Louis L’Amour, an accomplished American short-story writer and novelist once said, “Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.” Well, you may have seen an irrigation system or two that didn’t properly work this way, but you understand the point. To write a book, or an article or that lengthy email “to management,” you simply have to get started.
Whether you are naturally a good writer, or it is a skill that you have to work at, writing is a critical communication tool, and more often than not, you should “get it in writing.” Where there is a will there is a way, and where there is writing there is reading — and a way to make time for it all. We spoke with these respected industry figures about their journeys to become authors while managing their day-to-day responsibilities (and you can, too!).
Anthony L. WilliamsThe Environmental Stewardship Toolkit: How to Build, Implement and Maintain an Environmental Plan for Grounds and Golf Courses
(Wiley, 2012), Noble Habits (Xulon Press, 2015)
To write The Environmental Stewardship Toolkit: How to Build, Implement and Maintain an Environmental Plan for Grounds and Golf Courses, Anthony L. Williams “woke up around 6 a.m., worked at the courses until 5 p.m. or so, headed home for dinner with the family, kept the dojo moving forward, then would sleep a couple of hours, get up around 11 p.m. and write for three hours or so before getting up and repeating the cycle.” And yet life was … balanced.
Williams, CGCS, is a Shihan (Master) and a 9th Degree Black Belt in the National College of Martial Arts, the author of two books and dozens of articles, has endured 24 broken bones and heart surgery, and is currently director of golf course and landscape operations at Four Seasons Resort and Club Dallas at Las Colinas. Actually, he is a self-titled “vintage superintendent,” with a career spanning multiple decades.
The first manuscript Williams wrote was Noble Habits, a guide to living life fully and with choices prioritizing Christian values and a balanced life. It was by following these principles that he was able to write The Toolkit. However, he didn’t publish Noble Habits until after The Toolkit was out. When Noble Habits did go to print, Williams realized, “writing doesn’t have to be perfect for it to be published, it is the best you can do in that moment.”
For The Toolkit, Williams was approached by an editor from Wiley when some of his articles caught her attention. They initially discussed a book about water conservation, but he wanted to write comprehensively about environmental stewardship and he crafted a proposal accordingly. It was accepted, and because of his schedule and projects at the course, he was determined to finish the copy in 18 months. He aimed to write “a very high-science book in common language,” and his accomplishment led to a satisfying trip to the Library of Congress, where he was able to call for the book he wrote.
Writing a book proved a new challenge, and Williams almost balked (there is always work to do!). However, a friend asked him, “Do you know how many people want to write a book?” and that was all the encouragement he needed. Williams had always loved to write, excelling at writing in high school and keeping detailed journals in college. His “writing started from a love of reading, which develops your own thoughts, and thoughts lead to a profession.”
Williams used much of the advance and proceeds from his books to support his interests by donating to rainforest and other environmental charities, endowments, PBS, missionary causes, suicide prevention and more. “Sales have never been a primary goal,” but he absolutely wants to leave a legacy “of a better tomorrow.”
For his own writing, Williams “gets ideas all over the place, writes things by hand on a legal pad, and then does a strong draft at the computer.” There are many ways to write, but a professional tip is to negotiate an indexing service into your contract – it will save you a lot of time. He also likes to read trade journals and rereads works by Napoleon Hill and J. R. R. Tolkien – you always find something new.
In the acknowledgements of The Toolkit, Williams thanks his family for inspiring him to “undertake epic causes through everyday actions.” Williams lives by the credo of “take care of the land and the land will take care of you.” Superintendents have a clear directive to communicate well to further their environmental stewardship goals and further enhance the golf experience for everyone. Just start small, move in the right direction, and when you can, make it epic.
Mike HurdzanGolf and Law: Golf Course Safety, Security and Risk Management (Hurdzan Golf, LLC Publication, 2018),
other titles include Golf Greens: History, Design and Construction; Golf Course Design; Selected Golf Courses; Golf Course Architecture: Design, Construction and Restoration; Golf Course Architecture: Evolutions in Design, Construction and Restoration Technology; Building a Practical Golf Facility
Mike Hurdzan believes it takes “a thick skin” to be an author. With several titles to his credit, including Golf Course Architecture: Design, Construction and Restoration – commonly referred to as “the modern bible of golf architecture” – he knows.
Surprisingly, writing did not come easily for Hurdzan. He had to wade through two remedial English classes (yes, two) before enrolling in college English. Later, when he was working in golf architecture, someone gave him two books written in the 1920s by noted golf course architects George Thomas Jr. and Robert Hunter. He was inspired by what he learned from those books. “They are why I started writing and how I chose my topics,” Hurdzan says.
