More in Stores

Ben Gibson kicks off a series of leadership profiles by talking to Royal Canberra superintendent Ryan Stores.

Royal Canberra Golf Club has a big chapter ahead and with superintendent Ryan Stores and incoming general manager Ben Styles there is a new era of leadership at the club. It takes great energy, motivation and dedication to plan and execute the turf and infrastructure projects that lie ahead for Royal Canberra. Approaching the end of his first 12 months in charge, I caught up with Ryan (29) to reflect on his 11-year career to date and those who have had an impact on the pathway to his current role.

Tell us about your journey in turf management that led you to Royal Canberra?

I began as an apprentice at Yowani Country Club in Canberra in late 2010. It was during this time that I fell in love with the job and knew this is what I wanted to do. Towards the end of my time at Yowani, I applied to be an intern with The Ohio Program in the USA and was placed at Quail Hollow in Charlotte, North Carolina for 13 months. I moved back to Australia and took up a position at The Australian Golf Club and after a relatively short stay I moved back to Canberra and joined the team at Royal Canberra Golf Club (RCGC).

Towards the end of 2016 I moved back to America and joined the management team at Quail Hollow for the 2017 PGA Championship and then in mid-2018 I Rejoined the team at RCGC as 3IC, eventually progressing to assistant which I held for 3 years. I became Superintendent in October 2021, following the footsteps of my predecessors and mentors Ben Grylewicz and Jake Gibbs. Over the past seven years they have paved the way for me to move into this role and take the club forward.

Having worked at RCGC in several positions over many years, and understanding the club inside and out, I hope to be able to effect positive change both on the course and within my team and enhance sustainability for the club and my department.

You have had a new addition to the family recently? How has that shifted your perspective and has it influenced the way you lead?

My daughter Tilly was born in November last year, a month after I took over the superintendent role, so the timing was pretty intense. Being a dad hasn’t necessarily influenced the way that I lead, but I now have a new-found appreciation for the meaning of ‘family comes first’ and I take my hat off to everyone working to find the right balance between work and home. Having a baby changes priorities and makes me want to work even harder to give her the best life possible.

What have you been working on in your first six months in the role?

My priority for the first six months was to get through the summer as best as possible as I had two new assistants and a handful of new staff. Thankfully the water was kind to us and we had record rain. Moving into winter my top priorities are my people. My goal is to continue to enhance staff culture, development and engagement as well as training and education. I’m also focused on mentoring my two assistants.

I currently have several big projects to manage that include the completion of a new irrigation system on 18 holes, planning and construction of a new state-of-the-art practice facility, implementation of a five-year machinery rollover plan, maintenance facility upgrade and working in conjunction with the general manager and the club on addressing the long-term sustainability of RCGC.

What is at the top of your priority list as superintendent?

Providing good leadership and creating emotionally intelligent greenkeepers while giving my staff the practical trade skills required for them to enhance and progress their careers in turf management. Staff retention and attraction are always at the top end of my priority list. It has become increasingly difficult to find greenkeepers in recent years and one of my goals is to provide a point of difference to attract people to work here. I always keep sustainability, both from an environmental and workplace/people perspective, close to the top of my priority list as well. It’s important to me to leave a legacy at RCGC, not just for today or tomorrow, but well into the future.

You have two new assistants at the club. How have you built your leadership team and what did you focus on?

I have purposefully built a leadership team that brings diverse views to the table as well as a wealth of knowledge and experience in all facets of greenkeeping. Both Jake (Smith) and Luke (Triffett) have great skill sets and really complement each other. It was important to me to bring people in with experience in managing people and experience at high-end golf clubs, agronomic knowledge and project experience to increase standards and expectations. It was important that they also had the ability to think outside the box and have big picture thinking, as RCGC is so unique. We’re kicking goals already and I have no doubt we’ll continue to deliver some great results for RCGC.

Stores’ goal is to enhance staff culture, development and engagement as well as training and education

What does staff development look like at Royal Canberra?

Staff development is one of my biggest focuses. It is vitally important to invest in staff and culture and I have put a lot of my time and effort since becoming superintendent into the governance that is required to better support the staff, both day- to-day and their future development.

Over recent months I have created individualised position descriptions that are site-specific to RCGC, as well as Professional Development Plans with KPI’s for individuals to work on. Myself and the rest of the management team have also developed and implemented site- and task-specific standard operation procedures. Additional training opportunities have been given to the team for external training and education. We’ve got presentations from trade professionals coming up as well as some mental health training.

More recently we have facilitated the first of five interactive staff sessions which are focussing on workplace culture and where we want to head into the future together. Phil Beal, (ex-The Australian GC), is helping me out with that and providing invaluable expertise and insight. I hope that these sessions will provide the team with the foundations of what we stand for and the standards we accept and strive for.

How would you describe your leadership style?

I aim to lead from the front, balancing my responsibilities as a manager while still contributing to achieving course outputs with the team. I’m collaborative in my leadership style and I find huge value in seeking my team’s opinion and input. I strive to always do what is best for the team, even when that means putting myself last.

I like to think of myself as a fair boss and encourage team members to take ownership and autonomy of their work and always offer assistance and advice along the way, remaining conscious not to micro-manage.

Who has influenced your career and how?

I have several people who have influenced me so far in my career:

  • Justin Haslam (superintendent Yowani CC) – for teaching me the core skills of the greenkeeping trade.
  • Keith Wood (director of agronomy Quail Hollow) – the hardest person I have ever had to work for! He taught me what maintained intensity means and what it does to people and an understanding of what it takes to consistently operate at a world-class level.
  • Ben Grylewicz (former RCGC superintendent, now superintendent Indooroopilly GC) – for giving me a chance as assistant and teaching me the ins and outs of leadership roles at the golf club.
  • Jake Gibbs (former RCGC superintendent, now director of agronomy Elanora CC) – for teaching me how to be more self- aware, people management and the business side of RCGC.
  • Matt Olson (former RCGC general manager, now general manager at The Lakes GC) – for providing stoic leadership, guidance and advice, for believing in me and giving me a chance as superintendent.

How do you juggle the balance between people and turf in your leadership?

I do my very best but it can be extremely hard. Both require equal amounts of attention, but you unfortunately can’t always give it. However, people always come first. There are certainly times where you must make hard decisions and put one above the other and it’s just about knowing what you can let drop momentarily while you alter your focus. I am grateful that I have a strong leadership team that is able to keep the golf course and team moving when I get tied up with the office side of the job.

In an industry predominantly made up of men, you have four women on your team.

Yes, we currently have three females on the turf team and one who looks after the office admin, who all came on board over the past two years. I have always been passionate about creating a diverse team in a predominantly male-dominated industry. Having a mix of people (and not just genders) is key to having an inclusive and diverse work culture.

When recruiting for staff, I always cast my net far and wide and advertise on multiple online platforms. Recently I have created flyers and taken them to schools, universities, TAFEs and sporting clubs. When hiring staff I don’t always look for previous experience or skills, I sometimes focus more on their personality, attitude, passion and willingness to learn.

This article was originally published in the Australian Turfgrass Management Journal

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