A golf course superintendent is a richly rewarding and hands-on job for anyone who loves the game of golf, improve a swing, and is interested in the maintenance of the playing grounds.
For players, a pristinely manicured golf course can be one of the primary reasons why they have a great experience on the links. This responsibility falls directly on the education and execution of the golf course superintendent.
To perform the duties of the superintendent at a high level of efficiency, the superintendent must be current with all the latest trends in golf course management, execute their management plan by clearly delegating tasks to staff, and be able to work within the restraints of a budget.
If anyone of these tasks becomes neglected, then it could ultimately show itself in the worsening condition of the course, causing membership at the club to fall and walk-in business to drop. So, as you can see, the golf course superintendent is incredibly important to the health of the course and, by proxy, the overall health of the club’s business.
This article is a deep dive into all of the intricacies of what a golf course superintendent can expect from their job. From salary to a daily schedule, everything is covered as we answer the question: What is it like to be a golf course superintendent?
What is a Golf Course Superintendent?
A golf course superintendent is the chief authority figure when it comes to the day-to-day care of the actual golf course. This incredibly important job oversees the management of all aspects of the course including such responsibilities as the health and maintenance of the turf and the irrigation systems that water the grass on each hole.
The superintendent also oversees a collection of employees that maintains the course. It is the superintendent’s job to make judgment calls on what needs to be improved or corrected either immediately or over time and pass that request onto their staff for execution.
The role of the golf course superintendent has become even more important in recent years as there is a push among groups, such as the USGA, to conserve resources such as water and reduce the use of pesticides and weed-killing chemicals to create a more green and safe playing surface for customers and members.
For environmental reasons alone, keeping up with the latest trends in turf management and finding new and exciting ways to care for the course’s turf is of utmost significance. So, even though the superintendent may already have a degree and certification, keeping those credentials up to date with continuing education is a smart play in staying relevant within the field.
What are the Job Requirements of a Golf Course Superintendent?
A golf course superintendent is ultimately responsible for everything that happens with the playing surface. From tee box to green, a superintendent is in charge of making sure that the course is in its best possible shape each and every day.
A huge requirement of being a successful golf course superintendent is working well with others. Since the golf course is located on such a sprawling piece of land, it is very difficult to be in multiple locations at once. So, for areas that need attention or improvement, the superintendent needs a well-trained and highly competent staff that can handle requests and follow through with the execution of the superintendent’s vision.
With rapidly changing environmental factors that the course deals with throughout the year, the golf course superintendent has to constantly be aware of the overall health of the turf and if it needs more personal care. That care could come in the form of more or less watering and aerating techniques that allow more air to get to the soil underneath the top layer of grass.
Why is Knowing Turf Science So Important for a Golf Course Superintendent?
Since golf demands a strong and adaptable playing surface that can withstand the punishment of hundreds of thousands of rounds each year, the golf course superintendent must keep the grass and the soil in tip-top shape.
Having an understanding of how turf reacts to the elements is crucial for a superintendent to know as it could be the difference between keeping the fairways pristine or allowing unsightly and unplayable brown spots to flourish in the grass.
For example, aeration is one of the best things that a superintendent can do for the health of the course’s soil, but also makes the grounds virtually unplayable for a few weeks, causing frustration among members and visiting golfers.
The process of aeration is necessary due to the compression of the top layer of soil by golfers over the course of the playing season. If the average golfer takes 45 steps on a green, for example, and commonly plays in a group of four, that’s 180 steps on each green. Multiply that by the number of foursomes that play the green each day, roughly 50-75 per day, depending on the weather and the popularity of the course.
Using that equation, each green on a course can expect to see anywhere from 9,000 to 13,500 steps per day. Now take into account how many days a course gets played and it is easy to see how compressed the soil can become with the added weight of all those golfers’ footsteps.
Many experts believe it is important to aerate when the grass is the strongest, but that typically falls on the calendar when the course is experiencing its highest traffic. More golfers mean more money, which is very important to the ownership and financial health of a club. But there’s no avoiding that aeration is a vital part of maintaining the health of the soil and keeping the course looking and playing its best.
Although it may not seem important, at first glance, understanding the science behind aeration and working in concert with members and ownership to set times to restore the health of the course is one of the biggest responsibilities that a superintendent will face during their tenure at a golf club.
Do I Need a Degree to Become a Golf Course Superintendent?
