Golf Course Management

FEB 2017

Golf Course Management magazine is dedicated to advancing the golf course superintendent profession and helping GCSAA members achieve career success.

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74 GOLF COURSE MANAGEMENT 02.17 In 2001, student numbers in golf course and turfgrass management programs at land-grant universities across the nation were high, and many wondered where these students would find employment in a market so saturated. How things have changed. Now, low en - rollment has the potential to create a crisis for golf courses seeking to hire superintendents — maybe not next year or 10 years from now, but eventually. At universities, we're concerned. Last November, turfgrass scientists gathered at a special teaching symposium as part of the Crop Science Society of America meetings in Phoenix to address enrollment issues in under - graduate programs. Between 1995 and 2001, enrollment in the golf course management program at Kansas State University tripled, and we had nearly 150 enrolled. However, we weren't the only ones seeing higher enrollment numbers, and several factors contributed to that: • Tiger Woods had reached superstardom, and his popularity attracted more people to the game. • Golf course construction was booming, and there was what seemed to be a reasonable, underlying assumption among the general public that the demand for qualified people to manage the facilities was going to rise. • Students seemed to like the idea of working outdoors. Now, at K-State, we're down to about 40 students in our turf curriculum, which in - cludes students in both golf course and sports turf management. And compared with other programs, our numbers are pretty good. Other schools have experienced more dramatic drops in enrollment in turfgrass programs, and some whose numbers are in the single digits will cease to exist after current faculty leave or retire. Why this has happened is a subject of great debate, but it's likely that a combination of fac - tors has been responsible. For example, golf has simply declined in popularity. The National Golf Foundation indicates there are now 6 mil - lion fewer golfers who play at least one round annually than there were in 2005. For many students, their initial interest in turfgrass starts with exposure to golf, so if fewer are introduced to the sport, enrollment in university turf pro - grams will no doubt suffer. The number of golf courses in the U.S. has also outpaced demand for some time, and, as a result, more than 800 courses have closed in the past decade. Fewer golf courses means fewer employers for turfgrass managers, and, consequently, employment in a golf-related profession may now be considered more passé to young people than it once was. Another issue is financial. With declin - ing state support, tuition at publicly funded schools — where most turfgrass programs are housed — has risen much faster than the rate of inflation. The nature of the job itself is working against us too. Working outside in a profession that periodically requires getting one's hands dirty is generally less attractive to today's average high school graduate than it was even 10 years ago. Add all of that together, and it's getting harder for superintendents to find and hire degree-holding, full-time assistant superin - tendents. A K-State alumnus in the Kansas City area recently told me he was forced to hire assistants who didn't have a college edu - cation, simply because there were no degree- holding applicants for the position he adver - tised. If these trends continue, what are the implications? Golf course administrators may eventually find that hiring a superintendent who has a degree is difficult because too few are available. Some universities have stepped up efforts to attract students into turf programs. For ex - ample, at K-State, we produced a video that has been circulated through social media in an attempt to attract more students to our pro - gram ( http://goo.gl/GKsYHz ). Faculty at the University of Tennessee hired a full-time mar - keting person to attract turfgrass students, and enrollment has increased significantly. The truth is, all of us need to become re - cruiters to attract students to this profession that we care so much about. You have the power to influence career decisions just by in - viting young people to the golf course and let- ting them know about what you do. By doing so, you'll be influencing the future of the golf course superintendent profession firsthand. Jack Fry, Ph.D., is a professor of turfgrass science and the director of the Rocky Ford Turfgrass Research Center at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kan. He is a 20-year educator member of GCSAA. Jack Fry, Ph.D. jfry@ksu.edu Where have all the students gone? You have the power to influence career decisions just by inviting young people to the golf course and letting them know about what you do. (through the green)

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