Volunteering: Think years in advance

Volunteering: Think years in advance

Tournament experience is great. But John Kaminski explains why it’s important to glance well ahead of the big event when building a career.

October 17, 2016
Career John Kaminski Top Stories
My students recently returned from their Senior Trip to volunteer at the Tour Championship (sending a big thank you to Ralph Kepple and his entire staff for allowing us to be a part of that great event for the second year in a row). After our week of volunteering, I also had the opportunity to watch an amazing job by Chris Tritabaugh and his volunteers at the Ryder Cup and ALSO on social media.

Volunteering at any tournament can be a great experience for anyone in the industry. It shows a commitment to helping another peer, an interest in being a part of high level and high stress situations, and can help to build upon an individual’s experience and therefore improve your resume.

My students are now back in session and hunting for 2017 internships. While there’s the usual, “I want to go to a Top 100 course,” and “I want to work a U.S. Open,” I try to get them thinking about what they’re going to get out of their internships and how that can influence their careers moving forward.

Setting up a five-year plan is critical when strategically trying to figure out the quickest way to reach your goal of becoming a superintendent. This is where I start to put pressure on them to think logically about their internships. While not all students are interested in or have the ambition to host a U.S. Open, there may be a reason why working at a future tournament site can be valuable – construction experience.

I don’t frown upon students wanting to work at a course the year they have a tournament, but I also don’t think that the timing lends itself to the best experience in some cases. Having said that, checking out future locations for big events and targeting those sites can be a huge advantage.

Construction experience
The major construction projects put into place at any golf course hosting a major event happens several years in advance. Greens may be rebuilt, fairways narrowed, new tees constructed to add length, trees removed, etc. These are usually done two to four years in advance. That’s where interning at those clubs can result in a truly educational experience for a student.

If you think about some of the major events that have happened recently, you can’t help but notice some of these changes. Merion built new tees and narrowed fairways, Congressional rebuilt their greens, and Winged Foot took down a ton of trees and rebuilt their greens.

Setting up for a return
After a successful stint a club preparing for a future tournament, the student – if they’ve worked hard and impressed the superintendent – likely will have the opportunity to return to the course as a full-time employee. That may be two to three years in advance of the tournament. During that period, they have the ability to show their leadership and work their way up the ladder. Even if they’re not in a high ranking position, they’re still going to be heavily leaned upon during the event.

A mass exodus
What happens to the assistants and other leaders after a major event? They get the heck out if they can. Many assistants put their time into the course in preparation of and during the event, and then start looking for their big shot as a superintendent themselves. They are striking when the iron is hot.

This can often result in upward mobility for those employees lower on the food chain. So a well thought out schedule may result in a recent graduate going from intern to AIT to assistant in a relatively short period of three to four years.

We don’t host a tournament
I know what happens when people read this. It’s an immediate, “Kaminski only looks at courses hosting major events for his student.” You can put that to rest as I don’t really drive the search for internships. It’s the students’ responsibility to find out what they’re looking for in an internship. Just because you’re not hosting a tournament doesn’t mean that you’re not doing construction projects.

Promote your construction
While there are not a lot of golf courses being built these days, there are a lot of courses going through restorations or renovations. This represents a unique opportunity for any young individual wanting to learn the difficulties of planning and implementing a construction project.

As a superintendent, you have a tremendous opportunity to recruit young people in a competitive job market where finding employees isn’t easy. Set yourself apart by getting interns and your employees involved in all aspects of a construction project. Even if the construction isn’t being done “in house,” that doesn’t mean your employees won’t learn a lot about the process.

In the end, young people like the idea of working a tournament or getting that experience. In my opinion, volunteering for a week is a great networking opportunity for up and coming superintendents. The experience gained working on a course preparing for a future event, however, is a much more valuable experience and should be taken advantage of more. Those individuals thinking about building a career will realize this. Those individuals looking to only build a resume won’t and there’s a big difference between the two.

John E. Kaminski, Ph.D. is an associate professor, Turfgrass Science, and director of the Golf Course Turfgrass Management Program at Penn State University. You can reach him at kaminski@psu.edu.