There’s no doubt that golf course agronomy is difficult work, but it can be deeply rewarding. A student internship program offered at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, N.C. (host of the 2022 Presidents Cup), gives young people interested in turfgrass maintenance the chance to hone their skills in a hands-on environment. Keith Wood, director of green and grounds, spoke with us about how the program prepares interns for a successful career.
Give us an overview of Quail Hollow’s internship program.
We’ve had the program for about 15 years. We offer three, six and 12-month internship opportunities for college students, as well as high school graduates who are interested in this industry and want help deciding where to go to college. At any one time, we usually have eight to 12 interns. They’re paid competitive wages and we offer housing, meals, and other benefits. We also work with Ohio State University’s international internship program and bring in students from all over the world: Spain, Portugal, Scotland, Australia, South Africa and more. We teach them about the American way of greenkeeping, and then they return to their home country, often becoming superintendents there or eventually returning to the U.S.
What makes this program unique?
About four years ago, we developed an assistant-in-training (AIT) program to pair with the internship program. We had former interns who would graduate college and say, “I want to come back to Quail Hollow and work on staff.” So, we started bringing them back as AITs for one year so they can continue to learn the industry while serving as leaders and mentors for the interns, which gives them management training. That way, when they’re ready to become an assistant superintendent at a high-end or high-producing club, they can jump right in with both feet and know what they’re doing. We’ve had AITs and interns go on to work at 27 different courses in 11 states and seven countries; we’ve also had many who come back to Quail.
What is a typical day like for your interns?
They do just about everything. An intern will get here around 15 minutes before start time and they’ll work with the AITs to make sure that all the equipment is in place for our morning start. Then they’ll go off and perform typical greenkeeping duties, whether it’s setting up the golf course, making applications or working on irrigation. After morning set up, there’s lunch, and then we get into our afternoon jog, which is more greenkeeping duties, like watering grass and planting. At the end of the day, interns are in charge of shut-down duties, which is making sure equipment is put up, gassed up and cleaned up. It gives them the ability to demonstrate leadership skills in working with the full-time staff to be prepared for the next day. We make sure that all the interns get a dose of everything so they fully understand the business.
Is there anything that you plan to build upon in your program?
We’ve noticed with each college that students come from, they come into a different skillset from what they’ve been taught. We try to quickly identify how much education they’ve retained at college and how we can build upon that. Sometimes we’ll have classroom settings where we’ll explain different types of fertilizers, or we’ll have industry support from a vendor who will come in and do a training class, like doing tree care around the property. We want to expose them to all aspects of the industry and make it as all-encompassing as possible.
Why is it important to Quail Hollow to have this program?
Golf course maintenance is not an easy business. So, it’s important for the success of the industry to be able to identify the people who’ve got the knack for it – they have the work ethic, know what it takes to be successful and have the grit and determination to get it done. I think our program shows students exactly what the industry is going to be like. And I always encourage interns to go work at another place that’s completely opposite of Quail and see how they feel. They might learn that they want to be somewhere that’s slower paced, and that’s where they see themselves fitting in with this industry. But you’re definitely going to know whether or not you want to be in this industry after you finish our program.
Kyra Molinaro is an award-winning writer and editor based in Richmond, Virginia. She manages donor communications in the Advancement Office at the University of Richmond.