GUEST COLUMN: The career assistant superintendent

GUEST COLUMN: The career assistant superintendent

Is there such a position?

August 2, 2010

It is a tough time to be an assistant superintendent of a golf course in the present job market and economy.  It seems to me that if you are fortunate enough to have a job right now, you are holding on to it and riding out this ugly wave. 

During the middle 1990’s to the early 2000’s construction of new Colorado golf courses was booming.  Golf courses could not go up fast enough.  In the Rocky Mountain Golf Course Superintendent Association news letter, there was a monthly article termed, “On the Move”.  It listed people who accepted new positions in the area.  I liked looking at it to read about folks moving from place to place and learning about new courses being built.  Presently, not much moving around is occurring so the article has been dropped.

An extremely slow drip of available superintendent jobs out there is making me really look at the position I am currently holding.  The career goal I have shared with most other assistant superintendents is to some day hold a head superintendent position.  What wrestles around in my head is, if that goal is not attained, would I be satisfied with remaining where I am at?  The answer slides daily between “yes” and “no”.  I feel like Brett Farve sometimes.  I have to weigh the options considering what is right for me and my family.  Being an older assistant superintendent, I have to choose a position and location that would fit all of us. 

My current position is Assistant Superintendent of Patty Jewett Golf Course in the City of Colorado Springs.  Patrick Gentile CGCS, the superintendent, gives me and trusts me with a lot of reasonability.  I learn a considerable amount everyday from him.  We make improvements to the golf course every year from bunker renovation, to concrete cart paths, new tee boxes and this year a new irrigation lake.  Twenty seven holes is also a nice challenge.  Colorado Springs is a great city to live in.  My job has good benefits and retirement.  Why leave?

I started in the golf industry 14 years ago with whole-hearted intention of running my own golf course someday.  Now, while I am considering trying to move to a superintendent position, it does not seem as easy to attain. I would be willing to relocate but it would have to be the right fit for my entire family, in a town and region we all agreed upon.  Looking back, I wish I had moved around after college, traveling to get a taste of all aspects of the golf industry from warm to cool season turf.  It might have made my current decisions easier, who, what, and where might I want to work.

Thirty years ago the title of assistant superintendent did not exist.  It is believed that Winged Foot Golf Course was the first to even have an assistant superintendent.  In just thirty years time, the assistant superintendent position has come a long way.  Imagine the role assistants will be playing in the golf industry thirty years from now.  The absence of the assistant thirty years ago, made me think about other careers outside of the golf field.  Most people never even have a realistic dream of making it all the way to the top.  It is common for young golf course workers to eventually gain a superintendent position, even if it is based on who they know, and the region in which they live in.  I wonder sometimes why clubs even post jobs nationally when nine times out of ten they hire from within or the same region. 

Everybody’s goals and the location you’re willing to live is different.  If you are an assistant superintendent at a club with an all around good benefits package and a superintendent that challenges you, what is the point of relocating or moving up.  For kids fresh out of college, do not just look at Top 100 courses, look at the entire package that a course has to offer.  Ask older superintendents if they had to do it all over again would the take the same road.  The golf industry is a very competitive field with lots of talented people to choose from, get all you can out of the place you are working for because they demand the same out of you.

I have known a couple of assistant superintendents who took their first head job and found out it was not good match for them.  That is why it is so important to have a mentor superintendent.  Ask that person a million questions.  Not only what they do on the job, but when they leave work, what responsibilities they still have.  How often are they coming back to the course after hours to check on greens, irrigation program, or the flooded clubhouse?  And ask yourself are you willing to do all those tasks and is your family willing to endure the same?

In my opinion, considering a superintendent position is the right move for some but not for others.  Which category am I in?  I need to talk with Brett Farve before I can let you know.

About the author
Jeff Wichman is assistant superintendent of Patty Jewett Golf Course in the City of Colorado Springs.