Identify a group of motivated 21, 22 and 23 year olds on their first major industry trip. Ask them if they are willing to meet in a hotel lobby at 6:30 a.m. for a roundtable discussion. Hope they don’t tell you to “bleep” off.
Isn’t being in your mid-30s, great?
Jacobsen provided this GCI editor with an opportunity to spend 2 ½ days touring production and manufacturing facilities, golf courses, and stadiums with participants in its annual Future Sports Turf Managers program. Our whirlwind through the Carolinas included candid conversations with The Peninsula Club’s Jared Nemitz, Sage Valley’s Chuck Green and the University of South Carolina’s Donnie Lindler.
I also learned twentysomethings can present themselves like industry veterans. One of our missions in the Carolinas involved understanding how young turfies view the industry. Are they fretting the industry’s future? Or are they bullish about it? Why are they getting into this industry? What are their expectations and goals? Where do they see themselves in 2026?
Receptions, bus rides and meals offered plenty of time to interact with the 20 recent or soon-to-be college turf school graduates representing 19 colleges. Before breakfast on a Wednesday morning, Eric Langford, Tanner Schoenfelder, Dylan Farber and Andrew Nisbet agreed to discuss their backgrounds, aspirations and impressions of the industry.
Langford and Schoenfelder are interning at Oregon beauty Bandon Dunes and New York brute Bethpage Black, respectively; Farber works on the crew at 2017 PGA site Quail Hollow Country Club; Nisbet serves as the second assistant superintendent at Nantucket Golf Club. Langford (Iowa State), Schoenfelder (North Dakota State) and Nisbet (University of Connecticut) are recent college graduates. Farber is close to earning a degree from Central Piedmont Community College.
Our conversation lasted 30 minutes. I could have spent three hours with this articulate, passionate and humble quartet. But the bus to Sage Valley was waiting for us.
Why did you pick this industry and how did you learn it offered career possibilities?
Langford: “The summer before I switched to turf, I was working in a kitchen in Ames (Iowa) at a big-time restaurant. I just wanted to get out of there, and I saw a golf course was hiring. I got a job on the grounds crew. I was stuck on the fairway mower all day. I figured it couldn’t get much worse than that, and I still loved it.”
Schoenfelder: “I was at Fargo Country Club playing in a high school tournament and asked the head pro if he was hiring high school kids, just because I wanted to be on the management side of it and go that route. So I got my start. The head pro I talked to at Fargo and his dad bought a little club. He gave me a call and asked if I wanted to go out there and help. It was a small, nine-hole course. There were five guys on the crew and they needed an extra hand, and I was pretty young. I went up there and fell in love with the turf side of it, the irrigation side of it. With only five guys, we did everything from irrigation to cutting greens to fertilizing. I got certified out there. I was the only guy certified, so I was spraying. It was really interesting.”
Farber: “I had no clue about it until I was 21. Straight out of high school I went to Western Carolina to be an emergency medical care major, and I was on track to go to med school – then the whole story about following an ex-girlfriend back home. She went to college with me, she wasn’t happy and we transferred back home. I tried to go UNC Charlotte as a nursing major, but their program was suspended. I withdrew and I was at a crossroads of my life. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do, and I started working at Cabarrus Country Club with Tim Davis, one of the longest standing superintendents in the Southeast. He’s been there for 28 years. I just fell in love with the business. Once I figured out you could get a degree in it, I was in.”
Nisbet: “I wanted to be a cop. In my second year of college, I went to the Connecticut State Police training. I realized instantly it wasn’t for me. I went to my boss at my golf course and said, ‘You know what, this is something I love and something I’m good at. Can you go to school for golf?’ He said, ‘You can either be a head pro or a superintendent.’ And he was actually the head pro and superintendent, so I had to pick a route. I ended up looking at Coastal Carolina for its PGM program and UConn’s turf program, and UConn’s turf was cheaper and I liked being outside. I transferred into that.”
What is turf school like these days?
Langford: “Different. When I first got into it, I dove in headfirst. I took a summer course and didn’t know anything. I didn’t even know turfgrass science was a major. The fact there was so many different types of turf that was used … warm-season, cool-season. It was a pretty crazy experience at first. It’s definitely something that once you actually start taking the classes and you’re passionate about what you are doing, it’s easy to learn.”
Schoenfelder: “I didn’t know what to expect. How much science to expect? How much hands-on experience we would get at NDSU? Overall, I’m pleased with all the classes. I probably know a lot more about farming than I ever need to know in my life being up there. There are some really specific golf course classes, some irrigation ones that have really stuck out and the science behind it is crazy. But then again, we learn a lot in the field that we don’t see in class. It’s a great mix between internships and classwork.”
Farber: “You learn a lot about how you do things and why you do things on the golf course actually on the job, but then you get into the classroom and learn the reasoning why the plant needs those things. School for me was just the … I don’t know how to say it. It makes sense of everything you do on the golf course. Why you do it? Why it needs it? So the experience you get while you are in school, no other major really does that for you – you spend half of the time outside and half of the time inside.”
