Remember your why
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Remember your why

What do you learn after 20 years in the business? Brent Downs describes why every haymaker the industry throws your way is worth enduring.

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February 16, 2021

“Yeah, man, that’s the good stuff.” – Kenny Chesney
 
I was looking at the calendar the other day doing some agronomic planning and it occurred to me; “This year completes 20 trips around the sun for working on golf courses for me. Twenty years … where did it all go? Like a summer thunderstorm rolling in out of nowhere, the memories hit me like a thunderbolt as the skies darken in my memory. Twenty years of underappreciated, long hours, low pay and the needs of the golf course overtaking my own.
 

“What the hell was I thinking?”

Great. Turf lecture at 8:30 a.m. Can’t wait…
Tuition is due. Can one have eight part-time jobs?
Yes, I realize my greens mow wasn’t up to standard. Thank you for telling me, and in such colorful
language, too.
Greens check at 5 p.m. Awesome.
Watering sod, again?
Oh, sweet, another joke about the American. I haven’t heard that one before.
What does sense of urgency even mean, anyway?
If you need me, I’ll be in my office. You know, the irrigation parts closet I’ve been in for 21 days now.
So, my first job as an assistant involves checking the sewer pipe intake. Well, crap!
WILT! RUN FOR YOUR HOSES, NOW!!!
Why am I still watering sod???
Should’ve known that rain gear wasn’t just for fashion.
Sorry, Sara for cancelling another 8 p.m. dinner reservation.
First superintendent job. Let’s see what I’m working with. Um, I can’t run a vacuum cleaner on that number.
Oh, the 58-year-old mower broke down again. You don’t say?
Greens are slow, huh? Well, I wanted to match them with your pre-shot routine.
Yes, I occasionally have to throw sand. Please don’t hurl a wrench at me.
The little lights aren’t twinkling.
Reduce budget? From where?? Hang on, let me split the 2-ply toilet paper.
Oh, great. The sod needs watered again.
Avoid the shop. The 100-yard dash happens there every day at 2 p.m.
The 5 a.m. text, “Uhh, cough cough, I’m not going to make it today.” Did you just cough in text?
 
“What the hell was I thinking?”
Like that same summer thunderstorm that rolls out as quickly as it rolled in, the bad memories fade away and are replaced by the first rays of sun, and those rays shine a light on my why for these past 20 years of doing what I love, making new friends, and feeling incredibly blessed and gratified at the results of our hard work.
 
It was my first perfect exam score.
It was hugging my mom as I accepted my diploma from Purdue University.
The way I felt when I finally mowed my first perfect green.
What happens at the intern house, stays at the intern house.
Feeling like an honorary Scotsman and Aussie on my overseas internships.
Being told “nice job” by a mentor who had pushed me to be my very best.
Watching that sod take hold.
The first pipe repair that didn’t blow up.
Lasers.
My gosh, I could watch that sunrise all day.
The smell of fresh mown grass in the morning.
“You will be missed, Downs, and thank you for everything,” my second mentor said.
“Mr. Downs, We would like to offer you the job of Golf Course Superintendent!”
Wow, we made it through my first year. I have no idea how, but we made it.
Watching 30 of our members show up to my wedding.
“Excuse me, new intern. Good to meet you as well. I’m here to train you on your most important task. Watering sod.”
Wow, this place looks good.
Like putting on a marble floor.
Are you the superintendent? This place is mint.
The first time your assistant superintendent gets their first superintendent job.
Watching the new employee execute her first perfect turn on the greens mower.
Watching the person you didn’t have much hope for grow into a person you couldn’t do without.
Meeting new friends from all parts of the globe at conferences.
Nominating your mechanic for Technician of the Year.
“I’m so damn proud of my team. COVID-19 threw everything it could at us, and the guys and girls came in and battled. EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.”
Smiling as the assistant superintendent does his afternoon job with his son.
Seeing my first article published in a magazine.
Realizing how close you are to two of your professional certifications and knowing the work you put into
them.
Seeing your mentors later in life and realizing you are now friends more than mentors.
You didn’t realize it at the time, but you’re a mentor yourself now. Act accordingly. 
Two phone conversations with our north of the border neighbors that will forever shape my views on
leadership and inclusion.
Hearing a person I have respected my whole career accept our offer to be our superintendent.
Watching the sun go down at Otter Creek.
“Son, I’m proud of you.” Dad said before he left.
 
I hope as you read this you can insert your name for mine. Chances are, we all have similar experiences. And when I get frustrated and focus on the bad, it is at those moments I remember my why. Like filtering maple tree sap, the bad falls away and the good memory syrup is left behind. Twenty years later, those memories bring a smile to my face. As we embark on another year in our industry, remember to enjoy the journey. It might seem difficult not to dwell on the year we just endured, but I bet if you go through the memory bank, the bad fades away and you remember the good times. That moment is where I continually rediscover my why. I hope you come away feeling the same way.
 
Brent Downs is the director of agronomy at Otter Creek Golf Course in Columbus, Indiana, and a frequent Golf Course Industry contributor.