When Shannon Phillips was hired in the summer of 2021 as the Executive Director of the North Texas Golf Course Superintendents Association, she already knew a great deal about the role she was stepping into. With a work history in public relations and experience working with a trade association, she clearly had the right professional skillsets.
As the wife of longtime Dallas Country Club Golf Course Superintendent, Kirt Phillips, Shannon also had years of “up close and personal” exposure to the daily demands superintendents face. Just as importantly, with Kirt having served as a Past President of the North Texas GCSA, Shannon attended association events and served in volunteer capacities for years before pursuing the position as Executive Director.
With insight from so many angles, it is not surprising that by the time Shannon had only a few months under her belt in her new job, the then-President of the North Texas Golf Course Superintendents Association, Anthony L. Williams, CGCS, Director of Golf and Landscape Operations at Four Seasons Resort and Club Dallas at Las Colina, was already publicly describing her performance as “excellent.”
In contrast, Shannon will tell you she feels she’s still in learning mode. Describing her position as one that doesn’t come with a training manual, Shannon said, “I am still learning about the concerns of the industry, the diversity of our events and the demands the superintendents face to keep up with continuing education credits (CEUs) and other requirements.”
Texas is Really Big and Really Big on Golf
Many non-Texans don’t realize how large the state is until they attempt to travel across Texas from border to border. They soon learn that one can drive all day and still be in Texas. With over 900 golf courses, both public play and private, Texas is consistently ranked among the top 3 or 4 states in the U.S. with the most facilities.
While many states have one or perhaps two golf course superintendents associations statewide, big ‘ole Texas has eight. Under the greater umbrella of the Lone Star Golf Course Superintendents Association are the North Texas GCSA, the Central Texas GCSA, the West Texas GCSA, the South Texas GCSA, the Texas Gulf Coast Superintendents Association and the Rio Grande GCSA, which crosses state lines and serves superintendents from both Texas and New Mexico.
The North Texas GCSA, as Shannon explained, “Runs from just north of the Waco area all the way up to the Red River and then not quite as far west as Abilene, but as far east as Tyler. The bulk of our membership falls in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. With this in mind, we try to split most of our meetings in between those two areas, having half of them a little farther west and then half of them a little farther east.”
Superintendents Association Leadership
Without a doubt, the North Texas GCSA benefits from the experience and commitment of its Executive Board Members, which include President Jason Wiedeman, Cross Timbers Golf Course; Vice President Neil Packard, Dallas National Golf Club; Secretary/Treasurer Mike Upchurch, Old Bonita golf club; and Past President Anthony Williams CGCS, TPC Four Seasons Resort. Superintendent Directors are Monty Ashworth of Heritage Ranch Golf Club; Kyle Bunney, PGA Frisco; Mark Claburn, Tierra Verde Golf Club; Mike Epps, Superintendent at Mira Vista Country Club and Coby Morrow, Superintendent at Northwood Club and Affiliate Directors Todd Gilmour, Turf Care of Texas and Curt Franklin of Ameriturf /Turf Materials.
“Our board members, superintendent directors, and affiliate directors are committed to developing leadership and serving the association. But I wouldn’t want anyone to think this is even a little bit like a boys club where only a few people actively participate or make decisions. It’s not like that at all. You’ll see different people stepping up at different events. The people and the events are very welcoming,” said Shannon.
Networking Above All Else
The list of benefits golf course superintendents and assistants gain by being part of the North Texas Golf Course Superintendents Association is substantial, from the many opportunities to earn CEUs and GSA points, which are built into almost every event and activity, to the education, advocacy, scholarship and awards available through association membership. Shannon, however, emphasizes that one benefit seems to stand out as the most significant of all.
“Networking,” she said, “is probably the biggest benefit. There is a lot of stress associated with the job of the golf course superintendent. I think that a lot of people outside the industry don’t necessarily understand that. Connecting and communicating with people in the same situation that you are in and who can understand your challenges or frustrations is key.
“Also, having someone to bounce ideas off of for ways that you can improve things or problem solve is important. While our sponsors and affiliates would tell you that networking is the biggest benefit of membership for them, I think the superintendents and assistants would say that as well.”
Valued Sponsorships Help Superintendents Associations Thrive
Across the top of the North Texas Golf Course Superintendents Association website is a scrolling banner featuring the logos of their many sponsors and a heartfelt message proclaiming, “We Love Our Sponsors.” In addition to approximately two-dozen valued Silver level sponsors, the association’s Platinum or Gold level sponsors help make possible the diversity of events, training, awards, and scholarships the association offers.
The North Texas GCSA truly does love its sponsors, but the relationship is not one-sided. Being a member of the association can be equally beneficial to sponsors who develop lasting relationships and firsthand insights into the product needs of their marketplace.
Among the top tiers of sponsorship at NTGCSA for 2022 are
Feeding the Pipeline: Tomorrow’s Golf Superintendents
While most golf course superintendents describe filling jobs as one of their biggest challenges, Shannon points to a potential problem beyond the very real and viable hiring concerns for hourly labor and seasonal jobs. She observes that overall, their association seems to be identifying a decline in the number of young people getting into the profession as superintendents and assistants.
“In addition to our biggest and most popular event every year, which is our Legacy Scholarship Tournament, that last year allowed us to award $21,000 in college scholarships to 15 of our members’ children, we also fund an education scholarship for someone that is in school to become a superintendent,” said Shannon. “Typically, the recipient will be somebody that has interned at a golf course over the summer and then would apply for and be awarded that scholarship. This is one small step to help the problem of too few potential new superintendents coming out of school each year.”
An Open Invitation
Throughout the interview, Shannon shared plans for getting more superintendents and more assistants involved in the association and growing its membership, which is already upwards of 260 members.
“We’re developing a great slate of events for the year,” said Shannon. “We especially want to do more for equipment managers and assistant superintendents, possibly even an event for wives of superintendents.
“A lot of what has been offered in the industry in the past has specifically targeted superintendents. That’s understandable. You can’t have everybody leave on the same day. Somebody has to stay back and manage the course.
“But if we provide more events and benefits that engage assistants and equipment managers, we’ll get them more involved. It will grow our association and help the profession by encouraging and developing the next generation of superintendents. For superintendents and assistants who aren’t part of the association now, I would invite them to attend an event. They will find that we are a welcoming community, and there’s a place here for everyone.”
To learn more about the North Texas Golf Course Superintendent’s Association, go to ntgcsa.org.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org