Three big lessons from the 2022 Green Start Academy

For industry professionals, turf knowledge is only a small part of a bigger leadership puzzle.


Green Start Academy 2022 cohort at The Cradle at Pinehurst
The 2022 class at Green Start Academy gathered in the afternoon on Tuesday, Dec. 13 to play Pinehurst's Cradle short course.Photos by Abby Olcese

On Wednesday morning at the 2022 Green Start Academy, Carol Rau started the proceedings by sharing a story about a turf professional she spoke with who had recently interviewed for a superintendent position. “He told me, ‘They didn’t ask me one question about the turf,’” Rau, a career consultant with GCSAA, said. “He told me ‘I totally bombed the interview.’”

The prospective employers in this case were looking for what are called “soft skills,” qualities like communication, time management and professional passion that say not just what you know about the job, but how you will behave in that job once you’ve been hired. As Logan Murphy, the GCSAA Class A superintendent at Pinehurst Resort’s No. 8 course and 12-year GCSAA member, told the assembled group of assistant superintendents the first day, “I can teach you the job. I can teach you how to rake bunkers. I can’t teach you enthusiasm.”

Skills that go above and beyond agronomy know-how were the predominant theme at this year’s Green Start event — presented by John Deere, Envu and Rain Bird — where a group of future industry leaders gathered to network, connect with mentors and learn the necessary skills to help their careers flourish. The wisdom shared at Pinehurst’s Carolina Hotel didn’t consist of closely guarded trade secrets but useful universal principles for establishing a strong professional reputation. Here are the three biggest takeaways from this year’s event.

Panel discussion
Carol Rau, Robert Hertzing, GCSAA Class A superintendent at Lakeside Golf Club in Toluca Lake, Calif., John Jeffreys, GCSAA Class A superintendent at Pinehurst No. 2, and John Cunningham, GCSAA Class A superintendent and COO/General Manager at Grandfather Golf and Country Club in Linville, N.C., discuss professionalism during a mentor panel discussion.

Love your team

“You’ll end up spending more time with your team than with your family,” John Jeffreys, GCSAA Class A superintendent at Pinehurst No. 2 and 11-year association member, told the audience during a mentorship round table on Tuesday. “You have to love your team.”

Effective leadership and getting along with your crew might seem like a no-brainer, but Robert Hertzing, the GCSAA Class A superintendent at Lakeside Golf Club in Toluca Lake, Calif., urged the attendees to have an expansive understanding of who their team includes. “It’s not just your employees,” said Hertzing, a 27-year GCSAA member, advising the group to consider everyone from human resources to the kitchen to the pro shop. “Your team is the facility as a whole.”

Establishing an effective team often means paying attention to your crew’s backgrounds, and how to leverage those past experiences to better do their jobs. After touring the USS Midway at GCSAA’s 2021 conference and show in San Diego, Jeffreys learned that one of his employees had previously served on the ship managing materials. “Imagine what that guy can now bring to his role now that I know what he can do,” Jeffreys said. “Use the people in your circle to help you do your job.”

Rau said emphasizing teamwork in a résumé, cover letter or portfolio can be the difference between getting an interview and not. “Talk about your accomplishments in terms of your team,” Rau said. “Mention leadership, mentorship, how you lift up the people around you, and how you drive results for your organization.”

Bob Farren
Bob Farren, GCSAA Class A superintendent and director of golf and ground management at Pinehurst welcomes the Green Start Academy attendees to the Cradle short course at Pinehurst.

Communication is key

When you’re seeking a job, communicating technical ability is one thing. Showing how much you care and what you’ll bring to the job is another.

“Your résumé shows you can grow the grass. The intangibles get you in the room, and preparing for the interview shows that you care,” Matt Fauerbach, the GCSAA Class A director of agronomy, Northeast region, for Troon Golf and 22-year GCSAA member, told the gathered assistant superintendents. “I like guys and gals who interview me as much as I interview them.”

Once you’re in the position, the value of effective communication takes on a different aspect. Todd Bohn, the GCSAA Class A director of agronomy at Desert Mountain Club in Scottsdale, Ariz., and 23-year GCSAA member, said the next steps are all about building credibility. “Gain a reputation as someone dependable that delivers on what they say they’ll do, so members know you’re looking out for the club’s best interests.”

A large factor in effective communication? Knowing how to explain your needs in relatable ways so club leadership, controllers and greens committees understand what you’re asking for, and how it will add value to the club.

“A director of finance might not understand what hours on a piece of equipment mean,” Stephen Tucker, director of golf maintenance and landscape at Four Seasons Golf Club in Orlando, Fla., and 21-year GCSAA member, said. “But if you tell him 3,000 hours on a piece of turf equipment is equivalent to 45,000 miles on a car, now they have a better grasp on your budget line item. They know it means oil changes, tune ups, new oil filters.”

Carol Rau
Carol Rau discusses career goals and tips for a successful job search during a morning session at Green Start Academy.

Data and documentation

Detailed documentation of course projects can help you build your portfolio. It can also be useful in planning for the future demolitions and renovations on your course, Bohn said. “You’ll know where things lie, and eliminate the unknowing in the future,” Bohn told the group. “Is there a pipe there? A wire? Now you’ll remember.”

In addition to photo documentation, keeping tabs on hard data can go a long way in communicating needs, whether that’s advocating for raises for your crew, asking for equipment upgrades or making a case for renovation. However, Bohn shared, it’s important not to overwhelm the committees and club leadership you’re presenting to. Try to show rather than tell whenever possible, and don’t just focus on the good things.

“Be up front when things go wrong,” Bohn said. “Let people know what you’ve learned and what you’re fixing so that they know you’re being responsible and working on even the things that need to be corrected.”

Ultimately, Rau said, it all comes down to being open and honest, and understanding that a golf course’s end users — golfers and club members — want to know a course’s superintendent and crew are committed to providing a great space for play.

“Golfers love golf, not turf,” Rau said. “What you do is provide an experience for that customer, golfer or club member. If you can tell them how you’re going to do that, they’ll eat it up.”

Abby Olcese is GCM's online editor.