What started for Jason Podris as a one year trial of living in Ireland has evolved into an extended career and family track with a focus on work/life balance. A 2000 Rutgers graduate originally from the Poughkeepsie, NY area, Podris married a woman from Ireland and in 2005 the couple embarked on their trial run living in her home country. After several intermediate stops in the Republic of Ireland — including The K Club and Galway Bay Golf Resort — Podris in 2012 accepted the position of course manager at Fortwilliam Golf Club in Belfast, Northern Ireland, where he and his family relocated.
As his wife Catherine is an Irish citizen, living and working legally in Ireland was not an issue for Podris. His visa applications were easy and straightforward until he applied for permanent residency in Northern Ireland. That application involved a test that included much of the history of Great Britain. After intense study he was approved for long term residency.
Fortwilliam Golf Club was established in 1891 and moved to its present-day site in 1903. The club has approximately 1100 members, 500 of whom are golf members. Podris manages the property with a year-round staff of only five people, which expands to seven during the summer months — paltry by American standards.
When comparing expectations of his membership to golfers in the States Podris explained, “Both groups want fast, true greens, but the membership here understands the limitations of having a small staff as it relates to the other areas of the course. Slight imperfections and an occasional trouble area are accepted without complaint."
At his previous two positions (The K Club and Galway Bay), Podris brought the intense American superintendent work ethic and thought nothing of being on the job 60-70 hours per week. Since his move to Belfast, his work week is typically in the 37-39 hour range. The only exceptions are a few weeks with major club events when he might work 45-50 hours.
Podris manages the property with a year-round staff of only five people, which expands to seven during the summer months — paltry by American standards.
Podris and members of his team routinely take their vacations in season, when children are out of school and families can get away together. With coordination of duties and tasks, the course is still maintained to the same standard. Weekends are also rotated so that staff can have that time to be with their families.
One adjustment Podris had to make was the limited availability of products from suppliers in Ireland compared to the United States. There are fewer chemicals available to golf courses there but thankfully there are fewer pests overall.
While there are dealer and distributor networks in Ireland, they tend to be much smaller and farther afield than in the States. It’s not unusual for Podris to wait a week or more for a part that would arrive the same day or overnight in the States. “Growing up in an environment where everything is needed ‘now’ it took a long time – easily years – to get over that expectation,” Podris said. He keeps internal communications open and his management team in the loop.
The maintenance budget at Fortwilliam Golf Club is small by US standards. His entire budget is £225,000 ($271,000). Of that, £60,000 ($72,000) is budgeted for supplies and materials. The rest is allocated to labor.
To say the irrigation system there is antiquated is an understatement. The club only needs to irrigate for three or four weeks a year. A system of pipes and hoses delivers the water where it is needed and an upgrade to the system isn’t in the cards for the future.
Another challenge for Podris is course drainage. The course is built on a heavy clay soil which doesn’t drain well, especially in the winter months. The club’s solution is to take a few of the worst holes out of play for much of the winter to preserve the turf there.
As for limiting the incidence of turf disease, Podris explained, “It all goes back to the basics, about making sure your soils are healthy. Aerify and use fertility products that promote plant health. The goal is just to keep your plant healthy throughout the year.”
Podris encountered several practices in Ireland that he didn’t see as often in the States – scarifying and fairway topdressing. He explained that even the smallest clubs topdress fairways and have for twenty or more years. Each year Podris applies over 300 tons of sand to the Fortwilliam fairways. The club employs an outside contractor who completes the job in one day.
As for professional development, Podris can rarely get to the industry conferences so instead opts for keeping up with current information from TurfNet and other online media. “Between running the golf course and having two teenagers and an eight-year-old the time for offsite professional development has been kind of taken away. I’m not saying it’s not important, it’s just not a top priority for me at this time.”
Asked what he would tell other industry professionals who are considering an international career move, Podris replied, “Over in the States you’re always encouraged to move around and work at as many golf courses as you can to get that experience. Why not try to do that in another country? The time pressure here is much less and that translates to more time that you can spend with your family. That has been a great benefit of working over here. If you can figure out that balance and get it someplace else, it’s a great thing to do.”
— Jon Kiger
Jason can be reached at email@example.com.