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John Reitman

By John Reitman

Colbert Hills program helps prepare interns for next career step


Colbert Hills Superintendent of the Week Logan Waite talks with turf team member Shannon Parr. Photo courtesy of Matthew Gourlay

What began as a way to help prepare interns at Colbert Hills for the next step in their careers has become a longstanding family tradition.

The Superintendent of the Week program at Colbert Hills in Manhattan, Kansas gives interns a head start on their careers by making them the boss for all agronomic and labor decisions for seven days. The program, started years ago by David Gourlay, continues today under his son Matthew. 

"I wanted to make the internship the best," David Gourlay said. "After doing an internship at Colbert Hills, the student would be ready either to have the confidence to get an assistants position straight out of university, or find out that the profession was not for them."

Gourlay was general manager at Colbert Hills for 14 years, and not much has changed since he implemented the Superintendent of the Week program.

"They get to run the crew and make the decisions on what we are going to accomplish at the facility for that week. That includes budgets and invoicing," Matthew Gourlay said. 

"My role, my responsibility is to help build their confidence so they know what it is like to be a golf course superintendent. My ultimate goal is to show them everything that the superintendent does during the week."

Former Colbert Hills intern Brennan Acree, now the assistant at Lawrence Country Club in Kansas, went through the Superintendent of the Week program in 2019 under Matthew Gourlay, and said the experience was invaluable.

"I learned more there than anywhere else," Acree said. "I wouldn't be where I am today with him.

"He threw me into everything. He knew what I needed to know. He went above and beyond and pushed me to my limits."

Andrew Harty is a current Colbert Hills intern and recently wore the mantle of Superintendent of the Week. It was supposed to be a topdressing week during Harty's tenure, but the weather did not allow for that.

I learned more there than anywhere else. I wouldn't be where I am today with him. . . . He threw me into everything. He knew what I needed to know. He went above and beyond and pushed me to my limits.

"It was definitely an interesting week," Harty said. "It rained almost every day, and we still had three tournaments and some other events.

"Making decisions on your own forces you to figure things out. It was a good experience. I had to really think about what we were trying to achieve on a daily basis. I'm glad he does it."

Gourlay says the experience can be daunting for those who do not know what to expect.

"The staff reports directly to that person for that week," he said. "Their phones go off constantly.

"My role is to make sure they don't make mistakes that are detrimental to the operation, but a small mistake here and there is part of learning."

Today, Gourlay likes to give interns the controls for a week early in their internship, because he believes it helps build a better team throughout the golf season.

"I try to do it toward the beginning of the internship. I believe in throwing them into the fire early," he said. "I believe they become bette team members when they see all the thing a superintendent sees: the political side, if someone calls in sick, how it affects the entire organization throughout the day when someone is late.

"It helps build future leaders. At the end of the day, I want anyone I work with to succeed. This is a way to show them what it is like to be a superintendent. Sometimes it doesn't work out, and they realize it isn't for them. I had one kid who realized fairly early that this wasn't for him. I helped him move on to what he thought he wanted to do next. At the end of the day, I care about what is best for them."

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