Putnam National Golf Club Superintendent Brian Gallagher discusses the transition from assistant to head golf course superintendent.
Classes and internships can go a long way toward preparing someone for a job, but there is no substitute for hands-on experience.
Just ask Brian Gallagher, who became Golf Course Superintendent at Putnam National Golf Club, a Mahopac, N.Y., daily-fee, 18-hole championship golf course, in May. Gallagher spent nine years as Assistant Golf Course Superintendent at Brae Burn Country Club in Purchase, N.Y., and at Tamarack Country Club in Greenwich, Conn., before being tapped to lead the golf course maintenance team at Putnam National.
His responsibilities include preserving and enhancing the property’s fairways and greens, supervising the maintenance staff, maintaining annual operating budgets, planning long-range course improvements, and overseeing clubhouse landscaping.
Putnam National Golf Club
Club Website: www.putnamnational.com
However, Gallagher, who earned a B.S. in turfgrass science from Penn State University, has found that the job description is not limited to these daily duties. He recently talked to Club & Resort Business about making the transition from assistant to head golf course superintendent.
Q: How did working as an assistant superintendent help you prepare for a head superintendent’s position?
A: Working as an assistant is hands-on so you learn all the practices personally, which allows you to teach your new crew once you become a superintendent. In my previous position, I was fortunate enough to work for a superintendent who gave me a lot of responsibility so the transition of managing the crew as well as the golf course was fairly easy. Having years of experience at private golf courses gave me the opportunity to learn first-class maintenance practices so I could implement them in this setting.
Q: What is the biggest adjustment you have had to make?
A: The biggest adjustment is diagnosing day-to-day issues and deciding how we are going to address them. As an assistant, you identify potential hazards, provide input and follow instructions. Timing is critical, especially for when disease pressure is high. You have to really be on your toes, or it can cause issues later. Now being the superintendent, you have to prioritize issues, then decide how to proceed and, if preventative measures are necessary, what to use and when to use them. It is also important to be environmentally friendly with all maintenance practices and only use spraying when needed.
Q: How have you applied what you learned in your turfgrass classes to your everyday duties?
A: Turfgrass classes give you a great background, but nothing can prepare you like working in the field. Experience trumps all textbooks in my opinion. Universities require internships for a reason, and that is so students gain experience on the golf course. You can read and study all you want, but you will remember things much better when you do them firsthand and see the results.
A: I worked as assistant for nine years before becoming a superintendent. Along the way I have had continuing education courses and seminars to stay certified as a pesticide applicator. The majority of my training has been on the job. Working with RDC Golf Group, I work within an organization that provides resources in all areas including a Director of Agronomy in case I need to bounce ideas off of someone.
Q: How important has continuing education been to your career development?
A: The continuing education courses and classes help keep you up-to-date on the new trends and university research trials. They also help with networking. You have the opportunity to meet with and talk to other superintendents at these meetings, share ideas and best practices.
Q: What are the advantages of being new to a job?
A: The advantage is having the ability to establish a precedent from day one with your staff and bring energy and enthusiasm to the entire operation.
Q: What kind of duties have you delegated to your assistant?
A: My assistant helps me with spraying, irrigation repair, and syringing greens on hot summer days. Along with those duties I am trying to develop my assistant by asking him his opinion and valuing his observations. I make the final decisions, but together as a team, we work to manage the golf course. I want to prepare him for the next step in his career just as I was prepared by my former superintendent, Blake Halderman at Brae Burn Country Club.
Q: What advice would you give to assistants that are making the transition to a head superintendent position?
A: Take a little from each job and apply it in your new position. Remember how you were treated as intern all the way up to first assistant. Apply the strengths and avoid the weaknesses of your prior managers to develop your own management style.
A: Currently we are working on a master plan for the course with Golf Course Architect Stephen Kay that would enhance drainage and restore the bunkers, among other things. We are currently finalizing a comprehensive plan that will be presented to the course’s ownership for their final approval.
Q: What is the difference between working at a daily fee course and at a private club?
A: There are many similarities from a superintendent’s perspective. Golfers’ expectations don’t waiver much; they expect a good value and good conditions. Daily fee golfers see many different courses to compare you to, whereas at private clubs, you see the same golfers day after day. Either way, they want a well-manicured course and good greens.
Q: How do the expectations of the golfers differ at the two types of facilities?
A: Private club members tend to expect lightning-fast greens on a daily basis. They expect everything to be manicured and all details to be buttoned up. Daily fee golfers are more concerned with value for dollar spent. They do want a smooth putting surface that rolls true, but tend to be a bit more lenient when it comes to the non-playable areas.
Q: What have you learned since you became a head superintendent that has surprised you?
A: It’s not as easy as it looks. Everyone wants to be the boss, but you don’t realize all the responsibility that is on that side of the desk.
Q: What are your personal goals as a superintendent?
A: My goal is to take the golf course to the next level. I want to leave a positive mark at the course and turn it into something better than it was prior to me getting here. The feedback from our regular golfers has been outstanding, so that makes me feel proud of the job we are doing here. The greens are now rolling smooth, and I want to get the speeds up without compromising the health of the plant.
I would like to continue to enhance the condition of the fairways and tees. After improving the short-cut grass, I want to move out into the rough.participate