Our state of the profession survey and special report benchmarks sentiments from superintendents on rounds, revenue, budgets, quality of life and job satisfaction.

One interesting tidbit that didn’t make the main story was an open-ended question: “What one thing would you change about your job?” The answers were varied, to be sure. But a few recurring sentiments echoed regularly:

  • “To have more free time to spend with family.”
  • “Work smarter, delegate more and work fewer hours.”
  • “I would like to get away for just one day during the season.”
  • “It’s the hours, stupid!”

The profession long has chronicled the time demands on golf course managers. Inseason means peak revenue opportunities, and your business can’t afford to allow conditions to miss expectations, especially in competitive markets.

However, things appear to be changing for assistant superintendents and the rest of the crew, at least anecdotally. I’ve talked to dozens of superintendents who structure the shifts of assistants to alternate weekends off, to get some random days off during the season, and even take summer vacations. The only way to work with the intensity demanded by modern golf course conditions is to recharge and stay motivated.

I applaud superintendents who are able to do this for their teams. It would be easy to adopt the mentality of “that’s just the way it is in this industry” or “I had to pay my dues, and so do you.” We can’t continue to punish our most knowledgeable turfgrass and crew managers like medical residents on an ER rotation and still expect to attract and retain talent.

Compensation is another sticky wicket. Superintendents typically align their salaries with hours worked. If they worked fewer hours, I don’t think the pay gripes would still exist to the extent they do now.

  • “I would negotiate an appropriate salary for renovation projects.”
  • “Pay is too low for the sh*t I take.”
  • “Demands not balanced with the pay scale.”
  • “Matching 401k contributions.”

These grievances, especially for retirement benefits, are things that all American businesses are grappling with. Matching retirement contributions dwindled during the Great Recession, and many businesses didn’t bring them back. All workers will continue to examine their own pay equity and work/life balance as the country collectively restructures its businesses and workforce into a new normal with taxes, healthcare, retirement benefits and salaries all in play.

Golf course demands versus budget realities, and unrealistic expectations from golfers, the board and the management team continue to be challenges, too. The guys who manage this best are the ones who can point to a master plan and maintenance standards for their golf course. If you don’t set expectations, then it’s almost impossible to explain why the back-9 bunkers weren’t raked on a random Tuesday.

There is an undertone to many of these comments about golfers: Their standards are too high for the money they pay, and they take their golf course too seriously, as if the golf course conditions reflect their status in other parts of their life. When I was young, an older colleague once told me: “We don’t save lives here. If you screw up, nobody dies, so relax and do your best.”

It’s nice to have that perspective, but it’s harder to get that kind of buy-in from the management team, which is why my favorite comment might be, “I’d change people from thinking there are emergencies on the golf course. Doctors deal with emergencies, we don’t.”