While it is not essential to obtain a collegiate degree if you are interested in becoming a golf course superintendent, having one certainly allows you to jump to the front of the line when applying for entry-level positions at larger golf courses. By studying through an accredited university, you gain networking possibilities through the college and the potential to easily find internships that will allow you to build experience for your resume.
Top-flight universities, such as Rutgers, promote certifications through their agricultural department in becoming a golf course superintendent. Rutgers offers an undergraduate degree in Turfgrass Science, a 2-year certificate program and a 3-week prep course on managing Turfgrass as a part of their Continuing Professional Education curriculum.
Certifications and some type of secondary education in turf management is an expectation for individuals looking to find a job in golf course management. If you are a 22-year old student, fresh from getting your degree in Turfgrass Science, it may be hard to immediately get a superintendent job without experience, so you’ll want to make sure that during your schooling you are working at a course with responsibilities in working with turf maintenance.
What Salary Can a Golf Course Superintendent Earn?
The reason a golf course superintendent will want to become certified through traditional methods is that the expertise they build and display on their resume will determine their expected level of salary.
According to a 2019 survey by the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America, (GCSAA), the average base salary for a golf course superintendent increased 4.5% from 2017 to an all-time high of $93,176. For certified golf course superintendents, the salary is even higher, averaging $111,250.
The survey was based upon the participation of 3,191 professional superintendents. The average golf course superintendent in the survey is 46.5 years old, with roughly 16.4 years of experience and 10.5 years at their current job.
What’s the Day-to-Day Schedule of a Golf Course Superintendent?
Being a golf course superintendent demands a lot of supervision of the course each and every day. Typically, the morning begins with an assessment of the course. This means that the superintendent hops on a golf cart and drives around the 18-hole layout checking all aspects of the grounds. Everything from the condition of the greens to the height of the rough is assessed for maintenance.
Superintendents always have to account for weather and precipitation when considering the maintenance schedule for the day. In rainy areas of the country, such as the Pacific Northwest, golf course superintendents have to make different judgment calls than a superintendent in Arizona.
A typical workday for a superintendent starts early as the course’s needs must be understood before the club receives a surge of golfers. If the course is due for mowing, it is wise to start that process ahead of the first group off the tee, in order to not disrupt the flow of the playing groups.
Golfers understand the course has maintenance requirements and are willing to have their round interrupted to make sure the layout is playing in its best shape possible.
One of the biggest areas that a new golf course superintendent can struggle to adapt is by delegating work rather than just trying to do it on their own. An efficient superintendent does well at clearly outlining expectations and the daily assignments of others rather than trying to fix everything themselves by believing that they are the only person qualified for the task at hand.
A golf course superintendent is a leader and therefore, they must work hard at letting their bias fall to the side and instead, become a teacher and, sometimes cheerleader, for other members of the staff. By building up the skill level and confidence of employees, the golf course superintendent streamlines the process of a request of staff to execution by the employee.
Are There Negatives to Becoming a Golf Course Superintendent?
The job can become a bit lonely at times as the superintendent drives from one hole to the next to check on the condition of specific areas of the course such as greens, bunkers and irrigation systems.
One of the ways that superintendents cut through the loneliness of the day is by adopting a good companion, such as a friendly and energetic dog. On a side note, adopting a dog is more beneficial when it comes to the cost so you will save money. And it is also more satisfying to adopt one rather than buying as those dogs in the shelter need pet parents. Having a friendly dog on the course to help carry the superintendent through the day is a wonderful way to build camaraderie among the staff and guests of the course.
Another way to combat the blues is by playing the course regularly with members and understanding how the most frequent players are responding to the conditions of the layout. Yes, you may hear more complaints than praise, but the job requires an understanding of how others are enjoying the course and tailoring the experience to meet the demands of ownership and those who play the most.
For golf course superintendents, there’s nothing better than spending hundreds of hours crafting a playing surface that has golfers talking about how wonderful their day on the links was for them and their playing group.
However, as you can see, the job of a golf course superintendent is not one to be taken lightly. With several responsibilities that involve decisions that ultimately affect the health and quality of the golf course, the superintendent must be prepared to accept criticism and work harder at achieving the goals of ownership.
Scary stuff aside, if you love working in the fresh air among one of the greatest games that sport offers, then superintendents are well paid, receive perks such as unlimited golf and invitations to play some of the country’s most exclusive courses.