The great divider

Departments - Teeing Off

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September 9, 2019

This column is often crafted in a library. Being surrounded by books and driven people, especially on a weekend, promotes writer’s flow. What might consume four weekday hours in the office takes two Saturday or Sunday hours in the library. If it weren’t for a collection of well-maintained, architecturally fascinating and affordable golf public courses, libraries would rank atop my list of local happy places.

Observations and discussions at the annual Golf Course Builders Association of America summer meeting in Colorado Springs a few weeks earlier provided column fodder as I entered the Brecksville Branch of the Cuyahoga County Public Library last month. The goal was to describe the positives and negatives of seeing dozens of familiar faces at industry events such.

Before plunging into conversations, I scan the room to gauge the makeup and mood of attendees. It’s not hard finding familiar faces at industry events, because 2019 attendee lists mirror 2014 versions.

I also take a calculated approach upon entering a library. Before finding a table and opening my laptop, I scan non-fiction shelves in the new arrivals section. The first book I noticed on this library visit fit my column framework: sociologist Julie M. Albright’s “Left to Their Own Devices: How Digital Natives Are Reshaping the American Dream.” The inside jacket proclaims: “Young people brought up with the internet, smartphones, and social media are quickly rendering old habits, values, behaviors, and norms a distant memory – creating the greatest generation gap in history.”

Jackpot! That line quickly eliminated lingering fears of writer’s block wrecking a splendid Saturday.

The general educational session of the GCBAA meeting started with reports from a pair of allied association leaders: American Society of Golf Course Architects executive director Chad Ritterbusch and Golf Course Superintendents Association of America COO Bob Randquist. An attendee asked Ritterbusch the average age of an ASGCA member. After a playful joke, Ritterbusch revealed it to be “around 60.” Without prodding, Randquist then revealed the average age of a GCSAA member to be 47, an increase of three years from the average age the association reported in 2016. The GCBAA, according to its energetic executive director Justin Apel, doesn’t possess similar data – yet.

Later in the day, a human resources panel discussion commenced. The moderator, one of the youngest people in the room, asked panelists about corporate phone policies. Multiple panelists said their companies ban or discourage phone usage on a construction site.

A foggy area exists. Can people building – or maintaining — golf courses share the splendor of their work with friends and followers when they aren’t operating machines? Images posted on social media using smartphone cameras represent powerful recruitment tools in a tight labor market. A golf course, after all, is more scenic, inspiring and interesting than a restaurant, retail store or yard.

The superintendents I have met recently who are the most active on social media gripe less about attracting labor than colleagues who ban smartphones at work. Coincidence? Successful leaders find a middle ground between productive and destructive phone usage.

Time, money and increasing land values in urban areas are typically cited as significant threats to golf. But “the biggest generation gap in history” threatens golf more than the above.

Familiar faces who have been wonderful for the game and industry are aging. How they handle the end of their respective careers will determine whether courses, golf-centered suppliers and associations are infused with enough youth to remain viable.

Perhaps answers reside in a book, although I never made it to the opening page of “Left To Their Own Devices.” I decided to check out Karen Rinaldi’s “(It’s Great To) Suck at Something” instead.

Young people appreciate a sense of humor and humility, right?

Guy Cipriano Editor gcipriano@gie.net