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Employment Contracts, Part 3: What to Include in the Contract

Greg Wojick, CGCS


Guest Post by Greg Wojick

f94189f791ef7f68b3b9abbc3023508d-.jpgIn the first two parts of this series, we have reviewed the obstacles to contracts and how you can sell the idea to your club. This final part will provide you with a detailed roadmap on what should be included in the actual contract.

When you get the go-ahead on the contract, your next step is to be sure that it covers all the bases. Here's a basic checklist based on industry standards along with lessons learned and a few cautionary tales from superintendents--and club members themselves--who have been through the process, or have chosen not to.

The contract should define:

Your responsibilities/performance parameters.

Be sure to spell out your duties in detail. "Contracts offer peace of mind to both sides by setting expectation levels," says one superintendent.

Peter McCormick of TurfNet cautions, however, that establishing performance parameters can be tricky. "Out on the golf course, performance in terms of playability and aesthetics becomes very personal, subjective, and not easily quantifiable. The only way to reduce subjectivity," he continued, "is if there is a document of agreed-upon maintenance standards in place. This should be separate from (but appended to) an employment contract so it can be revised as needed and agreed. The document of maintenance standards can also serve as the basis of a job description, which can be either integral or appended to an employment contract," he added.

One club member I spoke to cited what he perceived to be a serious drawback to detailing duties and expectations: "By 'binding' both the club and the superintendent to specific roles and responsibilities, a contract limits everyone's flexibility," he said. "This may pose a problem down the road if the club decides it doesn't like the contract terms or wants to terminate it early. That can't happen without the superintendent agreeing to new terms to the contract."

Moral of this story: Carefully review the responsibilities and performance parameters you agree to put in writing.

The chain of command.

"It's good to have something in writing that identifies not only what is expected of the employee, but also who, specifically, the superintendent is responsible to," said another survey participant, explaining, "The club's governance changes over time. Board members come and go, and at some clubs, general managers come and go even faster. It's important that new personnel understand the chain of command."

Rule of thumb: The fewer people you report to, the better. Best case is only one!

"The club's governance changes over time. Board members come and go, and at some clubs, general managers come and go even faster. It's important that new personnel understand the chain of command."

The length of your contract.

It's always best to lobby for a multi-year contract or, better, one that automatically renews at the end of each year. Without a definitive end point, it seems both parties are less apt to think about making changes.

As one superintendent with a short-term contract lamented:"I had a contract at a previous club, and it didn't seem to work in my favor. It always felt like a ticking clock that eventually would stop, prompting the club to take something away from me. When I started, for example, I had full family medical benefits provided by the club. When my second contract was up, they took that opportunity to force me to contribute to my benefits package," he continued. "And the small raise they gave me barely covered the new expense. If I had no contract, it wouldn't have given them a definitive time to make this move on me."

Salary and performance reviews.

Note what your compensation is, when it is payable (weekly, biweekly, or monthly), and when you can expect to be evaluated for a raise. More than half the survey respondents receive annual performance evaluations. Be sure to define a performance review schedule in your contract.

"With a contract, you're assured some sort of financial growth," said one survey participant, adding what he perceived as a downside: "But along with that assurance is the pressure to live up to -- or exceed -- expectations, year after year."

For most of the superintendents I surveyed, having a contract that offered financial security seemed to far outweigh any performance concerns. One of the most favorable stories I heard relating to contracts and compensation came from Peter McCormick. He shared a conversation he had once had with a superintendent who had worked for 10 years or so without a contract at a club that had not lived up to verbal promises of future salary advancement made when he was hired.

Peter explained: "The superintendent looked around casually as jobs came up but was happy where he was, even though underpaid relative to others in the area. He had a frank conversation with his green chairman, who went to the board on the superintendent's behalf. The end result was a 10-year contract with a significant salary increase and retirement contributions," continued Peter. "Relieved of anxiety about his future and the feeling that he wasn't being properly compensated, he was able to move forward reenergized and with a renewed focus and sense of purpose."

Good for both him and the club. This is another example of how contracts can work in everyones favor!

"Relieved of anxiety about his future and the feeling that he wasn't being properly compensated, he was able to move forward reenergized and with a renewed focus and sense of purpose."

Bonus compensation.

You might consider building in a bonus for such things as becoming certified or maintaining your certification, meeting or exceeding your budget goals, managing a major enhancement project, hosting tournaments, bringing in new members, or any other practice you feel goes above and beyond your everyday job function.

