Duo in final round at Nemadji
In the three decades they've worked together, superintendent Steve Flagstad and general manager Mark Carlson have seen a lot at Nemadji Golf Course.
They watched the facility grow from a simple 18-hole course to a 36-hole complex in the 1980s and early 1990s. In 2005, the city of Superior gave up control and allowed them to lease the course themselves.
As monumental as those moments were in the history of Nemadji Golf Course, there's another aspect of the job that stands out even more to Carlson and Flagstad.
"This is the first job for a lot of kids. You hire a kid for their first job, and then later, as life goes on, you see the success of these kids. It's amazing," said Carlson, reminiscing with Flagstad about those who have returned to the course as doctors and lawyers. "Without the whole team effort of the employees, this doesn't work.
"It's been a pleasure to be one of the 2,000 current and former course employees that have been responsible for the success of Nemadji,” Carlson said.
The 2019 golf season likely will be the last Carlson and Flagstad spend together as their company, Nemadji Public Golf Course Inc., notified the city of Superior in December they would be terminating their lease agreement after one more season. The city is in the process of seeking new management.
At 65, Carlson said he's not ready to retire, but after 44 years at Nemadji, he is ready to seek another challenge in golf and hand the reins of Nemadji to someone else.
Flagstad, who has been at the course for 30 years including the last 24 as superintendent, is also approaching retirement. He's going to see how this summer goes before making a final decision on his future.
"It will be tough," Flagstad said. "Anybody who enjoys their job as much as I do, when I leave it, in the whole scheme of life, that's one more phase of life that passes you by. I think we all know what the last phase is. I'm looking forward to retiring, but when that's going to be, I'm not certain."
The duo took much different paths to their careers in golf.
Carlson had an uncle who was a state champion golfer. That inspired him to get into the sport when he was 10. Carlson knew right away what career he'd be chasing.
"When I was in high school, I remember they asked me what I wanted to do for a living," Carlson said. "I said, 'I want to be a golf professional.' "
Like much of his family, Flagstad went to work for the railroad after high school. When his job was eliminated after 12 years, he found work with the city of Superior's parks department one summer.
Carlson was the person that hired him, Flagstad said.
"I came out here and really enjoyed this," Flagstad said. "That led me to a career in this field, getting some education and, I do thoroughly enjoy my job."
Just as quick as they are to credit those who've worked for them over the decades, Carlson and Flagstad are quicker to credit the other as the brains behind what has been a successful operation.
"I'll say this, Steve and I make a good team because a good partnership in business is where you have shared values and opposite skill sets. That's what we have," Carlson said. "Steve's a hard-working guy, knows everything about mechanics and the golf course and agronomy. I handle the golf shop and the white collar part of the job. Steve is more the blue collar part.
"Steve does all the hard work preparing a good product and all I have to do is send golfers out to play."
Flagstad said Carlson doesn't give himself enough credit sometimes.
"Mark has done a lot," Flagstad said. "This was an 18-hole complex. He was behind both additions, the new clubhouse. Mark is the face of this golf course. Mark is a great guy to work for. He allows me to do my job. He supports me and everything I do. I don't have enough good things to say about working for Mark."
Both said they had opportunities in their golf careers to go elsewhere — maybe even to a course that doesn't have to deal with as much snow, ice and brisk lake winds — but Superior has been too good to both of them, initially as an employer and now a business partner.
"As I enter my 44th year at Nemadji, I really appreciate the unwavering support of all the city leaders and the community," Carlson said. "In 2005, the City Council entrusted Steve Flagstad and myself with an opportunity to lease the course. I feel like it's been a win-win-win for the city, golfers and the staff."