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Why Most Superintendents Have Jobs, Not Careers And What To Do About It

Jim McLoughlin



While Jim McLoughlin's blog series was completed a short while ago, an additional thesis with an important message will be posted from time to time.


The following question relating to the career welfare of every golf course superintendent across the country has to be asked and should be addressed:


"Why have GCSAA Boards continuously failed to address the singular most important issue of their time? Namely, that it is time to liberate superintendents from the long-standing conundrum where a solid majority of employers consistently deny their superintendents access to written employment contract protection and outreach program support, which inevitably deprive superintendents of on-going job security and undermines their career advancement."


Proof of the pudding, as they say, lies is the fact that neither GCSAA's nor any chapter's bylaws or mission statements past or present mentions that the primary responsibility of these organizations is to provide priority support for the concepts of job security, career welfare and outreach program counseling for their members.


Because some are not familiar with the idea of "outreach" programming, following is a general definition of the concept:


Outreach is a career-salvaging concept where professional counselors provide the following support within the job/employment world: First - by making contact with dismissed employees to help sustain family morale until lost careers can be restarted; Second - by helping dismissed employees restart their careers, or to initiate new careers; and Third - by helping retiring employees initiate second careers if they so wish.


There is a reason why corporate America and the U.S. military are so fully committed to the idea of outreach programming, which is a concept the golf course superintendents' organizations should consider adopting because their need for fair and balanced employment practices are the equal of any job-based society across America. 




Few throughout the national golf community have born witness to the full scope of the devastation wrought when superintendents are dismissed without obvious cause because, lacking written contract protection, they too often become job vulnerable whenever political "turf wars" distract club administrations away from their intended course.


The seldom-noticed but always disturbing reality is that superintendents face the following family destabilizing situations when confronted with a politically-based short-notice forfeiture of their jobs: loss of the family's  primary income; mortgage payments and children's college tuition fees are put in jeopardy; employer-provided housing is quickly term-limited; family health coverage fades; children will generally have to change school systems; severance packages are curtailed; and finally victimized superintendents are often required to sign confidentiality agreements which inhibits their ability to defend themselves in the forum of industry opinion and, therefore, to successfully pursue their next jobs.


And last but not least, dismissed superintendents repeatedly face the daunting task of seeking their next job without the benefit of their former employers' backing and without encouragement or career counseling from yet to be established outreach programs (see above) - a somewhat lethal combination that more times than not terminates careers.


Interestingly, CMAA and PGA members generally have ready access to written contract protection and, therefore, avoid all the above stated ills that befall superintendents who generally work without this protection.




TurfNet has provided further insight into the world of the arbitrarily-dismissed superintendent by publishing the following victims' consensus opinion on the subject:


"I was shell-shocked and felt like I was being stabbed in the back; its like the grief experienced from a job loss is similar to the grief suffered because of the death of a close family member" - all of which puts untold stress on the marriages of those involved."


A reminder that this matter is no small kettle of fish is the fact that reliable surveys constantly remind us that roughly 80% of golf course superintendents are being continuously denied access to written contract job protection and are, therefore, always job vulnerable despite being the only essential work force throughout golf. 


This massive injustice strips away any illusion that golf course superintendents will be able to enjoy the long term benefits of "career" employment; rather, their only remaining option is to settle for year-to-year jobs that can be put in jeopardy any time by the under-currents of course politics, or by the changing of the guard up their chains of command.


Clearly, the above described situation will continue on indefinitely until the nominating process delivers enough natural leaders from within the membership to the GCSAA Board to effectively address this challenge. 




The following plan of action will briefly present concepts within a long range plan format designed to address the job security issues presented above - with details to be made available at a later date.


Unfortunately, there is no quick fix to the job security issues profiled above because - quite logically - if this matter could be easily dealt with it would have been dealt with long before now. 


PHASE ONE  (Implement when ready - program can be immediately operational):


Pending the development of formal profession-wide outreach programming, chapters should establish interim outreach committees consisting of veteran and/or retired superintendents and their wives who would be asked to implement the outreach program defined above as best they can until more formal counseling becomes available at a later date.


PHASE TWO  (Implement when ready - chapters will comply a few at a time over two years):


Concurrently amend the GCSAA and chapter bylaws by following the procedures presented in Article XII to add the following policy to the bylaws and mission statements of these associations.


"The primary purposes for which this Corporation and its affiliated chapters were formed are to help to secure the jobs and to advance the career welfare of its members; and furthermore to also make professional outreach program counseling available to its members through its chapter infrastructure."


PHASE THREE  (Implement when ready - program can be set-up quickly - then chapters have to hire qualified Executive Directors and have them attend the training program - over all it will be five years before majority of chapters have their Executive Directors qualified and in place - but progress will be forth coming sooner as early compiling chapters get things done):


Because Executive Directors must be the eventual outreach counselors for their chapter members, GCSAA would develop a training program that would: First - circulate a model job description for the position to each chapter - a sample of which is presented later in this blog series; and Second - provide an online course of study with testing to prepare the Executive Directors to become effective outreach counselors for their chapters.




The real problem with trying to address the above employment-based grievances is the fact that - except for a GM, a board member, or a chairman or two at some courses - over 90% of the administrators and players at the nation's golf courses are generally unaware of the inequitable employment practices superintendents have to deal with every year because this is by design the best kept secret in golf.


Therefore, any success to be gained here will have to be predicated upon a well-conceived non-threatening education program directed toward the nation's national golf community.


In summary: while the above action plan is clearly do-able over a modest period of time, it will require the natural leaders within the membership to "come out of the closet," to stand tall, to make things happen and for the first time bring pride to a profession - a goal that, once realized, will draw the golfing world toward it and by so doing will open the door to resolving the long-standing employment issues of our time.



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