How did you start your career in this great industry? What did you do to just stick your foot in the door? How did you climb the ladder?
Those were some of the questions fielded by veteran leaders Carlos Arraya, Alex Stuedemann and Andrew Wilson during a Golf Industry Show session designed for assistants called “So, You Want to be a Golf Course Superintendent, But Where?” Their responses were open, generous and — no surprise given their reputations and records during their more than 80 years combined — genuinely caring.
“There is so much responsibility that can be given to an assistant that they’re doing so many of the same roles” as a superintendent, said Stuedemann, the director of golf course operations at TPC Deere Run in East Moline, Illinois. “If you’re looking at your job every day and it’s exciting and it’s interesting and you’re learning and you’re growing — I see that in my operation. I don’t want to lose a talent. If I can build somebody up, great, and why should I tell them they can’t be successful if they don’t want to move?
“I checked that box and Carlos checked that box, but is it absolutely necessary? No. It’s up to you find your path. That’s the biggest hurdle.”
Arraya followed, telling the crowd that “there are a lot of clubs in our area where assistants have been there 15, 16 years, waiting for their superintendent to move on,” in reference to the greater St. Louis area around Bellerive Country Club, where he is director of grounds and agronomy. “When I got here, my assistants had been here 14 and 16 years and they wanted to move on. They made a sacrifice. One of them left the state, which was a shock. … And now we have just become that club where guys and gals come for two or three years and they move on.”
There are no hard and fast rules, obviously. Find your path. Follow your arrow. Live your own life.
“In 2016, one of our former assistants came back to volunteer for us and one of our interns was knocking it out of the park,” said Wilson, the director of agronomy at Bethpage State Park Golf Course on Long Island, New York. “He hired that intern. … Some of it is just right place, right time, and it might not seem fair. I had to wait six or seven years for a certain title and then someone else came in and moved up in two or three years. You can’t be bitter about it. You just have to figure out how to stand out. What else can you do to be noticed?”
Moderator Matthew Gourlay, the director of golf course operations at Colbert Hills Golf Course in Manhattan, Kansas, interjected — his humor helped the two hours fly by — to share his perspective as a third-generation turfhead.
“I look at these three titans of the industry and I see success,” he said. “Obviously, there have been lots of struggles. I have been lucky. I outlasted all the poor saps before me. But my father wasn’t the same.”
Gourlay moved 11 times before turning 20, all because of his father’s climb up the ladder. In 1993, David Gourlay was the director of golf operations at Beacon Hall Golf Club, one of the top courses in Canada. He was sharing a cup of coffee with a fellow superintendent in the clubhouse, when the general manager tapped him on the shoulder and told him he needed to leave. Some members might arrive in an hour, or so the story goes.
“He was so embarrassed that the GM would do that,” Gourlay said, “that he got up, he walked down to his office, wrote his letter of resignation, turned it in. Talk about some cojones. I am sweating bullets just talking about it.”
The move worked out in short order — the elder Gourlay has continued to work in golf ever since without a break and the younger Gourlay dived right in — but it provided another example of doing what you think you should do. Of doing what you need to do.
What do you need to do to climb that ladder? Do you even want to?
“I have a person on my staff whose situation may be changing,” Stuedemann said. “He has a pretty serious girlfriend who may be taking a job in a different town and he’s looking at those opportunities at other courses. I talked with a few of those places, and they asked, ‘He’s only been with you a short period of time. Is he ready? And won’t that hurt your operation?’ And I told them, ‘Why would I want to stand in the way of somebody’s growth and development? If his girlfriend, maybe his soon-to-be wife is three hours away, how’s that going to make him feel at work? What kind of value will he bring every day?’
“If they’re going to get better doing something else, I’m not going to stand in their way.”
Sound advice. Caring advice.
Honoring golf’s greatest ambassadors, innovators and leaders, the USGA recently unveiled its 2020 Annual Award honorees, including longtime Rutgers professor Dr.William Meyer, the winner of the 60th annual USGA Green Section Award.
