We are fortunate to have some of the best golf course superintendents as members of our editorial advisory board. So who better to ask: What are the top two attributes it takes to be the best golf course superintendent and why?

Here is what they had to say: 

Superintendents must be a lot of things: scientists, chemists, accountants, HR managers, lawyers, babysitters, etc.  At the end of the day, two major attributes help define and make each superintendent unique. Foremost is attention to detail in all aspects of the job. This can be during presentations to your board to how you grind and maintain your greens mowers. The sum of all the details is what make the golf course and your entire operation either shine or struggle. It is our job to analyze and see things that others do not on a daily basis, hopefully to see things before they happen. The second trait that is critical for a superintendent is the ability to be flexible at all times. We all like to have the best laid-out plans to keep us and our entire team focused, but the ability to adapt is a must when you are dealing with a living, breathing environment. Plans are good for the time you make them, but it is your ability to see changes and adjust to them in the field that can either make or break you throughout the year.

Chris Dalhamer

Director of Golf Maintenance

Pebble Beach Golf Links

Pebble Beach, California

Two things that stand out to me when I think about successful superintendents is passion and resilience. Great superintendents put their entire heart and soul into their jobs every day. Most often, this is reflected in an extraordinary eye for detail and consistency in course conditioning regardless of budget. It seems like there is always something coming around the corner trying to derail our best-laid plans, whether it be a weather event, equipment/irrigation malfunction, etc. The ability to maintain a calm and composed demeanor during times of stress is essential to maintain the confidence and respect of staff and management. 

Kevin Smith

Vice President and Director of Agronomy

Pinnacle Golf Properties

Greensboro, North Carolina 

There are two attributes I feel that are important to becoming a good golf course superintendent: patience and aggressiveness. These qualities are required in making turfgrass decisions or dealing with staff and members. The ability to sit and wait for better weather conditions to heal turf loss takes lots of patience while many times you just want to quickly resolve the issue. However, quick resolutions may not be the best long-term answer. An example is using sod to create temporary satisfaction, but that can lead to further agronomic difficulties. The balancing act is to be aggressive in your thoughts while maintaining patience in your actions. If you can do these things, I promise you will become the best golf course superintendent that you can be.

Shawn Emerson

Director of Agronomy

The Desert Mountain Club

Scottsdale, Arizona

The top attribute required to be a great golf course superintendent is understanding that you are not only making a career choice but also a lifestyle choice. I tell my assistants that all the time. This is a profession that requires longer hours than most and an understanding that we are always on call and that the buck stops here. As a result, superintendents need to excel at time management and live a healthy work/life balance. That means getting creative with work schedules so family doesn’t fall to the wayside. It doesn’t take long for those people who don’t accept this fact to exit the business. Second, a great superintendent is someone who can adapt well to change and understand the priorities in the minds of the customers and/or members. For example, hat I define as great turf conditions aren’t exactly what my members appreciate. In fact, it’s just the opposite. When I was younger in my career, I can remember spending a lot of resources on getting my approaches “tighter” and closer cut, only to be told our members can’t hit that shot. In fact, at the time, they liked the half-inch cut turf that they could slide a club under. Listening skills have made me a better super and a better person all around.

Brian J. Stiehler

Certified Golf Course Superintendent

Highlands Country Club

Highlands, North Carolina 

My top two attributes of a golf course superintendent are confidence in his or her abilities and a true passion for this profession. Being a golf course superintendent is a tough and often thankless job. We are second guessed and often critiqued by individuals who understand very little about the challenges we incur on a daily basis. We are undoubtedly the most educated and qualified person on the property to make the best decisions regarding the care of the golf course. It’s imperative we act like it and exhibit confidence at every level. Equally important is absolutely loving what you do. Superintendent jobs are packed with pressure: long days, short nights, floods, droughts, record high temperatures, record low temperatures, member complaints, employee complaints, employee no-shows, etc. But I would not have it any other way.

Craig Felton

Golf Course Superintendent

Oak Hills Country Club

San Antonio, Texas

To be the best golf course superintendent you first need to be a leader — not a boss but a leader. You need to lead your employees, your department, your grounds culture. You also need to lead your boss, members, guests, committees and board members. You are the expert golf course manager and you need to show strong leadership. You are the one that creates the culture around you and strong leaders make a great culture. Secondly, you need to be a great listener to all of the groups listed above. Great leaders are excellent listeners.

Steve Hammon

Golf Course Superintendent

Traverse City Golf & Country Club

Traverse City, Michigan

My two best attributes for a superintendent would be being adaptable and having commitment. One must be adaptable to adjust to new or changed circumstances. The golf course is a living thing and is constantly changing. A superintendent must adapt to a wide variety of things from Mother Nature to green committee boards to ownership and member expectations.

Commitment is defined as the state or quality of being dedicated to a cause, activity, etc. A superintendent must be committed to providing the best possible playing conditions. This requires commitment on the part of the superintendent and crew. This is not a typical nine-to-five job.  

Michael Osley

Golf Operations Superintendent

Aurora, Colorado

It’s very clear to me that the two attributes that separate the good superintendents from the great superintendents are passion and having a green thumb. Both are intangibles that you can’t teach or tutor. For many successful superintendents, it’s not a job — it’s part of your lifestyle.

Rick Slattery

Golf Course Superintendent

Locust Hill Country Club

Rochester, New York

Superintendent’s tend to be the most creative, dependable and down-to-earth people that I know. But what are the two attributes that make the best of the best? Problem solving is one attribute that sets superintendents apart. Every golf course is unique with its own set of problems that can be solved in many different ways. Unlike being hesitant to ask someone for directions when lost, the best superintendent isn’t afraid to ask someone for help if he can’t solve a problem himself. Another attribute of the best is the ability to see into the future. The best superintendents plan ahead so they might not have to solve as many problems in the future.

Todd Voss

COO/Golf Course Superintendent

The Double Eagle Club

Galena, Ohio

I would say being a good people person, and having a thirst to learn and grow. A good people person respects, listens, teaches, leads and communicates. A thirst to grow keeps the passion at a high level and stimulates ongoing improvement on all fronts demanded by the profession.

Dan Dinelli

Certified Golf Course Superintendent

North Shore Country Club

Glenville, Illinois

I’ve had the pleasure of working for some very good superintendents and most of them possessed two distinct attributes I looked for in a leader. The first is the ability to be calm during stressful situations. Staff and members look to you during times of crisis, and being calm lets everyone involved know that you are in control. The second is being responsive. In this day of instant communication, people want answers to their questions, and when you don’t respond they will look to others that are less informed to fill in the blanks.

Pat Daly

Golf Course Superintendent

Framingham Country Club

Framingham, Massachusetts

Featured photo: erhui1979/iStock