Trick or treat

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October 5, 2021

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In our business, fall likely means you’re either starting to shut down for the year if you’re in the northern half of the country or gearing up for the busy season in the southern tier. I’ve lived and worked in both and I understand the yin and yang feeling many superintendents have in autumn. For me, the perfect analogy is Halloween: For some this is a season of good things (treats), while for others it’s crazy and unsettled (tricks).

Trick or treat is also a good way to look at all our lives right now, which are being significantly affected by the whipsaw effect of COVID-19 and the unexpected golf boom. What follows are what I see as the “tricks” and “treats” of our business, which I hope prove that no matter where you are, we’re all in this together, facing the same things — good and bad.

TRICKS

Labor

Where do you find new sources of labor? Can you afford to compete and pay for the workers you need? Has it ever been this bad?

Face it: You’re going to be working harder and longer than you want to for the foreseeable future. Just as bad, you’re going to have to learn to deal with mediocrity, too. With the minimum wage what it is, the quality of the labor force and the effort those in it are willing to put forth have declined.

With even unskilled workers able to command upwards of $16 an hour, you’re probably going to have to blow up your entire budget. I know of superintendents who’ve had to give $6 an hour raises to their longtime permanent staff just to keep them happy and not jump ship!

There’s not much we can do to fix this situation other than be patient. Also, be sure to let the people in charge know just what you’re up against and to expect to see some (minimal) effects on your course. Chances are they’re seeing the same things happening no matter what businesses they’re in and won’t be too surprised when you come looking for more money to hire better employees.

Member complaints

When members complain — and they will complain — it usually involves a lapse in attention to detail (see “Labor” above). As noted, the new reality means it will take some time to get your course back to the level you and they are used to. Make sure they know that.

But it isn’t just labor. Do you get the entire “Maintenance Monday” to make things right? Doubtful. The one day that is supposed to be for you and your crew to take care of detail work, fine tune and tighten things up is more likely a half-day. If that. Maybe you get from sunup until noon, then the players start to appear, either members or staff or both. Or you lose even more of Monday to outings.

If they’re not going to give you Monday, they need to know they’re not going to get the conditioning they want.

Weather

Even in a good year, Mother Nature can be a pain. But this year? Heavy rain, drought, more rain, fires, hurricanes … In some parts of the country, water issues that have been tough for years are now close to catastrophic. And you’re already extra diligent about water use, to say nothing of plant protectant applications.

Despite this fickle mistress, our job is to provide the best conditions we can. And we do. It’s an uphill battle to please golfers who have no idea of the real impact of a sunny day, much the impact of less rainy, windy or freezing days.

As always, communication and education are key. Do what you can to make sure your golfers know what you and your crew are up against day after day after day. I’m not saying it will help — they’ll still complain — but that, too, is part of the job.

Fighting an army

Fall armyworms are here and are wreaking havoc. There is nothing worse for superintendents or golfers alike than finding the golf course under attack. These bug battalions can turn green grass brown in less than 48 hours.

Dr. Rick Brandenburg, an entomologist at NC State, says this year is “a perfect storm,” unlike anything he’s seen in 40 years. Why? Weather (see above). Before fall’s armyworms became caterpillars, summer storm fronts blew moths farther and wider than ever, letting them lay eggs in new, more fertile areas. Those eggs are now hatching and we’re suffering.

TREATS

New golfers

Lots of them, and many of them on your course. They’re out there enjoying the challenge, the fresh air, being outdoors and being with friends — the same qualities that have made golf enticing for generations. Besides pleasing these new golfers with your success providing a well-cared-for facility, you should be talking to them about what you do and how you do it. Communication and education.

Tools, knowledge and resources

Do you know any other industry that is so encouraging of its constituents to work together? To communicate, share knowledge and help one another?

You don’t have to look very hard to find podcasts, research papers and countless consultants ready to help the modern superintendent. It’s nearly an embarrassment of riches, and if you’re not taking advantage of it, you are missing out.

Every weed scientist, soil physicist and entomologist is a “treat.” Ones you should enjoy.

Work environment

Your “office” spans at least 100 acres of turf, trees, flowering plants, water and much more. Sure beats a desk and filing cabinet. With today’s focus on woring from home and remote offices, we’re lucky to work in spacious, open-air environments with Mother Nature our office mate (until she gets ornery, of course).

We also work with others who like to be outdoors, getting their hands dirty to make something so beautiful. Even with the drought, the rain and the worms, you shouldn’t take where we work for granted.

Summer fun

I love summer, always have. So, I could never understand why superintendents want summer to end. Yes, most of us forfeit our summers for the “good of the game” and for the enjoyment of others. But it’s also the time that we get to do what we do best.

That said, we each need to find a way to make more of our summers. Perhaps the millennial philosophy of “me time” has some merit. Take time to enjoy your family and friends away from the golf course. Make the most of summer where you work but also in your personal life. Don’t wake up 30 years from now having missed all those summers.

But fall is a treat, too

Shorter days, longer nights, cooler temperatures. In much of the country, leaves are turning, kids are back in school (truly a special treat this year!), and we feel the cycle of life back in step. Apples, pumpkins, football … and maybe a chance to catch our breaths. Even if just a little bit.

And that rare treat … a ‘thank you’

The final, but sweetest, treat is when someone takes the time to thank you for the job you do. For making “their” golf course beautiful and fun, and special to them.

In truth, you shouldn’t need someone else to tell you when the course is just right. You know when you and your team are doing a good job. Never forget to take pride in a job well done — and be sure to let your crew know they’re doing a great job, too.

But if someone else notices and tells you so? That’s the treat we all live for.

Tim Moraghan, principal, ASPIRE Golf (tmoraghan@aspire-golf.com). Follow Tim’s blog, Golf Course Confidential at www.aspire-golf.com/buzz.html or on Twitter @TimMoraghan