There are plenty of pros and cons of being a golf course superintendent

Not realizing the historic occasion was upon me until after it had passed, I recently celebrated (or didn’t celebrate, as it were) my 25th anniversary of working on golf courses.

It was the late summer of 1988 when I stumbled onto a golf course in Florida for what I thought was, at most, a temporary job lasting a couple of months. I had moved down to Florida to live with my folks for a bit in an attempt to find myself and figure out what I wanted to do with my life.

Well, a quarter century later (man that sounds like a long time), I’m still on the golf course. Not literally that same course in Florida. That was six or seven golf courses ago, but you get the idea. The temporary, find-myself job turned out to be the career I was looking for all along. Although I still can’t say for certain that I actually found myself.

So, I was recently wondering, if given the chance to go back and chart a different future – make a totally different career choice – would I?

I don’t know the answer for certain. I do enjoy the job, especially the superintendent position I’ve been in the last dozen years here in western Washington. I know not everyone can say they like their job, and I try not to take that for granted. But, if I’m being honest with myself (And why wouldn’t I be?), would I really do it all over again, or would I try something else?

As with most things I’m not totally sure about, I decided to weigh the pros and cons of the job of golf course superintendent. At least the superintendent position as I have known it, which may be entirely different than someone else in a different part of the country (or different country altogether) has known it, or someone with a drastically different budget has known it, or someone working under a different owner or general manager has known it.

In the end, all I can do is judge what I have known.

Here’s what I came up with. The good and the bad. As I’m usually apt to do, let’s start with the bad.

THE CONS

  • Early hours. 25 years and I still don’t like getting up early.
  • Long hours. Superintendents rarely work 40-hour weeks, at least during the busy season.
  • Rain. Cold. Scorching heat … You get the idea.
  • Chemical applications. Sure, there is a safe way to apply chemicals, and I’ve tried my best to do so over the years. Still, given the choice between applying and not applying, it wouldn’t be a hard decision.
  • Flying balls! Yes, I’ve been hit. I don’t know a lot of superintendents who haven’t been hit. Comes with the territory.
  • Changing government regulations. Although I don’t always think of this as such a bad thing, adjusting to them hasn’t been easy.
  • Unrealistic expectations. It’s hard to constantly meet the expectations thrown at us from those above. (No offense to my boss!) Although we may hit what we think of as that high water mark a dozen or so times a year, it’s hard to do it day in and day out, 365 days a year. Golf courses, like a lot of things in this world, have good days and bad days. Curbing those unrealistic expectations on a daily basis can be a challenging part of the job, to say the least.

THE PROS

  • Being one with nature. This is easily the best part of the job. Being outside and enjoying the beauty of the land. I’ve been fortunate to have worked on some truly stunning properties, and molding those as well as protecting them and enhancing them is my favorite part of being a super.
  • Melding business and pleasure. One thing that draws most superintendents to the profession is the fact that they like the game of golf. Being able to work in and around something you enjoy, and can play nearly as much as you want, is another thing not to be underestimated.
  • Working with a great staff. The beauty of hiring your own people is that you can actually mold a staff that fits your personality and your work ethic. If you’re lucky, you can literally surround yourself with people you enjoy and that can even make you a better superintendent – even a better person. This is no small thing.
  • Visual satisfaction. There is something about being able to fully enjoy the fruits of your labor. I realize that for many career choices this is not always the case. A golf course superintendent gets to not only implement a vision (even on a day-to-day basis), but also actually gets to witness that vision come to life.
  • Challenge is rewarding. Example: When the owner tells you he wants the greens stimping up to 10.5 or 11 daily, but doesn’t want the greens’ health sacrificed either, that is a definite challenge. One can reject this challenge, arguing that it simply can’t be done, or one can meet the challenge head-on, finding a way to make it work.
  • Beats a cubicle. Nothing against anyone reading this from a cubicle, but they’re just not for me. I think the rejection of an office life is one of the great pulls of those who choose to work on golf courses, or at any other outdoor career.

Let’s see: I came up with seven cons and six pros. Uh-oh. Does that mean I’d change it all if I could? Probably not. The quality of the six pros far outweigh the negativity of the seven cons. And, to be honest, I could come up with a heck of a lot more pros if I put my mind to it.

I’m sure there are some better jobs out there – some more satisfying, higher-paying jobs. But, in the grand scheme of things, a golf course superintendent has got to be pretty high up on the list.

Maybe a superhero … Yeah, superhero over superintendent. That I’d do.