The trio of Chicagoland 9-holers featured in this month’s cover package employs a combined half-dozen full-time golf course maintenance workers. Downers Grove Golf Club, Tam O’Shanter Golf Course and Pottawatomie Golf Course combined to support more than 115,000 rounds in a cool-weather market last year.
Yikes? Or wow?
Amazingly, Downers Grove’s Jeff Pozen, Tam O’Shanter’s Jim Stoneberg and Pottawatomie’s Denise Gillett-Parchert concoct ways to complete the job and advance to the next season. The combined length of their respective tenures exceeds 60 years. Pozen, Stoneberg and Gillett-Parchert are loyal municipal employees. Their work allows the park districts they represent to make money on golf. Moreover, their work provides pleasant physical and mental recreational greenspaces within a densely populated region.
Their stories and courses are inspirational.
Pozen, Stoneberg and Gillett-Parchert prove jobs at clubs with seven-figure maintenance budgets aren’t prerequisites to career success in the golf industry. They found fulfillment at places filled with golfers of all skills and sizes. Their courses include it-happened-here histories, which are detailed on these pages. Pozen is linked with Charles Blair Macdonald, whose writings he studied in high school. Stoneberg is linked with the first generation of golfers who appeared on television. Gillett-Parchert is linked with one of the earliest versions of Robert Trent Jones Sr.’s imaginative work.
They are also linked with nearly everybody who reads this magazine. Pozen, Stoneberg and Gillett-Parchert are managing big properties (yes, even 9-holers have significant footprints) with small crews in an era of heavy play. Sound familiar?
Stoneberg spent his first 21 years at Tam O’Shanter as the lone full-time, year-round employee. Finally, last year, the Niles Park District added a second year-round employee. As we chatted in his office on a dreary early spring morning, I asked a question I’m seemingly asking every superintendent these days: How does a large, constantly changing outdoor landscape remain in tidy condition with minimal personnel? It’s a question the people who are doing the actual work are often too busy to ponder.
“You just try to find a way to fit everything that has to be done in a day into your schedule,” Stoneberg says. “I do the aerating, the spraying, the topdressing. I cut fairways. I don’t know how I get it done.”
Stoneberg adds that using his allotted vacation time in the off-season helps him handle the demands of the job. Fortunately, Tam O’Shanter is closed during Chicago’s harsh winters.
Superintendents in regions with weather conducive to year-round golf find it trickier to take extended respites, despite the plethora of research indicating breaks, vacations and personal time lead to more productive work upon an employee’s return. The national labor crunch makes scheduling time off more challenging in golf and dozens of other industries requiring hands-on work.
Nothing through the first four months of 2022 suggests that a short-term solution to golf’s labor woes will emerge. More facilities are trending toward smaller crews. Seasonal employees provide boosts in cool- and warm-weather regions. But what happens when a few seasonal employees opt against returning? Stoneberg faced this situation as temperatures started to warm this spring. “You’re nothing without a returning staff,” he says.
And golf is nothing without people like Pozen, Stoneberg and Gillett-Parchert. Outsiders will never fully understand how they get everything done, because superintendents are a humble group. Even when you ask them how they make the seemingly far-fetched appear obtainable, they struggle to provide a comprehensive answer. The only people capable of truly relating to their situations are experiencing the same dilemma.
Big landscapes. Small crews. Yet, there are still jobs that are tremendous fits. Pozen, Stoneberg and Gillett-Parchert are proof those jobs exist.
Yikes? Or wow?
Sometimes it can be both.