An emotional event more than a year in the making became official Thursday, July 6 as The Greenbrier Classic returned to The Old White TPC. The recovery included one final maintenance shift before PGA Tour players teed off.
Consuming media while producing media is part of an editor’s routine. Here are a few birdies and shanks and why they matter to our segment of this $70 billion industry.
Birdie. David Owen, author of multiple golf books, including “The Making of The Masters,” isn’t devoting 200-plus pages to the game again. But he recently released a book about a subject that could shape the industry’s future – water.
“Where the Water Goes” traces the past, present and future of communities and landscapes affected by the Colorado River. The basin supports $26 billion of recreational activities. Golf represents a big slice of that total. The seven states in the region support a combined 1,802 courses, according to National Golf Foundation facilities data.
A prominent writer with a golf background exploring an environmentally charged issue provides an external boost to the industry, and his chapter about Las Vegas offers examples of courses reducing water footprints for the greater good. Unlike some writers and scholars, Owen ends his work by presenting solutions to the water dilemma. He’s a proponent of city living in resource-starved regions, even claiming water efficiency gains are lost if they are reinvested in sprawl.
Any hack can reveal a problem. It takes a skilled player to help solve one. Owen breaks par with this book.
Shank. Author Malcolm Gladwell doesn’t like golf. He despises it, a point he makes early in his “A Good Walk Spoiled” podcast. “I hate golf,” Gladwell tells listeners. “By the end of this you will hate golf too.”
So much for objectivity.
Before clicking goodbye on golf-hating media, consider how suffering through 35 minutes of a biased podcast can help golf. We’re golf supporters. All of us, theoretically, should believe in the game’s economic, spiritual, physical and societal benefits. To fully promote our business, we must understand how opponents view golf.
Gladwell, who uses Los Angeles private courses as the impetus for his assault, views golf as “crack cocaine for rich, white guys” and suggests it creates “inequality and injustice.” He also takes a shot at golf course maintenance, telling listeners courses are “drenched in pesticides.” Yikes.
How do you counter the negative publicity? Start with numbers. Seventy-five percent of the 15,000-plus golf courses are public facilities. The median green fee was $37 in 2015. Golf contributed $3.9 billion to charitable efforts in 2016. Documenting annual pesticide and resource usage helps defend your course, and industry, against unsubstantiated attacks.
Gladwell has accumulated thousands, if not millions of fans/followers, because of his immense writing talents. Unfortunately, attention inflates egos. Agendas ensue, and we’re left with a podcast that steals its title from a John Feinstein book.
Birdie. I laud officials at Medinah Country Club and The Greenbrier for making members of their respective turf teams prominent parts of recent media events. Director of golf course operations Curtis Tyrrell and architect Rees Jones led a media tour of Medinah’s restored No. 2 course May 24, while The Greenbrier invited director of golf course maintenance Kelly Shumate’s entire team to The Greenbrier Classic Media Day June 5. The work at Medinah is featured on page 14 and the third part of our series about the incredible rebuilding efforts at The Greenbrier runs next month.
Every year it gets harder to identify and hire good assistants, interns and crew members. Blame the work ethic of millennials, rules against hiring immigrant labor and an overall poor public perception of the game, if you like. But don’t forget that growth potential in this business is limited and the work we do is hard.
Which means that when you do find good people, particularly good young people, it is extremely important to encourage and engage them. To get the most out of the best, you must let them think outside the box, propose new ideas, and push the boundaries.
But maybe more important, change the way you think andw act. So, it’s time to take an honest look at your habits and practices as the boss and see if you are allowing and pushing your people to be their best.
Do you pressure your staff to do what you do and think the way you do? Do you establish strict rules and practices or do you allow them freedom?
Are you a micromanager? Good workers hate that. A good leader tells his staff what is expected or what the overall goal is. Then they step back and let them get there. Giving step-by-step directions for every little task is a waste of your time and your crew resents it.
Do you only want “yes men” around you? The correct answer is “no.” A good leader encourages debate, brings his staff in to talk about strategy, and is comfortable asking for and accepting other options.
Think about the last time someone on your staff offered a truly new idea. How did you react? Did you listen with an open mind? Did you encourage debate? Were you willing to give it a try? Unless you’re a “yes man” to all those questions, you’re not a good boss.
I’m the first to admit that it’s my generation—50 and above—that seems the most locked into doing things the same safe way and won’t change. We’re slow to embrace the newest technologies, preferring the tried and true, or call it experience. At this age, we’re very comfortable and satisfied and, frankly, we’re always worried about losing our jobs. One of the most harmful truths I’ve learned in this business over the years is that many are scared about being unemployed that we stop being creative, repress our true identities and smother our strengths. When that happens, everyone suffers, including the golf course.
