Live in the question

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A legendary Ohio superintendent/general manager retired in 2020. But that doesn’t mean his enduring work will stop.

January 8, 2021

© courtesy of frank dobie

You have to pause, reaaaally pause, to reflect upon the career of Frank Dobie. And, when you think about the man himself, you have to smile. Dobie led as superintendent and general manager at The Sharon Golf Club in Sharon Center, Ohio, for 56 years, including two years of construction before the course opened in 1966. This private, 18-hole course with bentgrass fairways and greens plays between 6,400 and 7,200 yards and was designed by architect George Cobb in 1963.

Cobb was the only architect to work on the course until 2020. Over the years, Dobie and his crew were happy to execute projects such as dam modifications (to keep the 15-acre lake up to code), constructing a new hole, creating forward tees (25 years ago, before it was trendy), redesign the bunkers (and add some, too) and more. Dobie credits his long career to great leadership by president M.G. O’Neil, an outstanding staff and a culture that promotes respect for employees and members alike. “I learned early on that you cannot micromanage people and have them be satisfied,” he says.

Dobie hired problem-solvers, people who wanted to contribute. Many staff at TSGC have worked there for decades. Dobie also hired several retirees, some of whom have now, remarkably, been with TSGC for more than 25 years. “We tailored some of our routine practices for retired people,” Dobie says. “For example, we triplex greens and tees instead of hand-mow them.”

He over-hired on staff so everyone could take time off (even summer vacations!). He also allowed employees to play golf six days a week. Employee golf privileges are a great incentive and promote awareness of course conditions. People are having fun and working hard. That success feeds itself. “Even when there were labor shortages, we never had that problem,” Dobie says.

Dobie was empowered by O’Neil. They had an understanding. “He would give me a direction and let me figure out how to get it done,” Dobie says. “Our meetings rarely lasted more than 20 minutes. When he hired me, he said, ‘We are not going to have any committees. I want to talk to only one person and that person is going to be you.’”

The singular relationship fostered freedom, trust and productivity, where some of his colleagues had to devote more time to diplomacy, particularly when management and committees changed. “All my energy was focused on creativity, where much of their effort was tied to surviving,” Dobie says.

© courtesy of frank dobie

There are very few properties where being a superintendent and GM can be a joint position, as it was for Dobie, but TSGC has always been solely focused on golf — it’s not a social club and events are limited. Dobie warns against the idea that becoming a general manager is the promotion it is perceived to be. “I have counseled people about this route,” he says. The hours are different. General managers typically spend less time outside and they spend more time managing the overall business and staff. Anyone considering becoming a general manager needs to thoroughly understand the expectations.”

Some technological advancements Dobie noted as very useful are moisture meters, degree-day software and Stimpmeters. His team stimped greens every day to help maintain the speed and consistency members desired. Dobie believes texting and social media have a place in the industry, but they must be balanced with face-to-face conversations for optimal productivity. Another advancement Dobie enjoys is PowerPoint and the direction it has moved presentations and the sharing of information. Dobie is interested in promoting education through various media and he is working on a video to help players increase their pace of play.

Dobie will also continue participating in the Penn State Alumni Association that he helped start and continue his leadership of the Musser International Turfgrass Foundation as president. Another effort close to Dobie’s heart is to preserve the history of superintendents, starting with the creation of the Northern Ohio GCSA Historical Library and Hall of Fame Committee. There are so many wonderful careers to learn from and celebrate. His advice for young people in the industry is to “take care of your story by updating it annually.” Though most superintendents don’t like to talk about themselves, you should be proud of what you have achieved. Your story is worth sharing.

Together, O’Neil and Dobie maintained an operating profit at TSGC for 54 consecutive years with O’Neil’s wise tenet that if you don’t have it, don’t spend it. Keep it simple. Dobie has more advice gathered from his own storied career and from interactions with his mentors Joe Duich, Eb Steiniger, Bob Williams and others. “It was Dr. Duich who told me not to always rely on conventional wisdom to solve problems but go outside that realm by ‘living in the question,’” Dobie says.

