First-Year Recap with Excel Member Jessica Lenihan

As the Excel Leadership Program, founded by Nufarm and GCSAA, prepares to announce the next class of assistant superintendents to enter the program, we took a moment to interview inaugural class member, Jessica Lenihan, who recently completed her first year of Excel. She offered valuable information for any golf course assistant interested in learning more about the program’s curriculum and benefits.

The Excel Leadership Program offers leading-edge development opportunities for 12 assistant superintendents chosen from many excellent applicants. Each class participates for three years, learning leadership in personal, career, community and industry stewardship that will impact the future of golf course turf management.

The First-Year Excel Experience

“The fact that we are given this opportunity has been great,” Jessica shared. “We love that we all get to meet three times, which makes Excel a great bonding experience for everyone. We’ve been able to follow along with everyone’s journey, creating some true friends.”

“Being part of the inaugural class has been beneficial because we’ve been able to contribute to what we want to learn and tailor the program to get the most out of it. That’s something I’ve seldom seen happen,” she added.

A Three-Meeting Commitment

Jessica’s newly appointed class first gathered at the Golf Industry Show in February where they met for the first time, along with Nufarm and GSCAA leadership, and focused on resume-building, interview skills and how to land that big job. They then completed a GIS educational track.

Their second meeting was at GSCAA headquarters in Lawrence, Kansas, in April.

“I had never been to GCSAA headquarters before so that was really neat just to see how much the Association is actually doing for our industry. The facilities, the people working for us…you can’t really wrap your head around it until you’re there,” Jessica said.

The class valued the panel discussion, which allowed them to openly ask questions of veteran industry leaders, gaining insight into their lessons learned. Jessica appreciated learning about developing a course culture and the interesting differences in how superintendents successfully lead their teams while addressing varying management styles, personalities and generational gaps.

The third meeting of 2018 brought the Excel class to Nufarm US headquarters and manufacturing plant in Alsip, Illinois, just outside Chicago.

“It was awesome! I did not realize all the time that goes into doing what Nufarm does. Being able to tour the plant, see that safety is key, and how everyone works together to make sure the operation is run so smoothly was great to see – especially since it has operated like this for so long with so many days without work loss due to injury,” she said.

In Alsip, the class focused on budgeting led by Chris Carson, a golf course superintendent as well as professional development and budget specialist within the Rutgers Professional Golf Turf Management School program.

“He taught us techniques about presenting money in a way that makes everyone happy, such as approaching your board with maintenance budget needs that show them how it will benefit membership and achieve their goals,” said Jessica. “It was nice to hear from someone who has been at the same club for more than 20 years and understands board perspectives.”

The class also met with a financial planner to focus on personal retirement, “which was great because we’re all approaching 30 and need to pay more attention to our future and happiness in the long run,” she added.

Helping Assistants Take the Lead

“Being a superintendent goes beyond how to grow grass,” said Jessica. “It’s understanding how to work with varying personalities and how to interact with management. We’ve talked a lot about creating your team and how to transition from being an assistant who is more of a manager and taking on a leader role. This is something I think we all, as assistants, struggle with because we are often micro-managing, ensuring everything gets done every day. It is something that many assistants don’t think about until they’re forced into that role and need to figure it out. We have to be able to transition to a leader mindset.”

Making New and Important Connections

“One of the other nice parts about the program is that there are so many big names within the industry that are supportive of it and willing to come speak and be involved with us. It allows us to make those connections that we never would have had otherwise. The support that we’re getting from superintendents that have been around for a long time and accomplished a lot is just amazing…and really everyone has offered to help us over the long term. We can’t get that anywhere else,” she shared.

On Being a Female in Golf Turf

“I think that this is an industry that you either love or don’t – because it is obviously very physically demanding – so it’s hard to attract new people in general, male or female,” Jessica explained. “But the industry as a whole has been really welcoming and open to the idea of women in the industry and, knowing they’re really supportive, has made it easy to want to do this as a career.”

Jessica looks forward to joining her classmates again at GIS once again, and to beginning a new second-year curriculum more focused on each class member’s own facility and community, helping them to leverage their new skills to advance as well as give back.


Jessica Lenihan is an Assistant Superintendent at Hayden Lake Country Club in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho – a private member club and the first 18-hole golf course in the state of Idaho, open since 1907. The course features 21 holes, including three practice holes under long-range construction each fall. She is a graduate of Penn State University’s Golf Course Turf Management Program.

For information about the Excel Leadership Program, visit