I started on a small nine-hole golf course. Nearly 43 years ago I walked into the local bank with my father and the banker – who was the green chairman – asked if I could lay sod at the local country club. My father instilled in me that hard work was the only way to do something and I worked hard that day. I then got to operate a 15-pound new contraption called a Weed Eater. Man, it was heavy and loud. My next assignment on the course was to push mow football shapes around trees, then come back with the Weed Eater to get the tall grass. All for $.90 per hour. I loved it. I was by myself, no one to bother me and I was outside. My grandfather had sold his farm earlier in my life, so farming was not going to be an option for me. A few years later, the same local banker suggested I go to college – first in my family to do so. They had a program called turfgrass management. My goal after graduation was to run a little nine-hole course and have my winters off to hunt and fish. If I could make $1,000 per month, I would have it made. Little did I know that I would meet people and form relationships along the way to change this thought process.
This industry is a way of life for me and my family. My wife and children all golf and love the game. I will be the first to say that many do not have the passion for the golf business like I do. That has caused me to lose some good employees along the way. It has taken me a long time to learn that fact. I sometimes don’t understand it, coming from a generation that has never worried about the hours you put in to do your job to dealing with a generation that only wants to work the hours needed for them to survive. I will be the first to say that I regret some of the decisions I have made and I let that passion get in the way sometimes. While you can’t dwell on it, you must be able to look at it and learn. In this business, you can never stop learning from relationships.
“In my younger years, I had the attitude that I was the customer and the business side should always help me. What a poor attitude to have.”
On the flip side, I can say that I have benefited greatly from some of the people whose paths have crossed with mine over the years. Guys I haven’t worked with for more than 30 years are still my dearest friends today. We call each other, offer support, give advice, give them some BS and are there for them when family crisis have happened or when a child gets married.
I have been very fortunate to work with a lot of good men and women throughout my career who worked as assistants or crew members. I am very proud of these people and their accomplishments. Many have gone on to their own golf courses or become doctors, lawyers, school teaches, college professors, and business men and women. They have shared their life stories with me, and it is amazing to watch them all mature and be successful. It is extremely gratifying to say that you might have had a small part in helping them to be the best they can be.
In my younger years, I had the attitude that I was the customer and the business side should always help me. What a poor attitude to have. I have made many friends from the business side of golf. These people are just as passionate as we are and many of them have talents above and beyond what we do. You can learn a lot from these people and you should never have the attitude that they can’t help you. Every one of them has something they can teach you. I have many friends who are salesmen, chemical distributors and professors, and we have forged relationships outside of work. I wish I would have learned that a long time ago. There are some cool people who are out there and can help you professionally and personally.
General managers, golf professionals, club managers, tennis pros and swim coaches are all professionals that get a bad rap from many in the turf industry. I have learned it is much easier to get along with them. They are here for the same reasons we are. It is much better to have a cohesive unit at work rather than having a group that does not trust each other or are at odds with each other. Believe me, it is much more enjoyable to know that the golf professional has my backside because he has taken the time to understand the turf side of the business. He and his staff can deflect a lot of questions before they become problems. I am lucky to work for a general manger who lets each department operate like they are supposed to and then supports us with his knowledge, guidance and leadership.
Family … I am quite lucky to have been married to a wonderful woman who bought into my crazy career 33 years ago. We have raised three great kids who were always with us at the golf course. They have helped me mow, pump bunkers, pick up sticks and tour the golf course on a hot night. Some of our best times were riding around the cart and just enjoying the time together on the golf course. I have been very lucky to have a son who developed a passion for this business. He went with me every weekend to the golf course because he too loved it. He has now become a Class A superintendent and will carry on long after I am gone. We used to get calls from his school teachers because instead of doing schoolwork he was drawing pictures of golf holes. I guess it gets in your blood early. I have really cherished the time that he and I have gotten to work together. Maybe someday I can mow for him.
You will never know who you are going to meet along your career. You can reflect later in life that this person or that person really had a bearing on what you are doing. The one thing that you cannot determine is when or who that will be. Take each day in stride, try to treat people how you would like to be treated. Try to understand what they are doing to make a living and have some empathy for them in their jobs. You never know how they are going to affect you in the future, so nourish that relationship, make it grow and it might greatly benefit you someday. It has taken me a long time to learn those simple things. I regret the ones that got away and I look forward to the new ones that will come down the road. Keep up the passion and it will pay large dividends to you in your life.
Rick Tegtmeier, CGCS, MG, is the director of grounds at Des Moines Golf and Country Club in West Des Moines, Iowa.