In what might come as a shock to his colleagues, Scott Griffith, CGCS, has never really known what it is like to struggle to find labor in nearly two decades at the University of Georgia Golf Course.
Every year for 16 years, Griffith gets anywhere from 20 to 30 UGA students who join his team as part-time employees on the crew. Most years at least a couple are turf students, but the overwhelming number are students studying for a life outside of turf.
"I know a lot of superintendents struggle with labor. I've been blessed with it," Griffith said. "I just have to deal with the challenges of hiring student employees."
Those challenges have everything to do with training and scheduling a team of part-timers who have to manage changing cups and mowing fairways with attending Calculus and chemistry classes.
Most of his part-time team works about half a shift and is back on central campus by 11 a.m.
"We might have 25 or 30 people, but because they are part time, it's like having half that many," Griffith said.
Just because Griffith's student staff must prioritize their time in the classroom, it does not mean they are limited to edging and blowing.
"We train them to do most everything on the golf course," Griffith said.
"The acceptance rate here is low, so the kids here are smart, they're intelligent and they're motivated."
Griffith can't take credit for this business model. Someone else put it into place, but he has maintained it.
"I've been here 16 years, and it's been like this since Day 1," he said. "It was put into practice before I got here."
Griffith does have a few full-time employees, including a golf course superintendent, an assistant, an equipment manager and an assistant, spray tech, irrigation tech and one longtime member of the crew.
Griffith takes pride in the conditions he and his small but mighty team of six full-time employees and about two dozen half-timers. But golf at the University of Georgia is about so much more than duplicating the private club experience.
"We're not a huge money-maker for the university; we're a place of recreation," Griffith said. "
"We are about providing faculty, staff and students with a place to recreate, a place to work and a place to conduct research. Anything we can do to reach that goal, we're going to do it.
"With that said, we do get about 40,000 rounds a year."
The Covid pandemic threatened to derail Georgia's longstanding employment model, but the disruption was only temporary.
Given what typically is a 12-month golf season in Georgia, Griffith sometimes has to get creative, and that means offering incentives at certain times of the year.
"We've started increasing pay at certain times," he said. "I'll offer them an increase of $4 or $5 an hour during aerification, holidays or to get some employees to stay over the summer.
"This system works. I don't have to advertise; 80 percent to 90 percent of the people we get come by word of mouth.
"It's a neat experience to be part of their lives in this way."