The only green turf on my block was the Poa annua pushing through the cracks in the pavement. Growing up in a row home in Southwest Philadelphia, I sit and wonder: How did I get here? The family home didn’t have a lawn until we relocated to the suburbs. That summer job in the 1988 propelled me into such an incredible game and amazing profession while affording me the honor to meet so many influential people.
The personal connectivity within the profession one might guess is the game of golf itself. That may be true for many but in my case, anyway, not exactly. While I possess a love for the game, it’s deeper than that. This profession isn’t a job. It’s a lifestyle. Just ask the ones closest to you. How many of us missed graduations, weddings, vacations or other events because of a member/guest tournament or to host a major championship? It’s a balance, no question, but it’s a personal struggle we all deal with as turfgrass professionals all too often. Add to these tribulations the big unknown, the X factor, “Mother Nature.” Whether it’s as basic as a frost delay or as devastating as drought, hurricane, tornado or some other climatic weather extreme, all of us are expected to succeed in managing through it – and we do.
These unique correlations we as turfgrass professionals experience create a common thread of personal connectivity amongst us. It’s a mutual bond and solid relationships are naturally formed. One thing I learned at a very early age was that in any industry there are “movers and shakers.” These individuals effect change, influence trends and position themselves at the forefront within their respective industry. As I furthered my career in the turfgrass profession, I mandated this ideal as a necessary reality. I am extremely lucky to have worked for and alongside brilliant turfgrass professionals with the same inherent passion to succeed. I have watched the proverbial bar being raised several times in my career. I also realized it requires peer input for this to occur and be accepted. It’s not a maverick move.
It is my experience that a rock-solid peer network includes fellow superintendents, manufacturers, academia and salespeople alike. On my speed dial is an eclectic group of turfgrass professionals worldwide. We utilize one another as sound boards prior to making complex agronomic decisions to ensure success in achieving the end result. One glaring example where calling on this network proved to be instrumental was in 2009, as the team and I prepped Saucon Valley Country Club’s Old Course to host the U.S. Women’s Open Championship. A few weeks prior to the first tee shot, we were still short a dozen experienced turf volunteers and several key pieces of equipment. I sent an email to a few close peers and within an hour, our needs were met. This support is reciprocal as we ensure to do the same when called upon. It becomes not only a way to support your peers, but a great recruiting tool.
Our success is predicated on walking the fine line of balancing science and art. Depending on what side of that line we find ourselves on, we can go from hero to zero quite quickly. It’s an extremely humbling profession. A solid network is a vehicle to learn. We push ourselves to never sit back resting on our laurels as if we’ve experienced it all or know it all. Things change. They evolve, so must we.
With the recent vitriol being spewed in our great nation as a result of the election, it’s great to be able to take a breath and share with many peers, friends and young turf professionals my take on relationships and their catalyst to success. In the end, the importance of friendship and networking in a tremendously competitive industry is paramount.
Jim Roney is the superintendent at Saucon Valley Country Club in Bethlehem, Pa.