It was 30 years ago this month – August 15, 1987 to be exact – that I began my accidental career in this crazy wonderful business. Here are some random thoughts on the journey…
Before I started at GCSAA, I had planned to become a lawyer and had finished three semesters of law school when I realized that I was burned out on college, not very interested in practicing law and far too lazy to be good at it. I thought the idea of being a writer sounded cool and easy. It turned out to be neither, but it beat the hell out of being a lawyer.
When I started at the “National” as a staff writer on a hot summer day three decades ago, the association was still in its weird old headquarters office on Alvamar Golf & Country Club. There were about 30 employees. Everybody did a little of everything. There was no internet. We had one fax machine and I used a Tandy 200 laptop which was basically a crappy calculator with a word processor built in. I wrote long boring articles but I also specialized in ghost-writing president’s messages for guys like Don Hearn, Gene Baston and Jerry Faubel.
I was promoted to director of communications after just a year or so on the job. I was totally unprepared for managing people. I sucked at it and I still feel awful at how bad I was at leading a team back then. The most important thing I’ve learned in three decades is how to hire people who are better than me at critical skills, treat them like grown-ups and get the hell out of their way.
The best thing that ever happened to me was being forced to give dozens of speeches at chapter meetings and such in my late 20s. It wasn’t until I started to go to small, local meetings that I began to have an inkling of what this profession is about. I also learned that I loved to teach and it’s still my favorite thing about my “job.”
I was a blowhard and a bullshitter for a long time. I took credit for things that went well and ducked when things went badly. There was a lot of drama at GCSAA back then, and I contributed to it. I always drank, but it was almost part of the job back in those days. Or at least that’s how I rationalized it until I got sober in December of 2009. For the past eight years, I’ve tried to be more honest, less selfish and kinder to people. My life is a million times better as a result.
The most important piece of career advice I ever got was in 1998 when we were nearly done with the premiere issue of Golfdom magazine. I had written a pretty tame inaugural column and John Payne, the publishing executive who recruited me to start a new magazine for the industry, said: “Take stands, don’t shy away from controversy and be a voice for change.” I think about that nearly every time I write one of these funky little 750-word essays.
My gratitude to my boss and colleagues at GIE Media is boundless. For the last 12 years, they’ve been part of my family. I will never stop thanking Chris and Richard Foster for lifting me out of drunkenness and depression and giving me a new chance at life. Mike Zawacki and Guy Cipriano are quite simply the best editorial team I’ve ever worked with. Jim Blayney makes this magazine look amazing. Russ Warner and Craig Thorne keep our revenues growing and our clients happy. And there are 20 or more other pros here in Cleveland who are critical to what we do to keep information flowing to you.
My wife and our kids get mad when I write about them but I’ll just say I love all five of you madly.
Finally, I must thank you – the thousands of superintendents, builders, architects, suppliers and salespeople – who have always been kind to me even when I didn’t deserve it. You’ve taught me everything I know. You’ve pushed me to try harder. You helped me become a better person. You invited me into your lives and for that, I will forever be grateful.
I should probably finish with some crap about “another 30 years ahead,” but time has taught me to avoid such grandiosity. I prefer to continue to take life one day at a time, enjoy the moment and marvel at the beauty around me. Namaste, y’all.