New manager, familiar face

Although he has just started as manager and club pro at Barron’s Rolling Oaks Golf Course, Jon Yamada is a local native who estimates he has played “thousands of rounds” at the 18-hole course. Photo by Bob Zientara

After leaving his hometown for a job in Iowa 14 years ago, professional golfer and course manager Jon Yamada has been gradually moving back toward Barron.

He worked at the prestigious Glen Oaks Country Club, in West Des Moines, until 2011, gaining valuable experience while working with the PGA Championship Tour.

He then moved on to the Mason City, Iowa, Country Club, serving as assistant golf pro for parts of the next five years, until personal and economic issues persuaded him to look elsewhere.

In 2016, he was hired to help manage a pair of Eau Claire courses, Wild Ridge and Mill Run. He had some personal connections with staff members at both courses.

“I didn’t even have to interview,” Yamada said Monday, March 29, 2021, as he sat at his desk in the clubhouse of Rolling Oaks Golf Course, where he’s just started a new job as clubhouse manager, golf pro and a staff professional for Callaway Golf, the well-known manufacturer of clubs and equipment that will also be offered for sale at Barron.

The five years he spent working under the tutelage of PGA Golf Professional Jim Buyze (pronounced “buzzy”), at Eau Claire, has prepared him well for his new job, Yamada added.

“I learned so much from him about inventory, and how to be successful with (a golf) operation,” he said. “Jim took the extra time to show me some things about the job.”

By the time the Rolling Oaks Golf Board hired him in February 2021, Yamada was virtually in charge of day-to-day operations at Mill Run.

“Jim trusted me to do things at Mill Run without his help,” he said. “Last week, he said he missed me, and that was gratifying.”

Yamada said he’s excited to bring changes to Rolling Oaks, and that he hopes his experience will have a visible impact.

“It’s not like I’m 25, right out of college,” he said. “Now, I’m 40 and was looking for something that offers longevity. When I was offered this opportunity, I thought, why not give this a chance? If they say they’re serious about proving Rolling Oaks can rank with the best courses in the area, then we need to offer clubs, apparel, and to let people know there’s professional staff here—not just a golf pro but a fully furnished operation.”

Yamada added a pair of large, flat-screen TVs to the Rolling Oaks clubhouse, a move he said was meant to “make better esthetics and atmosphere without looking like we’re overly important.

“But, we don’t want to be average,” he added. “We want people to enjoy the product, to make a day of it after they play a round. We’re bigger than 9 holes and then you leave.”

Still, Rolling Oaks is a work in progress, Yamada admitted. A large-scale improvement to the No. 16 green is mostly complete, but more work needs to be done, he said. There’s still some remaining evidence of the July 2019 windstorm that devastated the course (and the surrounding area).

“It’s going to be a lot of work, but we want to make the commitment that, when we’re finished, Rolling Oaks is going to be in the same discussion as Turtleback and Wild Ridges,” he said.