How I Found Turfgrass and How it Changed My Life

By Nathan Hagel

I grew up in Williams Lake, BC.  I didn’t play golf or really any sports for that matter.  I tried soccer, basketball, and other organized sports but never really felt like I fit in.  At ten, I discovered guitar and have been playing ever since.  Growing older, I enjoyed mountain biking, hiking, and camping.  This is where my love for the outdoors developed. 

During summer break, I would go up to Kitimat to visit my grandparents.  On the days that I wasn’t fishing the river for Spring Salmon with my grandpa, I was helping my grandma in the garden and the greenhouse.  You name it, my grandma could grow it.  She was my first real inspiration into the world of plants and helped me discover my passion for them.  I was fascinated by how they grew, where they grew, and the fact that they were living things just like you or me.  It blew my mind as a young boy!

I was a pretty normal teenager. My grades were mediocre but I was always in class. I didn’t feel like I was there to learn, I was just there.  Most of my free time was spent playing music and practicing with my band.  At graduation time, I had no idea what life was going to look like.  My parents encouraged me to apply for college so I enrolled in the Horticulture Certificate Program in Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops.  It seemed like a good opportunity to get some credentials and get a decent job in a relatively short amount of time while rediscovering the love of plants I had as a child.

After graduating from high school, I moved to Kamloops to attend TRU full time.  After one year, I got my Certificate of Horticulture and during this program, I rediscovered my love for plants.  We grew greenhouse crops, designed landscapes, and went on numerous field trips throughout the school year. We also did many projects including bug collection, drafting work and creating a herbarium.  When the program was finished, I still wasn’t sure of my direction, but I knew I wanted to stay in the industry.  While looking for work, my Dad told me he knew of a job in Kamloops at a golf course that his friend from high school now owns.  He sent me details, I applied for a groundskeeping position at Mt. Paul Golf Course and was working within a few weeks.

This job changed my life and changed me as a person. I quit smoking, started exercising, and started taking care of myself.  I fell in love with the people I worked with and the customers who played the golf course.  The whole atmosphere was like nothing I had ever felt before.  My boss, Superintendent Thomas Calder, was supportive and patient as I learned the ropes.  He always knew the right times to push me and the right times to back off.  I made lots of mistakes but he was never afraid of giving me responsibilities that would help me grow as a golf course worker.  We only had two groundskeepers and a Super so I got to learn a lot directly from him.  From rebuilding tees to irrigation extensions and even machine maintenance, I learned it all in a few short years. I was inspired by Tom’s passion and commitment, and finally knew what I wanted to do with my life.  I wanted to be a Golf Course Superintendent.

Nathan hand watering a dry spot on #6 green at Mt. Paul Golf Course in Kamloops, BC.

When I saw the posting for Assistant Superintendent at another local course, I knew the job had to be mine.  I didn’t have all the qualifications but I had great work experience and a great reference from Tom.  I wrote up a cover letter, updated my resume, and sent in an application.  Tom prepped me and wished me luck. I went into the interview nervous but confident in my abilities. The interview must’ve gone well, because the next week they offered me the job.

Today, I am the Assistant Superintendent at Kamloops Golf and Country Club.  My significant other and I have an acreage 30 minutes North of Kamloops with a dog, cat, and chickens, and I'm in my second year of the Turfgrass Management Program at Kwantlen.  Life is good.  KGCC Superintendent Travis Olson, has been extremely encouraging as I finish my Diploma, never turning me down when I ask him for help or input on a project.  He has allowed me to exercise and improve my abilities as a manager throughout the work season and has pushed me to try new things to grow as a person and Golf Course Superintendent, as well as giving me freedom to develop the skills that I feel I am weak at.  I look forward to working with Travis for the coming years and learning everything I can while there.

Nathan's first day as Assistant Superintendent at the Kamloops Golf and Country Club.

Though it’s sad to be away from the job I love, I’m having a great time and learning a lot about the science of growing turfgrass at KPU.  The informative lectures paired with hands-on labs have given me everything I need to be a successful Superintendent.  My Instructor, Stan Kazymerchyk, has instilled even more passion in me and I can’t wait to take what I’ve learned and bring it to the golf course.  Stan has allowed me to practice my training abilities by doing demonstrations for first year turf students and has encouraged me to practice my public speaking by allowing me to speak during an info session held by the Horticulture department at KPU.  

I feel extremely privileged to be where I am now and can’t wait to see what the future holds.  I never thought I’d have a career or go to University and I finally feel like I’m on the right track.  My life has been changed by the turfgrass industry and I hope that one day, I’ll be able to fill the shoes of the people who have made it so great for me.  Thank you to Tom, Travis, and Stan for helping me to get where I am today.

Nathan and his dog, Obie