|Jeffrey D. Brauer||
Given the importance of trees to your golf course, “now” is always the time to develop a long-term plan for these important landscape elements. Some courses hire landscape architects for tree planting plans, failing to realize what a golf course architect brings to the task. Those talented, well-intentioned landscape architects then often locate the wrong trees in the wrong places, out of an ignorance of good golf. Many golf course architects are also landscape architects, and can consider all aspects to your tree planting master plan. These will include:
I once hired a non-golfing, college student as a summer intern and took him to a meeting for experience. Ignoring my instructions to remain silent, he burst in to suggest plantings of pines in play areas, believing that lost balls contributed to difficulty, which he thought was a good thing on a public golf course.
It’s not an arboretum. Turf health also trumps landscape beauty, making trees of secondary importance to shade, framing, safety, etc. A golf course architect also considers the relatively high cost of various species (such as breaking limbs and short lifespan of cottonwoods) or use of attractive, but non-native species that require regular high maintenance practices that don’t necessarily reflect in your bottom line when devising a tree plan.
Short version. Don’t forget your trees in long term planting, and don’t forget that you golf course architect is probably the most conversant in how trees affect your golf experience.
The things that will make you the most successful are the things you are the least prepared for coming out of school. You cannot create a leader in a classroom – it takes experience and good mentoring under successful managers. Few people have the natural sense of what it really means to work with other people.
First, let me tell you a little about myself. My 44-year journey through the golf course industry has been varied and very interesting. I have been involved in golf course maintenance, new-course construction, old-course reconstruction, renovation, hosting major tournaments, working in management companies, consulting and being a co-founder and principle of my own golf industry company.
I earned a BS in agriculture and entomology from Utah State University in 1964, and my MS in agronomy from Michigan State University in 1966. I accepted my first golf course superintendent’s position in 1968 and retired from the golf course superintendent’s profession to work on my own in 2000. I currently work as an agronomist and vice president of Grigg Brothers. During my journey I earned a CGCS from GCSAA and have maintained that certification for 35 years. I also earned a MG from BIGGA and have been certified there for 17 years. I’ve served on the GCSAA board of directors from 1989 to 1997 and served my term as president in 1995-96. I’ve spoken at a lot of turf conferences worldwide and I’ve taught agronomic seminars for GCSAA and private distributors across the USA, taught agronomy for Idaho State University for a year and I’ve authored numerous articles for professional industry publications.
I love my chosen profession. Someone once said, “It is not work if you love what you do.” I strongly believe the more knowledgeable you are of all the many skills required to be a golf course superintendent, the better your chances of long-term career success. I want to spell out what those critical skills are and put them in some type of order with the understanding that, to reach the top, you must prepossess some or acquire all of them along the way.
1. A person with sound agronomic skills
It is believed you have agronomic skills when you are hired. Therefore, this is the one I will explore least.
Let me sum it up this way. To be a great golf course superintendent requires an advanced knowledge of agronomy. From my many years of travel and consulting with golf course superintendents, I believe agronomic skills are lacking in many of today’s modern golf course superintendents. Many golf course programs in the schools or programs within turf schools are fast-tracked and don’t have a good, solid agronomic curriculum.
A superintendent must be an expert in plant nutrition, plant pathology, entomology, soil science, weed control, thatch (causes and control), turfgrass varieties and irrigation techniques. I also believe a superintendent must stay abreast of new developments in all of these areas, as well. There is simply not enough room in a single magazine article to explore each of these subjects.
Most of us are maintaining a golf course to the satisfaction of a demanding clientele, and we must conform to their demands as they own the course.
Never fear new technology. It comes along every day, but look at it in depth and ask for valid data from quality schools and good researchers that back up any salesperson’s claim. Sales’ claims without valid data are called marketing. Many folks are good at marketing, so make sure it is good science, too. Before you try anything new on your course do your own testing in practice or out-of-play areas.
Yes, agronomic training is important. However, there are other skills that successful, modern turf managers must all have in common.
2. A Person with Good Communication Skills
A person’s greatest asset in this or any other business is his ability to communicate. The flow of communications must be both down and up the organizational chart of the club – management, staff, members and even the general public.
Be prepared to defend your profession and correct misconceptions whenever possible. Communicate with media and be an expert resource for them. Visit with members and attend club functions. Start a newsletter or a blog and be informative and proactive.
Good, effective and constant communication cannot be overemphasized. Mix-ups in communication are embarrassing for everyone. It’s been my experience that most errors on the golf course are caused by improper communication. Most superintendents who lose their jobs don’t lose them because they lack particular technical skills. Instead, they’re let go because of a failure to communicate properly.
