Golf’s tournament season is in full gear, and it isn’t only the pros and public who benefit. Tournaments offer superintendents the chance to be an on-course, on-the-ground volunteer.
Done right, volunteering at an event—particularly one of the majors—can be fun, educational, and exhausting. Done wrong, it can be a waste of time and, worse, bad for your present (and future) job.
On the plus side, volunteering can open your eyes to new and exciting opportunities, maintenance practices, techniques, equipment, and products. If you do more than simply “show-up, keep-up, and shut up,” you’ll leave the event better and smarter than when you arrived. Here’s how:
- You’ll see another golf course primed for tournament conditions.
- When you’re not working, you can take in some great golf and see good players (if you aren’t sleeping).
- It’s a chance to expand your professional network. Be sure to introduce yourself and ask questions.
- You’ll meet interesting people—not only other superintendents but course builders, architects, irrigation techs, organization employees, etc. Bring plenty of business cards.
- You can gain valuable experience, perhaps doing something you haven’t done before or for a while. (But don’t indicate you can do a task if you haven’t done it in a long time.)
- It can be good for the resume. (Be prepared to why you volunteered and what you gained from the experience.)
Don’t volunteer if you’re looking for a lark or a big drink. Tournament staff must be committed to working long, hard hours and being on-call 24/7, particularly if there are weather issues. A good volunteer knows how and when to rest, refuel, and stay hydrated (non-alcoholic). Be sure to make the most of the time away from your regular job and course.
As good as volunteering can be, it also can be a disaster. I’ve worked with hundreds of “unpaid helpers” over the years and both seen and been affected by the negative consequences of their actions. So, before you raise your hand, consider the following:
- You are representing both yourself and your club.
- Anything you do or say may come back to bite you.
- Staying out to the wee hours thinking you can jump into your morning assignment just as the bar closes doesn’t work.
- It is not your course. Criticizing the host, the course, the superintendent, or his/her efforts will ban you from future volunteer work.
Keep your thoughts to yourself.
- Your real job comes first! Can you convince your home club why it makes sense for you to go away?
- Are you leaving your home club at the height of the season? Don’t!
- Can you stay committed for the entire length of your volunteer time? There’s no leaving early if you get bored. Nothing less than a true emergency is an acceptable excuse for leaving.
- Don’t forget your family. This “free time” is work, not instead of your regularly scheduled vacation.
- And speaking of vacations, if that’s what you think volunteering is, stay home.
If you’ve decided that volunteering makes sense and your home club agrees, you should make the most of the experience. Here are some suggestions:
- Have a good reason for taking time to work on someone else’s golf course. Even if it’s just to help out, keep that reason in mind at all times and live up to its spirit.
- Bring a camera or cell phone (if allowed), and take photos of what you are seeing, doing, and learning that might benefit your club.
- Create a daily diary or file social media posts for your members—and for your portfolio.
- Be willing to do anything, and take your time performing the assigned tasks.
- If you’re a “senior” superintendent, know your physical limitations and don’t take on more than you can handle. Let the youngsters triple-cut greens twice a day in the heat.
- Observe and learn new techniques.
- If there’s new equipment at the event, take a good look and learn its capabilities.
- Find out about new products being used on the course. Ask questions (within reason) and take notes.
Don’t show up without having done some advance planning. Regarding your home club, are you taking personal days and spending your own money, or are they allowing you time off and paying related expenses? Either way, make very certain everything is covered at home and whoever is left in charge knows to call if anything needs your immediate attention.
Before showing up at the event:
- Read the pre-tournament information package in advance. Expect everything to be run on a tight, well-rehearsed schedule.
- Know the dress code or if you will be given a uniform.
- Arrive at least one day before your first scheduled shift to get acclimated and organized. (Nothing is worse than showing up late on your first day of work.)
- How will you get to the course each day? Learn the shuttle times and routes and expect things to get crazy.
- Keep reminding yourself that you are not the lead superintendent on site. If you see something wrong, tell your team leader first.
- Again, you are representing yourself and your club.
The experience isn’t over when you leave the site:
- Follow up with personal letters of thanks to the head course superintendent as well as vendors and others you met.
- Organize and label your photos.
- Make a report to your club’s Green Committee or Board meeting. Include a list of what you learned that might apply to your course while letting the members know that you’re not trying to make their course harder. Just better.
If you enjoyed volunteering and want to do it again, that’s great. But there is too much of a good thing. Helping year after year is not a career builder. In fact, it could raise a few eyebrows and make current and potential employers question your commitment.
If you liked volunteering, chances are others will too, so give them a chance. The experience doesn’t change much year after year, and volunteering at similar events, even the big ones, can quickly get old. If you really want to help, get involved on the local and state level, help at amateur events, maybe even work an LPGA event or U.S. Women’s Open. Women play golf, too, and the ones at your club will really appreciate it.
Volunteering is great. But the place to concentrate your energy is on your paying job, keeping your course in tournament-ready condition.