Superintendent Profile: Jason Cook, Arrowhead Country Club

How did you get your start in the golf industry?

As a teenager, I came to the realization that my eyesight would disqualify me from following in the footsteps of my neighbor’s children as fighter pilots via the Air Force Academy. I needed to re-evaluate what I wanted to pursue in the form of a career, hoping it would be something related to nature and the outdoors but didn’t envision it being in Golf. After a very short stint pulling orders in a marine warehouse, a close friend suggested I interview for a job at the local resort where he worked on the golf maintenance crew. I interviewed with the Golf Course Superintendent and shortly thereafter I was pushing an old cast Jacobsen rotary mower*- all 115 lbs of me soaking wet. (* Arguably one of the best hand rotary mowers ever made… no safety gadgets, no propulsion, indestructible, and flat out a man builder). I guess you could say I started from the ground up and learned the business one skill set at a time.

After several years of advancing in various Assistant roles and being fortunate enough to experience construction and renovation projects at each stop, I was offered the position of Project Manager for Golf Construction and Renovation for projects in Colorado. I’d say this was the single greatest learning curve in my career and opened my world to the importance of time management and communication.

When the construction boom slowed, I returned to the maintenance facet of the business as a much wiser Golf Course Superintendent.

Can you tell us a few things about your early life, where were you born, what high school, first jobs?

I grew up in the North East on the coast of Maine, a 3-wood from the ocean. I attended Rockland District High School, which has since been renamed OceanSide High School. My early years were spent tormenting a pair of younger siblings and enjoying summers at my grandparent’s cottage. My first jobs were helping my father, an electrician, wirehouses and mowing the turf at my grandfather’s apartment complex. My work ethic comes from my dad and my propensity to tinker with things is a trait handed down by my grandfather.

Can you tell us a little about your family, how you met your wife, kids’ names?

I’m presently not married but in a committed relationship with a fantastic woman. We met at her mother’s restaurant, close to the club that I worked at in Southern California. The Assistant Pro and I would frequent her restaurant regularly for lunch. I love spicy Thai food and she made some of the best curries my brow has ever broken a bead of sweat too. They would make fun of the “farang” wanting chopsticks, which I guess I still do not fully understand to this day. The rest is history. No children as of yet, just a 3-year-old, Australian Shepherd named Jackson- or “Jax” for short. He more than occupies that void for right now.

Where did you go to school for turfgrass management?

I attended the Stockbridge School of Agriculture at the University of Massachusetts of Amherst.

Who was your earliest mentor in the industry and how did he inspire you?

My earliest mentor in the business is still a Golf Course Superintendent at The Samoset Resort in Rockport, Maine named Gregg Grenert. He instilled in me what one must possess in terms of dedication, versatility, and the time requirements to be successful as a Superintendent.

I’ve been fortunate to have had a multitude of mentors throughout my career that has provided me the opportunity to evolve and grow as both an individual and a Golf Course Superintendent. Given the opportunity, I’d be remiss to not acknowledge them all. Mark Richards instilled in me the importance of a calm demeanor and patience. Dennis Vogt versed me in the importance of detail and playability. Darren Flanagan tutored me in the skills of project management and practices of construction. Marc Logan and Patrick O’Fee continue to guide me in true agronomy as related to specific turfgrasses and the importance of infrastructure.

How do you work with people to create a team?

Every successful business or team has to have adequate communication and organization. “You cannot manage what you cannot measure.” For me the importance lies in the following structure:

  • Clearly define the plan, expectations, and roles of the team members. Be involved and vested in the process.
  • Identify individual strengths and place people in situations to utilize those skills to be successful, making sure to develop opportunities to grow in areas that could use improvement.
  • Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
  • Delegate, but Supervise progress to ensure success.
  • Evaluate, provide feedback, and make amendments.

What achievements are you most proud of?

The ability to produce improved and desired conditions with limited impacts on the environment and natural resources. Water conservation is a critical component to the sustainability of our business at this period in history. Developing and implementing plans and procedures to become more efficient water users is something I take pride in.

What item or person could you not do without at your golf course?

This is a difficult question to answer directly because I believe every individual and every piece of machinery must produce and perform in synergy for success. All aspects of the maintenance department are intertwined and reliant like a wagon wheel or a web. Most obstacles can be overcome or compensated for within a narrow period of time without negative long-term implications.

In the end, the combination of available sunlight and design and infrastructure impact what inputs a Golf Course Superintendent can do without regardless of region.

What is your favorite part of the job, least favorite?

The favorite part of the job in my mind is the fact that almost every day is unique and poses a different set of challenges with opportunities for improvement or growth. Both the game and the position offer the opportunity to interact with all walks of life and varying backgrounds.

The least favorite aspect or hardest part of the job is navigating the personal and/or political agendas that have the potential to compromise the asset we as Golf Course Superintendents have been tasked to protect.

Do you collect anything? Hub caps, license plates, signs…

This is going to sound ridiculous, but moving boxes are probably what I have collected the most of. I have quite a few stored in my garage currently. The business has awarded me the opportunity to experience many settings along the way and I have yet to put down roots. Each move has offered a great opportunity, unique experiences, and countless friendships.

All kidding aside, outside of the standard “Golf Flag” collection from places I have worked and or visited, the only thing I own that would be considered collectible is an autographed and framed “Tom Brady” Jersey, which was acquired just before the Patriots won their most recent Superbowl.

What would you do if you won the lottery?

It would be influenced by the sum, but likely semi-retire. Dedicating more time to spend with my family- living on the west coast, I haven’t had the opportunity to visit them enough over the past ten to fifteen years. Obtain both a pilot and helicopter license to make traveling easier. Frequent MotoGP and F1 events across the globe and do more warm water diving. Donate more time to charity.

Few people know I like to…

Set the corner on a motorcycle, practice Jiu-Jitsu, and enjoy sketching.

What do you like to do away from work? If you have time to yourself what do you like to do?

I’m a bit of a workaholic, but outside of work, I try to stay active. Outside of work I’m likely to be either at the gym, relaxing by the pool with the laptop, playing tennis, enjoying a micro-brew at the local pub, searching for the next “foodie” experience, or on the couch half asleep watching something recorded on the DVR.

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