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Over the years there has been a passing down of quips and phrases that have become this profession words to live by in. While some of the phrases may not be quotes that originated with people who shared them, they tend to be great words of wisdom that many in the golf course management industry should live by.

IF YOU CAN HOLD YOUR TONGUE, YOU CAN HOLD YOUR JOB

There is a lot of pressure and tension in the workplace. Often times things happen that can be upsetting. The first initial reaction is to defend one’s self or lash out. My father taught me that when you find yourself in this situation it is best to absorb the situation/information and then react after having time to think through things logically rather than emotionally. Therefore, I often would tell my staff (after seeing damaged equipment or turf) to meet me in 10 minutes at a specific location. At that time my reaction and comments would always be much more logical than emotional. The same thing holds true for caustic comments from members or supervisors. Hold your tongue with the immediate reaction and take time to process the statement before responding. Superintendents with a long tenure at their jobs have this figured out

LEAD BY EXAMPLE

Leaders must earn their team’s respect. One of the best ways to do that is to be an active part of your department. Yes, we must delegate things, but be in touch with your daily tasks, projects and people. Think of the good leaders you have worked for and mirror their style. Be on time for work and punctual for meetings. Take time to care about the people who make you shine. It is always nice to recognize their efforts and having a few celebrations a year to show your appreciation is a huge return on investment.

ATTITUDE IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN SKILLS

Early on I learned that I can teach people skills necessary to succeed in the workplace. However, it is rare that I can improve someone who has a bad attitude. During an interview, I try to ask questions that tell me as much about a person’s attitude as I can. Do they have high energy? Do they seem focused? Are they pleasant? Asking why they left their former employer might give insight into how they relate to their former employers.

WE ARE IN THE SERVICE BUSINESS

There is an old adage that says “service with a smile.” All the turf classes we take never seem to focus on how we should operate our facilities and impart the concept of service to our employees. Whether it is a private club or a public facility our golfers are our customers. In a competitive industry, we need to do all we can to bring golfers in, provide them a complete experience and, hopefully, they will come back.

Service means many things and the golfing experience includes much more than grass.

  • Be sure your entry is clean and well maintained.
  • The clubhouse grounds should be neat and tidy.
  • The real first tee (as a part of the golfer’s experience) is the practice tee … make it inviting and practical.
  • Signage is important.
  • Superintendents can assist in pace of play through course setup, rough height of cut, etc.
  • When the round is done, be sure there are shoe cleaning areas and a nice bag rack to store clubs until later they are picked up.

As far as the smile part is concerned, it is the cheapest, nicest and best way to treat people. Make it contagious and superintendents and their staff should always be kind, courteous and smiling to the patrons who ultimately pay their wage.

THE JUNIOR GOLFERS OF TODAY ARE THE GREEN COMMITTEE MEMBERS AND BOARD MEMBERS OF TOMORROW

While working at Glen View Club for Bruce Sering, I learned a fantastic lesson in my formative years. While doing course setup, I would always find a bunch of beer bottles thrown around on one of the tees on the golf course. Since I lived at the club, I figured out it was the son of a member who would come out at night with his buddies and make a mess on that tee. I made my case to Bruce and he quickly told me that the father of this young man was on the board of the club. It would be highly likely that the son would eventually become a member one day. Thus, is it really worth chastising someone who could eventually become your boss? Lesson learned was to pick your battles.

WORK HARD … THE HARDER YOU WORK, THE LUCKIER YOU WILL GET

More than a few times we hear someone say, “that guy is the luckiest person in the business … he gets all the good jobs.” Yes, there are situations of being in the right place at the right time. Yes, there are people who succeed because of their family lineage and such. But make no mistake getting a job is quite different than holding a job and prospering in that environment.