Remember, the responsibility for good communication always belongs to the person who possesses important information, whether this is the proper instruction of the maintenance staff or distributing vital data to the greens committee.
3. A person who can work effectively with people
Few people have the natural sense of what it takes to work with other people.
The greatest interpersonal issue now confronting the golf course superintendent is working with people. In fact, management is all about dealing with people. You must select people, train people, organize people, inform people, control people and compensate people.
Dealing with people consists of three major areas: Working with a crew, interacting with people in other departments at your facility and communicating with members.
Most superintendents, myself included, rise through the ranks believing that the principal asset they have is their technical agronomic ability. As they move up, they soon find it takes much more than agronomics to be successful in this business.
All at once, it is the superintendent’s or course manager’s ability to get things done though other people that count most. The crew becomes the most important asset. You must get work done through them. Often, staff management is not taught in turf school, it is acquired from experience. Golf course staffs nowadays tend be very diverse. Most of what I have learned, I learned by making mistakes. Believe me, some of my mistakes have been big mistakes.
Some things I have learned along the way:
- Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. If you risk little, you will probably win little.
- Welcome ideas from your employees. Good ideas from the rank and file are a credit to you as well as to the originator. No superintendent worth his salt ever feels threatened by a good idea from a subordinate.
- Always keep your promises. Likewise, don’t make promises you can’t keep.
- Never underestimate your workers. Good ideas can come from humble sources.
- Fertile minds are not always labeled with a college degree.
- Learn to use “horse sense” in dealing with others. In other words, learn to treat others as you would like to be treated.
- Keep in touch with key members of your department. Don’t shut yourself up in your office and don’t depend upon assistants to do your legwork for you.
Interacting with people in other departments is nothing more than good communication. Other department heads at a club or facility are also professionals and they are important for the accomplishment of the superintendent’s short-term and long-term goals. The superintendent is part of a business and he needs to think about the implications of his work and how it affects the other departments of a club.
You must continually ask yourself: “Am I an answer to a problem or am I part of the problem?” The superintendent cannot become overly stressed or become too casual while interacting with the other professional staff at the club. The only thing that really counts is performance. Never make excuses – they only lower your professional standards and soften your character.
The better you become at effectively working with other people, the better your chance of long-term career success.
Lastly, effective leaders retain their key personnel, which is a critical skill. Empower employees to do their job and have an open-door policy with your employees. Communicate to each employee their role in your operation and have weekly meetings with all personnel under your supervision. Work together with your employees to solve all member, guest or maintenance problems as quickly as possible.
4. A person who can motivate their employees
The ability to motivate employees is often the difference between success and failure as a leader. The most common mistake leaders make is to believe all of their employees are motivated by the same thing.
People are motivated in a variety of different ways. There are five recognized ways that people are motivated and each way weighs differently in importance from person to person. Lastly, no one is inspired by only one source of motivation
- Make it fun – The sheer enjoyment of their job. Create an enjoyable work atmosphere. Have fun.
- Tangible incentives – pay, bonus or leave allowance. Tie bonuses and incentives to job performance. Non-monetary rewards work very well at times, also.
- Personal achievement – This employee is self-driven to meet his own standards of job performance. They like challenging work and abhor menial tasks.
- Goal-oriented – This employee works hard if he or she believes in the cause, but not at all if he or she doesn’t. Communicate your vision and communicate your end goals.
- Personal reputation – An employee motivated in this fashion is interested in preserving and enhancing his or her reputation among peers and supervisors. Provide public praise and recognition for good work.
5. A person who can delegate effectively
Take a lesson from my many years of experience as a golf course superintendent: You will not be able to perform your job successfully by yourself alone. Make it easier for yourself by allowing those subordinate to you to bear the burden with you.
Delegate responsibility to subordinates. By doing so, you do three things:
- You ease your own workload.
- You train deserving workers for more important posts.
- You groom a competent successor who is ready to step into your shoes when it’s time for you to move up the ladder or when retirement comes.
Theodore Roosevelt once said: “The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it.”
6. A person who can plan, prepare and present projects.
Knowing the “why” of anything we do is as important to the success of a task as the “how.” It provides you with a defined purpose for taking a particular course of action.
There are a lot of steps involved in planning, and the techniques vary. In my opinion the are four underlying major points:
- Where do you want to go?
- What does it take to get there?
- Implement the decision.
- Monitor the plan for feedback as you go.
Managers might often have to adapt due to inevitable changes. The key word is flexibility. If the superintendent knows where they want to go and a shift occurs along the way, they will still achieve it if they keep the original goal in mind.
