Career navigation for golf course superintendents

Your professional reputation carries significant weight to club boards and search committees.


In the ever-evolving landscape of golf course management, it’s crucial to navigate your career path with careful consideration and strategic planning. 

Drawing from the collective wisdom of sitting in search committee rooms after having been a golf course superintendent for 30 years, I offer these insights to guide you on your journey:

Age matters. Unfortunately, age discrimination is a harsh reality in our industry. To maximize your career trajectory, aim to secure your final position by the age of 48. Have a clear plan in place by the time you reach 50 to ensure you’re prepared for any transitions or changes in direction. Ensure you have a backup plan if you cannot secure that final position. Remember, a perceived lack of runway can be a significant barrier to advancement, with some clubs opting to make changes based on age rather than merit. This is especially true before a major renovation project.

Pedigree means everything. Your professional lineage and reputation carry significant weight in the eyes of club boards and search committees. Cultivate mentoring solid relationships and strive to align yourself with respected figures in the industry to enhance your credibility and visibility. Working for a successful superintendent who has developed numerous assistants to successful superintendent roles matters in the eyes of a search committee.  

Exercise social media caution. While social media can be a valuable tool for networking, exercise caution with your online presence. Not one candidate has earned a new position based on their social media profiles, but negative or unprofessional content can lead to elimination from consideration. Avoid self-promotion, mixing family with business, or displaying behaviors that could be perceived as arrogant or unprofessional.

Professionalism matters. Maintain high professionalism at all times, both in person and online. Always dress appropriately, with a coat and tie preferred, even on the golf course. Pay attention to your writing skills, ensuring your résumé is error free and accurately represents your qualifications.

Interview success. During interviews, focus on building rapport and connecting with interviewers personally. Be likable, avoid negativity or criticism, and engage in meaningful conversation about shared interests or experiences. Leverage your network to have multiple sources vouch for you. Member-to-member endorsements carry the most weight.

Résumé essentials. Craft a comprehensive résumé highlighting your team-management, budgeting and project-management skills. Remember, the hiring process isn’t over until it’s over, so be prepared for reference checks, drug screenings and background checks.  

Embrace speed and long-term thinking. In a competitive job search, clubs are often hesitant to take chances on superintendents from different climate zones if a local candidate with proven success is available. If you are from a different climate zone, you must show your knowledge in the interview to prove that you can make the transition smoothly. 

Secure a contract. When making career moves, ensure you have a contract in place to protect your interests for you and the club. The contract is used to clarify expectations from both parties. Do not be afraid to ask for a contract; numerous other departments probably have them.  

Navigating your career as a golf course superintendent requires a combination of strategic planning, professionalism and networking prowess. Connect with search firms, as they provide valuable information to help you land that next position.  

Tom Vlach, CGCS, a 34-year member of GCSAA, retired at 50 after 29 years as a superintendent. He’s the founder of Triumph Group, an executive search firm specializing in the country club and hospitality sectors.