From the Ground Up

Former superintendent Ray Schmidt learned his craft from one of the best, kept the trade in the family, and left his mark on the region’s golf community

by Paul Ramsdell

Ray Schmidt
Ray Schmidt

Near the bottom of the hill on Indian Canyon Golf Course in Spokane, between the fifth and the sixth holes, is a large square home with an ample wrap-around porch and wide, inviting steps leading up to the front door.

It nurtured a life in golf that has cultivated the soil of golf courses throughout the country.

Raymond J. Schmidt grew up in that house, the son of Louis Schmidt, who helped construct and then was the superintendent at Indian Canyon, and who later did the same at Sahalee Country Club.

“The golf course was our back yard, our front yard. My brother and I would go out there after dinner and play a quick nine holes … We had it made,” Raymond said of his childhood home.

“It was a great place to grow up, it really was,” he said. “It really was.”

Both Raymond and his brother Richard made golf their life work, with Raymond building and maintaining golf courses, and Richard doing some of the same along with being a golf professional.

For a while, it looked like the two brothers would follow the same path.

“Actually, I wanted to be a golf pro, all through high school (Lewis & Clark in Spokane), and I went to college (University of Idaho) with the thought of being a club pro, so I majored in marketing,” Raymond said. “But my brother changed my mind. ‘Ray, you don’t want to be a pro because the hours are so long.’ I checked it out, and he was right, so I just followed my dad’s footsteps.”

Those footsteps led to a life of constructing and maintaining golf courses. Now, Raymond, at age 77, has retired and lives in Kalispell, Mont., with his wife Carlene. He looks back on a career that included being involved in the construction or maintenance in some form at courses throughout the Northwest – Sudden Valley, Semiahmoo, Lake Padden, Mill Creek, Bellevue Muni, Inglewood Golf Club, Suncadia, Kayak Point and many more. He also owned Riverside Golf Course in Chehalis, Wash. for nine years.

In many cases, he would be involved in the construction and grow-in of a golf course, and then stay on for the maintenance.

“I bounced back and forth between the two,” he said. “I kept getting phone calls, ‘Ray, we need you here. Ray, we need you there.’ It got to the point I had four golf courses under construction at one time in different states, so I ended up buying an airplane and flying from job to job.”

So many projects meant the creation of Schmidt Golf Course Management Company in 1974. At that time, besides all his various construction projects, he also was overseeing the daily maintenance at four different courses.

He wasn’t doing it alone, however.

“She was right there all the time,” he said of his wife, Carlene. “She would do the books for me, do all the payroll. At one time we had more than 40 people on staff, so we were going hot and heavy. She kept all the paperwork in order, that’s for sure.”

For their daughter, Stacie Scheffer of Lynden, Wash., it meant growing up surrounded by golf as well.

“That’s all I’ve known, that’s all I’ve known from all angles,” she said. “My dad built golf courses and my mom ran the business out of our house.”

And it was a generous business according to Chris Lovegren of Lynden, who worked for Schmidt for 17 years.

“He was just generous,” Lovegren said. “He set up a pension plan when he had all those golf courses, somewhat of a profit-sharing plan.”

Creating something from the very start is what Schmidt loved.

“That’s where he got a lot of enjoyment, being there from the ground up,” his daughter said.

“I enjoyed the challenge of construction. Every day was different and there was a new challenge every day,” said Schmidt, who was operating the large construction rigs as much as anybody else.

“I would just take the blueprints, get the crew all assembled and get the job done, and I had a good time doing it,” he said.

“I was working for architects like Arnold Palmer, Ted Robinson, Robert Muir Graves, Peter Jacobsen.”

There were projects almost all the way across the country and a project in California where he was asked to build a replica of Augusta National. With all those projects, Schmidt took to flying in 1974 to get around quickly, first flying a Cessna Cardinal, and then a Mooney, which was much faster.

“I think more than anything else, he loved airplanes,” Lovegren said.

The airplanes made it easier for him to say yes whenever the phone rang.

But he didn’t mind it at all.

“My dad gave me the start,” he said. “He pushed me in the right direction, and I’d do it all over again.”

Paul Ramsdell is the executive director of both the Western Washington Chapter of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America and the Northwest Turfgrass Association.