2024 Golf Course Superintendent Employment Trends Report: Key Takeaways

One of the more exciting projects our team has recently been working on with Pat Jones (Flagstick LLC) is a national study regarding golf course superintendent employment trends. We had over 300+ respondents, and over 1,000 comments about career satisfaction, career development and some real deep insights into the opportunities, threats and real-issues concerning the profession.

Not everything is rosy, but the sky isn’t falling.  A couple key takeaways for me were the following.

  • By and large, golf course superintendents absolutely love their careers, and clubs can make simple strategic shifts to keep them happy, engaged and fulfilled.
  • The #1 skill set golf course superintendents want to learn and develop is the ability to market themselves.
  • Golf course superintendents are increasingly standing firm on work-life balance issues especially when salaries, budgets and resources may not increase at the pace of their area peers, and smart clubs will recognize that.

The heartening revelation from our study is the profound love golf course superintendents have for their careers. Despite facing myriad challenges, the overriding sentiment is one of deep satisfaction and commitment to their roles.

We will continue to dive into the findings over the next few newsletters.  We hope you get a chance to read through the full report by downloading here.

Key insights hint that compensation, work-life balance and a good ‘GM’ are important to golf course superintendent career satisfaction

As the 2024 Golf Course Superintendent Employment Trends Survey’s findings began to emerge in January, the diverse feedback stirred and confirmed my own reflections over the last four years.

The allure of the golf course superintendent’s role, as seen through the golfer’s eyes, often belies the complexity and depth of the position. Despite an apparent scarcity of candidates, an alarming 43% of superintendents are in pursuit of opportunities that more closely match their professional desires and personal needs.

This significant figure highlights a sense of unease within the profession, propelled by compensation challenges, the quest for work-life harmony, and a desire for acknowledgment and stability.

It’s all about the money

Central to these concerns is compensation. Half of the survey’s respondents report that their earnings do not mirror the industry benchmarks in their regions, a revelation that is particularly striking given their perceived value by their clubs. This disconnect paints a picture of professionals torn between their passion for their craft and the realities of economic necessity.

What, then, defines the ideal scenario for those tasked with managing a golf course, often referred to as the club’s #1 asset? The answer weaves through various layers, including the aspiration for a secure role within a supportive and well-structured team, ideally at a renowned club.

Yet, beyond the allure of elite positions, what do superintendents treasure in their “perfect job”? Insights from the survey spotlight the significance of:

  • Reporting to a good General Manager, and being a part of a team
  • Job stability
  • Remaining in their current locale.

The Importance of a Good General Manager

Among these, the importance of a supportive General Manager emerges as a pivotal factor. Indeed, while challenges from “armchair agronomists” or club presidents can be garner borderline unrealistic expectations, a strong relationship with the General Manager can mitigate many issues.

So, what does a “good” relationship with a General Manager look like from a superintendent’s perspective? Respondents shared key attributes throughout their comments:

  • Leaders who acknowledge the rigor and commitment needed to upkeep a golf course, making efforts to grasp the job’s intricacies and seasonal challenges.
  • An atmosphere of open communication, encouraging superintendents to voice ideas and concerns without fear of backlash.
  • Support for ongoing education and professional development, whether through leadership training, marketing skill enhancement, or specialized turf management programs.
  • Strategic leaders who recognize the essential role of the golf course and its superintendent in realizing the club’s future aspirations.
  • Build bridges between all departments  given the typical physical separation of the maintenance facility
  • Inclusion of superintendents in decision-making processes, particularly those affecting their domain or team.
  • A fair negotiator, who does their research and rewards not just the superintendent, but the entire operation.
  • Advocacy for maintaining realistic expectations around budgets and staffing.

Some of the best General Managers I worked with made it a point to come down to the maintenance facility frequently, engaging with our team from the initial onboarding of new employees, spending time on the golf course with myself and integrating our team with the rest of employees through various functions ranging from employee parties, golf, and meals.

In our search and consulting projects, the best General Managers connect to learn industry trends and best practices, despite not necessarily having a “green thumb” or geek out on the latest technology.  They seek information to help advocate for the department, necessary infrastructure improvements, while also keeping a pulse on operational enhancements to improve member experience.

It has been consistent in my travels, General Managers are also enforcing work-life balance policies – written or unwritten.  Understanding the grind most superintendents put themselves and their teams through, also requires a self-aware leader to keep the team focused and fresh.

For astute General Managers and club leaders, these insights offer an opportunity to reflect on and enrich their relationships with their golf course superintendent and agronomy teams, paving the way for greater achievements.  It may also uncover similar themes that are reflected in the other areas of club operations!