The Conversation

Columns - Parting Shots

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April 12, 2018
Pat Jones

“Uh… Mr. Jones, can I ask you a question?”

Thus begins many of the conversations I have with young turf professionals when I’m out speaking to a chapter or attending a conference. It’s one of the great joys of my life to talk with newbies about their careers and their dreams. But, sometimes I wish they’d ask different questions. Here’s that conversation.

Me: “Of course. And please don’t call me Mr. Jones. My name is Pat and I feel old enough without that crap.”

Young Turf Pro: “Oh sorry…Mr. Pat. But I was just wondering what advice you’d give me about my career?”

Me: “You’re never gonna get rich but if you’re passionate about the lifestyle you’ll probably be happy.”

YTP: “Wait…what? What do you mean by lifestyle?”

Me: “Being an accountant is a career. Being a superintendent is a lifestyle. Pretty much every aspect of your world will revolve around your course and the culture of the profession. It’s immersive.”

YTP: “Okay, you also said I won’t get rich but I have $90,000 in student loan debt from my 4-year turf degree. How am I going to pay that back?”

Me: “Lottery tickets? No, seriously, there are still good-paying jobs out there but you have to be realistic. There are 15,000 golf courses in the U.S. but probably only 5,000 or so that genuinely treat their superintendent like a professional and compensate them appropriately. You need to find a track towards a job at one of those facilities. Otherwise 15 years from now you’ll be stuck at some mom-and-pop course making $47,000 a year with crappy benefits and barely functional equipment.”

YTP: “So how do I get a good job’?”

Me: “Network the crap out of the people who have them now. Figure out who the top 10-15 supers are in your area, email them or call them and ask them good questions. Create a relationship. Go to as many local chapter meetings as you can. Remember, this is a who-you-know business.”

YTP: “I’ve been doing some of that but haven’t had any luck yet. What should I do?”

Me: “Well, remember that probably half of those 5,000 jobs are held by old farts like me and many of them are going to be retiring – voluntarily or involuntarily – over the next 5 years or so as the Baby Boomers age out. I know you don’t want to hear this but be patient and keep networking.”

YTP: “What else have you learned in your career that I should consider?”

Me: “Avoid drinking vodka straight out of the bottle at 7:30 a.m.”

YTP: (stares at me goggle-eyed)

Me: “Sorry…I figured you knew I am a recovering alcoholic. I guess my point would be don’t try to self-medicate your problems with drugs or booze. This can be a very stressful business because, ultimately, you can’t control Mother Nature. I’ve found over the years that a lot of superintendents are OCD and can get really get wrapped up in worrying constantly. Try to find healthy outlets for anxiety now before you develop bad habits later.”

YTP: “Anxiety?”

Me: “Yup…everyone feels it to some extent. And some people have it so bad it’s crippling. They tend to “catastrophize” everything. Kind of like Chicken Little thinking the sky is falling. For a lot of folks like me, coping with that “death spiral” feeling and simply living in the present are incredibly important.”

YTP: “My girlfriend helps to keep my head on straight. She’s awesome.”

Me: “If your serious about her, make sure to introduce her to some veteran turf wives so she can understand what the hell she’s getting into. She needs to buy into this career as much or more than you do. Marriages suffer in this profession unless your spouse comes in with eyes wide open and a clear understanding that there are times your big green mistress will come first.”

YTP: “Big green mistress. That’s funny.”

Me: “Yeah I get paid for coming up with crap like that.”

YTP: “What else should I know?”

Me: “Don’t pick a job, pick a boss. You could luck out and get hired at a Top 50 club and have to report to some miserable son of a bitch who has totally different priorities than you. That might be a GM, an owner or even a club leader. Make sure you don’t get too excited about taking a job until you know how you’re going to get along with the person who signs your checks.”

YTP: “Thank you for all the great advice sir! Can I use you as a reference?”

Me: “Damned right…and don’t call me sir.

Pat Jones is editorial director and publisher of Golf Course Industry. He can be reached at pjones@gie.net or 216-393-0253.