He believes in managing your staff so the average work week is about 44 hours, including yours. Everyone needs to spend time with friends and family. Consult older colleagues and learn from their experience. “Acknowledge your staff, sincerely,” says Dobie, and remember during job interviews that questions should be asked by both parties. “Be positive and keep the job fun,” he says. “If you can’t, change jobs.”

When you next see Frank Dobie, pause, smile and live in the question.

Lee Carr is a Northeast Ohio-based writer and frequent Golf Course Industry contributor.

Tartan Talks No. 54


What happens when golf course architects collaborate on a book?


You get “Colorado pot shop” and “trendy coffee shop” references. You also get a great example of how technical topics can be described in relatable ways.

Jeff Brauer and Nathan Crace joined the Tartan Talks podcast to describe methodology and creativity behind the ASGCA Foundation’s recently released “Designs on a Better Golf Course: Practical answers to common questions for Green Committees.” The book’s aim is simple: educate the people responsible for making course enhancement decisions about practicality, viability and playability.

Brauer, a past ASGCA President who spent 14 years writing the “Game Plan” column on these pages, led the effort to write, edit and publish the book, which is available on Amazon. Crace, Greg Muirhead and John Sanford were among the ASGCA members who provided assists.

“One of the great things about the way Jeff writes is that it’s relatable and it doesn’t get too technical,” Crace says. “Anybody in the golf industry, whether you’re an owner, green committee chair, golf professional or anybody that has any type of say-so, can sit down and read it. You don’t have to be a superintendent or have technical knowledge to understand what he’s talking about.”

The podcast isn’t entirely book chatter. Brauer and Crace also provide witty insight on timely topics ranging from green speeds and how future maintenance considerations are impacting current design decisions. “Maintenance costs, I think, are going to drive design decisions for the next 50 years,” Brauer says.

Visit the Superintendent Radio Network page on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or Stitcher to download the podcast.

Industry buzz

The LPGA announced a three-year official marketing partnership with John Deere. With the agreement, John Deere becomes the LPGA Tour’s Official Golf Course Equipment Supplier and will support the LPGA Foundation’s efforts to introduce more girls to golf. Additionally, the Ladies European Tour announced a three-year extension to its longstanding partnership with John Deere, which began in 2007. John Deere has also signed on as the Official Golf Course Equipment Supplier of the 2021 Solheim Cup at Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio.

Spectrum Technologies extended its product offering with the release of the FieldScout TDR 250 Economy Soil Moisture Meter. The new model enhances the well-adopted TDR product and represents an option for turf managers looking to capture spot measurements for hand-watering or syringing greens for consistent turf. “Spectrum Technologies is responding to what the turf market has been asking for,” president and CEO Mike Thurow said. “The TDR 250 has been specially designed for courses with lower maintenance budgets. With the TDR 250, turf managers will receive Spectrum’s precision measurement technology while investing 20 percent less.”

Troon (Arizona) Country Club reopened its Jay Morrish- and Tom Weiskopf-designed golf course for member play following a $4.6 million, seven-month renovation. Weiskopf and design consultant Phil Smith oversaw the project while Heritage Links golf course construction company served as the contractor. As part of the renovation, Weiskopf and Smith made design modifications to enhance playability, accentuate site lines and assist in course maintenance. Greens were resurfaced with A4 bentgrass, tees were leveled and expanded, and several new forward tees were added. Tee boxes, fairways and rough were re-grassed with Tifway 419 Bermudagrass.

Paragon Casino Resort and Hotel’s Tamahka Trails Golf Club in Marskville, Louisiana, completed a renovation guided by Nathan Crace. Bunker improvements included replacing all drain lines and sand, shaping the bunker complex to eliminate steep slopes, converting roughly 40,000 square feet of bunkers to grass, strategically adding small pot bunkers to four holes, and implementing the Better Billy Bunker system to improve drainage and better protect the bunkers. The addition of a practice green and chipping bunker and a new set of tees measuring around 4,000 yards for juniors and beginners were among the other changes.