More golf course superintendents are learning how to enhance their properties while also gaining traction on their own career paths by taking full advantage of the continuing-education opportunities that are tailored to their profession.
With an agronomy degree from any number of outstanding turf schools around the country, golf course superintendents can build a solid foundation for their careers. In an ever-changing field, however, the need to continue their education is constant. Fortunately, through the Golf Course Superintendents Assocation of America (GCSAA) and other resources, a variety of ways are available to help superintendents further their professional development, and more are getting support from their properties to take advantage of all of the opportunities now at hand.
According to Tommy Witt, CGCS, Director of Golf Course Operations at Northmoor Country Club in Highland Park, Ill., and a Past President of the GCSAA, less than 2 percent of superintendents are still in the business at age 60.
“What are you going to do to stay employable?” asks Witt, a 38-year industry veteran. “Ninety-eight percent of superintendents can’t coast. When you become comfortable, it’s easy to get left behind.”
SOUND CAREER ADVICE
One of the best ways for superintendents to increase their professional staying power and keep up to date with the latest industry trends is to take advantage of the presentations at the annual Golf Industry Show (GIS). This year the GIS will be held January 25-30 in Orlando, Fla. (see pgs. 48-54) and topics to be discussed during the show’s continuing-education sessions will range from agronomy-related subjects to personal growth.
“Continuing education is vital to the superintendent, assistants, and equipment managers, to ensure they stay abreast of best-management practices, new innovations, and cutting-edge technologies,” says Shari Koehler, GCSAA’s Director, Professional Development. “In addition to continuing education, GCSAA provides a certification program for superintendents, and certificate programs for assistants and equipment managers. Through these programs, individuals can demonstrate their knowledge to their current or future employer.”
At the upcoming GIS, Witt will lead a two-hour seminar called, “Life Hack: How to Evaluate Career Opportunities.”
“Most of my seminars are not related to agronomics,” says Witt, who has spoken at conferences and turf schools for the past 30 years. “But I talk about negotiations, communication, preparing for annual reviews, and evaluating career opportunities.”
Because the average individual in the course-maintenance profession changes jobs three to five times or more in their professional lifetime, Witt notes, his GIS presentation will help superintendents realistically and honestly evaluate employment offers and determine how different opportunities can affect their careers. For instance, he says, before accepting a new position, superintendents should ascertain if a job would be a step up or a lateral move.
Before accepting a new post, he adds, superintendents should consider factors such as the reputation of a facility, its membership, and its general manager; the longevity of former superintendents at the property; the value of employment agreements; and if strong relationships can be developed with the golf pro and greens-committee chairman. On a personal level, he adds, they should research the cost of living if moving to a new area, and understand the effect a move will have on their families.
“I try to offer or share information or things that are typically out of the norm for superintendent curriculums,” Witt says. “Leadership is also one of my huge interests. There’s a difference between those who manage, and those who truly lead.”
ESCAPING THE COMFORT ZONE
In his “Get Uncomfortable” presentation at GIS, John Cunningham, CGCS, the General Manager of Aronimink Golf Club in Newtown Square, Pa., will also highlight personal growth. After all, he is a shining example of practicing what he preaches.
A Certified Golf Course Superintendent since 2003, Cunningham spent 20-plus years as a superintendent at the Black Diamond Ranch in Lecanto Fla.; the Four Seasons Resort and Club in Dallas, where he oversaw a $2.3 million renovation and rebranding of the TPC at Los Colinas golf course; and at Bellerive Country Club at St. Louis, Mo.
He started the transition to a general manager’s position at Bellerive when he helped to develop standards for the property during the winter months. He became an assistant general manager at the facility before accepting the top job at Aronimink more than two years ago.
In his presentation, Cunningham will discuss why people stay in their comfort zone—and why it is important to get out of it. He’ll also highlight how real-life growth experiences can come from uncomfortable scenarios, and how to embrace the positive outcomes that can result from feeling uncomfortable.
“People are a little uncomfortable hearing it, but [adopting those attitudes] has really served me well throughout my career,” notes Cunningham. “That’s what has led to my [personal career] growth.
“The basis of it is to get people to think about why they’re so habitual and stay in the box,” he explains. “It doesn’t matter what you want to do with your career. You should continue to reinvent yourself and get uncomfortable. Personal growth applies to any position.”
Cunningham will also collaborate at the GIS with Patrick Finlen, CGCS—General Manager of The Olympic Club in San Francisco, and a GCSAA Past President from when he was Olympic’s Superintendent— on a “Lead Your Team” presentation. In this interactive seminar, Cunningham and Finlen will share the effective leadership skills that superintendents can bring to their golf courses to energize their organizations, and—to raise their profiles and be seen as potential managers—show them how to: identify and develop strong leadership qualities; determine the traits they need to enhance their leadership abilities; and implement improvements to their workplace cultures and environments.
