The Best Kept Secret
The history of the Superintendent Intern Program does not get the credit it deserves. The Superintendent Intern Program was brought to life by John Zoller and Bob Hanna. These gentlemen gave the program the necessary support to get it off the ground and then endured the growing pains. John Zoller, former executive director of the NCGA, was the champion of the Superintendent Intern Program and a driving force in the success of this one-of-a-kind program.
The Superintendent Intern Program is designed to train qualified and motivated individuals in the basic skills needed to become an effective assistant golf course superintendent and eventually a superintendent. A key objective of the program is to learn from a seasoned superintendent to speed up the learning curve and gain valuable work experience on the course.
The first of many accomplished people to complete the program was Scott Jorgensen. Scott, currently the superintendent at Santa Barbara Golf Club, had the distinct pleasure of training under John Zoller, then the superintendent at Monterey Peninsula Country Club, in 1975. Jorgensen had little golf course maintenance experience and remembers Zoller as “putting me in the trenches to learn as much as I could.” This learning-by-doing experience was an important aspect of the Superintendent Intern Program, but Jorgensen recalls memories from a more traditional method of learning –– the classroom.
Zoller taught the local turf class at Monterey Peninsula College. It was not uncommon for John to bring in some nationally acclaimed guests, such as the USGA’s Bill Bengeyfield, to speak to the class. According to Jorgensen this was just another way John “could really open doors for you that you thought were closed.”
Fast forward 30 years and Zoller’s legacy is as strong as ever. Justin Janke, a former assistant golf course superintendent at Tehama GC, got to see first hand how a legend of the industry took care of business on a daily basis. A 2005 graduate of the Superintendent Intern Program and now the superintendent at Malibu Country Club, Janke recalls how much drive and dedication John had as the general manager of Tehama when it opened in 1999. “Mr. Zoller was inspiring.” Janke said. “His dedication to the golf course was remarkable. He loved coming to work and he had a great eye for detail about the golf course.”
Both Janke and Jorgensen admired Zoller’s demeanor. “He had this aura about him that is hard to describe” Jorgensen said. “Everybody just respected him.” Janke noticed how stoic Zoller was in his interactions with others. “If Mr. Zoller wanted to tell you something, he would let you know in a very calm and soothing fashion that something was out of place or needed attention.” Janke noted. “You always made sure to quickly take care of the issue; you didn’t want to let John down.”
Obviously, Zoller left more than just impressions on many people. He was known in virtually every aspect of the golf industry from professional tournaments to golf course construction to golf course maintenance. He was a true pillar of the game. A very distinguished amateur golfer, John Zoller will go down in the annals of golf history as one of its most influential members.
There is no doubt John Zoller will be missed. His kind face and a recollection of an encouraging word will put a smile on more than one person’s face and in their hearts as well. For many of the former superintendent interns that got to know and learn from John Zoller, his legacy will continue well into the future.
Due to Zoller’s vision, the Superintendent Intern program is as vibrant and effective today as it was 35 years ago. Just the way The Big Z would have wanted.