It always surprises me when a “big name” superintendent job comes open—and they do, despite what you might think—how clubs do a search. Too many times, top clubs act like teenage pop fans and seek style over substance, exposure over experience. The clubs tell themselves they want someone who’ll provide them with better course conditions, but then they act as if they just want bragging rights.

Clubs typically get someone a little younger, full of energy and enthusiasm, and willing to put forth the effort. But that often means someone without experience in the more subtle skills, without what I’d call “seasoning.”

Wouldn’t it be better if they hired a superintendent experienced in all elements of course management? By that I mean the business of golf and the business of people. I’ve worked with many first assistants who know agronomy but don’t know – and worse, haven’t been mentored by their supervisor – the ways of the non-turf world: club politics, human resources, how to write a report and talk to a board.

All very important skills, as any boss will tell you.

Clubs should look for those who can handle the hot seat when things don’t go as planned and can admit to, and handle, their own mistakes. They also should look for leaders who have, or can grow into, the skills to manage both down (a diverse staff) and up (members, boards and club executives).

I’ve worked with many first assistants who know agronomy but don’t know – and worse, haven’t been mentored by their supervisor – the ways of the non-turf world: club politics, human resources, how to write a report and talk to a board. All very important skills, as any boss will tell you.”

As one of my mentors often said, “This job is 10 percent turfgrass and 90 percent people.”

And where does the responsibility for training lie? With the guy in charge. If that’s you, Mr. Director of Grounds and Agronomy, you owe it to your best people to prepare them for their next opportunities. If you want them to have a good shot at moving up, be sure to hold their feet to the fire, see how they take the heat and teach them to put out the flames. It will make them, you and our profession stronger.

If you’re the guy in charge, teaching assistants the ropes should not make you afraid for your own job. Guide, don’t give all the answers. Challenge, don’t do all the heavy lifting. Push, don’t drag them along if the desire and discipline is not there.

For example:

  • Involve your assistant in creating the operating and capital expenditures budget process.
  • Is your assistant involved in human resources and personnel disciplinary processes? Do they know how to handle today’s sensitive work environment?
  • Have you involved your assistant in presentations at green committee meetings? Or given them a small topic to deliver before a board or club audience? A small role goes a long way in breaking the ice.
  • Speaking and dressing well are essential to becoming a leader and impressing those making hiring decisions. Articulately expressing opinions and knowledge is often difficult, but you’ve achieved your stature – help your assistant do the same.

If you’re the assistant, gaining experience is something you should strive for, not wait for it to be dropped in your lap.

  • Make the effort to try new things, learn the ropes and stretch outside your comfort zone. Remember, there’s more to our profession than greenside up.
  • Learn what you can about all things budget-related. It’s all about the finances because you are managing someone else’s money.
  • Practice your presentation skills and your professional look. Speaking confidently and being able to explain clearly is key to gaining anyone’s support. You can’t sit behind your phone and hide.
  • And cut the slang, dude. It won’t play well in the boardroom. Learn how to speak at the members’ level and don’t be afraid to ask questions.

You don’t learn by being given “the answers.” You learn by being given the space to discover the answers for yourself.

Tim Moraghan, principal, ASPIRE Golf (tmoraghan@aspire-golf.com). Follow Tim’s blog, Golf Course Confidential at www.aspire-golf.com/buzz.html or on Twitter @TimMoraghan