Some people just have a knack for being in the right place at the right time.
As the sun set on 2017, Neil Mayberry was ready for a career change after 15 years as a superintendent. He even went back to school to earn an MBA to help facilitate the change. No sooner had he earned his graduate degree from Sam Houston State when a senior agronomic position opened with Yara Turf and Ornamental, a Norwegian company looking to expand into the golf turf fertility market.
It seemed Mayberry, 40, was destined to be a golf course superintendent. A second-generation greenkeeper, he first started working on a golf course at around age 10, picking range balls at the coastal Mississippi course where his father, James, was superintendent. Soon after graduating from Mississippi State with a degree in turf management in 2002, he was named superintendent at New Orleans Country Club, where he remained until January 2018.
Mayberry left a lasting mark on the New Orleans golf scene where he ushered the club through renovations, expansions and natural disasters, namely Hurricane Katrina, which left its mark forever on the Crescent City in 2005.
It seemed to be a match made in heaven, except for one thing. With two children at home, Mayberry, understandably, wanted to be around the house more. He'd heard too many stories from fellow superintendents who missed out on their children growing up, and he did not want to be the next one to share that story.
"You know how it is on a golf course," Mayberry said. "Sometimes you're not home in the evening until after dark. You feel like you're married to the golf course. I wanted to get away from weekend work. I wanted to be there for my kids, to watch their games and help coach their teams."
Mayberry began work toward an MBA at Sam Houston State, with the thought of becoming a general manager or supporting superintendents through a job with an industry manufacturer or supplier. While the exact path of his future was unclear, one thing he knew for sure was that he wanted to spend more time at home with his family.
"A lot of people in this business have told me that their biggest regret is not spending more time with their kids," he said. "With kids at home, I knew if I didn't take action I would have missed out on a lot. Getting an MBA got me where I needed to be."
He started his position with Yara in January 2018 as crop manager for the company's T&O division.
Reaching that end point was not easy.
Long days at the golf course followed by even longer nights slumped over a computer working to better his life and tested Mayberry's resolve, and, at times, the patience of his wife, Shannon.
A lot of people in this business have told me that their biggest regret is not spending more time with their kids. With kids at home, I knew if I didn't take action I would have missed out on a lot. Getting an MBA got me where I needed to be.
"That was the biggest challenge. I'd get home late from the golf course and be up until midnight or 1 a.m. doing school work," he said. "My wife would ask me, 'What are you going to do with it?'
"I thought I wanted to be a GM, but they work on weekends, too, so being a GM was out. This job was exactly what I was looking for."
Besides achieving the goal of more time at home with his family, Mayberry's experience with Yara, has helped him become a better agronomist.
"It's nice being able to help people all over North America," he said. "What has really been positive has been seeing different ways of doing things. That really makes you think outside the box. If I had known when I was a superintendent what I know now, I would have been really dangerous. That's a good thing, and a bad thing."
Mayberry's story at NOCC wasn't the typical "superintendent gets burned out (or fired) and moves on" saga that has become so common.
When he told the club he was leaving, he was asked to help find his successor. The search committee eventually settled on Will Guererri, Mayberry's assistant.
"Leaving a job where they take care of you, and I mean really take good care of you, was hard," he said.
"I needed something different."
He still misses those special times at the golf course, but has never looked back on his decision to change lanes in his career.
"The No. 1 thing I miss is being around the guys," he said. "I also loved the early mornings when you are the only one on the golf course, and late in the afternoon when the sun casts long shadows on the golf course."
Still, he has never looked back on his decision to get out of the profession.
"What this job with Yara has given me is priceless. I can't describe it," he said. "Kids grow up so fast. You blink and they're gone. I'm where I need to be."