June is one of my favorite months. It means the onset of summer, the longest days on the calendar, and Father’s Day. My dad has been gone for 21 years, but not a day goes by that I don’t think of him, usually remembering some of the life lessons he taught me.
In that spirit, I asked other course superintendents to think about what their fathers taught them, lessons that have affected both their lives and their careers. I was swamped with great responses, proving what I already knew, the amazing impact dads have on their children, often in ways neither party realized at the time. Thank you to everyone who wrote in and shared their father’s advice: It was difficult. I wish I had room to run more, but here are some of my favorite paternal pearls of wisdom, brilliance that is just as relevant today as when dad passed it on to us way back when.
- “If you try to learn one new thing every day, do you know how smart you will be when you die?”
- My dad never gave me advice through words or counsel. He led by example, working construction from sun-up to sundown. When I was small, I would go to work with him in Sundays if I wanted to see him at all.
- He metered his anger with me when I did or said anything inappropriate, acknowledging that I was new to the world and didn’t have his wisdom. He praised me to anyone who would listen when I made advancements in any endeavor.
- Dad’s wisdom and guidance could be intimidating when I was young, but as I age, like a great steak the seasoning of the preparation comes out in ways we never expect. My dad’s words — “never forget the small country town values of hard work, respect for others, and helping others first” — ring in my ears daily.
- By example: work hard, be honest, be loyal.
- Great achievement comes at a price. Some, not all, are willing to pay it.
- My father understood the value of networking and maintaining professional relationships. So as my responsibilities increased and distance or time between communicating with key individuals occurred, he advised that a Christmas card with a handwritten note, or at the very least a signature, would keep my name in others’ minds.
- My dad always related life lessons to baseball. “Yesterday it was a ball, tomorrow it might be a ball, today it was a strike: Don’t let someone else determine your life path.” What he meant by that is to deal with today, not what was or will be!”
- “Always tell the truth—you won’t ever go wrong by telling the truth. But if you lie or try to cover it up, you will only make it worse and disappoint people, including me.”
- He woke up early and got to work before everyone else. He made time to shine his shoes before work every day. He used a leather briefcase with a broken handle and carried it football style until I graduated from college. It wasn’t until I was a teenager I realized that he went without a new briefcase so our family would have something else instead.
- While I was young and learning to play the game, he would always have a comment when he saw me frustrated. He taught me to be optimistic and lead a half-glass-full type of life. After I would card a triple bogey, he would say, “that’s better than a quad” and “no matter what the end result, the scorecard only had room for numbers and not pictures.”
- As a kid, after each round I’d recap the round for my parents—hole by hole, shot by shot. My dad would say, “Me and the box on the scorecard… we just need a number, not a chapter.”
- Despite not having the greatest relationship with my father and never having lived under the same roof with him, when I was about 14 or 15 years old he told me something I have never forgotten. “Every job you do will forever be a reflection of not only who you are but also a reflection of who raised you.” Considering he didn’t raise me and my grandfather did, I never wanted to embarrass him or let him down.
- “There’s heat in the tools.” During the cooler times when working outside, if you keep moving and working, you won’t get cold.
- “You know we never said anything about your career path and we both thought you were absolutely crazy for going into golf, but you’ve done a really great job and we’re proud of you.” It sunk in after I finished laughing that they held their tongues and didn’t try to deter me, which was great.
- Shortly after taking my first golf course superintendent position, I was taken back by how many people suddenly wanted to take me to lunch or drop off “things” (clothing, etc.) In a conversation with my father, he asked if any of these things would influence my buying decisions. I quickly and confidentially responded, “Of course not, never.” He replied “good, but if you ever even hesitate when answering that question, then you should always decline whatever was being offered.”
- There is no fault in taking pride in good work, but we can always strive to do and be better.
- “You’re giving up a career in engineering to do what?”
- I replay in my mind words from my grandfather: “Do not forget the golf course is there to play golf on, let them play!” I know that sounds obvious, but there are times where I have caught myself being a protectionist wanting to hold play back during marginal conditions just to “let them go” with little damage doing so.
- On more than one occasion, he shared with me that I could accomplish anything in life if I focused upon it mentally and worked hard for it.
- I was always told, “remember who you are doing it for.” This had nothing to do with the golf industry, but I think it is perfect for us. So many times, superintendents get caught up in needing to get to 12 on their greens when the members/customer can’t tell the difference. That extra mow or roll, who is that for? My father told me “If you are doing it for yourself, you’re doing it wrong.”
- My father would remind me, “Manage the course like you own it, but never forget they (the members) own the facility.” Sounds basic, but those words pop in my head often in many different circumstances.
- “Those greens are not yours to experiment on,” so that is why I have so much nursery turf to experiment with.
- The odds of accomplishing great things increase tremendously with excellent preparation.
- When I was much younger, he said to me, “The people you are working for (members) are very powerful people in their own respective fields. When around them, keep your mouth shut and your ears open.” I still struggle to follow the first part of that advice.
- A good friend offered a classic bit of wisdom from his father:
- Most of the advice I got from dad related to hunting, fishing, and chasing women. When hunting rabbits, squirrel and birds, “if you take more than one shot, you bought your meat.” When fishing, “don’t let the game warden catch you.” Can’t print the women stuff. After getting beat up after school, it was “fight your own battles” and “you have to fight the bully.” When it came to employment, it was “whaddya wanna do that for? Old so-and-so is crooked as a dog’s hind leg and he’s rich. And it’s all legal. Become a lawyer.”
Of all the superintendents I know whose fathers I’ve met, one of the greats is Bill Emerson, long-time superintendent from Maryland and Arizona, now retired and recently inducted into the Arizona Golf Hall of Fame. Here’s how he responded to my request:
- Persistence to purpose leads to success: Life lesson? Have the courage to follow the plan.
- You cannot maintain a course around players’ lack of availability: Life lesson? Be careful who you listen to about conditions.
- Your friends are those who are around you when times are tough, not the ones who surround you when times are good: Life lesson? True friends are with you all the time.
- Spots on a leopard never change. Life lesson? People do not really change, just their commitment to you.
- And my favorite Bill-ism: “Sir, I can do anything you want me to do to this golf course. But there is nothing I can do for your inability to hit a golf ball!”
Happy Father’s Day.