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John Reitman

By John Reitman

Sandhills, USGA partner on apprenticeship program

120122usgasandhills.jpgSandhills Community College will be offering a 12-month Greenkeeper Apprenticeship Program. USGA photo

The USGA and Sandhills Community College in Pinehurst are partnering to create the USGA Greenkeeper Apprenticeship Program (GAP). The 12-month program through ApprenticeshipNC is designed for anyone interested in a career in golf course maintenance or who wants to work on a course and improve their skills.

GAP is a collaboration with local golf course superintendents and aims to recruit, train and educate the next generation of golf course maintenance professionals, while removing barriers to entry into the profession and providing participants with a living wage.

In-person instruction is scheduled to begin in January and is combined with on-the-job training at golf courses in the Pinehurst area, including Pinehurst Resort, Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club, Forest Creek Golf Club and the Country Club of North Carolina.

"The USGA has long had a close working relationship with our friends in the industry who own, operate and maintain the greens that every golfer plays on," Matt Pringle, Ph.D., executive director of the USGA Green Section, said in a news release. "This pilot program is an opportunity to do our part to strengthen the golf workforce in our new home community and foster an even stronger golf economy in North Carolina."

Qualified applicants receive free lessons through a regional partnership with the USGA, ApprenticeshipNC and regional golf institutions. Participating golf courses in the Pinehurst area hire all students at a minimum wage of $15 per hour at the beginning of the program with a commitment to increase their hourly wage to a minimum of $17 per hour upon completion of the program.

"Attracting and retaining a skilled workforce is an ongoing challenge for the golf course industry," Bob Farren, CGCS, director of golf course maintenance at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club, said in the release. "This apprenticeship program is able to meet this challenge by creating career paths for its graduates who will be trained in the latest golf course maintenance technologies and best practices."

Among the USGA educators who will be teaching the inaugural courses is USGA agronomist Jordan Booth, Ph.D.; Chris Hartwiger, director of the USGA's Golf Course Advisory Service; and the USGA's Cole Thompson, Ph.D., director of turf and environmental research for the USGA.

Students advance their knowledge through college courses based on their work schedules. Courses include soil science, water management, lawn science and pest control. GAP participants gain expertise in using the ever-evolving tools of their trade, from maintaining automatic irrigation systems and autonomous mowers to GPS-guided robotics that manage energy, water, labor and nutrients more efficiently — the top four maintenance costs for most courses .

GAP participants gain expertise in using the ever-evolving tools of their trade, from maintaining automatic irrigation systems and autonomous mowers to GPS-guided robotics...

"Sandhills Community College is committed to meeting the workforce needs of our community. The golf industry is an important part," said Sandhills president John Dempsey, Ph.D. "This unique partnership with SCC, USGA and local golf courses demonstrates how partnerships are able to address the challenges faced by our local employers and provide a pipeline of skilled workers who then have increased earning potential."

In addition to the qualifications earned at Sandhills Community College, trainees receive a Journey Worker Card through the North Carolina and United States Departments of Labor, giving anyone the essential tools for a successful career in golf course maintenance.

Registration is now open at sandhills.edu. The second cohort of GAP students will begin in June 2023.

GAP, a pilot program with a curriculum developed by the USGA, is the USGA's latest effort to help golf courses provide golfers with the best playing conditions while managing resources more efficiently, advancing science and agronomic skills, and providing hands-on advisory services to manage costs . These efforts are led by the USGA Green Section, a division of the organization dedicated solely to golf course sustainability.

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