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Rethinking the Superintendent Search

Greg Wojick, CGCS

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Guest post by Greg Wojick, Playbooks for Golf --

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I recently visited the CMAA (Club Managers Association of America) website. One of the first things I noticed was that more than two dozen executive search firms were listed.
 
I looked further, scanning many of the search firm sites. I saw that there were numerous searches for general managers, most often referred to as COOs and occasionally CEOs. I also saw searches for assistant general managers, executive chefs, directors of food and beverage, golf professionals and golf shop staff, marketing positions, and human resource positions. Though all the jobs listed were for golf club personnel, searches for golf course superintendents were conspicuously absent. None of these websites listed searches for a superintendent! 
 
That prompted a visit to the GCSAA website. Not one executive search firm was listed there.  I even went so far as to track down executive search sites that specialize in golf course superintendent hires, and no active searches were listed. Hmmm.  
 
Debate on Super Searches
It appears that clubs are willing to pay thousands of dollars to enlist professional help to hire key individuals at their clubs, but the golf course superintendent isn't among them. 
 
I find this particularly interesting since, from what I understand, a survey revealed that golf course conditioning is considered to be the most important aspect in the business of golf course management. Golf Course Architect Robert Trent Jones, who is clearly well versed in all that goes into cultivating a healthy and well-groomed golf course, was quoted as saying, 

The importance of having the right golf course superintendent at a given club cannot be overemphasized. Indeed, a club's very success depends, for the most part, on the professional and personal qualities of the superintendent.

I don't have a definitive answer for why most clubs haven't recognized the importance of enlisting the help of a search firm to hire their golf course superintendent. I do know, however, that increasingly general managers, working together with search committees, have taken on the duties of hiring the superintendent. The merits of this practice, in my mind, are debatable.

...increasingly general managers, working together with search committees, have taken on the duties of hiring the superintendent. The merits of this practice, in my mind, are debatable.

The golf course, as we know, is one of the club's most essential and valuable assets. What is a golf club, after all, without its golf course? What's more, the skills and knowhow required to successfully manage a golf course operation don't come easily. It's a science that requires years of study and experience to master. Superintendents must be diagnosticians, capable of recognizing myriad turf diseases and insect infestations, while pinpointing just-the-right remedy from a dizzying array of pesticide and insecticide options. But this is just a piece of the whole. Superintendents, at the same time, are required to manage sizable budgets with great care and precision, communicate effectively with club staff and green committee members, and inspire peak performance from their staff members, seven days a weekparticularly from early spring through late fall. This is a sizable and highly specialized job.
 
Tips for the Candidate
Clubs conducting their own searches for superintendent can't possibly know the nuances of the profession, but I've witnessed times when they've taken a fact or two out of context to project that they have a grasp on what it is that superintendents do. Not only does this fail to adequately vet a candidate, but it makes it challenging for the person being interviewed.
 
Aside from recommending that clubs consider passing the search for superintendent on to a qualified search firm, I'd like to offer a word to the wise to those interviewing for a superintendent's position, particularly assistants seeking to climb the ladder.
 
First, keep in mind that search firms with expertise in the turfgrass management industry understand the complexities of the job of golf course superintendent, and they are highly qualified to evaluate job candidates' ability to manage a particular golf course operation. They understand what's involved in topdressing, the use of moisture meters, and the life cycle of the annual bluegrass weevil. By contrast, those who are familiar with golf but not deeply involved in the turf world, may have heard these terms, but won't fully grasp them. It's essential, therefore, that you practice describing your qualifications in layman's terms. In other words, keep it simple. 

... It's essential, therefore, that you practice describing your qualifications in layman's terms. In other words, keep it simple.

Also be sure to communicate your experience and expertise with professionally done career tools. Portfolios and digital websites are essential to ensure that proper communication actually takes place. 
 
When I take time to ponder why clubs rarely enlist a search firm for hiring a golf course superintendent, I have to wonder whether the industry goal of elevating the status of the profession may actually be falling short. And when I watch the GCSAA TV spots that encourage golfers to thank their superintendent, I can't help but feel that thanks may just not be enough.
 
SIDEBAR
Take It From the CMAA
Also on the CMAA website was an idea that I thought might work for the golf course industry. There's a list of 223 individual CMAA members who are available for Interim Management Service (IMS). The IMS is designed to assist clubs that are in need of immediate temporary management assistance.
 
In the turfgrass management industry, an IMS doesn't exist. But maybe its time has come. I would bet that superintendents would put their names on a list to help out a club in need. There seems to always be a pool of supers who are in between jobs and would be pleased to fill in temporarily.
 
Perhaps local chapters could initiate this list and advertise it to area clubs. Just a thought.

After nearly 30 years as a golf course superintendent and consultant, Greg Wojick co-founded Playbooks for Golf in 2008.



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Guest Michael Stachowicz

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The interim manager concept was something I was exposed to when I met a minister some years ago. She was the interim minister at a congregation and was there not only to be the minister, but also help the congregation transition. This transition is quite a bit of work as it included an assessment of the operation and guiding appropriate committees towards the search for a new minister. I also believe that as the interim minister, she was not eligible for the permanent position.

 

So yes, I think this is a good idea in many cases. As you can see, I think this is quite a bit more entailed than just having an assistant take over for a while.

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Mike - You are correct that the interim minister is just that - a "temporary transition." They are not eligible for the permanent position. In something as sensitive as guiding a church (and as is debated here a golf course) the new full time person comes in with enough of a buffer time-wise that their chance of success increases. Seems like this would be a good way to diffuse or disarm the "grill room superintendents" and other factions within the club.

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