Army vet finds CTEM calling

Bryan Epland has been a resourceful addition to Nebraska City's Arbor Links


Filed to: CTEM, Nebraska

Aerial view of Ghost Creek golf course
U.S. Army veteran Bryan Epland, the Certified Turf Equipment Manager at Arbor Links in Nebraska City, Neb., has found his niche. Photo by Ottemann Photography

Bryan Epland never saw a reel before joining the golf industry. It appears he’s the real thing now.

The Certified Turf Equipment Manager at Arbor Links in Nebraska City, Neb., Epland has developed a grasp of pretty much any situation there, including the time a tee mower heading for peril down a steep bank was rescued before reaching the creek. “I grabbed a chain, hopped on a tractor and helped out,” Epland says after aiding the rescue that prevented any damage.

Damage control is part of what Epland is all about. “He’s very resourceful, and he just has a way of knowing how to figure things out,” says Kenton Fritson, director of agronomy at Arbor Links and seven-year GCSAA member at the facility located about 50 miles southeast of Lincoln, Neb.

What else would you expect from a U.S. Army veteran? Epland was a metal worker, wheel mechanic and pipeline specialist in the Army. His job was focused on ensuring fuel could be pumped long distances. He made the choice to enlist straight out of high school. After six years of active service and two years inactive service serving his country, Epland bounced around, including his role as a mechanic at an automotive and tire shop.

Then … cue the barbecue lunch.

Epland was eating at Lady Bug BBQ in his hometown of Nebraska City when owner Tom Ross made a suggestion that had nothing to do with what was on the menu. “He (Ross) said, ‘There’s an opening at Arbor Links. You should go check it out.’ I thought about it for a few days,” Epland says. “I decided that even though I wasn’t necessarily unhappy, I didn’t see myself continuing down that career path I was on.”

A few days of consideration and a job change has resulted in six wonderful years at Arbor Links. “I love it,” says Epland, a seven-year GCSAA member.

There was, however, a learning curve. “At first, I felt like I was in over my head in relation to reel mowers. At the time, I could turn wrenches and diagnose with the best of them, but reels were very foreign, and I had no idea what I was doing,” he says. “The importance of every aspect of a reel on and off the turf revealed itself quickly, which forced me to learn quickly. I was able to do that through stubbornness on my part and some help from various forums and other local equipment managers. After about two years, I felt more confident.”

Aerial view of Ghost Creek golf course
Epland built and used this wire puller that mounts to a ProGator bed starting in October 2022, when he did some in-house irrigation work. It made laying wire quicker and easier and only took one person instead of two. Photo courtesy of Bryan Epland

Epland fed off it and never looked back. And, on occasion, he hops aboard a fairway mower to help Fritson with labor, now that the club has 8 a.m. tee times from Nos. 1 and 10. “What I enjoy most about the process now is that I still find myself trying to come up with ways to make it faster and more efficient and overall better (in reel maintenance and grinding),” he says. “From an importance standpoint, I’ve learned many things. Communication is key between staff and management and always maintain as if there was a big tournament tomorrow. Never hesitate to ask for assistance or help, whether it’s a staff member or a phone call to Big Shooter (Seth Sheldon, EM at Oakland Hills Country Club in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., and a five-year association member). Seth and I have a lot of the same equipment and speak about once a month about one thing or another.”

Dormie Network Chief Agronomic Officer Clint Tolbert has taken note of Epland’s emergence. A former superintendent and director of agronomy for over a decade in Hawaii, Tolbert works with agronomy teams across Dormie’s network of private clubs, including Arbor Links. It didn’t take long for him to see what Epland can accomplish. “The ingenuity behind his ears is unbelievable,” says Tolbert, a 22-year GCSAA member. “Give him a problem, and he’s going to solve it. The word for him is ‘precision.’ My dad was a tool and die specialist in transformer construction for 42 years and also a mechanic. He was so precise down to the thousandth. In Bryan, you have a dedicated, hard worker, someone down to earth, and he served our country. And it’s so much about his experience and professionalism.”

The way Epland thinks outside the box is another strong suit at Arbor Links, an Arnold Palmer Signature Course with a links-style layout. “The wire puller that mounts to a (John Deere) Pro Gator bed was built and used last fall when we did some in-house irrigation work. It made laying wire so much quicker and easier and only took one person to do it instead of two,” says Epland, who a few years ago developed what he calls a center foamer to help with swath spacing when using a tractor-mounted granular spreader. “We found that it was hard to estimate distance and maintain distance from pass to pass. This made it easier and more efficient.”

GCSAA's CTEM designation is bestowed upon turf equipment management professionals who have demonstrated a high degree of knowledge and proficiency in their profession. The designation was developed by turf equipment managers and educators under the guidance of a professional psychometrician, and the designation is the highest recognition that turf equipment management professionals can achieve. It is the first certification program in the world for turf equipment manager professionals.

Twenty-five GCSAA members have earned CTEM status. Epland was the ninth to achieve it, an accomplishment he doesn’t take lightly. And he sure has taken and run with the opportunity. “It’s super rewarding. I proved to myself what it takes to be a success in this industry,” he says.

Howard Richman, GCM associate editor