When Kevin Thurman began his career at Lakeview Golf Course 38 years ago, a small log cabin situated on an 18-hole desolate course was all he had to work with.
But over the past four decades, Thurman has transformed Mitchell’s only municipal golf course to become one of the state’s best, helping Lakeview earn national recognition in the golfing community. As the leader who facilitated the growth of Lakeview Golf Course, Thurman, 68, is ready to leave his post and hand over the reins as Golf and Cemetery Director, capping off a fulfilling career with the city of Mitchell.
“When I was hired as the golf superintendent, I was told that this golf course was limited on its potential,” Thurman said, noting the course was in rough shape at that time. “I knew there was a lot of work and a tremendous amount of projects that needed to be done. But over the years, I had some of the hardest working staff help make this into a great golf course.”
Hired in 1982 as the golf assistant superintendent, Thurman quickly climbed the ladder, becoming the head golf superintendent a few years later. In 1986, then-Mayor Leonard “Bud” Williams appointed Thurman as the Golf and Cemetery Director, a position he held since.
While taking on the dual role of overseeing the cemetery and golf course was stressful at times, Thurman said, he saw it as a challenging opportunity. Of all the major projects and memories he’s made while serving in his role, taking on challenges is what Thurman said he will miss the most.
“I love the challenges you have everyday when you come into work, and it’s something I’ll always miss,” he said.
With the volume of mowing equipment, irrigation systems and landscaping that come with maintaining a golf course, Thurman quickly developed a diverse set of skills. From small engine repair work to horticulture knowledge, Thurman found himself learning something new nearly every day on the job. While putting in full days of work on the course, Thurman earned a degree in golf course management through Ogelbay Institute, helping him become a certified golf superintendent early on in his career.
Hosting a state tournament was a key goal for Thurman when he began working at the golf course, as he said it would take the course to new heights. However, Thurman knew a small log cabin, rough greens and fairways would not suffice to meet the South Dakota Golf Association’s (SDGA) rigorous standards that needed to be met to host a state tournament. It led Thurman to design a new clubhouse, which he helped build in the mid-1980s with the help of Mitchell Technical Institute construction students. Shortly after its completion, the course hosted its first SDGA state tournament, welcoming over 100 golfers.
“Being able to take part in the new clubhouse was a big moment for me, and it still makes me proud when I see it everyday,” Thurman said.
Awards and achievements
Although the construction of Lakeview’s new clubhouse that has expanded to the size it is today was one of Thurman’s proudest moments, he pointed to the list of awards the course has earned as additional key achievements. Some of the more notable awards Lakeview Golf course has earned through the years under the leadership of Thurman include the former Maximum Golf magazine - which was a publication that featured pro golfers and top courses around the country - placing Lakeview in the top 100 list of best golf courses in the nation, along with USA Today voting Lakeview as the top golf course in South Dakota for under $50 several years ago.
As Thurman cruised around the course in his golf cart on a sunny afternoon, he was quick to point out all of the buildings and landscaping projects that were completed through surplus. Finding ways to keep overhead costs and operational expenses low, Thurman often utilized used equipment and materials through government surplus.
“It is amazing how much reliable equipment I have been able to get through surplus. Almost all of the timber and wood you see around the walls in the golf course was government surplus,” Thurman said from the driver seat of a surplus golf cart.
Clubhouse Manager Eric Hieb said it’s incredible to see the type of improvements Thurman has brought to the golf course.
“It’s really impressive to see what Kevin has done for this golf course,” said Hieb, who worked alongside Thurman for nearly a decade. “I’ve learned a lot from him, and he will be greatly missed.”
When he’s not fine tuning mowing equipment and maintaining the greens on the golf course, Thurman spends his time in the nearby cemetery, trimming shrubs and grass, leading crews to upkeep the area around grave sites and memorial monuments. There were roughly 10,000 burial sites in the cemetery when Thurman started in the early 1980s, and now there are upwards of 16,000.
“I remember when the cemetery roads were gravel, muddy roads. The cemetery has also come a long way,” Thurman said.
At the recent June 15 City Council meeting, Mitchell Mayor Bob Everson paid a tribute to Thurman, highlighting all of the compliments he frequently heard from his relatives and friends regarding the aesthetics of the cemetery and golf course.
“I have received numerous letters after Memorial Day from people complimenting how great the cemetery always looks,” Everson said. “Congratulations, and we will miss you.”
Reflecting back on how far the golf course has come since the 1980s, Thurman said it doesn't happen without his dedicated staff.
“We’ve come a long way, and I was blessed with this opportunity,” Thurman said.