This column is for all the assistant superintendents who are wondering if they have what it takes, and are ready, to be the top dog. When is it time to think that you should be a head superintendent?
There’s no easy answer, so what follows are mostly questions that you should be asking yourself — and answering brutally honestly.
Start with this: What is your motivation? Why do you want to move up? Is it ego? Pressure from what you see around you in the industry or with guys you started out with who’ve moved up? Is being the head guy the only way you feel that what you’re doing is “legitimate?” Or are you tired of where you are, either stuck in the same job or at the same course, or both?
The next question might seem to be an easy one, but dig deep: Is this the profession you want to make your living in? I got into the business because I enjoyed being outside and working hard. But it’s way more than that today.
Remember why you got into the business in the first place. Are your career objectives still valid? Look around. Many courses have closed in the last few years and there are some important people (with jobs) in the industry saying that more must close before the industry stabilizes. Do you have what it takes in a shrinking market to rise to the top and stay there?
Again. Are you ready? That’s the question many assistants have trouble answering faithfully. If you’re not 100 percent committed to moving ahead, then you may be better off remaining an assistant: Working for a good leader, getting great training and valuable experience, and being backed by an ample budget.
There’s no shame in admitting — or better yet, understanding — that it isn’t your time yet. A good assistant’s job can be better than being the head guy at a “typical” club. There’s always more to learn and more opportunities to improve, chances that might not exist if you move up too early. Are you ready to teach and control your own destiny? The price of failure at the top level is high.
Also, there are other options, different scenarios and chains of command. One of my clients is an affluent club with multiple courses. Each one has a “head” superintendent, but they all report to the vice president of agronomy. So, in reality, the VP is the top dog. The supers are really assistants, but it’s a superb, high-profile training ground with abundant resources, educational opportunities, televised tournaments, constant construction projects, and both warm- and cool-season grasses.
I’m not saying you have to stay put. But there are some very good reasons to. Here are a few:
- Education. Keep learning without the pressure of being in charge.
- Flexibility to go off course. Travel, seminars, see other golf courses, volunteer at championships.
- Experience. Continue to gain it, learn under a self-assured leader who lets you manage a crew, assist with budgets, attend meetings, make presentations and prepare long-range plans.
- Economic reality. The salary may appear higher than what you are currently making, but tax implications and other factors may even it out.
- Cost of living. The head job may not be in synch with what you anticipated when you drill down on the numbers of the offer and area to live.
- Family matters. If you must relocate, consider your spouse’s job, the kids’ schools and other off-course, everyday life issues.
- Do more with less. You may get the title, but along with it comes a steep learning curve and maybe without the resources to make it work.
- Age. Don’t move if you are too young; it’s hard to move if you are too old.
- Tournaments. If your club is on the verge of hosting a major tournament, it might be worth staying for the experience.
- Getting lost. If you take the leap, you probably then drop under the radar for future opportunities. Is the first head super job that comes along the right one? Will it allow you to reach your full potential?
- Hone other skills. It’s OK to look around, interview and hone your skills even if it’s a job you don’t want.
Don’t be afraid to stay, improve, learn the aspects of club life and politics that are vitally important, and then reach for that better job. There is nothing wrong with being No. 2 if it’s truly preparing you to be a great No. 1.