Still Having Fun?

Columns - america’s greenkeeper

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The other day I bumped into someone at my club. No, he’s not someone any of you would know. He’s a former member who dropped his membership a few years back when his family moved farther outside the city. He’s still close friends with a few regulars and they invited him to stop by for lunch. I was happy to see my old friend and we hugged it out like guys do.

His background is in engineering. He graduated from Georgia Tech and he owns a construction company. He was trying to entice me to join the group for lunch, but I mentioned I had other things to do, plus I was scheduled to meet a young man about a job working for us. My friend uttered, “Good luck with that!”

It was the tone of his voice that turned me around. You too, I exclaimed. He said, “Matthew, I am a general contractor. I cannot hire subs right now because the subs do not have any qualified laborers. Business is awful. If you don’t believe me, ask one of the members in commercial real estate, they’ll tell you.”

I shared with him how difficult it has been to find, let alone successfully hire help, and with the seasonal staff’s arrival still in delays it was getting dire. I told him about my recent trip to Capitol Hill for National Golf Day and how that was a major talking point in all my meetings with congressional legislatures. I then jokingly suggested he share his plight with his friends over lunch, and to feel free to not keep his voice down. I figured if others overheard maybe they would better understand the labor issue is not a Carolina Golf Club issue, or a Charlotte area golf course issue, or a golf course issue in general; it is an issue affecting all parts of society.

A few days later, I read the piece in last month’s Golf Course Industry by Rick Woelfel describing how a couple of courses in Maryland are getting creative to attract and retain help. And it got me to thinking: Are we still having fun? What I mean by that is when I first started in this business, I was told I could play all the free golf I wanted. In fact, it was not uncommon for my boss to come find me on the course and stop me from working because I was late for the afternoon game. “You can finish that tomorrow,” he would say. “We’re waiting for you on the tee.”

Fast forward 30 years, and those days are very distant memories. The business has evolved with the ever-rising expectations and now we’re all too busy, or perhaps fearful to take a few minutes to enjoy the fruits of our labor. Which gets me to thinking, if we’re not having fun, how can we expect newcomers to find what we’re doing appealing and consider being a golf course superintendent as a viable career option?

I asked that very question to two elder statesmen of the business at a recent local meeting. When interviewing potential interns, AITs or assistants, I always ask how they got interested in turf because I didn’t go straight from high school to university to pursue turf. I found my way there a little later down the road by primarily having fun working at Lake Bonaventure Country Club.

I don’t have the answers. I’m merely pondering aloud. I’ve enjoyed every minute of my 30-plus years in this business, and I’ve earned a good living while providing for my family. But I can also say I’ve witnessed a lot of change in those years. From my vantage point, this is as difficult a time as any.

But I also know golf course superintendents are the most resourceful and creative people on the planet. I have faith in each of us to continue our evolution and adapt to the new normal, whatever it ends up being. I just want to remind you golf is a game and games are supposed to be fun, and so is being a golf course superintendent. Caring for Mother Earth and God’s creation is something special with way more pros than cons, so let’s all see if we can show the next generation how much fun it can be. In fact, like a good friend with the GCSAA told me, “some people get to call this work!”

Matthew Wharton, CGCS, MG, is the superintendent at Carolina Golf Club in Charlotte, N.C., and President of the Carolinas GCSA. Follow him on Twitter @CGCGreenkeeper.