GCSAA with the assist for assistant superintendents

Are you or do you know an assistant looking to stand out and advance in the profession? Learn about GCSAA’s Assistant Superintendent Certificate Series from an assistant who has been through its paces.


Conrad Pannkuk
Conrad Pannkuk takes a break from his duties as assistant superintendent at The Club at Wynstone in North Barrington, Ill., with his new companion, Lyla. Photo by Tyler Olsen

Editor’s note: The following story highlights GCSAA’s Assistant Superintendent Certificate Series from the perspective of Conrad Pannkuk, assistant superintendent at The Club at Wynstone in North Barrington, Ill.

When I think of successful golf course superintendents, a few common traits come to mind. Successful superintendents are agronomically intelligent and diligent with a budget. They are strong leaders and are always looking to do what’s best for the environment. In my short career, I have had many mentors who exemplify all of these characteristics.

An instance that stands out to me is from my internship at Whistling Straits Golf Course in Wisconsin. The superintendent of the Straits Course, Chris Zugel, CGCS, is a phenomenal leader. He has many leadership characteristics that I hope to have one day. The crew at Whistling Straits was a mix of experienced laborers and high school and college kids. I have since learned that this can be a difficult kind of crew to manage — the tendency is to rely heavily on the experienced laborers and to just get by with the kids.

Chris, though, was able to elevate the youngsters so that they would produce just as much as the experienced laborers. He is able to keep a light and fun attitude, but he still manages to keep everything moving the way it needs to move. I hope I can someday consider myself as strong of a leader as Chris, and I believe I will be able to further my leadership abilities with GCSAA’s recently launched Assistant Superintendent Certificate Series.

When I meet a new assistant or superintendent, I’m often asked, “How did you get into the industry?” Like many, my journey into this profession didn’t followed a straight path. After high school, I started out as a music performance major at the University of Northern Iowa. I had played the cello since the end of fourth grade, and I was certain that was what I wanted to do with my life. I quickly realized, though, that it wasn’t going to be the right path for me.

I transferred to the community college in my hometown of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, for a semester. I had always thought that working on a golf course would be a cool experience, and I started applying at every maintenance operation I could find. I landed at Ellis Golf Course and was immediately consumed by the maintenance operation. I moved on to Iowa State University and started my first semester as a business major, which also wasn’t the right choice for me.

I couldn’t shake the idea of working on a golf course, and I switched into the horticulture program, quickly found an internship for the summer and was soon on my way to The Kahkwa Club in Erie, Pa. The rest of my journey seems like a blur, including three trips to the Golf Industry Show for the Turf Bowl, internships at Medinah Country Club and the Straits Course at Whistling Straits, two seasons as second assistant at Biltmore Country Club, and now my current position as first assistant at The Club at Wynstone.

I would not have been able to get where I am today without the people who have influenced my career. Many superintendents have helped mold me into the person I am. These include Corey Shipman, Justin Sudo, Curtis Tyrrell, Chris Zugel, Brian Thomson and Ben McGargill. These leaders have had a significant impact on my development since I started in the industry. Whether introducing me to the ins and outs of golf course maintenance or trusting me to put together an agronomic calendar, each of these individuals helped point me down the right path to becoming a golf course superintendent.

The Club at Wynstone
A view of the 18th hole at The Club at Wynstone. Photo by Conrad Pannkuk

The Assistant Superintendent Certificate Series intrigued me when I heard it was being developed. I am always searching for ways I can distinguish myself from fellow assistants so I can fulfill my dream of becoming a golf course superintendent. I believe GCSAA has built a strong foundation for assistants to achieve this.

The certificate series currently has two portions available: the principles of golf course agronomy and the principles of golf course business. I have completed both and think I gained excellent information from them. This program is a great way for assistants to test their knowledge and can maybe even help give them the confidence they need to think, “Hey, I am actually ready for this.”

The certificate series is also a great learning tool. While I was taking the exams, I made notes of things I wasn’t sure about so I could go back and look at them later. From this, I have been able to build a checklist of things I believe I need to work on to help prepare for a superintendent position.

I am a member of the GCSAA assistant superintendent task force, which has helped develop these certificates. I wasn’t involved in the development of the agronomy and business certificates, but I was involved in discussions on how we would want to test the final two sections, the environmental management/best management practices certificate and the leadership and communication certificate, which are forthcoming. I think both of these certificates in conjunction with the two already available will make for a well-rounded program that will help prove that an assistant is capable of becoming a golf course superintendent.

I have some lofty goals for my career: I want to become a golf course superintendent before I turn 30 (I’m 25 now), and I want to be a mentor to others — like the assistants and superintendents who have mentored me. I think the Assistant Superintendent Certificate Series available through GCSAA will help me achieve these goals. I encourage fellow assistants to become a part of the program and to try to get involved with GCSAA and their local chapters.

Conrad Pannkuk is first assistant golf course superintendent at The Club at Wynstone in North Barrington, Ill. He is a five-year member of GCSAA.