“I’m not much for sitting around and thinking about the past or talking about the past. What does that accomplish? If I can give young people something to think about, like the future, that’s a better use of my time.”
– Arnold Palmer.
I never once disagreed with Mr. Palmer about anything and I particularly adore his quote above. As I get older, it’s sometimes tempting to take a trip down memory lane or to wax poetic about how great things used to be. “Back in my day, we didn’t do such and such” or “When I was young yada, yada, yada.” Half of my Facebook feed are posts from my old fart friends shaking their fists at modernity and damning millennials for being lazy and feckless.
Who cares? The past is just prologue. Yearning for yesterday is an utter waste of time.
So, let’s heed Mr. Palmer’s advice and talk to young turf professionals and offer them some ideas based on whatever wisdom our experience has given us. The great news is that the opportunities for bright young people coming into this profession today are boundless. The pendulum has swung from having far too many aspiring superintendents with turf degrees to having far too few.
So, I believe talented, energetic young people can write their own ticket if they do a few things well:
Pick great bosses. Far too many young people are obsessed with working at great courses instead of working for great bosses. The most important thing you can do is to find out which veteran superintendents are the best mentors and teachers and try to work for one of them. Not only will you learn more, you’ll find the connectivity you get from a great boss is vastly more influential than a 90-day internship at a top-100 club.
Hustle your butt off before you put down roots. Sorry, but an ambitious young person who can easily relocate has more opportunity than one who can’t. Career plans get trumped by family plans pretty much every time.
Network, network, network. This is a “who you know” industry. Make a plan to build relationships with people who can help you get where you want to go. Just make a simple plan, build a list and start reaching out to people to introduce yourself. And, yes, start a LinkedIn page and go get some danged business cards.
Focus on people management skills first. More than half of a maintenance budget goes to labor and your ability to achieve agronomic and business goals is going to rely on an increasingly smaller group of people. Learn how to manage them effectively. Get to know each member of your team as a person. One of the best articles we’ve published in Golf Course Industry was a piece by the legendary Dean Graves about that very concept (December 2017 issue).
Monitor Twitter. No, you don’t have to tweet a dozen times a day. What you can do is sign up and follow 15 to 20 accounts – universities, researchers, publications like Golf Course Industry and Golf Course Management, and thought-leader superintendents from around the country. Just lurk, listen and learn.
Learn about design. Understanding the history and practice of golf course architecture is important because it’s a common language that helps you communicate with designers, builders and avid golfers. Educate yourself about the old dead Scottish guys, but also learn why Tom Doak and Coore/Crenshaw have revolutionized design and how that’s impacting maintenance now and in the future.
Dress appropriately. You don’t need to wear a necktie unless you’re going to a wedding or a funeral. But you do need to get yourself a decent blue or black blazer you can wear year-round and three or four good, no-wrinkle button-down shirts from Lands’ End or L.L. Bean. While you’re at L.L. Bean, buy a couple of pairs of their good khakis, or pick up a couple skirts or dresses. Get cool, fun socks. Buy a pair of black loafers or flats and take care of them. Spend some money on nice pullovers or golf vests from top courses you visit. Nothing starts a great conversation faster than a cool golf club logo on your jacket.
Recognize this one truth. Very few people get rich doing this. It can be incredibly frustrating and even daunting. If you’re seeking fame, look elsewhere. But if you’re passionate and you get a buzz from gazing out at a giant, beautiful green canvas that you helped to paint, stick with it and enjoy the ride. You’ll love every minute of it.