It’s tough to become a golf course superintendent these days. Tough because of the shrinking job market and oversupply of competition. That happens when 150 golf courses have been closing a year for the last eight years.
So if you’re looking for a job as a superintendent — whether you’re an assistant looking to move up or a superintendent looking for a better gig — you better have a solid plan if you’re chasing one of the few openings out there.
Billy Weeks had a grand plan when he pursued the superintendent’s position at Duke University Golf Club in Durham, North Carolina, about four years ago. Weeks’ plan was so good that I have to share it with you.
Weeks was working at Steelwood Country Club near Mobile, Alabama, when he learned about the Duke opening after the longtime superintendent there retired. Weeks had only been at Steelwood for about a year and liked the job, but he knew the Duke position was a step up in terms of prestige and pay. So Weeks went after the Duke job with an off-the-chart earnestness.
“When opportunity knocked, I had to answer,” he says. “I wasn’t looking to leave Steelwood. It was a great place and I left it better then I found it. It was amazing what the crew and staff did in 13 months to turn the conditions around. The job at Duke was a great move for my family.”
More than 150 candidates applied for the Duke job. Weeks’ application earned him a phone interview with Duke General Manager Ed Ibarguen. Weeks passed that test and earned a second phone interview with Ibarguen, who made it clear he didn’t want a superintendent who’d be looking for the next best thing shortly after he got the job.
Ibarguen knows there’s a philosophy among those in the golf industry that they should jump from job to job every few years to advance their careers. And he recognized that Weeks was looking for a new job after spending only a year at Steelwood.
“He wanted to know if my heart was in it,” Weeks explains.
Weeks convinced Ibarguen that his heart was in it and that he wanted the job for all the right reasons, including establishing roots in North Carolina. Weeks was one of 15 final candidates who were invited to Duke to tour the course and the maintenance facility and to interview with Ibarguen in person. All of the candidates were from North Carolina or the surrounding states, except for Weeks.
“I really wanted to show him that I was committed, and that I really wanted to make the move,” Weeks says.
He did, and Weeks was named as one of two finalists. This is where his aspiration to get the job really kicked in.
Weeks phoned Ibarguen and told him he wanted to fly to Durham to visit the course and study it in preparation for his final interview, which involved meeting separately with Ibarguen and nine other Duke staffers, including the athletic director and the golf coaches.
Ibarguen told Weeks he would have to pay for the trip out of his own pocket, because it wasn’t in the budget. That was no problem for Weeks, who flew to Durham and spent one and a half days touring the course and taking notes and photographs.
Before the final interview, Weeks sent Ibarguen a leather-bound notebook with Ibarguen’s named engraved on it containing an extensive report with photographs detailing what Weeks would do the first week, the first three months, the first six months and the first year if he was named superintendent.
Weeks had gotten the names of the other interviewers and sent them personalized notebooks containing the same information.
“You have to be tactful when you do that,” Weeks advises. “You don’t want to come across as brash.”
Weeks showed up for the interview dressed in his best suit. He was poised and primed for the 12-hour day head of him. Each interview lasted 20 minutes, and then Weeks had 10 minutes to get to the next interview.
Once the exhausting day was over, Weeks went home and waited. Each interviewer cast a vote for the candidate that impressed them the most. You can guess who won.
If you’re looking to move on and up in this industry, you may want to consider Weeks’ detailed and impassioned approach for getting the job you most desire.
“He went the extra mile,” Ibarguen says. “He let us know that he really wanted the job.”
You could say that Weeks clearly outjumped the competition. If it were for a spot on Duke’s famed basketball team, Coach K would snatch him up like a blue-chip recruit.
For Weeks, it was a slam dunk.
Superintendent’s Lawrence Aylward can be reached at email@example.com or 330-723-2136.