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The man behind the range

Alexandria's Bernie Gahlon cleans a bucket full of balls on Thursday afternoon. Gahlon says the Resorters participants will hit almost 60,000 golf balls on the range during the tournament. He’ll then gather and clean them before they are ready for use again. (Eric Morken | Echo Press)

Golfers start trickling onto the driving range at the Alexandria Golf Club about the time the sun comes up most mornings during the Resorters Golf Tournament that took place last week.

Bernie Gahlon doesn't beat them there, but he's only about an hour behind.

"First thing, I clean up the range," he said from the garage just east of the driving range on Aug. 3. "Pick the pails up and make sure the garbage is picked up out there so everything looks good. The golfers are out here at about 6. I come at about 7. That's a long enough day."

Gahlon was on his way to fill in divots. He's 74, and his primary task is making sure the range is in top shape. He picks up the balls and washes them by feeding them through a machine that scrubs them down and spits them back out into five-gallon buckets. He's also responsible for taking care of the water jugs that are placed around the course for the golfers.

"I love it," Gahlon said of his job. "It's my responsibility to move the ropes back every day so they have a fresh turf to hit off of. I trim it every other day. I cut the grass so it's like the fairways. That's what we want."

Gahlon is a retired dairy farmer who has worked at AGC for eight years on a part-time basis in the summer months. He works about 30 hours during a normal week, but the seven days of the Resorters Tournament doesn't amount to a normal week.

Hundreds of golfers firing shots at the range mean he's out at the course about 60 hours. Gahlon says participants will hit around 60,000 balls on the driving range during the tournament that he'll gather and clean. He generally leaves between 5 and 5:30 p.m. with just a half an hour break in between there for lunch with his wife who comes to eat with him.

"He never takes a shortcut," AGC Superintendent Donnacha O'Connor said. "We have trust in him that when he does things like the water jugs, that's a very sensitive thing, people are drinking that water. It's always executed to such a high degree. That's the kind of person you want to have here when everyone else is gone."

The storage area where those water jugs are kept is perfectly clean from the floors to the shelves the jugs sit on. All are sanitized and neatly organized before they're filled with ice water and placed out on the course again.

"On the dairy farm, everything has to be perfect because you're selling your milk to the public," Gahlon said. "My feeling is I want to go to the store and drink the milk, smear the butter, eat the cheese. This is my room here that has to stay perfect."

That's the kind of thinking that the maintenance crew has out at AGC leading up to this tournament. They know it's one of the biggest weeks of the summer for them.

"Bernie is one of many that makes things flow," O'Connor said. "The spotlight shines on me a little bit in terms of being the face of the operation, but he's kind of the typical behind the scenes guy. There's lots of people like that here."

Gahlon even goes the extra mile when cleaning the range balls by adding a little Clorox to the water they run through so they're sanitized.

He knew from the time he retired that he couldn't just sit around. This job and this week keep him on his feet, and he wouldn't have it any other way.

"It's healthy," he said. "I love it."

Eric Morken

Eric Morken is the sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press and Osakis Review newspapers in Douglas County, MN. Follow him on Twitter at echo_sports.

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