No need to get nasty
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No need to get nasty

Tim Moraghan delves inside the industry’s turf tussles, where sometimes the competition to land a desirable job temporarily disrupts professional camaraderie.

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March 29, 2021

Superintendents are constantly being told what we can and cannot do by committees, general managers, governments, Mother Nature. It’s part of the job.

But we are a tough breed, fighters in the fields. And most of the time, we face obstacles by rallying together and supporting one another.

With one major exception: When there is a job opening in our area.

Then, our stripes change, our claws come out and it’s every superintendent for him or herself.

From what I’ve heard — true or not — there is regional bias in some areas of the country. South Florida, Long Island, Chicago, Texas, the Carolinas, Southern California and the Hawaiian Islands are “known” as being “territorial.” Which means when jobs open up, there is a belief that the candidates and the chosen candidate must come from within the region, or within a geographically close network.

Why?

Some say that candidates coming from outside the “boundaries” (their word, not mine!), lack the local turf knowledge or experience, as in “if not from (insert region), you can’t grow grass here!” and you don’t have the connections or vendor contacts.

There is also “I’ve waited my entire career for this job, it should be mine!” attitude as if working in a region gives you better qualifications. Where in the bylaws of any regional superintendent’s association did they create an entitlement program?

Who a club chooses is not up to you. It is purely and wholly the decision of the club — either a club committee or a search firm working at the direction of the club board. The mandate is always to bring the club the best candidates based on an established set of criteria, which might include specific turf knowledge, renovation experience, past success preparing courses for events or dozens of other attributes.

It’s not up to the local, state or national superintendent’s association to place the candidate — unless asked.

Now, let’s say a good job in your area does come open. What should you do?

If you’ve trained hard and gone through the processes to become a skilled golf course superintendent, you should apply. As a member of the GCSAA, it is your right to apply for publicly or privately announced jobs. That’s one of the benefits of membership.

But that’s all. You have no more right to the job than any other candidate, no matter where they’re coming from. It’s fine for local or state associations to encourage a club to hire one of their own; you want your local organizations on your side. There should be no repercussions. The process should, and must, always be fair. If nothing else, think of the Golden Rule: Do you want to be shunned if you’re applying for a job outside of your area?

As for the claims that someone from outside the region “can’t grow grass here,” that’s false. Whenever one of the club search committees I’m working with raises these concerns, I respond by saying, “we/I went to turf school. I/we didn’t go to Southern turf school, Southwestern turf school or Northeastern turf school. The turf growing process really doesn’t vary much from region to region.”

In a new position, the greatest challenge is to learn and become familiar with the local growing environment and microclimates. This is true in any region, even if you take a position just down the road from your current job. We all are aware that each course is different, and, in many instances, courses change from hole to hole.

In my own 40-plus years in the business, I’ve worked in several different regions, from Connecticut to the Carolinas to Florida, to Texas and back to Florida. And while I was regularly kidded for being a “Yankee from the north,” no one ever told me I couldn’t work somewhere due to a lack of local turf knowledge.

Most important, whatever you might lack in “local” knowledge will be more than made up for by your work ethic, professional dedication and agronomic skills.

No matter where I moved to, the challenges were the same: master the local growing environment, those course microclimates, and, yes, its politics. That’s true everywhere, even if you take a position just down the road from your current job. No matter who gets the job there will be a learning curve, whether you’re coming from across town or across the country. So why should anyone be prejudiced against someone new coming in? Pettiness and insecurity? Maybe you’re jealous of an outsider coming in and doing a better job than you do — in your area. Rather than see the “new guy” as a threat, see him or her as a potential resource, ally or even friend. Who knows, you might learn some things that help you do your job better.

  • I’ve been helping clubs with searches for 15 years and advised hundreds of candidates. Here are my suggestions for dealing with a job opening, whether it’s in your area or not:
  • Once a job is posted, realize there will be countless applicants. Local and not.
  • The club has given its committee or whoever is managing the search a set of guidelines. But remember, even if the club is using an outside search firm, it is the club that is doing the hiring. Not the search firm.

If you’re interested in a job, ask yourself this question: Are you good enough to apply? Applying is a privilege, not a right. Take a good look at yourself. Do you have what it takes to do this job? Then, if you feel you are qualified, send in your resume.

Prepare and practice your interview skills, develop an outline of your abilities, and do your due diligence on the position.

If you are interviewed, come prepared. Not only with knowledge, but with respect for the job and the people you’ll be meeting. Dress for the interview, not for mowing their putting greens.

  • If you don’t get the job:
  • Move on. Other jobs will come along.
  • Don’t back-stab the winner and certainly, don’t be a sore loser.
  • Welcome the new person to the community.
  • If you’re in sales, don’t stop making calls on the club because the new person replaced one of your friends or best customers.
  • Don’t blame the search firm. You probably know who was involved in the decision. If you have a question or want advice, contact the right people.

If you do get the job, especially if you’re from outside the area:

  • Know that you might face some bias, regardless of where you came from. Someone else wanted the job and didn’t get it.
  • Meet your fellow golf course superintendents. Don’t isolate yourself. When the time comes, join the local association, meet your neighbors … or they will talk about you.
  • Reach out to “the man” in the area and get to know that individual.
  • Invite the local leaders to lunch and to tee it up. If they decline, you’ll quickly have an idea of what you’re dealing with. Move on. And shame on them!
  • Take the high road. But know it can be a difficult path because it is high, and it is rarely traveled.

To all you superintendents out there, remember this: The last A in GCSAA stands for “America.” Not “area.”