Back to the Roots
By their nature, superintendents are more inclined to want to take classes and learn more about aerification and fungicides than personal growth. Acknowledging that, the GIS will also offer plenty of seminars on agronomic topics.
Matt Gourlay, CGCS, MG, Director of Golf Course Operations at Colbert Hills Golf Course in Manhattan, Kan., will give three talks about golf course maintenance practices at the GIS in Orlando.
Along with John Bladon, Director and COO of Turf Prophit and The Chimera Group in Ontario, Canada, Gourlay will present “Economy vs. Agronomy—What is Sustainable?” to help superintendents achieve playability within a budget, and to teach them to drive and embrace change that brings sustainability into focus. The presentation will offer real-world examples to minimize any biases superintendents may have developed over time; help them learn to prioritize data and integrate sustainable practices into their operations; reduce risks to the golf course asset and business; and identify efficiencies that provide value to a facility.
Gourlay will also moderate a panel discussion for assistant superintendents, “So, You Want to Be a Golf Course Superintendent—But Where?” The panelists will include Andrew Wilson, Director of Agronomy, Bethpage State Park, Farmingdale, N.Y.; Carlos Arraya, CGCS, Bellerive Country Club; and Alex Stuedemann, CGCS, Director of Golf Course Maintenance Operations, TPC Deere Run, East Moline, Ill.
The discussion will be designed to help assistant superintendents target future job opportunities by identifying the management structure—municipality, private property, or management company—that fits them best, and to determine the skill sets that each organizational structure values most.
In the “Lightning Round Learning” portion of the conference, Gourlay, who has worked at Colbert Hills for 17 years, including 12 as superintendent, will discuss prescribed burns in “Let It Burn.”
Other Courses of Action
While the annual Golf Industry Show that’s held in January or February each year is an invaluable resource for superintendents’ professional development, it’s literally just the start of countless other opportunities that those in course management can find through the remaining months, to continue expanding their knowledge base and enhance their personal development. By taking online classes, attending local, regional, and international conferences, using social media to learn from peers’ Facebook posts and Instagram photos, and taking classes from manufacturers and suppliers, there’s an endless source of constant opportunities to learn more about all aspects of the profession.
Another good way to stay current with the latest techniques in course and grounds management, and to expand a professional network, is to provide tournament support at other clubs’ golf courses. “Volunteerism is part of continuing education,” says Witt. Northmoor has been the site of LPGA events, U.S. Open qualifiers, and state championships, and Witt has volunteered at tournaments at other properties as well. This experience, where the activities of 100 to 120 volunteers had to be coordinated on a daily basis, has taught him valuable organizational skills, he says.
“It’s a good way to see different practices and to develop relationships with your peers,” adds Cunningham, who has also worked at facilities that have held major PGA Tour events and volunteered for tournaments at other properties.
Gourlay has provided tournament support at a PGA Championship and a local Korn Ferry (formerly Web.com) Tour event. By working at golf tournaments at other properties, he says, he supports fellow superintendents, helps them with course setup, sees how they run their operations, observes their agronomic practices, and watches how they interact with members. “I can get the best and brightest ideas,” he says.
Putting It All In Play
Classroom time and other forms of continuing learning will have little benefit, however, if superintendents do not put their newly acquired skills or information into practice to adapt in an ever-evolving industry.
“The skill sets that superintendents need today differ greatly from 10, 15 or 30 years ago,” Witt says. “Today, golf course superintendents need to be good financial managers. They have to be good recruiters, because labor is so hard to find. And they have to be good at social media.”
A strong grasp of these skills will benefit superintendents, along with their properties, and make them more employable, he adds. “There’s always going to be competition to obtain and retain jobs,” notes Witt. “For mid-level jobs, it’s not uncommon for there to be 100 resumes or more for any job that’s advertised. You can double or triple that number for premier jobs at the highest-paying, most-recognized golf facilities that host PGA Tour events and majors.”
That puts a premium on applying the knowledge and techniques gained through seminars and other resources to produce tangible benefits for superintendents’ current properties. “If you can bring the ideas back to your facility to enhance it and yourself personally, your employers are going to notice and retain you,” says Gourlay.
The best way for superintendents to maximize their continuing-education efforts is to take the information they learn and “put it into play,” Cunningham affirms. “Superintendents are so busy taking care of golf courses, they don’t take care of themselves,” he says. “It’s important to continue to invest in yourself.” C+RB