But I’m also pleased to note that it’s the superintendents in their 30s and 40s who are the most open-minded to doing things differently. So, there is hope.
What about the next generation? I fear that they feel in their 20s the way I did when I was starting my career and pressed to conform to practices and procedures established by those I worked for. It was made very clear to me that there was only one right way to do every job. Variation would not be tolerated.
We must change our collective and individual mindsets if we are going to engage young people. We must eliminate the “we don’t work that way here” mentality. At the very least, think about when you were starting out and your first bosses: Did they encourage your creativity or restrain you to the same old way of doing things? How did we learn from your own early experiences?
I don’t mean to say that every superintendent out there is doing things wrong. I often run across those who are open to bringing new perspectives to the table. From watching and working with them, I’ve gathered some ideas for hiring and leading the next generation.
Hip to be square. Don’t confuse being open-minded with being hip, cool or that you’re 28 again. You’re not! Real twentysomethings will see through your act in a heartbeat. They don’t want a contemporary, they want a boss, one they can learn from and emulate, but also someone who will listen to them, who wants to hear their ideas.
Lead by example. Don’t be afraid—or worse, above—to cut a hole, jump on a mower, spray or fix an irrigation break. I recall one well-known superintendent who had no problem grabbing a broom and brushing the greens along with the crew at a U.S. Open.
Ask for their ideas. If what you hear is really crazy, explain why but don’t condemn the thought. Applaud a willingness to speak up and push the envelope. During my early years at the USGA, an executive director often said during a meeting, “this might be a crazy idea, but…” This made it okay for others to offer their ideas, crazy or not.
Say what? Speaking of meetings, if the only voice being heard is yours, you have a problem.
Beware Yes Men. If all you’re hearing from your people is agreement with what you’re saying, that’s another problem. If that is the case, it is not enough to keep saying you want to hear new ideas, different thoughts, creative approaches. Prove that you mean it by actually listening to and trying some of their out-of-the-box suggestions. You have no idea how much respect and good will you’ll get by saying, “Let’s try that here.” In the words of General George S. Patton, Jr., “If everyone is thinking alike, then someone isn’t thinking.”
Know your strengths, and know your crews’, too. It takes many different people, and talents, to form an efficient, effective team. If you’re a good manager but not as good building or repairing equipment, find those talents in someone else and make that person know that those skills are important to you and the rest of the team.
But discovering an employee’s strong points can take time and effort. Think about rotating a new employee through several different tasks for the first few months, giving you the opportunity to determine what he’s good at. Then nurture and help to further develop those skills.
- A job description is not carved in stone. Employees need to know what is expected of them. But a job description should have some flexibility and room for creativity.
- Tell people what needs to be done, not how to do it. Explain the task and you’ll likely be surprised by their ingenuity in handling it.
Finally, always be willing to offer support, praise, and respect.
There was a bright flash and a tremendous noise, followed by smoke oozing out of things.
Nope, it was not a lightning in the distance. This was up close and personal. I was in the underground concrete vault where the waterfall power distribution panels are with barely any room to jump back, up or sideways. There was nothing much left to do at that point except shut off all the breakers and leave the hole in the ground by ladder trying to stay ahead of the smoke cloud that was slowly filling the space.
What had happened took a while to piece together. Eventually, we discovered we had lost two of the three phases and the third phase was suddenly very high voltage. We will never know exactly what the chain of events was leading up to this adventure, but on their side the power company replaced the three transformers on the pole that provided the power to the deep-well pump house and, in turn, the water fall pit. On our side, the waterfall motor disconnect switch for the waterfall blew apart and needed to be replaced along with several fuses. It was also discovered that the deep-well pump for the irrigation system got fried.
The well people needed us to remove the part of the well house roof that allows their crane to pull the deep-well pump out of the aquifer. It is this deep-well pump that fills the pond near the clubhouse. While it looks like a pond, cattails, ducks, and fish, and all, its true function is to be the irrigation systems reservoir. Without the deep-well pump running, the irrigation system cannot run. The whole course is only two-and-a-half days away from drying up and dying without the irrigation system. Luckily, heavy rain has given the repair crews a little breathing space. Everything should be back to normal by midday tomorrow.