Nisbet: “It’s a great mix of hands-on and in the classroom learning. People come up to you and say, ‘What’s your major?’ And you say, ‘turfgrass.’ And they say, ‘Oh, you just grow grass.’ But it’s a bachelor of science when it you get down to it. You get deeper into stuff that you didn’t even know existed. What I like about turf classes specifically are that the classes are smaller, so you network with students and faculty so much quicker and faster and better than I think any other major on the campus. Those very concentrated majors are fantastic. We are all in great positions now because of that and how well we have networked and connected within our own organization.”
What do you know about the condition of the industry you are entering?
Langford: “I hear a lot of stuff about long hours. Everybody always preaches that. But I remember listening to the Turfgrass Zealot podcast, and I remember listening to [Hazeltine National superintendent] Chris Tritabaugh and how he’s doing something different at his course and not necessarily making his guys work those long hours. There are different scenarios I have heard with people not necessarily putting in those hours all the time. It’s definitely going to be part of the industry, but it’s not going to be the whole time.”
Schoenfelder: “I think it’s crazy seeing the trends in golf courses being built and destroyed throughout the years. Jared at Peninsula Club had a graph in the ’60s when the Big 3 were playing, it was through the roof, and then in the late ‘90s when Tiger was booming it, it went through the roof, and now it’s diminishing. Jobs aren’t in as great of numbers, but we are in a pretty good spot to get a job. With that said, working with the new science and a bunch of different sciences getting done at Cornell like I have learned already at Bethpage, that’s what I think is the coolest part of the industry – just the new things coming out every new year.”
Farber: “The biggest thing I have taken from it so far is that first you have to love what you do. Find that thing that motivates you to come to work every morning. Two, networking. Like Jared said, it’s not necessarily who you know, but who knows you. There is no more truth to those words. In this business, it’s a lot of politicking that people don’t understand and once you wrap your head around that, the younger you are when you wrap your head around that, the more it’s going to benefit you.”
Nisbet: “On Cape Cod, it’s that very high-end spectrum, and I’m trying to grab as much experience as I can there and how we manage it. We are in this gray area where superintendents are getting older. We just went around the table and said how many kids are in our turf school, and there aren’t many. There are going to be a lot of jobs. There are going to be so many opportunities in those next 5-10 years. And what’s great now with the technology we utilize, you can basically determine your quality of life depending on what you want to do and what level you want to go into. I like that there’s options now, especially with how the new technology lets you do that.”
People from other generations often say your generation is lazy and isn’t willing to work like previous generations. Do you hear those things? What’s your reaction to it?
Langford: “We actually talked about that a lot in my classes. To me, it’s just a stereotype and I let it be just that because when you actually start working, it doesn’t take long for people to see that you are not a typical millennial. You just have to do your work and it’s very easy to overcome that in my opinion.”
Schoenfelder: “It’s proving yourself when you are young. We all started on golf courses pretty young. If you can prove yourself at the ages of 14, 16, 18, those guys you worked for can be references and people are going to call them up and they are going to say, ‘Yeah, this guy works his tail off. He’s always there on time.’”
Farber: “Some of the advice I have given myself over the years is to shut up, keep your nose to the ground and do what you know how to do. One of my assistants told me to not really pay attention to the chatter. People are always going to talk. That’s just what they do. As long as you keep doing what you know how to do, those people will eventually shoot themselves in the foot and you go from there.”
Nisbet: “We are just getting into it. You are going to meet kids that are lazier than others. I think we just take a little bit longer on average to realize what we want to do and the options in society, and then we put our nose to the grindstone and do it. My brother just transferred into UConn and he just started working on a golf course and he texted me and my mom: ‘I finally realize it takes passion and hard work to get what you want.’ He got into UConn by .05 of a GPA, and he busted it for a whole year. He learned it on his own and that’s what it takes. He’s turning 21 and maybe it takes a little bit longer than the Baby Boomers. It’s different how society is. But we are getting there.”
Where do you see yourself in 2026?
Langord: “I hope to be a superintendent at that point. I don’t know where. Hopefully somewhere on the West Coast. I have only been in Oregon a week or two, but it’s amazing so far.”
Schoenfelder: “If I’m going to be honest, my dream job is general manager at a resort club on a lake somewhere. Maybe in the Midwest. Maybe I should be more specific where I want to be, but I really don’t care. Anywhere with some views. But being here with all of these guys, the superintendent side of me might come out a little more. Run a crew on a golf course on a lake somewhere is kind of my overall goal.”
Farber: “By 2026, I would obviously like to be a superintendent, probably at a Tour stop course. Working in tournament golf the last two years has opened my eyes to the real monster of this game, and I love every second of it.”
Nisbet: “My dream job is to go back to New England somewhere and find a nice, small public course to manage. I like where I grew up … that small course where you know everybody and it’s a chill atmosphere. I miss that and hope to be back there in 10 years.”