In 1981 members of the Manhattan Country Club looked outside and were perplexed at what they were seeing. Their newly-hired Golf Course Superintendent and his assistant were on tractors and tearing the grounds apart. They were starting fresh, and the members couldn’t believe it. After all, the course was on top of a large rocky hill… who would think the place could be anything more than that?
Cliff Dipman, their then newly-hired superintendent, did.
The stories Dipman, now 65, tells about his early days at the Manhattan Country Club are often mind-blowing. When he first got there, the greens were small —half the size they are now — and lacked proper maintenance. The fairways were akin to a pasture and the equipment Dipman had at his disposal was limited and aging. He didn’t even have his own golf cart to survey the course when he first got there. He walked the course’s 175 acres.
“I loved this place from the first time I saw it,” Dipman, who is in his 31st year as MCC’s course superintendent, said. “But it was pretty much a goat ranch. I was told I couldn’t grow grass up here. They just thought it was a rock hill, and they were told for years that you couldn’t grow grass up here.”
Dipman, who has had a glass eye since he was three, said he saw that as a bit of a challenge.
“More or less… I knew you could,” he said. “There wasn’t any reason you couldn’t grow grass. They had soil up here and everything else.
“(The course) just needed a lot of care.”
That care eventually turned the course into the state it’s in today. It holds a 72 ranking by the USGA — which is just over two percent higher than the national average — and now has over 500 members. Dipman has grown the course’s budget from just over $80,000 annually to nearly half a million dollars today. The clubhouse went under a $4.1 million dollar renovation and expansion in 2008 and a bigger grounds shop and office was built north of the course behind No. 6 green not long after that.
Today, MCC’s members golf on challenging, well-manicured greens, large sloping fairways of perennial rye and as any crew member on Dipman’s grounds staff will tell you, plenty of grass everywhere else.
Kevin Fately was Dipman’s first assistant at MCC and said his old boss just had the knowledge and know-how to turn the course around.
“He knew what to do and what needed to be done,” Fately, who currently owns Wildcat Creek Sports Complex and Golf Course, said. “He also worked with K-State on how to fix things.”
Fately, who was a student at Kansas State at the time, said a core sample from one of MCC’s greens in 1981 that Dipman brought in to use at one of the university’s labs garnered quite the attention.
“It was kept on a window sill in the (professor’s) office for years,” Fately laughed. “They’d never seen anything like it.
“It looked like a hockey puck made out of compressed peat moss.”
Fately recalls the puzzled reactions of members when he and Dipman were tearing out the weeds and what little grass was on the fairways in 1981.
“We started seeding the fairways that Fall with rye grass and sliced that in two directions,” he said. “People thought we were crazy because we were tearing it up and shredding it up like crazy. But six weeks later the grass was coming up and looking green, and we got the fairways in better shape faster than the greens.
“People didn’t think we were crazy then.”
Current MCC assistant superintendent Dan Wiens, who graduated from KSU with a degree in golf course management in 2008, said Dipman’s ability to connect with people has been a big asset, and that he isn’t afraid to ask others questions.
“Everybody knows Cliff,” Wiens, who graduated from Inman High School in 2004, said. “He’s very good at networking and communicating with people. He’s also very good at staying in contact with people that know stuff that he may not know as well.”
Wiens became Dipman’s assistant after being on the regular grounds crew at MCC and after his graduation from K-State. Wiens said he quickly learned, once promoted, that having an improvisational spirit was key in handling the new responsibilities.
“The biggest thing I’ve learned from Cliff is that you can always try new things… to not over-think things,” Wiens said. “Cliff is very good at practical solutions and at making adjustments on the fly. You have to be out here if and when stuff breaks down.
“He’s seen it all. There is nothing out here that he hasn’t seen.”
Wiens – and Fately before him – has a good deal of control in his day-to-day duties at MCC. Dipman said this hands-off approach he’s always taken to his assistants was the way he learned the lay of the land when he started out, going all the way back to one of his early golf course jobs out of high school in Fort Leavenworth.
“I pretty much have let all the assistants I’ve ever had run a lot of things – mainly because they are going to go somewhere and get a job,” Dipman said. “That’s the way it was for me when I was an assistant in Fort Leavenworth. The superintendent there was also the golf course Pro at the time, so I had to do a lot of the things there myself, and had to make my own decisions.”
“So, it’s good for them to just run the show, pretty much. It’s a great way to learn — to turn them loose.”
It would be an understatement to say Dipman has gained a lot of knowledge of the trade in his nearly 50-year history working for golf courses, and that the current state and transformation of MCC is because of his efforts. Many of his assistants, like Fately, have gone out to become superintendents themselves. But, Dipman — a Pratt native and member of the board of directors of the Kansas Turf Grass Association, along with memberships to various other associations– is a humble guy. He enjoys the people he works with and was quick to credit them.
“I couldn’t have done anything without the people who have worked for me, and the crew I have now,” he said. “We get great people out of K-State every year who are very knowledgeable.
“The best part of the job? It’s all the young kids I get to work with. They keep me young. Seeing them go on and do bigger things… that’s probably the biggest reward.”