Relative success: Two generations of Wisconsin golf industry professionals

Neil and Matt Radatz have become the first parent/child Certified Golf Course Superintendent and Certified Turf Equipment Manager.


Neil and Matt Radatz
The father and son team of superintendent Neil Radatz (left) and equipment manager Matt Radatz oversee both Hawks Landing Golf Club and Pioneer Pointe in Verona, Wis. Photo by Andy Slawek

Neil and Matt make quite a pair. It goes way back.

“We’ve got pics of me on a dozer at the golf course when I was 6 or 7. You can see the smile on my face, that’s for sure,” Matt says.

Oh, did we forget to mention they share the same last name? Meet Neil and Matt Radatz. They are father and son. Lately, they have made a significant name for themselves — and it is historic. They have become the first parent/child Certified Golf Course Superintendent (Neil) and Certified Turf Equipment Manager (Matt). And they achieved it at the same locations. The Radatzes are stationed at Hawks Landing Golf Club and Pioneer Pointe in Verona, Wis.

“Just to be able to work with him every day is a blessing,” Neil says.

Neil’s route to this industry can be pinpointed to a legendary spot on Dorr Street in Toledo, Ohio. A native of Geneva, Ohio, he had nothing to do with golf early in life. In fact, he worked at a landfill. “I was pushing garbage on a dozer and tractor. I didn’t see a future in pushing garbage,” Neil says.

He hoped to be in the U.S. Army’s Special Forces, but a back injury prevented that. He enrolled at the University of Toledo majoring in biology while he delivered pizzas at night. Pizza delivery wasn’t a good fit, so he quit that job. The next day, he was cruising Dorr Street and encountered famed Inverness Club. Instead of driving past it, Neil turned into the driveway. He had an inkling it was worth taking a chance to steer in that direction. “I had a feeling it was something I could handle,” he says.

Wearing cowboy boots, Neil met superintendent Tom Walker there. His goal was to sell himself. “I knew how to drive equipment. I said, ‘I can run all your tractors, loaders.’ I told him to give me a chance. He hired me on the spot (in 1988). At the time, I had no idea how special that place was,” says Neil, referring to multiple U.S. Open and PGA Championships at Inverness Club.

Walker never has forgotten Neil. “Here’s a guy not afraid of an honest day’s work. I had a lot of respect for him,” Walker says.

Neil left Inverness for the grow-in at The Legacy by Arthur Hills in Ottawa Lake, Mich., before departing to begin his latest journey that has lasted more than two decades. Neil, 52 and a 31-year GCSAA member, arrived at Hawks Landing in 2000 as it was being built. The 18-hole championship course designed by John Harbottle III features bentgrass tees, greens and fairways and an all-grass range. It’s where Matt, 26 and a six-year association member, got a taste of his father’s life. “Watching some of the grow-in started my fascination with golf. I used to go out and water with him,” Matt says.

He was in a youth apprentice program for auto mechanics during high school and also worked at an auto dealership. When Matt completed high school, he thought about following in his father’s footsteps as a superintendent yet remained on the fence about his future. The future came quick.

“My equipment manager quit about the time Matt graduated. It was like the most perfect timing, because Matt was trying to figure out what he wanted to do,” Neil says.

Ultimately, the father hired the son. It was, however, not a snap decision. “There was a huge amount of pressure, but I didn’t push him. He didn’t have a lot of experience. But I really didn’t have any pushback (from the club about hiring his son),” Neil says. “I came to him and said, ‘You have skills, talent, I know that.’ I thought he could handle it.”

Matt schooled himself to become a factor in the operations. “I read books, watched YouTube videos. I learned. I kinda felt bad for him (Neil). His equipment manager left in the middle of the year. Somebody had to do it,” Matt says. “I wanted to step up for my dad. I wanted to step up and be a man — and make him proud.”

They combine to oversee Hawks Landing and Pioneer Pointe, a 13-hole course located six minutes from Hawks Landing. Matt’s growth is visible, including his contributions outside the shop, such as mowing and changing cups when needed. “He was nervous at first. Now he’s writing equipment maintenance tracking programs. He’s reliable. Flourishing. I’m very proud of his dedication and determination to succeed,” Neil says.

Neil laughs as he admits that on occasion his son “gives him some grief,” yet that is no hindrance when it comes to the final product.

“We have a good relationship,” Matt says. “He’s my father. We don’t separate work life from personal life. I know when he’s agitated, and he knows when I am. I say, ‘What can I help you with? What do you need?’ We bump heads sometimes. Both of us don’t like saying we’re wrong. But we have improved on that one.”

As far as Neil is concerned, it would be impossible to improve on the ideal situation he shares with Matt. “He’s accountable, dedicated, and I get to see him every day,” Neil says. “How many fathers get to do that?”

Howard Richman is GCM’s associate editor.