Tim’s time in the sun

Ben Gibson continues his series of leadership profiles, stopping by Cairns Golf Club to catch up with course superintendent Tim Hoskinson.

It is hard not to be impressed when you meet this edition’s leadership profile subject in person. Over the past 20 years, Tim Hoskinson has carved out a rewarding career in turf management, one which has taken him from the Northern Beaches of Sydney where he served his apprenticeship, to some of the best courses in the US and more recently to the balmy tropics of Far North Queensland.

For the past five years, the now 42-year-old father of two has been heading maintenance operations at Cairns Golf Club, his first posting as a course superintendent. During that time, his passion for the profession has been a constant beacon and together with a dedicated work ethic and a proactive leadership style has steered the club down a path to making some major improvements which has set the course up for a more sustainable future. Let’s get to know Tim a little more…

Tell us about your journey in turf management and how you ended up being superintendent at Cairns Golf Club?

Like many, I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I left school. I did, however, know that I liked golf and I enjoyed being outdoors. It seemed like a logical choice to give working on a golf course a shot and, as luck would have it, there was an apprenticeship on offer at Manly Golf Club in Sydney. I spent four years working under the expert guidance of then-superintendent Mick Bradbery before departing Australia as a young lad for an internship through The Ohio Program.

I spent a summer at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club before seeing out the remainder of the year at Scioto Country Club in Columbus, Ohio. Following this I lived on campus at Ohio State University for three months and studied full time which was a fantastic experience. The following summer I worked my first PGA Tour event while at Congressional Country Club.

Upon returning to Australia I spent another four years at Manly, during which time we completed the full course reconstruction. Once this wrapped up, Natalie (now my amazing wife) and I headed overseas. After spending two years living in London plus another year travelling extensively, we knew long-term we wanted to get out of the big smoke.

After a short time at Royal Sydney, we moved to Cairns where I started working at Paradise Palms. Paradise was by far and away the jewel of the north, but after a while, there were question marks over its future. I was offered the job at Cairns Golf Club, which was too good to pass up. I definitely landed on my feet as Paradise would sadly end up closing.

Congratulations on the new irrigation system recently installed at Cairns Golf Club – a huge project to undertake. How did that all come about?

Thank you. When I arrived at Cairns Golf Club five years ago, I knew the irrigation system wasn’t great. After being here for a short while, I downgraded that assessment to ‘terrible’! It was by far and away the greatest challenge for the golf club and was something I immediately flagged. The general manager and Board were aware of some of the issues, but not the full extent. I began a period of documentation, focusing on repairs and costs associated with the old system. I also began to highlight the benefits of a new system, which included the reallocation of resources, power savings and significant turf quality improvements across the course.

I was glad the general manager and Board were serious about action, as a new irrigation system had been talked about here for over 30 years. All in all, the process took five years. This included about 2-3 years of investigations and discussion with the general manager and Board and another two for the tender process and installation.

In what was one of the club’s biggest course improvement projects in its recent history, Hoskinson played a key role in getting a new irrigation system approved and installed

I know you earned yourself a pretty good break after finishing the project. What did you do with your time?

The installation was a challenging process. On the back of the COVID pandemic, I hadn’t had a decent holiday for the best part of three years and was pretty burned out. My holiday was amazing and included catching up with some old mates and over three weeks of solid family time. I played golf at some of Victoria’s best, including Royal Melbourne and Kingston Heath, and rode the Great Ocean Road on motorbikes with great mates. We finished the family holiday off with a week in Melbourne and 10 days in South Australia, including diving with great white sharks off Port Lincoln. It was an epic bucket list trip and family holiday.

Now the irrigation system is complete, what are some of the new areas of focus for the course and the club?

The remainder of 2022 has been used to reset and tidy up a lot of loose ends on the course. Ideally, I would like to return the course to the conditioning we had it (but better for the new irrigation) prior to embarking on anything significant. Having said that, we are installing a trial Capillary Concrete bunker which has been on the cards for a while and will be a good test for our high rainfall climate. I have also just completed a course report for future works. From here, I will develop a strategic plan for the golf course, which will help futureproof the facility. This will encompass all areas of the property and include key areas such as green, tee and bunker upgrades, while keeping our focus on simplicity and sustainability.

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

Keeping my team both happy and safe is first and foremost for me. Being ‘available’ during the past year has been a real challenge as I did not have the time I normally do to spend with them. Having said that, I feel they understood this and all did extra to help me out during this time. Of particular note was that not one person took more than a week off during the 11-month project, which I think is a testament to our team environment.

