Continuing education is an ace in the hole for superintendents who need to stay on top of their games.
Finding time to participate in continuing education opportunities in the 24/7 profession of golf course maintenance is a daunting challenge for even the most dedicated superintendents. But staying abreast of the latest innovations and technology has become a necessity—not an option—in this ever-changing field.
“I think it’s vital to be up-to-date with what’s happening at many different levels. It’s critical to be successful,” says Sean Hoolehan, Certified Golf Course Superintendent at Wildhorse Resort & Casino in Pendleton, Ore., and a former President of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA).
SUMMING IT UP
• Continuing education is a necessity, not an option, for superintendents to keep up with the ever-changing practices in the turf industry.
“When I walk onto my golf course and watch my employees work, there’s very little that’s happening that I didn’t learn about over the course of my continuing education,“ Hoolehan notes.
Growing Beyond the Grass
Golf course maintenance has undergone many changes in the last two or three decades. There have been shifts in the agronomic aspects of the jobs, in areas ranging from water management to pesticide use to environmental stewardship. Demand has also increased for superintendents to stay abreast of general club management issues that extend well beyond the golf course.
Continuing education classes can help them keep up to speed in all of these areas, with the GCSAA and other professional organizations doing their part to make professional development easier for superintendents by offering classes on a wide range of topics not only in various locations, but in various ways.
“Superintendents have always been good stewards of what is placed in their trust, but now we’re able to do our jobs much better with modern technology. Irrigation practices have changed dramatically, and pesticides have higher safety factors than they did 20 years ago,” says Bob Randquist, CGCS, Director of Golf Course and Grounds at Boca Rio Golf Club in Boca Raton, Fla.
Randquist, who also serves as the current GCSAA Secretary/Treasurer, uses 40 percent less water now than he did 15 years ago. He credits this efficiency to computerized irrigation systems and the continuing education classes that have taught him how to update his water management practices.
“The broader your education becomes, the better you are at your job,” he reveals. “I integrate the skills I have learned over the course of my career constantly and the more I learn, the better I do.”
|The Experience at FarmLinks collaborates with three industry partners—equipment, chemical and fertilizer companies—to offer a two-and-a-half-day educational program to turf professionals.|
Hoolehan also finds that continuing education helps him use his computerized irrigation system more efficiently. “My instincts were pretty good, but my ability to manage it has improved,” he reports. “I can change everything quickly from my office, instead of riding around the course.”
Dwayne Dillinger, CGCS at Bell Nob Golf Course in Gillette, Wyo., says continuing education is also vital to not only keep up with the rapidly changing technology in the turf industry, but also to sharpen his managerial skills. “There are always new environmental products and theories coming on or off the market,” he says. “Additionally, we don’t tend to get a lot of practical experience in school in terms of people management and organization.”
Randquist agrees that programs that include more offerings in the business aspects of the profession are especially helpful. “There’s no question it helps me operate more efficiently, especially some of the management classes I’ve had,” he says. “If you’re more competent, you do a better job and manage your resources in a better fashion.”
|“Superintendents not only provide enjoyment for the game of golf, they’re the key to the economic viability of their courses.” —Mark Woodward, GCSAA Chief Executive Officer|
The Pinnacle of the Profession
Superintendents who voluntarily meet the GCSAA’s stringent requirements for superior levels of achievement in golf course management can attain the designation of Certified Golf Course Superintendent (CGCS).
“It’s the highest level of recognition they can reach in the industry,” says Penny Mitchell, the GCSAA’s Senior Manager of Certification. “Those who achieve this certification are able to position themselves with their employers as very serious about their jobs. In turn, employers know that they have someone on board who is committed to their facility.”
By the Numbers
9,964 GCSAA Class A and Superintendent Members
Currently, about 25 percent of GCSAA’s more than 5,800 Class A members (head superintendents with at least three years of working experience) are certified. The rigorous, time-consuming process is not for the faint of heart. The program encourages superintendents to begin preparing for certification early in their careers, by self-assessing their competencies and devising a plan for continuing education. A skills assessment program is available to produce a “gap analysis” that tells superintendents where they are and where they should be to achieve certification.
Eligibility requirements for the program, which recently celebrated its 30th anniversary, vary according to a superintendent’s education level and years of experience. To become certified, superintendents must have their competencies validated with three different assessment methods—a portfolio that includes work samples, skill statements and case studies; a closed-book, multiple-choice exam; and an evaluation of the superintendent’s golf course facility, conducted by two certified superintendents appointed by a superintendent’s local chapter. The exam and evaluation must be completed within a year of when a superintendent’s application to the program is approved.
Mark Woodward, the GCSAA’s Chief Executive Officer, says certification offers advantages to superintendents, including professional growth and personal satisfaction, higher salaries, and an understanding of the latest technology, research and innovations. A superintendent’s certification ultimately benefits his property as well, he adds.
“Employers recognize it as a benefit because they see [superintendents are] interested in improving themselves, and that’s going to translate into better conditions on the golf course,” Woodward notes.
“Playing conditions will only continue to improve as the superintendents’ knowledge of agronomic technology and practices grows,” agrees Randquist. “Greens will be smoother and firmer, and fairways and roughs will in much better playing condition.”
Dillinger says he makes it a point to share information he gains at educational seminars—such as cost-saving measures, ways to improve playing conditions, and tools to help him run a better operations—with other employees upon his return.
|Bob Randquist, CGCS, Director of Golf Course and Grounds at Boca Rio Golf Club (above), credits much of his 40 percent reduction of water use to continuing education on technology and efficient practices.|
An Ongoing Learning Process
Certified superintendents can’t sit back and rest on their laurels. They must earn 15 education points every five years to renew their certification, Mitchell explains. The program covers a wide range of competencies, including agronomy, environmental management, business skills, communication and leadership. Approved classes are assigned a certain number of continuing education unit (CEU) points.
