Superintendents moving up the ranks!

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October 9, 2020

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Superintendents are making the move from golf course superintendent to general manager/COO roles at a record pace. The trend started with Frank Dobie at Cleveland Golf and Country Club in 1964. An analysis shows that 39 general managers/COOs rose to their position from the superintendent ranks. Recent movement has seen the brothers of Eric and Nicholas Von Hofen lead The Club at Weston Hills and Colliers Reserve, respectively.

Why are superintendents having such success in making these moves? Superintendent positions develop a broad skill set that are necessary for general managers/COO positions. The traits required for superintendents and general managers/COOs to be successful include but are not limited to:

 

Leaders:

Impressive superintendents are the first to arrive and the last to leave in their operations. Superintendents manage large staffs. They hold their employees accountable to the standards that have been created. Superintendents cast the vision for course presentation that the staff must believe in and deliver. The greatest leaders encourage their staff to push through difficult times. The weather will often work against the efforts of the agronomy team. The superintendent as a leader stays positive, encouraging the team through the obstacle until the weather changes. Superintendents know they are only as good as their recruited and trained staffs.

 

 

Communicators:

Superintendents are experts in course conditions. They must manage this information up to the general manager/COO, laterally to the director of golf and downward to the golfer. Superintendents should be the source of information to the golfer and not leave this task up to the golf shop. Superintendents create content and distribute it via social media directly to the customer and create more raving fans. Their communication plans are maintained and measured through analytics to determine the best method of delivery. Superintendents understand that being proactive stops rumors and focuses the membership on facts.

 

 

Mentors:

The millennial work force craves mentoring and superintendents have been providing that skill for years. The United States labor force continues to expand with millennials. Internship programs that have been created by superintendents have morphed into mentoring programs. Superintendents have moved from just providing a job to counseling the students with career advice beyond their internship. Creativity with housing, bonuses (signing and retention) and providing experiences beyond the golf course have been helpful.

 

 

Recruiters:

Many superintendents host televised golf events. Superintendents are required to solicit and obtain sponsorship monies to create revenue for the added expense of supporting a PGA TOUR volunteer program. These programs require housing, transportation, clothing and food for the participants. The recruiting is performed primarily through local GCSAA chapters, social media, universities and personal networks. General managers are also required to recruit top talent to the club for department head positions.

 

 

Financial analyst:

Superintendents manage the largest expense department in the club. The premier superintendents build their operating budgets as zero-based budgets and not off a rolling 12 forecast. Zero-based budgets allow the department’s finances to match the standards created by the green committee. Superintendents are well-versed in capital planning in equipment replacement and this skill allows them to create a recapitalization plan for the entire property when they are general managers/COOs.

 

 

Continuous learner:

Superintendents are constantly seeking educational opportunities. Technology in their field changes rapidly with plant protectants, equipment and irrigation. Superintendents adapt to the new trends in the industry for their courses to stand apart from the competition. Country club trends are changing in relation to generational desires. The club must adapt or become irrelevant in the marketplace.

 

As new general manager/COO positions need to be filled, the board of governors for country clubs should expand their mindsets when filling their club general manager/COO role. The top-tier superintendent has developed the skills to succeed in those roles.

Tom Vlach, CGCS, is the is the director of golf courses and grounds at Grey Oaks Country Club, a 54-hole facility in Naples, Florida.