For example, it is critical that you create a maintenance plan for your club. Anywhere else in the business world this is called a business plan. The purpose of a maintenance plan is to define the desired level of quality for the golf course and to serve as a document to support your budget. Most importantly, this plan needs to include a mission statement. Your maintenance plan should be program-oriented, detailing every program it will take to make the standards the team has set forward and you must reflect those programs in your budget and equate budget numbers to this plan. For example, build a greens program and put a price on the following needed programs for your budget: mowing, rolling, topdressing, aeration/cultivation, irrigation, fertilization, hole placement, soil amendments, disease control, insect control, weed control, drainage, seeding/sodding and anything else.
Price the programs needed for greens surrounds, fairways, tees, roughs, out-of-play areas, maintenance shop, office and landscape.
Another example is to establish written standards with buy-in from your management and/or ownership. Put together a small committee to help put the standards together. It should consist of a representative from ownership, membership and the golf department.
The standards, first and foremost, should detail how the golf course is to be maintained and to what level.
7. A person who can properly prepare and sell his budget
Budgeting and selling your budget may be the most important part of your job. Therefore, you must learn how to do a program-based budget. Here are 7 basic steps to establish a program budget:
- written maintenance (business) plan based on the standards policy
- An organizational chart of your department
- A staffing chart complete with job descriptions
- A description of each category item in your budget
- A spreadsheet chart. With category items down the left (X axis) and months across the top (Y axis).
- Capital equipment purchases
- Capital or special improvement projects
The value of this plan is that when the budget is being reviewed by those who approve it, they need to fully understand that when cutting money from the budget, they are cutting programs. And if they cut or amend programs, then their stated and approved standards may not be met.
Upper management will find it more difficult to eliminate needed programs rather than just amending a dollar figure.
In the process of budget review the superintendent needs to be seen as an able manager of the club’s money.
8. A good environmental steward
- Use IPM programs
- Monitor your records and keep track with documentation
- Properly calibrate your sprayer and spreader equipment
- Do your own self audit – on site – on a regular base and keep a log
Regulatory complaisance issues include:
- Fuel storage and handling
- Chemical storage facilities
- Equipment wash area
- Occupational health and safety issues
- Sprayer cleaning process
- Disposal/Storage of pesticide containers
- Be an environmentalist and care for your resources
- Get involved in research
- Do you practice what you preach?
- Audubon International program
- Wildlife habitat
The image we must project as a profession is that we can provide quality golfing conditions while accepting the responsibility of being good stewards of the environment.
9. A person who is a skilled professional
It is all these skills that interact together and present the superintendent with an intangible, yet achievable, challenge. Collectively we have diversity in personalities and diversity in professionalism.
Think like a manager and make informed decisions based upon the basic management principles in conjunction with your agronomic skills and you will be met with success.
Believe me, golf courses today are looking for good, skilled business managers as well as solid, technical agronomic-minded turf heads.
Lastly, present a positive image constantly, work at it and dress professionally. Image does not happen by accident – promote yourself.
10. Bonus: A person who knows and plays the game well
Be competent in golf course set up and marking the course according to the rules of golf. Play and understand the game. More and more clubs are looking for good players.
I have emphasized people, time, budgets, planning and communications – all things you do not usually learn in turf school because agronomy was the focus of the curriculum.
For example, a good manager may plan several projects. For budget reasons or time constraints they may be forced to choose between the projects. If you are in the mind-set to think like a manager and make informed decisions based upon the basic management principles I’ve described in conjunction with agronomic skills, then you will enjoy success. Taking these principles into account will elevate a superintendent in the eyes of his golf course management team. Golf courses today are looking for good business managers as well as good technical trained or agronomic superintendents. Put it all together and you have a great course manager.
Lastly, it also helps to have a sense of humor and an unflappable personality. Why do I say that? Because most superintendents are control freaks – working in an uncontrollable environment.
Gary Grigg, CGCS, is a veteran superintendent and current vice president and agronomist at Grigg Bros.
|With heavy, clay soil, the crew at the North Shore Country Club could see residue from irrigation in divots.|
With a possible drought on the way for courses in the Midwest and East this summer, it pays for superintendents to consider just how they make use of bad water, or effluent water, on their golf courses. Golf Course Industry talked with three superintendents in three different parts of the country about their approach to using “bad water” for irrigation purposes.
All agreed on one thing: stringent, conscientious monitoring and testing of soil and water is necessary throughout the year in order for the program to be a success.
