The list of presenters resembled an agronomic all-star team a pair of recent Penn State graduates had only experienced through seeing the names in trade publications.
Ken Mangum. Bruce Williams. Bob Farren. Cal Roth. Dean Graves.
“To sit in the room with Bob Farren and Bruce Williams and those guys you see in the magazines and see on TV … That’s who you aspire to be,” Tyler Otero says. “It just kind of gave you that little bit of extra drive.”
Otero occupied a different place in the room when he returned to North Carolina last month for the 10th anniversary of Green Start Academy. The former Trump National Bedminster assistant superintendent is the superintendent at North Jersey Country Club, a position he has held since December 2013. Otero, a participant in the inaugural Green Start Academy, spent six years as a superintendent in the Trump organization before landing at North Jersey.
One of Otero’s college classmates, David Delsandro, is another fast riser from the first Green Start Academy class who returned to North Carolina last month. Storied Oakmont Country Club hired Delsandro in 2013 as its director of U.S. Open operations and projects. He received the job after working three years as the grounds superintendents at Nassau (N.Y.) Country Club. Delsandro was an Oakmont assistant when he participated in the 2006 Green Start Academy.
“You are young, right out of school and Bob Farren is on the panel back then,” he says. “It was neat to meet people like him, take their advice and get to hear them speak on different factors.”
The event represented a new experience for everybody, including Bayer and John Deere, which saw value in creating a national workshop for motivated assistants. Neither company has relinquished its sponsorship despite some turbulent times in the industry. Otero and Delsandro managed to advance their careers during the uneasy period, and they reflected on industry changes and the evolving role of assistant superintendents during their time in North Carolina last month.
Today’s assistants are navigating a leaner industry, with the number of golf facilities decreasing from more than 16,000 in 2004 to 15,372 in 2014, according to National Golf Foundation data. Fewer facilities mean fewer head superintendent positions. Fewer available jobs means more frustration for emerging turfgrass managers who harbor ambitions similar to what Otero and Delsandro displayed when they left Penn State.
“I think it’s more competitive,” Otero says. “Golf courses are closing. With the economic climate of golf, there are less jobs and turf schools are struggling to fill rosters. But yet there is still demand for middle management guys on golf courses and those top jobs are getting harder and harder to get because there are a lot of young superintendents out there. It has created better assistants, but I think some guys get frustrated, too.”
Assistants who endure the waiting game are playing more prominent roles at their respective facilities than they did in 2006, according to Delsandro. “As superintendents are taking on greater responsibilities and greater demands are being put on them at their facilities, it’s a trickle-down effect,” he says. “The assistants are probably, if anything, doing more now.”
Observing how his assistants handle their work is a reason Otero remains bullish on the next generation of superintendents. His interactions with the 54 Green Start Academy participants reinforced his optimism.
“The biggest compliment you get is your assistant getting a superintendent job,” he says. “That means you have done your job. They’re happy and you’re happy, and you get the next guy coming through. As you can see, there’s a lot of talent behind them waiting to fill those spots. I think the industry is in a good spot right now.”
Spoken like an industry veteran.
Here’s something that might have sneaked up on even the most avid professional golf fans working in the industry: a new PGA Tour season started Oct. 15. Crazy, right?
Following the PGA Tour has become a year-round task with few respites. The 2014-15 season, after all, ended Sept. 25. Imagine if the NFL or NBA only had a three-week “offseason.”
The official 2015-16 PGA Tour schedule includes 47 events, meaning plenty of opportunities for high definition images of manicured turf. To honor the never-ending season, we offered an agronomic preview of what awaits. It can be viewed by entering bit.ly/1Lcbwzz into your web browser.