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Contracts: An In-the-Know Barrister's View


Matt Leverich

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02e8acbea26fec386defb36392c5b327-.jpgSpeaking with many superintendents and industry professionals this past year, a recurring theme always seems to spark interest -- employment contracts. In fact, Jim McLoughlin just touched on them in the past few months on his TurfNet blog. My business partner, Greg Wojick, also recently published a thorough article on them in the MetGCSA's Tee to Green newsletter. It provides quite a bit of research and interviews from superintendents, TurfNet founder Peter McCormick, Bruce Williams, McLoughlin, and more. That full and lengthy article can be read here if interested.
 
In addition to that, Greg created a shorter article based on an interview with an attorney who has experience in contracts. While some of the content is specific to the NYC metro area, there are some interesting insights to gain from someone outside of turf, but with an understanding of the business. I thought it was worth including here:
 
"After urging superintendents to seek legal counsel when drawing up an employment contract in our accompanying article, we took the liberty of contacting Philip M. Halpern, a NYC-area attorney who graciously works pro bono with area golf professionals and superintendents to guide them in crafting just-the-right employment contracts, as well as counseling them on other legal issues.
 
Halpern is pleased to give back to an industry that he feels gave so much to him. 
 
"When golf professionals and superintendents want to pay me for my services," he says, "I tell them they can repay me by calling and thanking George Lewis, the former Leewood Golf Club professional who gave me an opportunity few people have. I worked with him from fifth grade until I finished law school," adds Halpern, who 34 years later is still indebted to Lewis's guidance.
 
Though Halpern is quick to point out that there is "no magic entitlement to a contract," he does admit that "having a contract is better than not." And who should know better? In addition to working the golf shop side of the business, Halpern has been an active member of the Westchester Country Club, serving nine years on the club's board, completing a term as club president and a term as chairman. In addition, for the past several years, he has served on the Green Committee.
 
Why Are Contracts Necessary?
Halpern offers two basic reasons, and neither, as you might have expected, relate to benefits and compensation. Instead, he believes contracts are necessary to ensure that the superintendent and his or her family are protected -- and provided for -- should the worst happen. "A contract is no different than insurance. With both, you're just trying to cover the risks."
 
Reason #1: 
"I call it the three Ds," says Halpern: 
 
1. Death 
2. Disability
3. Disagreement
 
"Contracts are less about articulating benefits -- labor laws cover that," says Halpern. "Superintendents need to be sure they're protected, but also that their families are provided for should they become disabled or die, for instance."
 
"Disagreement should be covered as well," Halpern continues. "If you commit an offense of moral turpitude, you should probably get nothing upon termination. If, however, you are terminated because 'the club is going in a different direction,' then perhaps some severance is in order and should be agreed on in advance."
 
Reason #2: 
Changing position materially. "If a superintendent is changing jobs and has to relocate himself and his family -- new home, new schools for the kids -- then he is changing position materially and needs a contract," says Halpern, emphasizing that superintendents who give up everything they had to take a new position need to be sure they're amply covered should things not work out.
 
"Superintendents should worry less about what they're getting for compensation and more about providing for the unknown: What happens if... ? Guys come to me not because they didn't get their salary. They come because of the bad things that can happen," Halpern said.
 
An Astounding Truth
"If there's one thing that astounds me," says Halpern, "it's that superintendents in the Met area don't band together and insist that clubs provide a standard employment agreement. These agreements should offer similar basic rights, and clubs should be made aware of these expectations, perhaps, through an association's executive director who could actually visit clubs to educate them."
 
Many superintendents, according to Halpern, sell themselves short. "They have the attitude that they're fortunate to have the job. The reality is that what they do is a specialty and a huge responsibility that requires long hours and a good deal of technical knowledge and expertise."
 
"In the end," he says with conviction, "a golf course is only as good as the superintendent a club hires."
 
After nearly 30 years as a golf course superintendent and consultant, Greg Wojick co-founded Playbooks for Golf in 2008. This article was edited and reproduced with permission of the MetGCSA.

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