Brian Vinchesi, an irrigation consultant outside of Boston, says, “Probably the biggest problem superintendents have is salt running into their water, either from wells or effluent. The bottom line is, if you have enough money, you can effectively eliminate the problem. But it can be horrendously expensive.”
Dan Dinelli, the longtime super at the private North Shore Country Club in Glenview, Ill., or north suburban Chicago, says the poor water quality situation took the club’s membership and greens keeping staff by surprise, beginning in the mid-1980s.
“It was a unique situation in the Chicago area to have poor water quality,” Dinelli says, noting the club, built in 1924 by Allison, Colt and McKenzie, drew water for years without incident out of the Mt. Simon aquifer. The well was 2,200 feet deep, “and we don’t know why they generated the well that deep back in the 1920s when they dug it, but, they did.”
“The salt migrated to the north as people used the water source, including us,” he says. As population grew in Glenview, Evanston and surrounding towns, so did the area’s water needs. Dinelli says the solution, which wasn’t easily arrived at by him or the club’s loyal membership, was to drill a new well at a cost of $250,000.
“Back in the day when the club was built there was no such thing as municipal water. The deep well they generated was used for drinking water and to irrigate the course back when they got the system installed in the early 1930s,” Dinelli says.
“I can’t answer to what the salt levels were like back then, but I can tell you each year we tracked it, the sodium levels increased. Because of people around here drawing off of it, the salt concentration got greater. It began to appear as a problem in the 1980s, but it wasn’t until 1995 that I got a new well put in,” he adds.
Well-digging engineers and irrigation specialists properly sealed off the old well “and we generated a new one that tapped into the Galesville aquifer, just above the old aquifer.”
Dinelli says the soil composition at North Shore Country Club is heavily clay-based, so it packs tight, “and the golf course is pretty flat and doesn’t drain terribly well.”
“When we were irrigating for a period of time, you would literally see the white crusty residue develop in the divots on fairways,” he says, “the best thing we could do for it was to have a natural rain event to push those salts down, but obviously you can’t program those things,” he says.
Dinelli and his crew made use of soil penetrants and an injection system, and they used an acid injection system to keep the porosity of the soil at North Shore as open as possible, so the salts would sink down more quickly.
“We bought two deep-tine aerifiers for greens and fairways to poke 10 to 12 inch deep holes into the soil. We also tried biologically and chemically to open up the soil by using compost, which got us on the whole compost kick we’re still on today, because we found there’s other values to using it,” he says.
“We used compost to build the soil structure back up that we found the salts were destroying.”
One night when he was checking irrigation in his truck, water splashed on his windshield and he could hardly see through it. He demonstrated for members with a vial of water from the old well and a vial of water from the well he wanted to switch to, using a simple glass coffee table.
Once the water from the old well dried, a milky white film was visible. Members were convinced they had to dig a new well.
Opening the new well in 1995 was the final step in North Shore conquering its salt encroachment problems, Dinelli says, but his greenskeeping crew started their composting practices back in the 1980s when they dealt with poor water quality on a daily basis.
In retrospect, what has Dinelli learned that he could share with other supers?
“Well, we survived it, but the situation also brought on some diseases like anthracnose, and take-all patch got worse, so our disease management program had to be stepped up a bit to accommodate the extra stress,” he says.
“It’s hard to judge,” he says, when asked how he’d rate the success of having an entirely new well dug.
“We survived long enough to get the money we needed to get off that poor water source and on to a much better water source,” he says, admitting not every superintendent is so fortunate.
“Keep in mind, the chemistry of this stuff is pretty straightforward and there are a lot of good labs out there to help you,” Dinelli says.
When dealing with salt encroachment into ground water supplies, Dinelli says keep records of your soil and water tests for yourself and to show members later.
“I think the first thing you can do as a manager is take soil samples and water samples periodically and track what’s going on out in the field. You can compare differences and be tracking things and manage these things as they change over time,” he says. “Most water quality is fairly stable, but not always, and water quality changes over time out of wells. It can happen.”
Mike Terry, the superintendent at The Currituck Club near the Outer Banks in North Carolina, has had one series of challenges after another in growing grass at this unique resort facility, sandwiched as it is on a spit of land between the Atlantic Ocean and Currituck Sound.
This Rees Jones-designed golf course opened in 1996, but Terry arrived in 2005.
“We have a quality and a quantity issue here,” Terry says. He waters 66 acres of Currituck with reused effluent water that’s tertiary-treated on an adjacent site that was built with the irrigation system to work with the wastewater.