SUCCESSFUL PEOPLE WILL LEARN THE BUSINESS INSIDE AND OUT

When I worked for Frank Dobie in the early 1970s, he felt it was important for an aspiring superintendent to learn the business from all sides. He explained that a golf facility is much more than the turf. Many days I would work on the course from 6 a.m. until about 10 a.m. After that shift, I would go up and work in the clubhouse. It was a real eye-opener for me in many ways. I got to see how the food was prepared, how the members were serviced and, most importantly, I heard member conversations relative to the golf course. This gave me a greater appreciation for the other sides of the business. A good suggestion would be to have interns do a tour of work with the pro shop and the good service areas as it will give one a greater appreciation for our fellow department heads.

PEOPLE ARE YOUR MOST VALUABLE ASSET … TRAIN THEM WELL

One of the reasons companies like McDonalds are so successful is that they have a high quality training program for all of their employees. Golf courses can learn a lot from that. Unfortunately, we tend to have employees train each other. There is rarely a formal training program so employees do things the way they think that they should be done rather than the way YOU want them done. None of us would ever send our kids to a school where they are taught by other kids rather than teachers. If that is true, then why do we have co-workers explaining tasks rather than supervisors like foremen, assistants and superintendents?

COMMUNICATION IS EVERY BIT AS IMPORTANT AS GRASS GROWING

Without healthy grass and good playing conditions, you will lose your job. As turf experts, it is expected that the golf course will look good and play well. Going beyond the turf, why is it some superintendents excel and either get higher compensation or longer tenure in their jobs? It is the individual’s ability to manage and communicate effectively.

Superintendents must communicate on a variety of levels. One moment you’re working with people who may have a different native language. At best, their education level may be at the high school level. Great communicators make their messages concise and clear. Remember, if you tell someone who speaks a different language to cut down the fourth tree next to the third tee, it is highly likely a mistake will happen.

In contrast, when dealing with boards, committees and upper management, be cognizant that using highly technical terms is confusing and does not impress people. Keep it straight forward and realize the most important communication is not always turfspeak but a common denominator they would understand, such as golf or business.

As far as the smile part is concerned, it is the cheapest, nicest and best way to treat people. Make it contagious and superintendents and their staff should always be kind, courteous and smiling to the patrons who ultimately pay their wage.”

SERVING ON A BOARD OR A COMMITTEE MAY BE THE MOST ENLIGHTENING EXPERIENCE YOU CAN EVER IMAGINE

Every superintendent I’ve worked for shared the value of giving your time and talents to your professional associations. Step up and volunteer for committees, and strongly consider running for boards. You will learn how the process works and a variety of other skills will come your way:

  • Leadership
  • How to run a meeting
  • Robert’s Rules of Order
  • Gaining consensus
  • Managing events
  • Facilitation
  • Public speaking
  • Networking
  • Public relations
  • Business and accounting

I’LL OWN A CADILLAC BUT THE MEMBERS WILL NEVER SEE ME DRIVE IT

This one definitely came from my dad. He cautioned me to keep a middle-class appearance no matter how successful a person would become. It is not a good thing when the people you work for see you living too well. Now this doesn’t mean you should live in austerity. It does mean when sharing information with employers, often less is better.

There was a time when I would visit The Masters or the U.S. Open and shared that with members and fellow employees upon my return. Little did I know this could create petty jealousies. With the advent of social media, it is even more important to separate your personal and professional lives.

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WORK HARD AND GOOD THINGS WILL HAPPEN!

Over the years I have asked those considered top superintendents the same question: What is the most important factor you can attribute to your success? Without a doubt, the response unanimously was a lot of hard work and always outworking the competition.

LESSONS LEARNED FROM THE MANY WORDS OF WISDOM

Many things are handed down from our mentors. Experience cannot happen quickly enough for those early in their careers. However, the learning curve can be reduced by listening carefully to mentors. Don’t make the same mistakes they might have made. Capitalize on the successes they have achieved, and take heed to the tips they pass along. Do the same to people training under your leadership. It will only make the industry better as a whole.

Bruce Williams is GCI’s senior contributing editor.