One survey respondent noted receiving a bonus for seeing the club's new irrigation system installation through to completion, on time and on budget. "The club gave me $25,000 and my assistant $5,000," he said. "They recognized that successfully managing a project of that size required many extra hours and superior organizational skills."

Professional memberships and educational seminars.

Don't hesitate to push for funding and time off to attend both professional and educational industry events. Explain how maintaining professional affiliations and attending local, regional, and national conferences, field days, and seminars are essential to staying abreast of industry trends and practices.


Define your medical, dental, life, and disability insurance coverage. This assures coverage for the length of your contract.

As one club member noted, "If the contract promises the superintendent health benefits, you can't decide to stop paying for those benefits as a way to save money. The only way to change the terms of the contract is to renegotiate them."

A perfect example of why a contract is worth pursuing.

Retirement contributions.

It's a good idea to include in your contract regular contributions to a 401K or other retirement vehicle.

On average, superintendents receive two to four weeks of paid vacation annually. Some reported receiving significantly more time, particularly during the winter months for a majority of superintendents in the country.

Be sure to specify not only the amount of vacation time you want, but also when you would like to take it. If you want a weekend off in the summer with your family and can agree on that arrangement, put it in writing.

Housing/housing allowance.

Include maintenance, utilities, taxes, assessments, and related upkeep.


Provide for a meal allowance. At least one meal a day is standard during the months of a facility's restaurant operation. A number of the supers surveyed are allowed any number of meals, as long as theyre on the job.

Vehicle allowance.

Many clubs provide a vehicle or an allowance to purchase one. Be sure to specify whether gas, insurance, and maintenance costs are included, as well as how often the vehicle will be replaced.

Facility privileges.
Note any and all club privileges you, your family, and guests might be entitled to. If you're entitled to use the pool, golf, or play tennis, note this, along with any fees that you are exempt from paying as an employee using the facility.

Surprisingly, a number of superintendents surveyed did not have a severance package and longed for a reasonable separation agreement. Others were hoping to improve the package they currently have. Most who commented on their package understandably wanted their severance pay to grow along with their tenure.

"My severance is three months salary," noted one superintendent who would like to negotiate for more. "I have been here for eight years and would like one month for every year of service, not to exceed 12 months," he said.

There are a number of ways to handle severance. Among the most common is to pay all the annual salary that would have been earned from the actual date of termination and/or, as this superintendent noted, one month's pay for each year of service.

Conditions of contract termination.

It's important to spell out how, when, and why your contract -- or your employment -- can be terminated. One super surveyed stressed giving careful thought to the timing of a termination: "I would strongly encourage any superintendent who has club housing and a family in the town's school system to build in a termination notification on or before June 30. This way," he said, "you have two full months to find new housing and a new school system for your children. This was a big issue for me, and the club did agree to the new notification clause."

Including this type of clause in your contract will protect you from claims, lawsuits, fines, etc., that you might incur as an employee of the facility. One superintendent surveyed felt it was more important to have some way to protect himself against "the bad decisions the club ends up making." While still another commented that, no matter what protection this or any of the other contract clauses might offer, his club would always have the upper hand: "If it came to a dispute between the club and me, their 200 attorneys would squish me like a bug," he said. "Basically, my contract is a piece of paper that says my benefits in writing."

One superintendent surveyed felt it was more important to have some way to protect himself against "the bad decisions the club ends up making."

Keep in mind, as with any legally binding document, you should always have an attorney look at it -- and preferably one who knows the profession -- to ensure you're properly protected and that the contract complies with federal and state laws.

"Contracts are worthwhile only if the language is properly written, and the only way to do that is to have a lawyer look at it," concurred one of the survey participants who, like many of the respondents, made sure to seek legal counsel.

Final Thoughts

If you're among the many superintendents seriously thinking of pursuing an employment agreement, remember that you should first be sure your track record qualifies you for a binding contract and then be fair about what youre asking for. If you shoot for the moon, you're likely to turn off an otherwise receptive group. If lobbying for a contract seems like more trouble than it's worth, keep in mind that once you've reached a mutually acceptable agreement with your employer, you can go to work every day confident about your job and undistracted by issues that may cause you to question your future employment. In the work world, there are few feelings better than that.

Sections of this blog post were originally created by Greg in a survey for the MetGCSA. That content is courtesy of the MetGCSA.


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