“Everything that goes down the toilets and sinks here at the community goes to the waste treatment plant and then it comes by way of an underground pipe to me to a pond here on the 6th hole, a par 3, where we have a large pond,” he says, “and we pump out of that pond to two irrigation pump stations. We’ve got some holes that may be irrigated on the edges with fresh well water and some of the middles of the fairways are irrigated strictly with effluent, where it does not spray off the property,” Terry says.
To call the water quality at The Currituck Club challenging is an understatement.
“We’re basically on a sand dune and we’re using a grass that can take a bit of salt,” Terry says. When the course was built, the entire site was laid with sod.
“They sodded the entire site and it’s a large site, just to get something on it immediately. It was just a big sand dune, and out here, the shape of the golf course would just blow away,” he says.
“We don’t buy any water here and we basically irrigate out of these ponds, and we get free effluent water from the nearby subdivision,” he says, noting the effluent is treated with ultraviolet light and treated two more times before being pumped out to the ponds on the course. “It’s probably some of the most complete treatment you can do to water.”
What happens from season to season, Terry says, is the wells get pumped hard, the water table draws down and the level of chlorides rise.
“We’ll test them in the spring and then we test them in late August, and the chlorides are higher. We find we have to constantly test the water, keep an eye on what’s going on with it,” he says, including injecting a product called Fairway, composed of sulfuric acid and urea, which helps adjust the pH, reduce bicarbonates and improve water penetration and infiltration into the sandy-based soil at Currituck.
“I’ve been here seven years and I’m still studying and educating myself about salt water encroachment. It’s been a crash course for me, so I’ve learned a lot about water quality and effluent,” he says. Terry and his crew do spot applications of granular gypsum and calcium applications, “we pile the gypsum and fertilizer on it and find we can’t fertilize it enough because of the sand-based soil here. With this soil, we can’t hold nutrients and we can’t hold water.”
Naturally, rain events help to flush the course, Terry says, but, “I don’t think we’ve conquered the problem at all. We’re always going to be dealing with extreme weather out here on the Outer Banks, and a big sand dune is just a difficult place to grow grass.”
Terry is thankful for the experts he can call on for advice, since the course is managed by Club Corp. Having information and data on hand is the best way to make good water decisions.
“In dealing with bad water, you need to know what’s in that water, you need to educate yourself on how best to use that water and you need to soil test to see what the water is doing out there. You’ve got to be paying attention, watching your heads, your water, your control system and make sure everything is applying efficiently and properly. Testing is the big thing for us, it’s a huge part of what we do, so at least if you know what is happening out there with your water and your soil, you can anticipate things, because bicarbonates and pH are big issues.”
Tim Cloninger, the superintendent at Shadow Creek Club in North Las Vegas, a property owned and managed by MGM Mirage Resorts, gets just one to three inches of rainfall a year in his location. Shadow Creek is a Tom Fazio-designed resort course designed to make people forget they’re in the desert, as its fairways and roughs are lined with about 20,000 pine trees. Shadow Creek is situated about 15 minutes from the Strip.
“Out in the desert one thing you can definitely do is look at your variety of grasses,” Cloninger says. “You need to manage your golf course for the most environmentally strong turf grasses. You need to have a good Bermudagrass base. If your water quality is that bad, you have to look into not over seeding, or look into a change in variety of your grasses.”
Richard J. Skelly is a veteran golf writer in Spotswood, N.J.
Safety at the golf course is often overlooked until accidents or problems arise. Golf course maintenance is a business and safety should be a part of every business. Every golf course budget should have a line item for safety equipment, upgrades to facilities, adherence to laws and regulations and training for staff regarding the need for a safe workplace as well as providing a safe place for golfers to enjoy their recreation.
All too often safety becomes a priority after an accident has happened. At that point it may be a little late to be compliant – sort of like closing the barn door after the horse is gone. It also becomes a priority when inspectors arrive at your door to follow up on a call from a disgruntled employee.
Every golf course needs written sections on safety in the various documents that guide its operation. This includes standard operating procedures, long-range planning, your orientation and training manual and as a budgetary item.
So, you don’t have a safety program? Or, the existing one is weak at best. Where do you start? Either conduct an internal audit of your safety program or hire an outside consultant to do it for you. I have contracted people from insurance companies, consultants who may have been former inspectors and also consultants who have these skills as well as are knowledgeable of the laws and have spent quality time on golf courses.
