Global challenges, local demands

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September 8, 2021

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A surge in COVID-related infections, broad and deep labor shortages, and volatile market and supply chain conditions. As every golf course superintendent knows, the challenges facing the U.S. population at large also reach deep into their own ranks.

And as superintendents are also sometimes painfully aware, no one is cutting their profession any slack just because it’s tough out there. It’s the darndest thing: Expectations of employers and golfers are at an all-time high for superior turf and playing conditions and meaningful member experiences.

How do superintendents reckon with these circumstances? How do they meet increasingly arduous expectations, maintain crew morale and pursue the ever-elusive work/life balance? Three respected superintendents and the COO of one of the nation’s most venerable clubs offered their opinions.

Mike Kitchen, general manager and golf course superintendent, Teton Pines Country Club, Jackson Hole, Wyoming

“It really depends on the level of course that you are at as to what may be most important. However, I always tell our interns that the priority is attention to detail supported by advanced powers of observation. Excellent communication and management skills are also essential these days.

“The duties of a golf course superintendent require attention to detail, alertness for changing and evolving circumstances, and the know-how to implement solutions. Agronomic knowledge is assumed to be a capability that superintendents bring to the job.”

Rafael Barajas, superintendent, Boca Grove Golf and Tennis, Boca Raton, Florida

“One must be professional, well-respected by peers and a great communicator, proactive, honest and a quality individual.”

The former GCSAA president ticks off other qualities and characteristics on his list:

“Smart, well-organized, one who understands the business side of the industry and works well with others in achieving the overall goals and standards of the company/club, not just his or her department. You must also be an innovator who stays current with industry standards and adapts to the ever-changing industry.”

Matt Ceplo, superintendent, Rockland Country Club, Sparkhill, New York

“I think sometimes we feel that our industry is unique, but the characteristics that you’re looking for (in a high-achieving superintendent) would be the same as those in any industry – if you want to succeed, that is. You need to be a hard worker, work well with others and be a good listener.”

Then he adds two more characteristics that are rather specific to golf superintendents: “Getting up early and a love for the outdoors are critical.”

Ceplo, a director for Audubon International, says a well-articulated environmental plan should be a part of a superintendent’s program. “A long-range plan for the course provides turf professionals with the tenacity and staying power today’s job requires.”

Frank Cordeiro, COO, Colonial Country Club, Fort Worth, Texas

“Colonial values a professional, someone who is well-respected by their peers and an industry leader. One must be a great communicator, proactive, honest and a quality individual.

“Colonial members – like most golf enthusiasts – have high expectations that their course will provide tournament conditions on an everyday basis. High expectations paired with sophisticated care and upkeep standards require proactive, clear, and easy-to-understand communications from the golf course superintendent. Bear in mind that Colonial members have a ringside seat to see some of the world’s finest players test their skills.”

So, there you have it. All it takes to be a top-performing, highly respected and sought-after golf superintendent is to be a strategic planner who is well-versed in the latest agronomic practices and a great communicator, proactive, innovative, honest and hardworking.

In other words, a pro. And it sure helps if you like to get up early.

Henry DeLozier is a partner at GGA Partners, trusted advisors and thought leaders. He is currently Chairman of the Board of Directors of Audubon International.