought golf destinations in the Twin Cities area.

The Johnsons nicknamed themselves "The Band-Aid Boys" early in their NRGC careers, partly because of the "Johnson and Johnson" name combination. But it was more due to them stretching every dollar the course had to cover a wide variety of needs in the early years, when dollars were not plentiful. Tom Johnson said he recalled several times in the early years when they did not receive a paycheck because every cent was going toward maintaining the course.

"There was no money, but we had a desire to make the course successful," Tom said. "Gary and I are best friends. We sacrificed a lot."

The turning point for the course came in 1984, when NRGC expanded to 18 holes.

"That was a huge deal," Johnson said. "There weren't many 18-hole courses in small towns those days. It turned out to be very successful."

There was a great deal of wrangling needed to reach the agreement to expand the course. Bob Krueger was the chairman of the board of directors at the time and Johnson credited Krueger with being the leader in getting the course expanded.

"Bob was looking forward at a time when the course was pretty broke," Johnson said.

The course has continued to grow and evolve. The Links was constructed in 1996, helping alleviate the demand on the 18-hole course. The new driving range, one of the most complete in the Midwest, was added. Bunkers have been changed and moved and water has been added along several holes. An extensive irrigation system was added three years ago.

With the growth of the course has come more bureaucracy. Johnson laughed at the fact that it now takes years to get some decisions made. A tree was just removed from near the 12th green because the roots were growing under the green.

"I've been trying to get that done for five years," Johnson said.

With nearly four decades of work on the course, Johnson knows every tree and probably every blade of grass. He took up playing golf more regularly this summer. He said chasing his wayward shots was the only time he'd found parts of the course that he didn't recognize.

Johnson wasn't originally planning to work in the golf industry. An Amery High School graduate, he worked at the course for three summers while he was going to college. He earned a degree in biology and was planning to teach. His wife, Mona, taught in the New Richmond School District for 30 years.

In 1974, Gary Johnson had already been hired and he convinced the board that Tom would be the perfect fit to be course superintendent. Tom said one of his favorite parts of his job was getting to know his employees.

"You hire good people, that's what makes it successful. I've met a lot of wonderful people," Tom said.

Johnson has plans for retirement, starting with more time for fly fishing. He and his wife plan to travel and he plans to golf more often. He also said that he wants to spend more time with his granddaughter.

"The one thing I won't miss is constantly watching the weather. It affects so much of what you do on a golf course," he said.

There have been many changes in course maintenance through Johnson's decades in the business. Courses are used much more frequently, which requires closer supervision. Greens are now mowed daily and the technology used in course maintenance has skyrocketed. He used a $30,000 greens mower as an example.

"And that's just a small piece of equipment," he said.

Johnson said he leaves the course, content in knowing that it is flourishing as he leaves. He said he takes pride in the status the course has achieved "and that the course has been maintained at a level that people want to keep coming back to it."