Pointing out the obvious. It is pretty easy to do a walkthrough at a turf-care center and find the obvious potential violations. Here are some common examples:
- Acetylene tanks are not secured to a non-movable object, such as a wall
- Improper spacing for guards on a bench grinder or mower grinders
- Improper ventilation
- Overloaded electrical wall outlets
- Floors littered with clutter
- Incorrect or unmarked walkways
- Inaccurate and out-of-date records, including OSHA 300 forms
- Poor staff safety-training, including topics, signatures and training methods
- Incomplete first-aid kits
- Inaccessible MSDS sheet
- Poorly labeled emergency gasoline shutoff
- Improper pesticide storage that fails to meet state laws
- Disorganized copies of licenses for qualified applicators
- Poorly written safety plan that follows OSHA guidelines
- Lack of or poorly written emergency-response plan
- Lack of safety training for equipment operators
- Non-compliant fuel-can storage
- Rinsate recovery that does not meet state laws
- Emergency exits with improper signage
- No wash-water eye stations and/or showers
- Improper storage of motor oil and lubricants
- Compressed air lines that lack proper shutoffs and connections
10 rules for safe handling chemicals
Business & Legal Resources (BLR), a provider of employment, safety and environmental compliance solutions, lists some key rules for workers who handle dangerous chemicals. You’ll undoubtedly have other safety rules to add to the BLR’s list. Better yet, present the list in a safety meeting and get employees involved in helping you add to the list. This will create a sense of ownership over your safe chemical handling rules. To employees, they’ll be “our” rules rather than “their” rules. That way, people will be more likely to follow them.
Rule #1. Follow all established procedures and perform job duties as you’ve been trained.
Rule #2. Be cautious and plan ahead. Think about what could go wrong and pay close attention to what you’re doing while you work.
Rule #3. Always use required PPE – and inspect it carefully before each use to make sure it’s safe to use. Replace worn-out or damaged PPE; it won’t provide adequate protection.
Rule #4. Make sure all containers are properly labeled and the material is contained in an appropriate container. Don’t use any material not contained or labeled properly. Report any damaged containers or illegible labels to your supervisor right away.
Rule #5. Read labels and the material safety data sheet (MSDS) before using any material to make sure you understand hazards and precautions.
Rule #6. Use all materials solely for their intended purpose. Don’t, for example, use solvents to clean your hands, or gasoline to wipe down equipment.
Rule #7. Never eat or drink while handling any materials, and if your hands are contaminated, don’t use cosmetics or handle contact lenses.
Rule #8. Read the labels and refer to MSDSs to identify properties and hazards of chemical products and materials.
Rule #9. Store all materials properly, separate incompatibles and store in ventilated, dry, cool areas.
Rule #10. Keep you and your work area clean. After handling any material, wash thoroughly with soap and water. Clean work surfaces at least once a shift so that contamination risks are minimized.
While these topics are more concentrated inside the shop there are also a variety of them that have an impact on outside operations as well.
- Chainsaw safety
- First aid
- Defibrillator training
- Emergency evacuation plan
- Safety equipment training
- Personal protective equipment and the regulations surrounding its use
- Training on what to look for on the golf course to prevent accidents
Steps to safety. Over the years I have worked with a variety of clubs and management companies to assist in the formation of viable safety programs. It’s hard to believe that some facilities say they cannot afford to have a safety program. My opinion has always been that you can’t afford not to have one.
After a facility assesses their shortcomings in the safety arena, the next step is to prioritize the things that need to be done. Take into consideration the amount of time to do all the tasks required, the cost and whether you have the expertise to do so. There are a variety of templates out there to get started with. Should you encounter an inspection, they will see that you are making an effort to be compliant. This will not get you off the hook, but many inspectors will cite you and then give you a period of time to take the corrective measures necessary to comply.
One of the best investments any golf facility can make is to purchase safety training videos. Many of these videos come in bilingual editions and all training must be in a language that the employee can comprehend.
Jim Becker, of Epic Creative, has several different excellent videos on not only safety, but equipment operation and such. This type of video should be shown annually as well as at the point of hire during the orientation of new employees. My favorite is “Safety Basics on the Golf Course.”
It may not come as a surprise that another company specializes in golf course safety and has consultation as well as safety training videos specific to golf facilities. I have recommended clients to consider using Golf Safety, which is a risk-compliance company. Bill Culbertson and Todd Miller have a very nice product and service, which could help anyone across the country. They have information specific to each state to be sure you are following your local regulations.
While I will not roll out the specifics of each written program, I can surely share what is required in most every state. So if you don’t have these in your facility, it is likely you will fall short after an accident or an inspection.
