egokhan | adobe stock

“I am a generous man, by nature, and far more trusting than I should be. Indeed. The real world is risky territory for people with generosity of spirit. Beware.”

– Hunter S. Thompson



I love that quote and it reminds me the word “beware” is vastly underappreciated. I guess it seems a little quaint and antiquated today versus “heads up” or “watch out” or “keep your damn head on a swivel.” At its heart, the word beware is a warning that things may not be what they seem. It’s a flashing yellow light in the highway of life that says, “Watch out … something bad might be happening here.”

In our happy little industry, you would think that there’s little to beware of. But you would be wrong. For example …

Beware of big remodeling projects. My friend Bruce Williams recently reminded me of his longstanding observation about construction projects being job-killers. Why? Because historically a lot of folks lose jobs in the year or two after a renovation. The reason is because things rarely go exactly as planned and it’s impossible to manage everyone’s expectations after you’ve built them up.

In the process of selling a renovation, people tend to present a best-case scenario. It’s human nature to be optimistic. You say, “Our plan is to complete the greens regrassing on the back nine by June 1, so, weather permitting, we believe the course will reopen then assuming the turf is well-established.” Golfers hear, “I guarantee you’ll be playing on the new greens by June 1 and they will be rolling like Oakmont.”

That’s an exaggeration, but it is true that superintendents and architects need to be very thoughtful about how timelines are presented and how often members need to be told that there are many things that can disrupt a project. Also, be honest and transparent about what could go wrong to manage those expectations. Either way, remember Murphy’s Law and never go into a renovation without thinking, “What if this whole thing blows up?”

Beware the new general manager. The cliché that “a new broom sweeps clean” is often scarily true when clubs change general managers. New GMs often want to bring their leadership style and management habits from their previous clubs and the change can be jarring. It can be even more jarring if they also want to bring their old superintendent along.

Prior to any GM search at your facility, it’s critical to have a discussion with your ownership/leadership about where you stand and how they will view a new GM’s attempt to dump you for “their guy.” Make sure that you have advocates in your corner should the new person try to make a change. But beware being adversarial about your new GM. Try to be open to the possibility that she or he might be the best boss you’ve ever had.

Beware late middle-age. One of the scariest things happening these days are clubs deciding they need a change for the sake of change. Too often these are facilities with a highly competent, experienced superintendent who’s been in place for 15 years or more. And, oftentimes, these are superintendents in their mid-50s who are comfortable in their role and planning to ride their current job out until retirement.

There are two things to beware here. The first is the perception (or the reality) that you’re phoning it in. We all get comfortable in jobs after a while, but the challenge is not getting too comfortable.

The second is understanding that your options for finding a job that pays what you’ve been making are severely limited when you’re a fifty-something. Clubs want to hire a top-notch superintendent and keep that person in place for 15 to 20 years. They also tend to want someone “energetic” and “up to date on today’s technology,” which, of course, are code words for young.

Follow the advice of the industry’s best who never stop learning, never stop introducing new things to the course and never fall into the trap of believing that it’s their golf course and the members just play on it.

Finally, beware the ides of April. That’s right, I said April, not March as Julius Caesar was famously warned in Shakespeare’s play. Why should you beware mid-April? Because it’s Masters time and suddenly everyone else is an expert on what you do. It always reminds me of another favorite quote, this time from George Bernard Shaw:

“Beware of false knowledge; it is more dangerous than ignorance.”

Pat Jones is editorial director of Golf Course Industry. He can be reached at pjones@gie.net or 216-393-0253.