I have noticed you make a real investment in social media and sharing the hard work of your team. How did this come about and what has the impact been for you?

In general, I am not much of a social media person. I have Facebook but rarely use it, but I started using LinkedIn and got some great feedback. I’ve had plenty of people get in contact on the back of some of my posts and I really enjoy helping people out where I can. I shout out to my team on LinkedIn with many of my posts, but I also have access to the golf club’s Facebook page. I tailor the content slightly differently on there, but I think it’s important for our membership to know how much hard work my awesome team puts in for their benefit.

You are the father of two young children. How has that shifted your perspective and has it influenced the way you lead?

Having children has definitely made me refocus on what is important. I enjoy my work, but at the end of the day my family is more important. I think having children has also made me more empathetic to people, especially those with kids. It’s really impossible to understand how much having children changes your life until you are in that moment.

How would you describe your leadership style?

I do my best to be collaborative and encouraging. For me, it’s important to have our team buy into what we are trying to do out on the course. In turn, this keeps them motivated and happy. While I feel I have an overall leadership style, I am also mindful of each individual’s needs. Everyone has different priorities and likes to be interacted with in their own unique way. If I can listen to their needs and they feel heard, I believe this leads to a mutual respect. I would also note that I am not afraid of having ‘difficult’ discussions if they are required. Done the right way, these can, more often than not, lead to an improved working relationship.

A strong work ethic and fostering a workplace culture that is collaborative and encouraging have been the hallmarks of Hoskinson’s leadership style during his time at Cairns Golf Club

Who has influenced your career and why?

Mick Bradbery at Manly was definitely an early influencer for me. I enjoyed watching Mick’s calm demeanour when dealing with any challenge that arose. This was especially true with some of the ‘challenging’ Board members I saw him interact with over the eight years I spent at Manly. I took a lot from the way Mick treated his team and try to do similar with mine. I have also been heavily influenced by some of the ‘not so great’ bosses I have had along the way. In general, I have been lucky, but I have had a couple of shockers. I use these people to remind me what not to do, which sometimes can be just as good as remembering what to do.

What advice would you give someone considering a career in turf management or younger staff just starting out?

First, I think people need to be clear about what they want. If they are chasing big dollars and aren’t up for a challenge, then this isn’t the industry for you. However, if you are willing to put in the effort you can definitely progress quickly, earn a good wage and have some serious fun along the way. Enthusiasm will definitely take you places! Not to mention the travel opportunities, conferences, volunteering opportunities and relationships that come with time.

Are you currently looking for staff? If so, what is your pitch?

We have a full crew at the moment and have relatively little turnover which is great. Compared to many others, this is not something that has been a major concern. Perhaps it is a benefit of living regionally, but I also like to think that our team environment, comparatively decent wages and looking after my team helps. When I do recruit, I tailor my ad to highlight what I can do for them, as opposed to what I expect from the incumbent. At the end of the day, people want to be looked after. As long as they are keen to learn and are willing to put in the effort, I will bend over backwards to ensure they get whatever they need to keep them happy. Funnily enough, as I finish off this piece, we are just about to head off to brunch together as a team after a super productive green’s renovation.

Since you were first asked to write this article, you have had some exciting career developments occur. Can you tell us a
little bit more?

Yes, it has been a very tough decision to make, but I have just taken the role as the Northern Queensland manager for Green Options. When Natalie and I drew a list of the pros and cons, it was too good an opportunity to pass up. It will definitely present new challenges, but ultimately I feel it is a decision that will have long-term benefits for both myself and my family.

While Hoskinson says it will be sad to leave Cairns Golf Club, he knows he is leaving it in a far stronger position than when he first arrived

The hardest part of this decision was to let go of all the things we have been able to accomplish at Cairns Golf Club, especially having just finished the irrigation installation. With that now in the ground, the greatest challenge for the club has been addressed and it will only get easier from here.

I have a great team, most of whom I have brought on myself, and Cairns Golf Club is definitely headed into unchartered territory. I have been blessed to work alongside an excellent Board and have a fantastic relationship with my general manager Matt Bolton. Collectively, we have been able to achieve so much.

While it is sad to leave Cairns Golf Club, I know I will be leaving the facility in a far stronger position than when I arrived. All that being said, I am definitely looking forward to taking my skillset over to Green Options and the significant opportunity that awaits.

This article was originally published in the Australian Turfgrass Management Journal

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