Wednesday, September 23rd is International “Thank a Golf Course Superintendent Day” to honour golf course management professionals across Canada. Without their hard work and dedication none of us would be able to enjoy the game we love. Join the conversation on social media using the hashtag “#ThankASuper” to show your support. We talked to two of the best in the business, Brian Mass from Cottonwood Golf and Country Club in Calgary and Guillaume Marcotte, from Club de Golf de Lévis in Quebec. They take us behind the scenes of what goes into a “typical day” for them and how important their role is to maintain a golf course.
When you think of a golf course superintendent, you likely think of someone who grows the playing surfaces for the game. But it is so much more—a 12-month profession of managing a course under changing weather, as well as looking after budgets, staff, and communications.
Brian Mass isn’t anything like Carl Spackler. You’ll likely know Spackler—the most famous fictional golf course superintendent as portrayed by Bill Murray in the movie Caddyshack. Spackler was famous for his battles with his hated groundhogs. But Mass, the superintendent at Calgary’s Cottonwood Golf and Country Club, doesn’t spend time fighting with nasty rodents. Instead, he works 10-hour days running budgets, facing off against challenging weather, and ensuring his staff of up to 30 are ready to hit the course every morning.
“I think golfers would be surprised by just how much is involved,” he says. “How many people (superintendents) manage, how much equipment, how much planning, how many adjustments every day—it is a big job. You’re a meteorologist one day, and a scientist other days.”
Mass is in his ninth season at Cottonwood. He hits the course at 5 am, has a quick staff meeting, and usually doesn’t head home until 3 pm or later.
That’s also true of Guillaume Marcotte, the superintendent at Club de Golf de Lévis, works similar hours, managing a team of 11. The job, according to Marcotte, is always a challenge, but one he relishes. “I had a passion for the game and that led me to becoming a superintendent,” he said.
Here’s five things Mass and Marcotte say golfers typically don’t know about superintendents.
There’s no such thing as a “typical” day
Sure there are days when it is sunny and 20 degrees out and cool in the evening, perfect for growing grass. But that’s a rare occurrence. “You’re always planning for a change,” says Marcotte. “And then you see a forecast and it changes your plans again.” Mass concurs: “I head home, but my day doesn’t end. I’m always checking the forecast to see if what I’ve planned for the next day is still correct.”
Golfers don’t see what goes on behind the scenes
Since much of the maintenance work at a club is underway before a golfer hits the first tee, many players don’t understand all that goes into managing the course, Mass says. This year, Covid-19 protocols impacted staffing at the same time many courses had significantly more play. And a superintendent’s work doesn’t end when the season is completed; they often have numerous off-season projects to undertake, as well as ensuring greens don’t get damaged by ice, as well as planning for the next year.
Education is key
Increasingly superintendents have tried to educate golfers on the business. Mass says he’s taken members at his club out in the morning so they have an understanding of the scope of the daily efforts by the crew. The issue is most golfers have lawns—and therefore think they know a thing or two about growing grass. But the reality is much more complicated. “Everything is about educating the golfer these days so they have an understanding of why we do what we do,” Mass says. “It solves a lot of headaches if they understand why we aerate, for example.”
Guillaume says timing is everything for a superintendent. When does it snow? When does it stop snowing? When is it too hot for grass to grow? When is it not hot enough for grass to grow? All of these elements go into the decisions superintendents make. “The recreational golfer probably doesn’t consider how all of these things effect the course they are playing,” he says.
Scope and scale
Soccer and baseball fields are relatively small and easy to maintain. Maintaining a golf course, which can be hundreds of acres of grass and trees, and might include multiple micro-climates, is a vast undertaking. “What we maintain is so widespread, that it really is impressive when you wrap your head around it,” says Cottonwood’s Mass.