Fast risers and methodic movers

Departments - Teeing Off

July 31, 2019

We all know, and perhaps envy, the fast risers in our industry.

Fast risers find turf jobs as teenagers, graduate from four-year colleges at age 22, immediately start working for a boss with connections and land dream jobs by their late 20s or early 30s. Most of us – and the people we manage – are not that person.

After being too cheap to spend $28, I waded through a 30-person-deep library waiting list to obtain a copy of David Epstein’s recently released book “Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World.” One of Epstein’s major points should limit career or life loathing: “Don’t feel behind.”

Too many people in all industries, and especially in one filled with highly motivated, educated and prideful professionals, do feel behind. Every fall and winter, assistant superintendents scurry for head jobs and established superintendents seek openings at what their turf buddies might view as more prestigious facilities. Some seek new jobs for understandable reasons – family, increased compensation, change of scenery, enhanced fulfillment. But industry demons abound. Whether it’s originating from a colleague, professor, vendor, an association or somebody on Twitter, a sense of being behind permeates. Feeling behind can lead to poor decisions such as taking the first available head superintendent job, instead of the right one, or prematurely fleeing the industry.

Meeting, interviewing and analyzing fast risers and methodic movers is a fascinating part of this job. Tyler Bloom, whose Sparrows Point team is the subject of the second part of the “Our Major” series (page 28), has demonstrated patience after a rapid rise. He worked at a pair of courses in high school, attended Penn State, served as an intern at three renowned clubs, earned a full-time gig at Oakmont Country Club and spent three years as an assistant at Sunnybrook Golf Club.

He accepted his first superintendent job at Sparrows Point, a 27-hole private facility in an industrial section of Baltimore. A maintenance budget under $1 million forced Bloom to rethink his management practices. Sparrows Point struggled filling open positions, so Bloom extended beyond the specialized world of tournament-level turf to develop a work-study program using Baltimore County Public Schools students. Working at Sparrows Point expanded Bloom’s range and his triumphs could help colleagues expand labor pools.

A few weeks after visiting Bloom, I flew to South Florida for Bayer’s “Focus on Florida” discussion. I landed in Palm Beach for an event in Naples – don’t ask – and darted to Pembroke Pines to see Zach Anderson at Hollybrook Golf and Tennis Club. I met Anderson at the 2014 Green Start Academy program for ambitious assistant superintendents. As fellow Green Start Academy alums received superintendent jobs or left the industry, Anderson spent four more years as an assistant before landing a leadership position at Hollybrook late last year.

In his spare time, Anderson crafted a South Florida-focused agronomic program and standing operating procedures. The documents now guide his short- and long-term decisions. Anderson graduated from Southern Illinois University in 2002. He waited 16 years for a job like the one he holds at Hollybrook, a club with golf-loving members and supportive bosses who encourage a 40-hour workweek.

Architect Brit Stenson is the subject of this month’s Tartan Talks podcast. A University of Virginia landscape architecture major, Stenson didn’t begin desinging new courses until turning 40. The reward for his patience? Opportunities to work alongside Annika Sorenstam, Nick Faldo and other golf greats as IMG’s director of design.

Careers are personalized journeys. Squeezing people into templates hinders an industry enduring a talent shortage. Discouraging methodic movers is a perilous practice.