by Ray Benedetti
Dean Piller has been the Superintendent at the Cordova Bay golf course for 9 years. He is currently the President of the CGSA and one of the most respected members of the Turfgrass industry.
Dean began his turf industry career in Lacombe, Alberta, where he grew up. "My parents built a home right beside the Lacombe Golf Course, so it was very accessible. I joined as a junior member and played golf every day. I basically spent all my time on the golf course." When Dean was in grade 9, he finally got a job at the course mowing rough with a little garden tractor rotary mower. Dean was influenced by the second Superintendent he worked for, David Krause (a Fairview College graduate). David helped to steer Mr. Piller towards professional development in the turf industry.
"After I graduated from high school I enrolled in the Turfgrass management program at Olds College. Between my first and second year of the diploma program I worked for Dennis McKernan in the grounds department of the College. I learned (at Olds) a tremendous amount about the horticultural aspects of turf and landscape maintenance, which I believe has made a large impact on my development as a well rounded Superintendent." Dean feels that Dennis has been a mentor and very influential in the development of Mr. Piller's career. This is where the importance of professionalism in the golf industry was drilled into Dean. "His (Mr. McKernan's) influence is still very evident today - with Olds College producing the first two winners of the CGSA/TORO Future Superintendent Award."
When Dean graduated from Olds College he chose the route of first becoming a 9 hole golf course Superintendent. His first job was at the Olds Central Highlands Golf Club. "At the time, this golf course had a very low budget which certainly developed my mechanical abilities and budget management skills, as I was required to produce results - with very limited resources! After three years in Olds I was ready for a new challenge, so I accepted the position of Superintendent at the Carstairs Community Golf Club. Carstairs was very progressive and was constantly improving the golf course, which made the three years I worked there very rewarding and exciting." While working in Carstairs, Dean developed a relationship with Bill Robinson, who was the Architect working on a long range plan for Carstairs. "Through Bill I found out about a new golf course being developed and that's where I have been for the past 9 years."
Dean feels that associations such as the WCTA, CGSA and the BCGSA are critical as they provide us with avenues for learning and a chance to continue professional development. "They provide networking opportunities within our industry and avenues for personal growth. The one thing that most people don't realize about associations is all the behind the scenes activities they do for the benefit of the profession and it's members such as product registration, government liaison, international representation, etc. Too often members ask 'what does the association do for me' instead of 'what can I do for the benefit of the association'. When members become involved and volunteer to improve their associations I develop a great deal of respect for them."
Mr. Piller has spent much time contributing to our industry's growth. One of my questions to Dean was if he thought there was enough room for all the turf graduates that are pouring out of the schools. "I have been very fortunate to have been given the opportunity to serve on several different boards. During this time I have often been asked my opinion of the number of graduates from two-year Turfgrass management programs. In Canada we are blessed with a very qualified labor pool in which to maintain our facilities, which I think is very positive. At Cordova Bay, we have six 2-year diplomas on our staff, so I am obviously very confident in the abilities of our core staff.
In a recent national survey done by the CGSA, the average age of Superintendents in Canada is 30-35 years old. Therefore, if a student graduates from a two-year program when they are 21, they should give themselves a realistic time line of 10 to 15 years before they manage their own golf course operation. Of course there will be the odd exception but how many 21-year old lawyers and doctors do you know? I believe that a two year diploma will be looked upon as entry level and the new standard for education will be a three year applied degree program or a 4 year university degree for golf course Superintendents."
Dean is very excited about the upcoming joint conference in 2001, and he feels that it will be quite a success. "Brian Youell and Jim McGarvey will do a wonderful job as co-chairmen, and I think this will be the biggest Canadian Turfgrass conference and trade show ever held."
Dean's greatest enjoyment in this industry is the people. "It does not matter whether you visit another province or country - usually people are very friendly and willing to share their time and information with you. Through attendance at conferences and different functions in this industry, I have developed close friendships all around the world. Not many careers provide you with this wonderful opportunity. I am always impressed with how open Superintendents are in sharing their ideas and experiences. Our industry has great camaraderie and support - making me proud to be in this profession."
Dean feels that one of the biggest negatives in this industry is that people are often far too committed to their work - often at the expense of their family. "I have seen many of my peers over the years place their golf course above and beyond everything else. This often comes at the expense of our family, health and well being. If I could make one difference within this industry I would like to be remembered for creating an awareness of the importance of balance within our lives. I think I have become much better at creating a balance within my life in the past few years, and hopefully this example will lay down the foundation for those I have worked with over the years to balance their priorities as well. I try to take weekends off and one to two weeks off during the summer. Of course this is only possible if you can delegate responsibilities evenly among your qualified staff. I also encourage all of them to take holidays in the summer and two days off every week."
Dean is active in his life outside of work enjoying all kinds of sports, outdoor activities, and health and fitness. "If I were to choose any other career it would probably be human health and nutrition which I find very interesting."
Turf Line News February/March 2000
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