Emerging from the tree line onto The Lido golf course is like walking into a different world. Sand stretches over rolling hills with green grass breaking up the sea of beige. No trees interrupt the sight lines, and the glimmer of water hazards can be seen in the distance. Although first-time visitors may feel dwarfed by the vast surroundings, Dillon Nelson is coming to know these 850 acres better than his own backyard.

Nelson has worked on the grounds of The Lido at Sand Valley Resort in Nekoosa, Wis., since 2021. At that time, construction was still ongoing at the course — a re-creation of a famed New York club demolished for a military base during World War II. In the fall of 2022, Nelson entered the UW­–Madison Turfgrass Apprenticeship Program (TAP) to both expand and fine-tune his turfgrass expertise as the opening of The Lido neared.

“Everything we were taught was useful, and we dove into everything — maintenance practices, disease and weed management, budgeting, irrigation, equipment training,” says Nelson. “We learned so much in so little time, and it’s so beneficial for me and the golf course.”

Isaac Herr, left, and fellow TAP students study turfgrass specimens during an identification challenge at D.C. Smith Greenhouse. Photo: Michael P. King/UW–Madison CALS

The two-part TAP curriculum consists of a 12-week bootcamp and a field-based apprenticeship. The program was started by Paul Koch, professor and extension specialist in the plant pathology department, and Doug Soldat, professor and extension specialist in soil science, as part of UW–Madison’s Farm and Industry Short Course. They wanted to provide training for newcomers to the field or those already working in turfgrass management who wanted opportunities to increase their knowledge.

“The material we provide for students is specialized for turfgrass. We offer the classroom section in the winter so students can continue to work in the spring and summer,” says Koch. “TAP costs less and takes less time than a liberal arts degree. It’s a supercharged amount of training in a short period to help students advance their turfgrass management careers.”

The turfgrass industry is an important contributor to the Wisconsin economy; golf alone has an annual economic impact of $2.4 billion. Koch and Soldat have seen a lot of interest in TAP from employers and turfgrass associations looking for more qualified managers who can reinforce the industry. Many associations have even sponsored TAP students. Nelson was the recipient of a scholarship from the Wisconsin Sports Turf Managers Association, and a total of $13,000 in scholarships were available to students this past year.

Two other strong supporters of the program are Rob Duhm, director of agronomy at Sand Valley, and Jimmy Humston, superintendent of The Lido. For them, the trained managers coming out of the program are invaluable to the resort. In fact, five students who earned certificates from TAP have worked at or currently help manage courses at Sand Valley.

“Through the program, people find out this is a career and get started on their journey in the turfgrass field,” says Duhm. “We need around 40 individuals on every course at Sand Valley – and there are five of them – just to get through each day, and we want to bring knowledgeable students from the program here.”

Dillon Nelson, a student in TAP and an assistant in training at The Lido, stands atop a hill overlooking the course. Photo: Michael P. King/UW–Madison CALS

Humston adds, “The program springboards people who decide they want to do this job. They come back from the program more prepared and ready to take on more responsibility.”

TAP grew from five students to 19 in its first two years, and Koch and Soldat have been impressed by the dedication and excitement of the students who value the format of the program. During the bootcamp, students attend “shop talks,” learning directly from superintendents and equipment maintenance experts. They then go on to complete their internship in the spring. Students can earn two certificates in the program – one for the bootcamp and the other for the internship.

To develop internship requirements, Koch and Soldat worked with golf courses, sod growers and landscapers to create an extensive list of skills that would demonstrate competency in the turfgrass field. They worked off that list to set expectations for the internships.

“We now have lists of tasks for each type of internship. For a golf course internship, you might have tasks in many areas such as financial management, record keeping and guest relations,” says Soldat. “Students have to complete a certain percentage of tasks to get their second certificate.”

Students who complete the program take their expertise to positions at golf courses, lawn care companies or in other areas of turfgrass management. Nelson now has a full-time position at The Lido, which opened to play in May of this year. He’s excited to see how the course is enjoyed by players, and to use all that he’s learned to maintain and improve the course — from the tees to the greens to the bunkers.

How many bunkers are out there?

“One hundred forty,” Nelson says without missing a beat as he heads back out onto the other-worldly course. “And 83 and a half mowable acres.”

For more information about TAP and to register for the 2023-2024 program, visit Deadline for enrollment in the fall term is October 15.

Contact: Paul Koch,; Doug Soldat,