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USGA Greenkeeper Program Graduates Inaugural Class

Experiential learning has been the core of the United States Golf Association’s groundbreaking Greenkeeper Apprenticeship Program (GAP) and local golf course maintenance leadership in the area.

After early hours and long days among the elements of the golf course, the 18 golf course maintenance workers have regularly attended classroom sessions at Sandhills Community College to take in practical knowledge of their occupation rather than memorizing the chemistry or biology associated with their work.

The group recently graduated from the program’s inaugural class with a year’s worth of knowledge that has changed their work flow on the golf course.

The program has pushed for the students to build mentorships with their superintendents at the various local courses on which they work. Leadership from the USGA’s Green Section created the course, which started last January. It began teaching the curriculum for half the year until a full-time program coordinator, Carson Letot, was hired in August.

The results through one year matches the goal of the program: to better train the workforce on golf courses that already are experiencing a labor force shortage. They saw it as a more skilled workforce being more effective with the smaller numbers.

Jordan Booth, one of the Green Section directors who started teaching the course, said that the students in the program have “become leaders on their crew.”

The program has also taken many students out of their comfort zone to turn from the educated to the educator in a sense.

Course No. 10, located off N.C. 5 in Aberdeen, has also been a learning experience for the GAP students in the yearlong process to construct the Tom Doak design. The students sat in on the course construction from the ground up, helping to get a visual of the process.

The USGA is engaging more with high school students to present the options that are there in golf course maintenance as a career field, and how the GAP program can be a step toward other careers within the field with more education. Booth said that Sandhills Community College President Sandy Stewart has discussed options for the program to lead to further education at the university.

“We really want to expand it into the high schools in Moore County and Hoke County,” Booth said. “As a community, if you grow up in Moore County and don’t know that this is a great career choice, we’ve done a disservice.”

Moore County has been the incubator for this program, producing the students and the setting for the inaugural cohort.

“When we talk about being in this area, it’s so neat that so many people have bought into golf, but they’ve bought into the whole sphere of golf. It’s more than just going out there, hanging out and playing each hole with your ball,” Letot said. “It’s the preparation of the golf course, it’s the hospitality, and there’s a lot of people that are thinking about it holistically.”

Letot said a new cohort starts in January 2024 as the program looks to continue to grow in local awareness, and potential to other regional colleges.

“It’s great to do one cohort in one year, but it has to keep going. It has to have that sustainability, and now we have a full cohort starting in January again, and we have even bigger numbers for next year,” Letot said. “It’s not just a one-off, it’s going to have some legs for some years.”

Letot added the new cohort will bring diversity to the classroom in race, gender and experience level working on the golf course.

The GAP program under Letot, who is contracted through Sandhills Community College and the USGA, will follow the calendar of the college, and will implement projects when there is less class time in the summer months with more attention needed to work on the courses.

(Original article by Jonathan Bym, The Pilot; Photo by Ted Fitzgerald, The Pilot)

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