Penn State Alum Talks About His Success

February 21, 2014 in Alumni

jim_rattigan1Range picker at 14…  Superintendent at 24… Director of operations by 28… How Schuylkill CC’s decision to hire the local kid paid off.

It was a courtesy interview that made everything else possible: a career would be born; a private club would be revitalized; and a Donald Ross gem would be restored.

Jim Rattigan (Jimmy to many) was the 14-year-old kid with the A-game who used to work picking balls on the range. When he was 16 he took a job on the crew cutting cups. Even when he left for college — Coastal Carolina first, to try out the PGA Golf Management program, then Penn State to earn a turf degree — he still returned home to work summers on the crew.

So when the superintendent job opened up during his senior year at Penn State, he decided to “throw his hat in the ring and see what happened.” He had little expectation to get an interview.

A week after his interview, the phone rang.

“It went from a courtesy interview to they were going to give me a shot, and I hadn’t even gotten out of school yet,” Rattigan recalls. “It was a whirlwind of excitement… a little bit of fear, but ultimately it was something I was so excited to take on and to do, I couldn’t wait to get here and get started.

Going all-out

From that fateful day in 2002 to today, Rattigan has seen many successes. Now add to that list the 2014 Herb Graffis Businessperson of the Year Award, named in honor of Golfdom’s founder, Herb Graffis, who started the magazine in 1927 (see sidebar, page 19.)

A lot of things happened fast for Rattigan. He was only 24 when he was offered the job at Schuylkill (pronounced SKOOK-uhl), a Donald Ross/Willie Park Jr. designed private club in sleepy central Pennsylvania. It was then a quick six years later that he was promoted to general manager, taking on the title of director of operations/superintendent.

Before he applied for the superintendent position, Rattigan discussed the possibility at length with the late George Hamilton, his professor at Penn State who convinced him to leave Coastal Carolina to pursue a turf degree over a career as a PGA Professional. They agreed it couldn’t hurt to apply, but if he did get a courtesy interview, he should go all-out in order to respect the opportunity.

Rattigan entered the interview room with a projector and laptop, both borrowed from Hamilton, and a nothing-to-lose attitude.

“A couple things stood out about Jimmy: first and foremost, his excellent academic record,” recalls Joe Troy, a Pennsylvania attorney and a longtime member of Schuylkill CC. Troy was one of the members in the room that day.

“His knowledge and commitment to Schuylkill didn’t hurt, either,” Troy continues. “Then there was the fact that he was close to a scratch golfer, so he knew how the course should play viewed from a golfer’s perspective. Lastly, he had done an internship with (architect and Donald Ross expert) Ron Prichard at Aronimink, so he had an appreciation for the historical aspect of this Donald Ross course.”

He hasn’t told anyone this before, but Jimmy also had a secret weapon: he had just picked up some tricks from one of the best in the business, fellow Penn State alumnus Mark Kuhns, CGCS at Baltusrol.

“(Kuhns) came to the turf club and did a presentation for the turf students on how he did his interview when he went to Baltusrol — things to think about, questions and some neat little tricks,” Rattigan recalls with a sly smile. “I paid attention to that and I actually implemented quite a few of them in my interview.”

It all added up to the opportunity of a lifetime. Rattigan was now a superintendent at age 24, before he had even graduated from Penn State. Once he graduated he moved back in with his parents, sleeping on their couch for the first six months while he again went “all-out” making as many improvements as quickly as he could to his home course.

Small club, small budget

Just because he got a shot didn’t mean he’d make it work. Once again, Hamilton helped.

“George, we sat down and had a real long meeting. I brought him in for a visit… he was the guy I leaned on. He helped me put together some programs,” Rattigan says. “Having a guy like that was a huge help. He was the biggest influence in me getting into the business and getting off on the right foot.”

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