- Hazardous Communication Program or HAZCOM
- Respirator Program, including annual testing for tightness on each applicator
- Lock Out/Tag Out Program to identify equipment not to be used while under repair
- Guidelines for dealing with a blood-borne pathogen hazard
- Contingency Plan that includes an emergency plan and spill control
- Personal Protective Equipment Plan should include the training and usage of turf equipment that is required by law for operators and applicators
- Heat Stress Program that is utilized to prevent heat-related illness
Safe conditions. Another area that requires attention is the responsibility of the staff to ensure safe conditions on the golf course. Each and every employee should have the proper training to look for any conditions that could be deemed unsafe on the property. This could include sink holes, low-hanging limbs, uneven steps and any areas that could result in a slip/trip and fall incident. There are certainly many more dangerous situations, and it is incumbent upon staff to report any unsafe conditions to their supervisors.
When an accident happens, employees should follow the procedures outlined in the written documents and also through what they have learned in ongoing monthly training sessions on safety. First responders and others on the scene will need to fill out a written accident report. Such a report will indicate what happened and what the area looked like at the point of their arrival and dealing with the accident. Items in the accident report can and will be used later by either the insurance companies or legal counsel. For this reason alone it is important that the form be filled out accurately and may also include photos or video, accurate date/time and corrective action to prevent future accidents.
Insurance companies and lawyers will ask the typical questions after the accident.
- What happened?
- Did you complete an accident report?
- Did you take corrective measures to ensure this accident won’t happen again?
- Was the employee trained properly?
- Is there documentation of training?
- Is training on a monthly basis, and do you have written records confirming attendance?
- Do you have an OSHA log for accidents and lost time from work?
In recent years the various OSHA entities in each state have offered volunteer programs in which a facility can have an inspection without facing fines or penalties as long as any items cited are fixed within about a 30-day period. This is a wonderful program and something worth consideration. However, I would only pursue it after I developed my own audit and remedies in areas where safety is deficient. That way the sticker shock may not be so great.
Safety first. Over the years I have encountered more than a few people employed at golf courses who have lost a few fingers or a toe or two. Equipment operation and the use of blades can be a dangerous working environment. While we can’t always take the danger away, we can certainly educate our staff on the proper operation of all equipment they will be using.
Each facility should have a checklist that shows what steps were used to train equipment operators. That training should also include reading and understanding the operator manual for any piece of equipment that they may operate. There is a reason each piece of equipment comes with a service manual and also an operator’s manual or video that may be bilingual. Have your staff view these materials and sign off on their training to protect the business from liability in the future.
No matter how good your golf course looks, your job may be in jeopardy if you have serious accidents, workers’ compensation claims or injured golfers. It is the moral and legal obligation of a facility to provide a safe work environment and also a safe place for golfers to play. Make safety a top priority at your facility. Once you develop the many plans and programs, they are easily transferable to other facilities you may work at in the future.
Update your programs annually to be sure they meet the needs of the facility and also any new regulations that may have developed in the preceding year. Safety is an ongoing issue. Make it a priority at your golf course. The attitude should be “Safety is our No. 1 concern!”
Bruce Williams, CGCS, is principal for both Bruce Williams Golf Consulting and Executive Golf Search. He is a frequent GCI contributor.
Many of us course design types are recently back from Chattanooga, Tenn., site of the 2012 American Society of Golf Course Architects annual meeting. There’s a lot of fraternizing that goes on at these events, but there’s a good amount of strategizing about where the game is going, too. Big picture stuff.
Everyone’s hearts are in the right place, I’m certain of that. But I’m quite amazed these days by how architects and other “guardians of the game” view that big picture. More and more, these big-picture conversations seem to be shorthand for reducing the length and difficulty of golf holes, and/or enabling the play of golf holes in less and less time.
The catch here, and it’s a big catch, is that we may be removing interest from those golf holes. We may be devaluing them.
My old friend, the architect Gary Panks, spoke for me at one point when he warned that all these efforts to play faster and get more golfers on/off the course will, if we’re not careful, destroy some really good golf holes.
Earlier this year, I wrote about this in light of the Tee It Forward initiative – a good idea for adapting full-sized holes to young and otherwise novice players. But it’s a tough task to carry this through an 18-hole routing, accommodating senior and women players, without effectively addressing the design of all 18 holes. You have to Design It Forward in order to Tee It Forward, and we have to ask ourselves: Is this initiative worth undertaking that expense? Is it worth risking the alienation of regular customers who appreciate the hole as is?
The way we think about bunkers today is indicative of where these discussions are taking the golf business, perhaps against our better judgment. When we aren’t talking about eliminating bunkers – to save money and make golf holes more “playable” (read: boring) – we’re talking about ways to make them more expensive via new liners and premier sand products.
One extreme feels like a shortcut. The other feels like we’re throwing money at something in the name of “excellence.” Neither gets at the heart the matter, in my view.