Hurdzan also wanted to “memorialize what he learned as a professional” and he appreciates books. Digital information is increasingly accessible, but the in-depth explorations of topics that books offer are critical. Books provide a historical and cultural value in a different way from any online platform.
In fact, Hurdzan is an avid collector of golf memorabilia and books, with more than 6,500 volumes in his renowned collection. It’s often referenced by professors, writers and Hurdzan himself, who discovers relevant information and useful ideas in books all the time. He reads the papers daily and enjoys Bernard Darwin and the intriguing military novels of Frederick Forsyth – Hurdzan himself was a Colonel in the U.S. Army Special Forces.
Despite his traditional publishing success, numerous awards and accolades, several publishers decided to pass on Golf and Law: Golf Course Safety, Security and Risk Management, Hurdzan’s most recent work. They weren’t sure it would sell in the volumes necessary to be profitable – publishing is notorious for its slim margins. Hurdzan felt it was important enough to self-publish and “didn’t write it to sell a million books but to address how ill-prepared the community is.”
Accidents happen, and lawsuits sometimes follow – Hurdzan “has been an expert witness at over 160 of them” – so with their costly nature, it makes sense to pay attention to how to make your course as safe as possible for your staff, players, spectators and the management responsible. He says, “most of the lawsuits could have been avoided through good safety management practices,” and his book addresses these shortcomings.
Besides his wonderful collection and the books he writes, books are part of the Hurdzan Golf logo, modeled on Rodin’s iconic The Thinker. “A lot of people feel golf architecture is a craft or an art form, but it’s far more than that,” Hurdzan says. “It’s a blending of science, soil and climate, and that’s the idea we had with The Thinker. We added the golf clubs and whether he’s looking at a scorecard or reading a golf book – we wanted to make that connection, as subtle as it is, between golf and the thoughtful nature of golf architecture.”
With a strong cup of coffee (Starbucks or Tim Hortons), and ideally a few successive mornings, the first draft of something new is written on a legal pad and typed into Microsoft Word. Online or printed copies suffice for editing and after just a draft or two, Hurdzan’s work is ready to be seen by a fellow expert for review.
“Writers and editors can polish your words,” he says, but the content has to be worthy – that’s how you capture the reader. Hurdzan knows that “anyone can learn to write by remembering that ‘brevity is the essence of clear thought.’” Once a superintendent and now well known as one of the co-designers of Erin Hills – home of the 2017 U.S. Open – Hurdzan is clearly a writer. Whether it’s emails, articles or books, what are you reading? Are you a writer too? Think about it.
Nick ChristiansFundamentals of Turfgrass Management, 5th Edition, with Aaron Patton and Quincy Law
(Wiley, 2016), other titles include: The Mathematics of Turfgrass Maintenance with Michael Agnew; Scotts Lawns: Your Guide to a Beautiful Yard with Scotts, Mathematics for the Green Industry with Michael Agnew, Nancy Agnew and Ann Marie Vanderzanden
“Writing is something that I really like to do,” Christians says. With more than 40 years of experience in teaching, researching, writing and publishing, he has authored over 1,200 articles, abstracts and research papers. He is a university professor of turfgrass management at Iowa State University and writing and publishing are part of his job. Plus, he adds, “for the first 10 years of my career, writing articles was also a good way to make some extra money.”
Christians has contributed to a few “Scotts books” – yard and lawn care guides produced by the giant company – and those books have sold well – around 500,000 copies. But even where there is success, full-time employment has been supplemented or replaced by freelance work. Christians has witnessed a huge change in the publishing industry and he “has talked to a lot of freelance folks and that is now a tough industry to be in.”
Asked if he could see himself writing another book, Christians replies, “I don’t see a niche where I would work on a book,” as the market for turf books is somewhat saturated. He “worked hard on books for 16 years” and his most widely used book – Fundamentals of Turfgrass Management – has four main parts: Grasses, Turf Culture, Turf Pest Management and The Turf Industry. Christians has traveled extensively in Europe, Asia and North America giving seminars about these topics and he “gets letters from all over the country about that book,” underscoring what is now its fifth edition.
Christians invited two former students, Aaron Patton and Quincy Law, to help with it and to possibly “carry it forward.” The book edition was published in 2016. Christians says he is a few years from retirement and he sees the value of that book “continuing to the future.”
