Father and son Paul Holmes, CGCS, (right) and Ryan Holmes are in a familiar spot at Gaylord (Mich.) Country Club. Paul retired at the end of 2023; Ryan has taken over to keep the legacy alive. Photo by Josh Hartman
You didn’t have to tell Paul and Kathy Holmes that their son was a fussy baby.
In order to rectify the situation, they looked no further than the golf course — Gaylord Country Club in Gaylord, Mich., where Paul has spent a major portion of his life. Almost 40 years ago, he and Kathy would securely bundle their son Ryan between them in a cart on those summer evenings when Paul went for a ride while he tended to his business.
“As Paul set the sprinklers, Ryan would look around. Then he’d just fall asleep,” Kathy says. “That place calmed him right down. We knew then that he liked the golf course. The country club was a great babysitter.”
For decades, Gaylord CC has served as a family affair for the Holmeses, and it looks as if their presence has quite a future. Now that Ryan is all grown up and truly has proven he has an affinity for golf courses, the Holmes name will continue to put its stamp on a club that is celebrating its centennial this year with a Holmes still on the premises.
It just won’t be the Holmes who had been on site since 1985.
Paul Holmes, CGCS, retired at the end of 2023 after 38 years at Gaylord CC. Now the role of superintendent belongs to his son Ryan, who went to work for his father last year to begin the succession process.
Paul cannot imagine a better choice to pick up where he left off.
“He knows the course as well as anyone else does,” says Paul, a 36-year GCSAA member. “I’m happy. Really happy.”
The folks at Gaylord CC are ecstatic the Holmeses entered into their lives. They’re pillars of the community who’ve made quite an impact in the town with a population of roughly 4,300 located in the heart of northern Michigan and where 135 inches of snow annually isn’t uncommon. “I’ve known Paul a long time. He’s been really good for Gaylord,” says Vern Cavitch, who has played the course for 44 years. His daughter Lisa once worked for Holmes. “He didn’t have a lot for his budget to work with but took what he had and made it a great course.”
And to think the Holmes era that has spanned the years might never have happened.
Paul and Ryan Holmes in days gone by, when golf already was in their blood. Photo courtesy of Kathy Holmes
The path to a future
It’s fair to say that Paul Holmes is Michigan through and through.
A native of West Branch, Mich., he had every intention of becoming a teacher upon graduating from high school in 1980, so much so that he secured a teaching degree from Central Michigan University. He spent his summers working at West Branch Country Club. Superintendent Dave Longfield didn’t have a mechanic, so underlings such as Holmes got their fill. “We sprayed, changed cups, sharpened reels. I worked for Dave for three or four summers, and he taught us pretty much everything,” Paul Holmes says. “It was kind of like going to turf school.”
He was unable to land a teaching position. “It seemed like there were 200, 300 applicants. It was hard to get a job,” he says.
The teaching profession’s loss was the golf industry’s gain. Holmes wasn’t exactly disappointed the teaching thing didn’t materialize. He reconnected with Longfield, who had moved on to Garland Golf Club in Lewiston, Mich. Holmes spent three years there as an assistant. “I had applied for a couple of teaching jobs, and I was OK with that when I didn’t get something,” he says. “I liked the golf industry.”
Thirty-nine years ago, Paul Holmes was hired as the superintendent by Gaylord CC. It was the last time he went through a hiring process for his career. “My first job as a super. You go all-out,” he says.
It seemed like an ideal fit. “Small town. I grew up in a small town. I like that atmosphere,” Holmes says about Gaylord, located about three hours north of Detroit. Early on at Gaylord CC, in-house irrigation took precedent. In fact, in-house was integral. He and his team rebuilt 57 bunkers. It took three years on the 6,400-yard, par-72 layout with its bentgrass and Poa annua tees, fairways and greens. Today, the course features five tees. Originally, it was built with three. The addition of forward tees is in vogue there, all ranging from 180 to 220 yards. “It’s amazing to me the number of people that play them. I’m flabbergasted,” the elder Holmes says. “I’ve seen more men and their wives playing. We have orange, green tees now. When I grew up, it was red, white and blue. People seem to be enjoying golf a lot more. There’s more birdies.”
