I admit to being old school. But as I recently learned the hard way (thanks, Irma), old school is still cool.
Like many others — including, I’m sure, many of you — I am glued to the Weather Channel when a storm approaches the Southeastern United States, where I live. I look at the ever-changing models, listen to the experts, try to track the spaghetti lines of possible paths and pretty much ignore all of them.
If I want to know what’s really happening, I go outside and see for myself. Fortunately, Irma’s models “shifted” and Hilton Head was spared this time.
Before you think this is going to be a rant against technology, hear me out. I’m all for computerized irrigation systems, spraying units, Subair components for water removal, electronic task boards, apps of the day and iPads mounted on the dashboard of your utility cart. All these devices help us to be more efficient and better informed (certainly vs. those who pay us!), and are key to our success.
However … You should not be so dependent on tech that you forget why you’re in this business. Golf is a sport played outdoors, and if you’re going to achieve the best possible conditions on your course, you must get off your phone, away from your computer, out from behind your desk and get outside for yourself.
Models and data are fine. But what has driven our industry for years and must continue to lead us is a collection of experiences and influences. What happened last year and the year before that, how can we be prepared for it this year and if it comes, fix it? What influences us to make the decisions and take the actions that we do?
Some of that can be found in computer models and other technologies to support our efforts. Data in, data out. Input the information into the system and let the computer do its work and program a response, then react to the results.
But our business is not a video game. It’s not enough to have proficient thumbs. Golf is a touchy-feely, get your hands dirty sport. You need to get your feet on the course, not just your fingers on a keyboard. See the problem and fix the problem means “hands-on!” Don’t look for a result on your screen.
It’s one thing to engage our brains looking at screens and digesting read-outs. But we also have to give our gray matter other information to process: Smelling when a storm is coming, pushing our fingertips into the dirt and brushing our palms over blades of grass; feeling how the turf reacts to our footfalls and seeing, with our own eyes, treetops moving in the wind, the ripples on the pond, the hole flags flapping.
Tell me all you can about isobars and wind-chill factors and Buford scales. That information is one-dimensional—like the screens we see them on—and only has true relevance when run through the computer inside our head where it mixes with what we’ve come to know from our years in the field.
I recently sat down with two 20-somethings from a major golf maintenance data-influencer company who were highly proficient at using their thumbs and playing with their phones and telling me what was to come. But they had no idea what to look for on a golf course once they left the office. Neither was a golfer and both had blank stares on their faces when I suggested that maybe they ought to get outside once in a while and look at grass instead of graphs.
What’s your favorite time on a golf course? Mine is first thing in the morning, as the sun rises. Do you think a screen will ever provide the same feeling? I doubt it.
No app on our smartphone will replace your senses. And what happens when the power goes out, your computer crashes or the cell network goes down?
Use these tools to your benefit, absolutely. But remember, they’re just tools, which means they’re only as good as the workman wielding them. Pay attention to the data but don’t let it dictate your every action: Use your head to interpret and analyze the data, applying it to what you know, which is every inch of your golf course.
“A wise man seeks counsel” goes the saying. I advocate collecting as much information (in all forms, electronic or otherwise) as possible. Just as a golfer checks the wind, uses a rangefinder or walks around the green trying to determine which way the “grain” is growing, you should gather the information but don’t got lost in it. The regions of the brain that we don’t use end up getting pruned off.
It’s experience and influences that allow you to process that incredible flow of data and figure out what it means, how it applies to your particular situation. Those are not assets that you plug in or print out; they’re encoded in your brain after seeing, touching, smelling, hearing for yourself.
The next generations want to change the world and feel empowered to do so. And you know what? I like that and agree: It’s going to be their world real soon and we should do everything we can to help them make it a better, safer, more enjoyable world. But many of them simply don’t have the practical knowledge or real-life skills and are not experienced at life just yet to do that in a proactive way. They know how to harness technology and see things we never could from these marvels of modern life. But we can teach them that it takes real-life hard work and something I can only call “human” to bring it all together and make it matter.
Most of the young people I know are into things retro, whether it’s clothing or music. How about this for retro: Like your mother told you, go outside.
Old school is still cool.
For more on this topic, see my Golf Course Industry column from April 2014, Art Versus Science: Is science taking the art out of growing quality turf grass? Enter https://goo.gl/zJfmKN into your web browser to read the column.