© chad Allen (3)

What a ride!

The first 30 days as a golf course superintendent have been amazing and have been everything I expected and then some. I know there are so many more lessons to be learned, but the three lessons included here are important things to know for those getting ready to settle into the driver’s seat.

Lesson No. 1 It is not “my” golf course

Before becoming a superintendent, I remember seeing a Twitter thread where individuals were talking about using the phrase “my” golf course. When I saw this, I thought, “what’s the big deal?”

I didn’t see a problem with taking ownership of my work environment. I read the comments and, quite frankly, shrugged them off as people unwilling to take charge of what they do. I did what I try to never do. I made a snap judgment and thought I knew better than all those seasoned, professional and respected turf managers.

I was dead wrong.

Wisdom comes from experience, and I must assume that the wisdom these superintendents were sharing came from an experience similar to mine. I had a vision of what I wanted the golf course to look like. I started to implement my vision and I was quickly notified that my vision did not mesh with the expectations of those above me. I had the obligatory “a-ha” moment and I finally understood what those turf veterans were talking about.

It’s OK to have passion and take pride in what the agronomy team does every day. It’s even OK to take ownership of your own work, but in the end, we are stewards of the golf course, not the owners. There’s a big difference and I’m glad I learned that early in my superintendent career.

Lesson No. 2 Just because you don’t see the superintendent on the course doesn’t mean he or she isn’t working

I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that sometimes when we don’t see the superintendent digging holes, fixing irrigation or spraying the greens he or she must be cruising the course, shaking hands and kissing babies. Or they are probably at another GCSAA chapter golf outing or out having a “long” lunch with a vendor.

Wrong again.

I had no idea the number of meetings, paperwork, phone calls, text messages and emails you must navigate as a superintendent. To all the assistants out there looking to take the next step, I have some advice: Sharpen your communication skills now and practice those skills every day.

Make sure you write things down. If you haven’t already, start putting important dates and appointments into your favorite calendar app. I used Google Calendar here and there prior to my promotion, but now I’m dependent on it. If you don’t document these events as they present themselves, when you do become a superintendent, they will go in one ear and out the other.

I am constantly making phone calls, talking to vendors, reaching out to potential new employees and communicating with our general manager. The goal is to provide our agronomic team with the tools they need to make the golf course the best it can be. My job now is to be a facilitator. It’s definitely a role change, but I’m loving every second of this new challenge.

Lesson No. 3 Find joy, take lunch and leave work at work

This statement is a reflection on the current and much-needed movement toward taking better care of our mental and physical health. I can already tell that being a superintendent can be extremely stressful. The number of daily requests I handle can only be comparable, I assume, to those who work as a customer service representative for your local utility company during a power outage.

I know I’m still new to this position, but I hope I can always find joy and happiness in whatever I do. Whether that’s laying sod or ordering the sod for others to install, we all play a part in this industry and everyone’s role is important. I take comfort in that, and I try to reflect that gratefulness in how I approach every situation.

There aren’t enough hours in the day, I figured out relatively quickly as well. I started noticing that I was taking lunch late or just skipping it and grabbing some garbage on the way home. Bad idea. For me, taking that lunch break and refueling my body is both essential and necessary. No one wants to be around a “Hangry” Chad.

Likewise, my family doesn’t want to be around a husband and dad who isn’t engaged with them after work. This one will be a real struggle for me. I am obsessed with turf. I am always thinking about the next step and trying to stay proactive with course conditions and expectations. It’s hard for me to switch that off. I must make a conscious and deliberate decision to acknowledge that the grass will be here tomorrow, because my family or I might not.

My family is my anchor and I know how precious these days are. My daughter is 5 years old, and I don’t want to have regrets about not being there, when, in fact, I am already physically there. My wife is a saint, and she knows me better than I know myself, so she helps me stay present. Being a good superintendent is important, but being a good, engaged husband and father trumps everything.

These are just a few of the many things I recognized and experienced in the first 30 days. They are just the tip of the iceberg, but I am no Titanic. I won’t go full steam ahead with reckless abandon. Acknowledgment of my thinking errors and admitting my shortcomings only strengthens my resolve and frees me up to be a better leader.

Thirty days in … and a lifetime to go. How could I not be excited about what’s to come?

Chad Allen is the superintendent at The Club at Chatham Hills in Westfield, Indiana, and a frequent Golf Course Industry contributor.