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John Reitman

By John Reitman

Hiring help requires a new approach

"Currently, the future of Oakland Hills is focused on a long-term vision of its employees as we look for motivated leaders and builders. Individuals with a passion for golf, agronomy, business management and golf course architecture should explore the opportunity to be an Assistant Superintendent at Oakland Hills. The position emphasizes a team atmosphere with Assistant Superintendents being involved in all facets of our agronomy program including fertilizer/chemical application, cutting edge water management, irrigation diagnostics and repair, course set up, and management of a team.

"No educational requirements needed, solely the desire to become a Golf Course Superintendent. Oakland Hills will help you achieve all your educational requirements and goals . . .  Golf course experience is a plus but more importantly we are looking for passionate teammates that are motivated and want to be leaders."
- Oakland Hills CC job listing on TurfNet


When it comes to hiring staff at Oakland Hills Country Club, Phil Cuffare (below) says the focus has to be on career development for the applicant.

A recent employment listing for assistant superintendent at Oakland Hills Country Club is so attractive, that if it does not work, there may be no hope for anyone to attract talent.

Oakland Hills is one of those places on a short list of clubs that anytime there is a job opening, a well-time advertisement or simply word of mouth should be enough to result in a flood of applicants. It turns out, however, that list is so short, no one is really on it any longer.

111022 hired2.jpgThat was when Oakland Hills Director of Agronomy Phil Cuffare called upon his legacy as a mentor and mentee to change the way he searches for help.

"It used to be, you would get 25 applicants and weed out the ones who don't work hard rather than engage them and see what makes them tick," Cuffare said.

"My eyes opened when I took the job at Oakland Hills in 2018. Kids who applied weren't interested in hard work. Oakland Hills wasn't a good enough sell anymore. They weren't moved by Ben Hogan winning a major championship here. I don't think any of them even knew who Ben Hogan was."

Cuffare's recent help-wanted ad for assistant superintendent reflects his approach to hiring that puts the needs, development and growth of the applicant first. 

The job does not require experience or a college degree. What it does require is a desire to learn, work and grow. Rather than emphasize an applicant's previous experience, Cuffare instead focused on their work ethic and desire to learn as well as his background in mentoring.

Instead of requiring a college degree, the job promises a commitment to help applicants "achieve educational requirements and goals."

"Golf course experience is a plus but more importantly we are looking for passionate teammates that are motivated and want to be leaders."

Where Cuffare's approach really strays from the norm is after the interview.

For most, interviews are followed by a "don't call us, we'll call you" approach on the part of the employer. Not so at Oakland Hills.

"We don't hire talent, we hire people," Cuffare said. "If, after the interview and you see what we're about, if you're interested then call me. If you like what you see and you think you can be successful, then let's take that next step."

Cuffare, who came to Oakland Hills in 2018, learned the meaning of mentoring under superintendents such as Jeff Corcoran and Jared Viarengo.

"They were my motivation to be the best I can be," Cuffare said. "Now, I look for different ways to motivate people."

At age 45, Cuffare admits to being old school, but acknowledges that approach isn't good enough when trying to attract talent nowadays.

"It used to be at a place like Oakland Hills, it was all about championships, and that motivated employees," he said.

"The industry has changed. You have to take a new approach. You have to develop more of the business side than the farming side. We have to get creative in what we can offer. When I started, it was all about championships, but now it's about learning about leasing packages and renovations and restorations. You have to develop a different skill set than just growing grass and hosting tournaments."

His approach makes sense. Gen Y and Z have a well-chronicled difference of opinion of what a career should be compared with their Baby Boomer and Gen X colleagues. They have spent their lives watching their parents get burned out, chewed up and spit out by employers and have read countless articles of superintendents being pushed aside at age 50 for a younger and cheaper alternative.

"I don't mind 14-hour days, or rain, snow or mud. Kids today are not turned on to that, and definitely not by 14-hour days," he said. "We had to step back and see what we were doing wrong. It's not just golf, it's a generational thing." 

The $64,000 question is whether this approach works.

"We have a great staff. I think five of my former employees have gotten jobs as superintendents in the last four years," Cuffare said. "That's the ultimate compliment.

"When we hire someone, we don't want to choose you, we want you to choose us."

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