“We work in a career where we watch grass grow for a living. We can be patient. Take time to think.”
Grant Murphy is 1,285 miles from his Barrie, Ontario office, speaking with 19 assistant superintendents in a rectangular open space at the end of the hallway housing indoor offices for scientists overseeing an American research facility operated by a German-headquartered company.
His enthusiasm and easily processed words, including phrases such as the one above, are keeping the post-lunch audience engaged. The audience on this pleasant October day resembles the group he spoke with around the same time last year. Just a year ago, Murphy was competing for the same opportunities as Green Start Academy attendees, a select group of assistant superintendents who annually flock to Raleigh, North Carolina to learn from a panel of industry leaders. Of the eight panelists involved in this year’s program, Murphy brought the most relatable story to the Triangle.
A planned three-year detour to strengthen his résumé extended into a 16th season at the same course. Murphy ascended to the associate superintendent position at The National Golf Club of Canada. The job was a good one. He worked for a well-respected boss at a club as prestigious as the name suggests. If you’re going to spend prime years in the golf industry in an associate position – a title reserved for somebody with leadership qualifications – you can do much worse than working for Chris Dew at The National.
Murphy, who held two head superintendent positions before turning 35, wanted to work at The National because “I had never worked for a high-end superintendent and my confidence level was iffy.” Three years and advance. But three years turned into four. Around his seventh or eighth year at The National, Murphy, in his early 40s at the time, had a serious career conversation with his wife. “I said, ‘Maybe we should consider that I might be here for forever. What do we do about that?’”
Dew rewarded Murphy for his loyalty and expertise. Murphy received more control over his schedule, helping him juggle raising a family with the demands of the job. Few head superintendent jobs in the region offered the benefits Murphy earned at The National. Patience has its perks; most notably, it prevents an associate or assistant from leaving a job in a strong system for a head position at a failing or fractured club. “Being in over your head doesn’t lend to any longevity,” Murphy says.
Earlier this year, Murphy became a head superintendent again. He accepted a job at 106-year-old Barrie Country Club, a private club 70 miles north of downtown Toronto. The job brought him closer to his family. The club rests just 10 minutes from his home.
Obtaining a desirable head job required Murphy to build and strengthen his brand. He determined clever speaking skills could propel his career. He received a major opportunity when a schedule conflict prevented Dew from participating on the 2016 Green Start Academy panel. Dew recommended Murphy as his replacement to Bayer and John Deere officials. The companies agreed to give Murphy a speaking spot.
A message from one of their own resonated with assistant superintendents. Murphy confidently discussed getting groups to work together in packs, interjecting witty anecdotes from course scenes and books into the presentation. “When I came here and presented the first time, I loved it,” he says. “At the end – and I guess it wasn’t a joke – I said, ‘I’m glad I’m not competing with you guys for jobs.’ I kind of was.”
Murphy has since become a fixture on the panel, proving a gaudy job title isn’t a prerequisite for reaching others. Becoming a head superintendent again hasn’t changed Murphy’s tone. Consider the punchy phrases he packed into this year’s presentation:
“Maybe the right people work for you. Maybe you’re the problem.”
“This career is too hard for people who don’t love it.”
“If you focus policies with the general group in mind, you will sacrifice what’s good for individuals.”
Murphy has led presentations alongside Bellerive Country Club’s Carlos Arraya, another Green Start Academy panelist, at large events such as the Golf Industry Show and The Canadian Golf Course Management Conference. He started his public speaking odyssey by approaching civic groups and local turf organizations for opportunities. Small steps to build a big turf brand. Once the Barrie job opened, Murphy possessed the confidence to clearly articulate his managerial and agronomic vision to the leaders of a tradition-rich club.
“It was all about building my brand and separating myself and not worrying about the fact I didn’t have the superintendent title,” Murphy says. “I decided I was just going to start acting like a superintendent. I started aligning myself with superintendents and their social groups. So it was almost a done deal. People thought, ‘Well, he already is a superintendent.’”
Murphy’s career still involves watching grass grow, though now he’s responsible for the final decisions about how it grows. He compares career advancement to plant physiology.
“Everything is about photosynthesis,” he says. “All of our fears and worries are in the dark when you’re lying in bed worrying about something. Then, in the light, your problems get solved. In the dark, in your career, you’re worrying when is it going to happen. Because you’re not there yet, you worry about it. Then once it happens, you think, ‘Wow, it was preparing me for that the whole time.’ And you didn’t know it. Of course, you didn’t know. It hadn’t happened yet. Photosynthesis, if you break down the word, it’s the power of change brought by light.”
Guy Cipriano is GCI’s editor.