Though the publishing industry has changed, there is always room for research and academic publishing. With graduate students, “we work extensively on writing” but with the undergraduates, “not as much writing is happening as it should.”
Writing needs to flow easily, as “kids who write well have a huge advantage in school.” Christians outlines a lot of his work and outlining is a skill he encourages his students to develop. With your article or paper outlined, creating your work is straightforward – simply follow your trail of ideas. “Without the outline, 75 to 80 percent of the kids just ramble, with no idea what they are talking about.”
Christians credits one particular teacher in his small high school for shaping him into the writer that he is today. Because of her, in school, “everyone had to write a theme every two weeks, and if it was good enough, you didn’t have to rewrite it.” There was a valid incentive to write exceptionally well on the first try. Christians had to work at it, but eventually he no longer needed to revise his themes. That confidence and ease led to a clear, prolific writing style.
Most of his reading time has been spent on professional books and trade journals, noting that one of the best sources of written work about turf is the online and extensive Turfgrass Information Center, hosted by Michigan State University. Foreseeing more free time, Christians says he is “branching out.” He is finding more joy in “novels and other kinds of books” and he is currently reading the memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant.
“If you are telling people about writing, it is just plain hard work,” Christians observes.” It takes tenacity, you have got to sit down and do it, and procrastination is your biggest enemy. Don’t leave it until the last minute.”
Mike BavierPractical Golf Course Maintenance: The Magic of Greenkeeping, 3rd Edition, with Gordon Witteveen, (Wiley, 2013)
Partnerships abound in publishing and while many are obvious, more go unnoticed. Michael Bavier’s and Gordon Witteveen’s book Practical Golf Course Maintenance: The Magic of Greenkeeping is a testament to collaboration and multiple successful partnerships.
Bavier and Witteveen created the first edition of Practical Golf Course Maintenance in the late 1990s, based on information they would present at seminars in North America and Europe. “Any place we could get our foot in the door, we went,” Bavier says. As they traveled, they saw the need for making the content accessible in a written format.
Witteveen worked with Sleeping Bear Press, a small publishing house in Michigan, to strike a deal for Practical Golf Course Maintenance and it was later acquired by Wiley. Witteveen has passed away, but Bavier has revised and produced the third edition with the effort and assistance of his wife, Mary – a lovely, lifelong partnership.
Bavier and Witteveen worked equally hard on the book, but Witteveen did more of the initial writing. In the beginning, chapters were traded through the mail. Witteveen would write them and Bavier would offer revisions. There is a joyful freedom in partner-writing, with one person able to brazenly create content and the other able to see it with fresh eyes. Through trust and cooperation, the product is stronger.
Also, Witteveen “is Canadian and we knew the book would sell more copies in America,” so Bavier helped with language nuances as well as technical details. Everyone involved wanted “the audience of the book to be as extensive as possible.”
This is a practical book written by superintendents and its comprehensive nature – covering everything from topdressing to course traffic to job descriptions – resonated not only with superintendents but also with those who wanted to know more about daily course management. Chapter after chapter illustrates the range of responsibilities that a superintendent has, providing a basic understanding for discussing the bottom line.
Beyond a writing partnership, and the supportive partnerships at home, other relationships include those of the editor and the author(s), the editor and the layout team, and work with printing, sales and rights before a book is even produced. The most important partnership, however, is the one between the author and his audience. This relationship comes naturally for Bavier.
Bavier connected with many people through presentations but he was also connecting with the people at Inverness (Illinois) Golf Club at home, where he started working in 1969, became the superintendent and is a member today. Witteveen, who was the superintendent at the 45-hole Board of Trade Country Club in Toronto was close to retiring when the first book was being worked on, and Bavier was in the later stages of his career. “I would go to the club on the weekends not only to work but because I knew I needed to be in contact with the members,” Bavier says. “I couldn’t just be working in the maintenance shop.”
Bavier’s work as a superintendent and as an author has benefited from those natural connections. He likes to read newspapers and golf magazines and he follows all kinds of sports. Discussing slow play, he recalls something he and his teenage friends would say while putting, “miss it quick.” Missing putts is one thing, but don’t miss this third edition of Practical Golf Course Maintenance.
Superintendents always have numerous responsibilities and Bavier acknowledges that you “can’t do this kind of book for the money.” It’s possible to be published, “but it’s going to be a challenge. You can go to a small publisher who might take a chance.” Whatever your choice, connect with your audience and know that every good partnership is worth the effort.