It wasn’t always smooth sailing for Holmes. He navigated the ups and downs and changes at Gaylord CC, including a late-September weekend in 1998 when a straight-line windstorm felled nearly 700 trees. “It was, at the time, kind of devastating,” he says, “but I told people when it was cleared up it’d be a better course. And it was.”
Tom Reed has been in the business for over 50 years. Owner of Tri Turf Soils, he has known Holmes a long time. Getting to know him was a joy. “I could walk in and feel very comfortable being in his place of business,” Reed says. ‘He’d be like, ‘Hey, I’m glad to see you.’ We’d go out and have lunch. Just a personable, good man.”
Gaylord CC, where PGA Club Professional J.T. Aude saw Paul Holmes in action. “He wanted to put out a good product every time people were out there,” Aude says, “and we know Ryan is a good fit and can tap into a wealth of expertise from his dad.”
The son rises
It sure appears that this Holmes dynasty at Gaylord CC was meant to be.
“He got the job there when I was 1,” Ryan Holmes says. “By the time I was 7, me and my brother (Kyle, now a PGA Club Professional at Quail Ridge Golf Club in Ada, Mich.) put cushions on a three-wheel Cushman when he (Paul) went around setting the irrigation manually in the evening. When I was 11, I’d go to work with him at 6 in the morning and play all day.”
It was no guarantee, however, that Ryan was destined to land in the golf industry even though he worked for his father as a teen. In fact, he entered business school in college. He harbored other aspirations as well. “I thought maybe I’d be a lawyer. Or a judge,” he says.
Ultimately, he was a jury of one when he rendered this decision: Golf it is.
Ryan Holmes built quite an internship log while he expanded his breadth of industry knowledge during his ascension. His first internship was with Wannamoisett Country Club in Rumford, R.I. Ryan also enrolled at Rutgers University to study turfgrass. His first assistant superintendent job happened at The Golf Club at The Equinox in Manchester Village, Vt. His first superintendent job was at Otsego Resort in Gaylord.
More recently, he served as project superintendent while working under head superintendent and director of outside operations Alex Piotrowski at Shanty Creek Resort’s Arnold Palmer-designed The Legends Club in Bellaire, Mich. “Ryan is a very easygoing person, lets things roll off his back. He could get flustered but didn’t let it dictate his day. That’s a cool characteristic because it’s not very common with most superintendents,” says Piotrowski, a three-year GCSAA member. “This job (Gaylord CC) was the right place, right time in his career. It’s a really cool thing to carry on the family legacy there.”
A four-year GCSAA member, Ryan along the way took notes on his father’s processes. It’s information that he can use moving forward. “It’s his eye for detail, just doing things the right way,” Ryan says. “I saw what it takes to be a good superintendent.”
Ryan as a youngster already was getting after it. Photo courtesy of Kathy Holmes
When his cellphone rang last spring, Ryan had a hunch about the reason why.
It was Gaylord CC President Dan Hylwa on the other end. In March 2023, Paul let the club know that it was going to be his final year there, so the club would be seeking a replacement.
Ryan already was on the club’s radar. He had a formal interview with them. On June 6, the deal was done — and Gaylord CC had its next superintendent come 2024. The name was familiar. Ryan accepted the job as superintendent-in-waiting. That was also his father’s 66th birthday and a reason for celebration. “The first time I thought about getting my dad’s job was when I was at Otsego,” Ryan says. “Once I got it, I thought to myself, ‘I can’t screw this up.’ I’m confident in my abilities (his first day was July 29, Ryan’s 40th birthday). And he left this place in a great spot for me.”
Former superintendent Mike Rosen knows both men well. He’s certain that Gaylord CC remains well stocked when it comes to maintenance. “Paul has a great reputation as a communicator and superintendent. Ryan has a good pedigree. Paul’s old-school, Ryan new-school. Paul has been a staple at Gaylord, and I think Ryan will hop right on and take over,” says Rosen, who oversaw Ryan at Otsego Resort. “I think he’s being welcomed with open arms.”
Ryan knows Paul will answer the call if he ever has an issue or needs to lean on him for advice. As for Paul, well, he figures that Ryan may not need his help very much. “He’ll do a great job. He already has,” Paul says. “Plus, he’s smarter than I am.”