Ask the pros: So you want to be a golf course superintendent?

What's the hardest job in golf?

Many in the industry would argue it's a golf course superintendent.

Think about this: How difficult is it to take care of a lawn? How about a thousand lawns? That's the job of the golf course superintendent, who gets little recognition from the public and perhaps even members at a private club, but break out a case of fairy ring or Poa on fescue greens (Chambers Bay), and he or she is going to take a lot of heat.

From making sure greens are syringed during the summer, to scheduling employees and balancing the largest budget at a golf facility, a superintendent's job is around the clock.

Even at value-driven facilities, golfers expect at the very least, good greens, and that's no easy task when you factor in weather, disease, pests and budgetary and manpower constraints.

So what's it like to be a superintendent? What would they like us to know? We talked to three Golf Course Superintendents Association of America members, all at different kinds of facilities and got their thoughts.

Kevin Cahalane, superintendent since 1990 at Telluride Golf Club in Colorado, a semi-private resort course.

Todd Storm, director of agronomy at Desert Forest Golf Club, a prestigious private club in Arizona that is in Golf Magazine's Top 100 Courses.

Matt Hughes, superintendent at the new municipal Rockwind Community Links in Hobbs, N.M.

The toughest part of a tough job

Golf Advisor: What's the most difficult part of your job?

Todd Storm, Desert Forest: The most challenging aspect is managing members. The world is full of "Google agronomists," and private clubs have more than their fair share of them. While their intentions are generally good, they tend to create more disruption than anything. Trying to manage the expectations for hundreds of individual owners can consume you if you're not careful.

Matt Hughes, Rockwind: Retaining trained employees.

Kevin Cahalane, Telluride: I would say battling Mother Nature.

Golf Advisor: Is it easier working at a public or private facility?

Matt Hughes, Rockwind: They both have their challenges. Country clubs are often run by a bunch of people that don't know a damn thing about maintaining a golf course, and municipals have critics who think that the city should be spending more money on the golf course. Overall, maintaining a municipal has been more rewarding and enjoyable because the people that play golf at a municipal truly appreciate the hard work that you put into the course.

Todd Storm, Desert Forest: They all have pros and cons. I've worked at each so I feel I have some perspective. I believe it's all about the team you are surrounded with and not overly specific the type of course you're at. While often stressful, I do enjoy the challenge of fulfilling the expectations of a private club.

Kevin Cahalane, Telluride: I worked for my dad at a private club early in my career. I know he went through some tough situations with members. But I like my situation, which is working at a resort/private club. I answer to company management, not a greens committee. We have a greens committee, but it only makes recommendations.

Golf Advisor: What keeps you up at night?

Kevin Cahalane, Telluride: Planning the next day's activities and scheduling the crew. I just wake up thinking about what jobs I'm going to have the crew do, who's going to do what?

Matt Hughes, Rockwind: As a seasoned golf course superintendent, not much keeps me up at night. But if there is one thing, it would be the worry if the irrigation ran during the night.

Todd Storm, Desert Forest: A lot! Traffic stress on the practice green, course playability after an irrigation cycle, firmness of bunkers, just to name a few. I used to sleep very well, but no longer. I rarely sleep through an entire night -- hence, the large cup of coffee on my desk today.

Golf Advisor: What is the biggest mistake a superintendent could make?

Todd Storm, Desert Forest: Making excuses is high on my list. Members do not care to hear about my problems. Golf course superintendents are hired to be professional problem solvers. Dodging responsibility and focusing on excuses rather than solutions will make you expendable. ... Another example, and one which I am sometimes guilty of, is trying to do too much. Keep things simple.

Matt Hughes, Rockwind: Spending too much time at work and not at home with their family and friends.

Kevin Cahalane, Telluride: Not being proactive communicating with staff, members and management.

On Chambers Bay and the controversial 2015 U.S. Open

Golf Advisor: What are your thoughts on the turf conditions (brown is the new green, fast and firm, fescue throughout the course) and the links style of golf at Chambers Bay during the recent U.S. Open?

Kevin Cahalane, Telluride: I loved watching the tournament. I thought it was a great venue. I personally knew what's going on with the grass and the colors. I understand how the general public might not understand what was going on with the fescue and the Poa. They're thinking, "Boy this course looks rough." But I knew it was fine with the grass types they were using.

Matt Hughes, Rockwind: I think the USGA took it too far. There can be a happy medium between browned out turf and green.

Todd Storm, Desert Forest: While I support the movement, I don't think the message is being effectively communicated. During the broadcast, I listened as a very well respected golf course designer defended the look and playability of the golf course in the name of sustainability. Less than a minute later, however, he suggested that the greens may need to be rebuilt. While I understood the logic, I felt it was just another contradiction in a week filled with them. I honestly feel that the philosophy may actually be working against the industry. I often hear members say, "Well that's great, but not at my club." I thought the superintendent did an exceptional job with what he was asked to do. I absolutely loved the golf course and wanted to play it in the worst way."

Golf, the environment and course design

Golf Advisor: What do you want environmental critics of golf to know?

Matt Hughes, Rockwind: I would like the critics to know that golf course superintendents are very environmental sensitive about the chemicals they put on their golf course, the amount of water they use. We are better stewards of the environment than your average homeowner or businesses owner.

Todd Storm, Desert Forest: I do not get involved in debating whether or not a golf course is a good use of natural resources. Instead, I chose to focus on how efficient we are at using those available resources. I also point out the positive economic impact, which many courses contribute to local economies. When you weigh some of the benefits, it creates a more justifiable argument for the use of water, electricity, etc.

Kevin Cahalane, Telluride: I think people totally misunderstand the way pesticides are applied and how responsibly they're applied. But the overall benefit of golf courses and what they do for, a professor once told me that an acre of grass benefits the environment the same as an acre of trees as far as the oxygen/carbon dioxide exchange goes. It's so good for everything, the cooling effect, the filtering of water, etc.

Golf Advisor: If you could tell golf course architects to stop doing one thing, what would it be?

Kevin Cahalane, Telluride: Steep bunker banks, as grass and as far as sand. They're difficult to mow and it's hard to keep the sand maintained on the slopes.

Todd Storm, Desert Forest: Don't overthink the design. Make the golf course enjoyable and fun. I can count on one hand the number of times when a golfer criticized my course for being too easy. I think golfers (for the most part) want to get around quickly and score. Listening to and playing music is one of my passions outside of work, so I like to equate golf course designers with great drummers. Be heard but don't be the center of attention. Less is typically more.

Golf Advisor: How long does it take a divot and a ball mark to heal?

Matt Hughes, Rockwind (speaking for everyone): A divot can take a few weeks to heal properly, and a ball mark on the green, if fixed properly, can heal within a week.

(So for everyone's sake, fix those ball marks ... and one other.)

Mike Bailey is a former Golf Advisor senior staff writer based in Houston. Focusing primarily on golf in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America with an occasional trip to Europe and beyond, he contributes course reviews, travel stories and features as well as the occasional equipment review. An award-winning writer and past president of Texas Golf Writers Association, he has more than 25 years in the golf industry. He has also been on staff at PGA Magazine, The Golfweek Group and AvidGolfer Magazine. Follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeBaileyGA and Instagram at @MikeStefanBailey.
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Is the job for being a superintendent fun, and how long to you plan on staying for years. Can you earn millions?

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Ask the pros: So you want to be a golf course superintendent?