How to handle a member meeting

How to handle a member meeting

Columnist Tim Moraghan provides helpful hints for superintendents and golfers alike.

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August 31, 2020

This is an expanded version of the Outside the Ropes column by Tim Moraghan that was originally published in the August 2020 edition of Golf Course Industry.

 

No one likes to be told how to do their job, particularly by people who have never done the jobs and never will.

How often do you get challenged over some element of your golf course’s conditioning? Probably more than you wish. None of us likes to be questioned, but at a private club, members pay their dues and they feel it is their privilege to comment about anything regardless of their knowledge.

It is inevitable that you will have to attend — and defend yourself at — a members’ forum on the state of your course. Again, it’s part of the job. How you prepare and present at this meeting can be critical to keeping that job.

But before offering some advice on dealing with these meetings, take stock.

Is it the criticism or how it’s delivered that rubs you the wrong way? Is it possible you’re perceiving the delivery of comments in the wrong fashion? It’s critically important that you understand your own feelings about taking criticism as well as trying to see things through your golfers’ eyes. I’m not saying they’re right — although they might have some valid points — but I am saying that they are entitled to voice their thoughts. How you respond to them is key.

If this is happening now, it’s even more annoying because the global pandemic has you and your reduced staff trying to do everything you can to allow members to play with a smaller budget and more pressure. There’s nothing wrong with reminding them of that when questioned.

But never allow your sensitivity to criticism to put you on the defensive. Whether it’s members at a private club or public golfers who pay green fees, they feel it is their privilege to comment, criticize and recommend regardless of their knowledge.

Too often it’s the vocal 10 percent who dictate how the golf course should play — which is wrong. And you probably already know what they’re going to say. If you can get some of the 90 percent to show up, good for you; if they don’t, shame on them.

But there you are, the meeting is on the calendar. How do you handle criticism and politely attempt to solve issues? Should you retain industry “experts” to assist in explaining concerns or solutions? Consider this game plan for making a member meeting or public forum work to your benefit.

  • Timing is everything. Plan the meeting when people are in their best mood and have a full stomach. Not after morning caffeination or in the midst of happy hour. Schedule it after dinner (best) or early afternoon (acceptable).
  • Let the club president or green chairman (one of their own) run the meeting, but encourage sticking to a tight schedule. Create an agenda before the meeting and try to establish rules for people speaking.
  • Be sure the senior staff has your back. Make sure the general manager and director of golf are present, agree with you and will speak up.
  • If the issues are significant, bring a panel of experts. Make sure they are fully briefed before the meeting. Not only on the agronomic issues but who the antagonists might be, who will remain silent, and to whom comments should be addressed.
  • When others are speaking in agreement with you, make sure they don’t sound as if they’re simply taking your side. The focus must be on what’s best for the course and the club. Don’t let it get personal; keep it about the issues.
  • Provide visuals to illustrate your points.
  • If the room is large, make sure there are microphones as well as staff to quickly bring them to questioners.
  • Plan ample time for discussion and questions.
  • Do not act defensively, show emotion, or get angry at a question or critique of you or your operation. Flatline your comments. Remember, many members are smart businesspeople. Do not BS them, they’ll see through it. If you don’t know the answer, admit it and say you’ll come back to them with an answer soon. And then do it!
  • Plan for any possible question — about the course, about you and your staff. Imagine the worst possible scenario and be ready.
  • Remember: Part of your job is to protect the member from themselves. While you work for them, your ultimate responsibility is to the golf course. You know the science, you know the course, you know the members. If you don’t have command of all of those, you’ll be in trouble.
  • There are politically correct ways for you to receive and handle member comments. As a paid staff member, don’t do anything that can impact your job and your livelihood.

Professional staff needs to cater to the membership as a whole. Know the facts, know your numbers, and know your job.

Now for the hard part: You need to get the following to the members/golfers beforehand. Maybe give this to whoever is running the meeting, as well as the GM and head pro, hoping they’ll share it with those who will be speaking up.

To members/golfers:

  • Think before you speak: Do you know the facts, the budget, the circumstances, the weather patterns, or whatever else is pertinent to your questions?
  • If you are coming to the meeting to complain, fine. But be open-minded enough to learn and have a productive, educational debate.
  • If there are consultants present, they are there to offer their expertise, not as a paid mouthpiece for the superintendent. They can help everyone understand the facts and address the validity of any criticism.
  • It is both wrong and unfair to compare your course to any other, even if it’s next door. And if you do fall back on “But that course …” make sure you have all the facts: the size of their budget, their staff, their agronomic conditions, etc. etc. etc.
  • Whether or not you see her, there will be one important constituent in the room: Mother Nature.
  • Please do not insult the ability or expertise of those presenting. They are there to help. That’s true of your professional staff and any specialists or consultants. They are all experts in their fields, and unless you’re in the same field, they know more than you do.
  • There is no need to get angry. Golf is supposed to be fun and an escape. And whatever you think is wrong, it’s not about you. Feel free to express your opinion, but it’s not personal.
  • Understand your ability as a golfer. You are not good enough to play on — or afford — U.S. Open conditions. The average handicap index is 16.4 and I don’t know any 90-plus shooters who want to regularly play tight fairways, knee-high rough and super-fast greens.
  • If you cut your maintenance staff or the budget, as happened everywhere during the pandemic, the course suffers, mostly in the details. Cart paths aren’t edged, bunkers are unraked or full of debris, greens aren’t mowed and rolled every day. Did you really think your course would be different?
  • Consider the big picture of running a golf course. Forget your pet peeves and consider the times, as well as the expense and privilege of playing.
  • Finally, if you miss the meeting, don’t show up the next day and resume your complaining. Man up and show up! 

If both sides follow these guidelines, you’re much more likely to have an open, fair and ultimately constructive session. That means everyone — the golfer, the superintendent, his staff and the golf course — benefits.