From fairways to home lawns

Features - Career

Luke McGhee describes the fulfillment associated with a sudden career change.

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December 3, 2018

Luke McGhee, a former assistant superintendent, opened a lawn care franchise in late 2017.
photos courtesy of weed man
McGhee

“Ain’t it funny how life changes.” These simple words sung by Thomas Rhett remind me each day of how quickly your dreams and aspirations in life can change. Just about a year ago, I was writing an article for the Wisconsin GCSA’s magazine, The Grass Roots, as an assistant golf course superintendent. Now here I am writing as the business owner of Weed Man Lawn Care Racine-Kenosha. I have always shared a passion for the outdoors and knew I wanted to be involved in some aspect of landscaping, but life has taken me to a variety of fields and to the one now that I am most proud of.

Originally, I attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison in hopes of becoming a landscape architect. I loved the idea of potentially owning a landscape company where I could design residential landscapes and maybe even design some golf courses. I was sharing this passion with a co-worker and he mentioned to me that a relative of his was a golf course superintendent, and, if I was interested in golf, I should do some research. That night, I contacted Doug Soldat (professor and role model at University of Wisconsin-Madison) to set up a meeting about the major. I thought, “Finally, I have my life figured out and know what I want to do.” After talking with Doug, I started my first internship at Erin Hills, where I grew an even stronger passion for the turf industry. My internships and course experience grew as I worked the following summer in Kohler at Blackwolf Run, Whistling Straits occasionally, and University Ridge while at school. After working on these top courses, I knew I wanted to be a part of something special and work at a high-end facility.

While attending school, I heard the rumors about Sand Valley and bothered Dr. Soldat quite frequently to see if he knew anything about the project. My biggest goal in the golf industry was to build a golf course, and at the time, construction was still in the initial phases. I started my career as a second assistant at the Wisconsin Club. I was blessed to have a job there, but my career again changed when Doug reached out and said he had toured Sand Valley and put in a good word for me with the superintendent, Rob Duhm. I quickly called Rob and set up an interview. Thanks to Doug, it was only a couple of weeks later that I packed my bags and headed north to become an assistant superintendent at Sand Valley.

Turfgrass management skills honed on golf courses are helping Luke McGhee as he transitions into the lawn care business.

Helping build Sand Valley was, simply put, an incredibly rewarding experience. Each day you see progress and the potential of something becoming remarkable. Today, Sand Valley is just that – remarkable – and it continues to be one of the best golf destinations in the United States. While working at Sand Valley, I got engaged to my amazing wife, Katie, and we decided that it would make the most sense for me to move closer to where she lived and start our life together in Brookfield, where I became an assistant superintendent at Westmoor Country Club.

I checked building a golf course off my list of career goals, and I was once again blessed enough to have a great job and work for an amazing superintendent. But I wanted more. I wanted to be my own boss, I wanted more responsibility, I wanted to be a better leader. I prayed each night for the ability to open myself up to new opportunities, and spent my evenings applying for different jobs. It was around then that I wrote in The Grass Roots about how I had always wanted to be a business owner.

That’s when my life really changed. A week later, Terry Kurth, director of development for Weed Man USA, called me after reading my article and asked me, “How would you like to open a lawn care franchise in Racine and Kenosha?” My prayers were answered, and my life quickly began to change for the better. The next couple of weeks were spent juggling wedding planning with talking to friends and family and other franchise owners about Weed Man as I prepared to possibly change the course of my future. After speaking with several Weed Man owners, I found that they all shared similar traits: happiness, a great work-life balance, business success and endless opportunities for advancement – all things that I felt were fading out of my reach while working on the golf course.

The third week of November 2017 was supposed to be the happiest week of my life because I was going to be marrying Katie on the 18th. However, I knew I wouldn’t be able to concentrate on my wedding week with a possible life-changing career switch looming. Together, with the help of family and friends, I signed on to become the franchise owner of Weed Man Racine-Kenosha on Nov. 14, 2017, just a few days before our wedding date.

After our wedding, it was go-time. Training in Canada at the Weed Man headquarters was scheduled for December, and I quickly had a list of to-do items I needed to accomplish before I could get any staff and start operating my new business. There were (and continue to be) challenges, but that is something that drives me more and more. A superintendent at Sand Valley always said, “run your day, don’t let your day run you,” and that is a phrase I choose to live by and run my business by.

Luke McGhee says he thinks about his golf course experiences every day.

Thanks to my previous background in golf and the turf industry, I have had what I feel is a very successful rookie year. Skills that you learn on the golf course – attention to detail, general management, membership interaction, responsibility and time management – are all pivotal pieces of operating a business, but I now get to do it for myself rather than a membership or golfer.

There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about the golf course and how it has helped me get here. The last 11 months of owning a business reminds me of building a golf course because you can see the opportunities ahead and how great it can be. You make mistakes, things change, and you build on those lessons to make the business and the future of the company better. Each day is different, and I especially love that.

I want to make it clear that I have nothing against the golf industry. In fact, I have the utmost respect for everyone involved in the industry and can’t thank those who I worked with/for enough, because without you and my experience on the course, I would have never followed my dreams of being a business owner.

It is with great pleasure that I sit here and write this article, knowing that I may have the opportunity to help inspire those that are in same situation I was … stuck and looking for more.

Luke McGhee is owner of Weed Man Lawn Care Racine-Kenosha, Wis., and a former assistant golf course superintendent.