“Superintendents tend to love agronomy, so they migrate toward these classes,” Mitchell reports. “But in certification it is most beneficial to them in the long run to push out of their comfort zones.”
The program, which undergoes periodic evaluations to stay relevant in the industry and was last updated in 2004, is in the process of being reviewed again; Mitchell expects the reevaluation to be completed in November.
While the GCSAA offers more than 100 different types of classes, adds Woodward, the continuing education curriculum needs to increase its emphasis on the business side of the industry.
“Superintendents not only provide enjoyment for the game of golf, they’re the key to the economic viability of their courses,” he explains. “The day-to-day job of a superintendent is becoming more challenging because of the economic situation, but the golfers’ expectations are pretty much staying the same.”
More than ever, superintendents now need to be knowledgeable about other departments at a facility, Hoolehan adds. “They need to be aware of how many golfers are playing, and what the balance sheet looks like,” he says. “They need to be able to communicate with the other managers. And it’s really important for the superintendent to be involved in marketing. To be successful today in a tight economy, you need to offer your club the complete manager package.”
|Casey Cleghorn, a FarmLinks Experience Manager, educates turf professionals about new, innovative products that might not yet be on the market.|
To help them stay on top of the learning curve, superintendents now have a number of professional development tools and methods at their disposal. The GCSAA offers seminars, live and on-demand Webcasts, online courses and self-study opportunities.
“One of the things we do best at the GCSAA is help educate our members and keep them current on issues of golf course management,” reports Woodward. “They take a lot of classes in a variety of different ways. Superintendents, in fact, are some of the best-educated employees on the golf course.”
While certain in-depth subjects are not suitable for online education, Hoolehan says, topics such as regulatory compliance, growth regulators, wetting agents, new products. and how to use Excel lend themselves well to this form of instruction.
Sometimes, however, face-to-face sessions are the most effective. Traditional classes are available through local and state GCSAA chapters, the annual Golf Industry Show (GIS), industry partners, educational institutions and government entities.
“The classes themselves are important because of the interaction with other people that you don’t necessarily get online,” notes Dillinger.
Hoolehan and Dillinger each try to take two or three regional seminars a year. “I’ll take more if they’re closer and inexpensive,” reports Hoolehan. “The more our chapters can bring in quality topics and speakers, the more we can broaden our education base without breaking the bank on travel.” Local seminars can also be more tailored to the needs of a specific region, he notes.
Dillinger attends the GIS each year, as well as the spring and fall meetings of his local GCSAA. He also takes courses from industry suppliers and computer classes at nearby Gillette Community College. “You need it all if you’re going to be successful,” he believes.
Generally, superintendents say, employers are willing to cover the costs of continuing education classes. But Hoolehan adds, “I would never ask my employer to pay for me to attend a class or program or educational seminar or training that wasn’t worth the money.” He also recommends that superintendents “be prepared to show evidence and communicate to [your] facility what you’ve learned.”
In addition, attendance should be scheduled around the best interests of a property. “The majority of education happens during the off-season, and every area has an off-season,” Hoolehan says. “But it’s not just going to seminars; it’s also reading the periodicals that come across your desk.”
|Mark Langner, CGCS, FarmLinks Director of Agronomy and Applied Research, takes students onto the golf course to bring classroom lectures to life.|
A Living Link
The Experience at FarmLinks, LLC, a research and demonstration facility in Sylacauga, Ala., provides a one-of-a-kind, hands-on learning opportunity for superintendents (see “Lessons from Down on the Farm,” C&RB, April 2006).
FarmLinks collaborates with three industry partners—equipment, chemical and fertilizer companies—to offer an intensive, two-and-a-half-day educational program to turf pros from around the world. The property includes an 18-hole golf course, education building and guest accommodations. Since August 2008, superintendents have been able to earn 0.75 CEUs for the sessions, which include a course tour and presentation on fertilizer technologies.
“We have lots of varieties of grass that we manage and take care of,” notes Mark Langner, CGCS, and the FarmLinks Director of Agronomy and Applied Research. “We actually run some of the different pieces of equipment. We don’t just talk about agronomy in the classroom—we get out in the field.”
Casey Cleghorn, a FarmLinks Experience Manager who helps to host the 15 or 16 people at each session, says participants fill out a pre-visit survey on the types of grasses at their properties. “We tailor our program to their needs and concerns,” he notes. The program also offers turf professionals the opportunity to learn about new, innovative products that might not yet be on the market, Cleghorn adds.
Perhaps most importantly, Langner says, the FarmLinks sessions—which include time to fish and play golf—allow attendees to learn from each other. “When you take a little step away from your facility and see another facility and how they do things, it gives you some ideas,” he reveals.
Spreading the Wealth of Knowledge
Superintendents believe continuing education is just as important for other members of the maintenance staff. While some golf course employees, such as an irrigation technician, are specialists in their fields, assistant superintendents need to be cross-trained in all aspects of course management. “Your assistant definitely needs to be able to step in your shoes when you’re not there,” notes Hoolehan.
A superintendent’s abilities and expertise matter to the golfers at a property as well, he adds. “It gives people a sense of security knowing there’s a qualified individual taking care of the golf course,” he says. “Most people don’t realize what a benefit the golf course is to the environment around them. In a city, in fact, a golf course might be the only open green space. But it’s up to superintendents to properly manage pesticides, employees, and water so the property becomes an oasis to the animals, birds and pollinators that live at the course.”
And a superintendent’s continuing education can also give golfers more confidence in their facility and the industry as a whole. “Maybe they’ll be willing to stand up and say, ‘Hey, golf courses are pretty good,’ ” Hoolehan adds.