As a bit of relief from the adrenaline rush, the flying saucer blueprint framed on the wall in the maintenance shop is a good reminder that there are other maintenance shops that work on things that are not mowers or turf equipment. The day-to-day operation there is probably not much different than in my shop, there are shop supplies to order, parts to order, maintenance actions to schedule, “emergency” repairs (every repair is an emergency), urgent matters, less urgent matters, paper towel dispensers to be refilled, you know, the regular stuff it takes to keep a shop running – no matter what the shape or color of the vehicles are in the motor pool.
So, what will I be working on tomorrow? I have a very long list of “important” things that need to be done but as time has proven, I need to select the six most “critical” things and hope I can get three of them done between the “must do immediately” things that will pop up during the day.
Here is what I have planned:
- Check the cut and set of the greens mower;
- Sharpen the blades on the rough mower;
- Paint patio furniture one table at a time.
Things not on the list but becoming urgent because of how long they have been waiting to be done: clean the floor, speed up the superintendent’s utility vehicle, repaint the parking lines and space numbers in cold storage, erase the days “to-do list” from several weeks ago, take the asparagus out of the refrigerator, you know, the regular day to day stuff.
Wait a minute, the beverage cart just stopped in to get some gasoline. It has a broken windshield bracket and the engine is out of oil. Let me get some oil for it before the engine melts down.
Paul F. Grayson is the Equipment Manager for the Crown Golf Club in Traverse City, Mich., a position he’s held for the past decade. Previously, he spent 8½ years as the equipment manager at Grand Traverse Resort & Spa. Prior to that, he worked as a licensed ships engine officer sailing the Great Lakes and the oceans of the world.
Change is one of the most frequently used words in our society. Presidential and other elections are often won or lost on the promise of change (or none). We change clothes routinely each day. We change the sheets on our beds periodically. We change how we cook the same foods in order to add variety to our lives. Some people change the color of their hair on a regular basis.
In the golf world, there are some changes which happen quite rapidly. For instance, golf equipment has changed dramatically and quickly in recent years to allow golfers to hit shots farther, and some would argue with more consistency than previously possible. The golf ball has changed and now flies farther than the old balata-covered wound balls. These are generally considered examples of positive change, though, there is discussion about restricting the golf ball.
Change comes to clubs and golf courses very slowly. Golf is a sport steeped in tradition. At many clubs, the prospect of change can be frightening to members, some of whom have been at the club for many years. In other instances, the financial cost of change can grind even the best of intentions to a halt. There are situations where change is good and others where it’s bad.
In recent economic times, with the golf industry still struggling in many markets to absorb the course building boom of the 1990s, change at many clubs has come in the form of inclusive, rather than exclusive membership. In many cases, this is positive as clubs formerly restricted to certain groups have become more diverse in their membership. Change occurs at some clubs as capital reinvestment for facilities enhancements or renovations to keep up with competing clubs. Again, if well-conceived, these are examples of good change.
At many clubs, the prospect of change can be frightening to members, some of whom have been at the club for many years. In other instances, the financial cost of change can grind even the best of intentions to a halt.”
One of the biggest changes we see today is the number of member-owned clubs selling out to for-profit management firms. This too can be good or bad. For some clubs, it’s the right solution. For others, maybe not.
The private club world is evolving. However, change – technological change and otherwise – in the private club industry often lags behind other industries. Many clubs that resist necessary change, and in some cases, have been left behind – or even failed. In an environment where boards, members and management are skeptical of change, the “status quo” often carries the day, even if it leads to catastrophic failure.
Conversely, one thing we see far too often at clubs (just like the rest of society) is change for the sake of change. This is bad. Too often, clubs change general managers, golf pros or superintendents each time a new leadership regime is elected. At those clubs with frequent leadership changes (a new president every year or two), this can be deadly and lead to a lack of the stability that is so crucial to success. Often, this type of change is the result of what is known as “micro-management,” where club leaders end up obstructing the key management and staff from doing their jobs efficiently. At some clubs, in order to reduce spending, leadership eliminates the position of general manager and takes on that role themselves often leading to more “management by committee.” It often doesn’t end well.
We’ve observed many clubs that change when it’s not needed (if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it) and make “unforced errors” which can lead “downhill.” More often than not, I see clubs that need change that are unwilling or unable to implement responsive policies or actions that will turn their fortunes before it’s too late. I’ve observed many clubs fail for this reason, including my own, which resisted change simply because it was different.
The bottom line is that change is both good and bad. Each change has to be considered in the context of the impact it has on the club and the club’s goals and mission. Thorough (and often independent) evaluation and analysis is useful. Depending on the situation, change might be good or it might be ill-advised.
Larry Hirsh, CRE, MAI, SGA, FRICS is the president of Golf Property Analysts based in Philadelphia, and a frequent GCI contributor.