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A Golf Course Superintendent’s Most Valuable Resource: The Human Resource

Trion Lift Picture Provided by Turf Pride
Trion Lift Picture Provided by Turf Pride

A golf course superintendent with quality tools, up-to-date equipment, ample chemicals, a fabulous golf facility, and a generous budget may appear to have everything. But missing from the equation would be the most critical component a superintendent needs for success, a well-trained and reliable crew. Human resources are a golf course superintendent’s most valuable asset. They are also the resource many superintendents find challenging to attract and retain.

The Great Resignation Is Becoming the Great Reshuffle

Last year was labeled the year of the Great Resignation when nearly 5 million people left their jobs voluntarily. For 2022, however, the label seems to be shifting from “resignation” to “reshuffle.” Depending on the data source, the number of currently or previously employed workers seeking a new job is between 45 and 70 percent of the workforce.

The cost of hiring and onboarding new employees is pricy for organizations and distracting to the managers who deal with the frontlines of the process. According to Deferred Compensation News, the cost of replacing an existing employee ranges from 25 to a staggering 200 percent of the job’s annual salary because of “lost productivity, hiring a replacement and training the new employee. In addition, there are the intangible costs of impact on the work environment and employee morale.”

An Unexpected Twist for Golf Course Superintendents

Surprisingly, the Great Resignation/ the Great Reshuffle may benefit the golf course maintenance industry. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) looks at an interesting aspect of pandemic-related job departures and cites research from Goldman Sachs that stated, “Nearly 70 percent of the 5 million people who have left the labor force during the pandemic are older than 55.”

While some older workers left their jobs because of concerns for their health and wellbeing, job burnout motivated many workers to join the mass exodus. These workers were not tired of working. Instead, they were tired of working indoors, working behind a desk, working long hours, and working for demanding supervisors.

Now, after months away from the grind, many of these workers would enjoy “doing something,” especially if that new role involved being outdoors, getting exercise, perhaps working only a few days each week, and above all else, not shouldering management-level pressure and responsibilities.
As employees, these workers are well-versed in workplace protocols. They may not understand the mowing and grassing schedules yet. But they already understand the routines of being on time, working as a team, and being personally accountable for their actions.

The Turf is Not Always Greener

Career burnout isn’t limited to older employees. Even workers with only a few years of employment under their belt have tossed in the towel and walked away from stressful jobs. The Fidelity Investments 2022 Financial Resolutions Study showed that 47% of currently employed younger workers plan to seek a new position in 2022, citing stress levels and the need for greater flexibility as top motivators.

Edit Your Narrative

Can golf course superintendents looking for workers connect with the newly expanded demographic of unemployed 55 and older workers? Can they connect with restless younger workers looking for a change? YES! But, to do so, superintendents cannot write the same meat and potatoes job descriptions they have relied on in the past or post these job descriptions solely on the same outlets they have used before.
Appealing to workers who have never worked in the golf industry calls for posting job descriptions that creatively emphasize aspects of the job the superintendent may take for granted or assume are only incidental.

  • Consider inviting workers to “unretire” at the golf course.
  • Rather than writing about the job requirements, describe the rewards for the prospective employee. Emphasize flexibility of hours and scheduling and the opportunity to work outdoors in a safe and pleasant environment.
  • Point out benefits, such as discounted rounds of golf, pro shop, golf range, and lesson discounts or easy tee time booking.
  • Work with your course’s HR Director, Director of Golf, or other leadership to explore medical, dental, or optical insurance or similar benefits for part-time employees. Workers in their 50s have years to go before qualifying for Medicare and may value healthcare benefits far more than the associated salary.
  • For workers looking for a career change, emphasize on-the-job training, advancement opportunities, or educational reimbursements if your facility offers these programs.
  • Consider what may have driven workers away from their previous jobs and communicate that they won’t face the same stressful issues if they join your team.
  • Framing a job opening as “an opportunity to skip your workout at the gym, get in shape, work outdoors as part of a supportive team in a serene and beautiful setting AND play golf at a discounted price” could help you attract reliable workers.

Advertising on job boards may not be the optimal way for golf course superintendents to connect with an expanded marketplace of prospects, including non-traditional candidates who aren’t proactively searching for work or don’t know they are interested until they see your engaging job description. Getting the word out at the golf course and through local churches, restaurants, hair salons, and other atypical communication paths could help superintendents cast a wide net for successfully hiring new employees.

Connect With All Course Employees

Before a global pandemic redefined almost everything, most golf courses siloed their work teams. Maintenance crews didn’t work in the clubhouse. Pro shop workers didn’t bus tables in the restaurant, and the bartender at the 19th hole never mowed the greens. Work teams did not share ideas, and they certainly did not cross-train to learn each other’s job responsibilities.

At some courses, especially in the early months of the pandemic, payroll budgets shrank and select functions of the golf course either were curtailed or shut down. Facilities across the country creatively maintained the courses and kept workers employed by working with the team that was available at the moment.

Cross-training work teams create a cohesive work environment. New insights are gained, mutual respect increases and an employee base can develop a greater sense of camaraderie and unity simply by talking together in a moderated setting about their roles, objectives, and challenges. Coming together as a group encourages workers in one area to share their observations and ideas with workers in other areas.

Idea sharing can set the stage for job sharing. Cross-training employees of the course to work in multiple areas expands a facility’s coverage during special events or periods of high demand. This strategy can provide full-time hours by combining part-time roles. It can reduce the physical demands of daily maintenance work by balancing it with hours in a less physically taxing role. Sharing job roles across departments can break up the routine for workers seeking more variety in their responsibilities. When employed strategically, sharing job roles can go a long way to reducing a superintendent’s labor shortage.

The Flux Won’t Continue Forever

Economists are already predicting that the wide-open job market will soon be narrowing because people have no choice but to choose a job and resume working. Golf course superintendents who act now, marketing job openings creatively and without a preconceived idea of their ideal candidate, may still be able to capitalize on job market motility and, as a result, build a robust and unique maintenance team.
Read What Will the Golf Course Industry Look Like in 2022 for further perspective on changes in the golf maintenance industry.

Read What Will the Golf Course Industry Look Like in 2022 for further perspective on changes in the golf maintenance industry.

Linda Parker has been writing professionally since the 1980s. With clients in finance, sports, technology, resorts, and nonprofit global initiatives, Linda helps organizations communicate their stories in meaningful ways to the people they most want to reach. She has authored, ghostwritten, or contributed to more than a dozen nonfiction books. Linda is a member of the Authors Guild and the Golf Writers Association of America. You can connect with her at linda@glindacreative.com

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