Meyer was recognized for his work in sustainability through agronomic advancements.
The USGA Green Section Award honors distinguished service to golf through an individual’s work with turfgrass. For more than 30 years, Meyer has made a significant impact on the turf industry through his turfgrass breeding work, which focuses on developing grasses for golf and other playing surfaces that are resistant to adverse factors. As a professor at Rutgers University, he has influenced all levels of the industry at the national and international levels through seminars, research papers and trade publications.
The four 2020 individual honorees also include Se Ri Pak, the 1998 U.S. Women’s Open champion and World Golf Hall of Famer, as the Bob Jones Award recipient; Lon Haskew, the recipient of the Joe Dey Award for meritorious service as a volunteer; and Kevin Robbins, author of The Last Stand of Payne Stewart, who will receive the Herbert Warren Wind Book Award. All three will receive their awards during the USGA Annual Meeting February 29 in Pinehurst, North Carolina.
The USGA’s Annual Awards were established to honor those who advance the game and the association’s mission through research, celebrating and preserving golf’s history, and service to the game through volunteerism and personal spirit, character and respect.
“It’s an honor to have the opportunity to annually recognize those whose contributions and positive influence have made a meaningful impact on the game,” USGA CEO Mike Davis said. “The individuals who comprise this year’s list of recipients truly embody the core values of the USGA to lead, serve and inspire.”
Receiving the Ike Grainger Award in recognition of 25 years of volunteer service to the USGA are John Bartholomew, Dwayne Dillinger, Bruce Flower, Robert Hillis, Richard Johnson, Craig Kessler, David Laird, John Luffey Jr., Greg Norris, Gilbert Palmer, Charles Rountree III, Joseph Sholtis and Grover Walker. The group of 13 will also be recognized during the awards banquet at the USGA Annual Meeting.
Bob Jones Award
Presented annually since 1955, the Bob Jones Award recognizes an individual who demonstrates the spirit, personal character and respect for the game exhibited by Jones, winner of nine USGA championships. As one of the more influential pioneering forces in the women’s game, Pak inspired an entire generation of Korean golfers during her 20-year professional career, which included 39 wins, five of them majors.
Pak burst onto the LPGA Tour in 1998 and her playoff victory in the U.S. Women’s Open — when she became the youngest winner in the history of the championship to that point — became a defining moment in the game. Despite carrying the weight and attention of an entire country, it was through her friendly attitude and humble demeanor that her high level of character truly revealed itself.
Pak will receive the award during the week of the 2020 U.S. Open Championship in June at Winged Foot Golf Club.
Joe Dey Award
Named for Joseph C. Dey, the USGA’s executive director from 1934 through 1968 and a World Golf Hall of Famer, the Joe Dey Award has been presented annually since 1996 to recognize an individual’s meritorious service to the game as a volunteer. For more than 30 years, Haskew has served as a volunteer Rules official at state, regional, national and international levels, including more than 100 USGA championships. Haskew has been a USGA committee member since 1993 and has served on the Mid-Amateur Committee since 1995. He’s also been a fixture at the collegiate level as an official at multiple NCAA Championships.
Herbert Warren Wind Book Award
The Herbert Warren Wind Book Award acknowledges and encourages outstanding achievement in golf literature. This year’s recipient, The Last Stand of Payne Stewart, vividly recounts the story of Stewart’s last season on the PGA Tour in 1999, including his U.S. Open victory at Pinehurst, through his tragic passing. Robbins previously captured the award in 2016 for Harvey Penick: The Life and Wisdom of the Man Who Wrote the Book on Golf, which tells the story of Penick, the late golf coach, competitor and instructor.
In recognition of excellence in golf literature, the book will be added to the USGA Golf Museum library, the largest collection in the world with more than 100,000 individual volumes and periodicals.