Let me frame the larger issue another way – a way superintendents will understand, because they think in these terms all day, every day – way more than architects do incidentally: Do these measures and initiatives add value? If so, for how many golfers do they add value?
If we want to attract new golfers, does it really make sense to simplify golf courses en masse? What happens when these novices develop into intermediate players – won’t they go elsewhere? I have to laugh when I hear people reminisce about the crappy old munis they played as kids. Yeah, they might romanticize those courses, those memories – but they wouldn’t be caught dead playing those tracks today. They were all they knew back then. When they got a glimpse of what a good course could provide, in terms of value, there was no going back.
We need to do a better job of creating and preserving value for our customers, the golfers at our courses and clubs. Throwing some tee markers down in fairways to create a 3,000-yard routing is a way to add value for kids and their parents – and most important, it’s simple. That act does not affect the hole’s value for other players.
It becomes much more complex, say, when you try to move the white tees forward for seniors, who then hit the ball into unseen hazards, or drive the ball past landing areas into the narrowest parts of fairways. This does not add value. In order to add that value, an entire hole must be assessed in light of what type of golfer is playing that new yardage.
Let’s boil it down and get specific: You know what adds value? Bunkers add value. Their role should be separated from the pace-of-play and course-difficulty equation. Eliminating them in the name of faster, easier play might save money or maybe even drive revenue in the short term. But ultimately, in the longer term, removing them waters down the value of golf holes.
Superintendents work at the confluence of these issues. It’s a balancing act, reconciling pressure from the top to make holes harder, make them easier, speed up play, bring down costs, etc. Superintendents do the actual balancing. They’re the ones who’ve always been best equipped to determine where the value is, where it can be preserved, where it should be added.
Back to the bunkers… How do you make a course harder? You make it longer and tighter right? A lot of people think bunkers make a course harder, but they don’t. Properly placed, they add value. Allow me to count the ways.
Directional Aid. Down in Tennessee, we ASGCA-ers played the Honors Course, an unfamiliar track for most of us. I can’t tell you how many times my caddie, or the player in our group with local knowledge, told me to “Aim for that bunker”, or “Play in front of that bunker”, or “Fly that bunker.” You can’t do that with distant trees lining a fairway. If you eliminate too many bunkers in the name of cost-cutting, what’s left? Does that add value?
Flexibility/Strategy. Bunkers provide golfers the opportunity to play tactically, using the hole’s width, whereas trees do not. A long dogleg lined with trees will crush the new or short-hitting player. If they can’t get to the corner, they’re screwed. But if that corner is guarded by bunkering, he/she can play in front and cut the corner on the next shot. I’m not advocating for a sea of bunkers, but a wide fairway with a smattering of well-placed bunkers can be played a hundred different ways, most of them attainable by new or short-hitting golfers. That’s value for all players, not just good ones.
Recoverability. Sand shots aren’t easy to master, but even a novice player would rather play from a fairway bunker than a forest. You can’t play at all from a pond, of course. Catch bunkers are an inherent sign that trouble lurks beyond, and they can actually protect golfers from unseen hazards. Now, let’s be honest: An “unseen” hazard is problematic in its own right, but that bunker serves a distinct purpose. Can’t put a value on that.
Aesthetics. Bunkers break up the monotony of green. They provide texture and contrast from the tee. On a dead straight hole, extending bunkers out into the line of play makes the fairway appear to weave back and forth between them.
Harmony/Balance. Bunkers help to achieve visual balance and establish scale and proportion, which contributes to the visual harmony of a hole. In other words, they make things look pleasing. In some cases, they can even be placed to make things look intentionally unpleasing (harder than they are) or to affect depth perception (camouflage).
Think about all the trees on your golf course. How much value do they add to the golf experience? They can certainly evoke pleasantness, but maybe a handful of trees have the sort of comprehensive impact mentioned above. The rest are either inconsequential or actively eliminate value – shot values, but also agronomic value when you consider how trees compete with turf for soil nutrition and sunlight.
Now think about your bunkers. How many add value? In a variety of circumstances, I’m betting they all do. And I’m betting most superintendents could think of a half dozen more, in key spots, that could add even more.
My point here isn’t that we should go on a bunker-building binge. My point is, we need to assess our golf courses based on the value each feature provides. It’s a cost-benefit analysis in one way.
With the resources available, we must maximize the value we provide to golfers because it’s the value of that golfing experience – not ease, not speed of play – that hooks new players and continually engages regular players.
Bob Lohmann is founder, president, and principal architect of Lohmann Golf Designs and a frequent GCI contributor.