Should you give back?

Columns - Outside the Ropes

June 7, 2016

There’s a lot being written and said these days about volunteering, giving back to one’s community, charities and professional organizations. Both giver and receiver can benefit from this mutually agreeable arrangement and I strongly believe that we should all give of ourselves and work for the greater good. But I’ve noticed a double standard at golf clubs when it comes to letting employees get involved with associations. It’s OK, even encouraged, for the general manager or golf pro to volunteer in their industries. But the superintendent? Most clubs want him at the course at all times, seemingly chained to the turf.

In recent months, I’ve sat with a number of club boards thinking about their future plans. More than once, it’s come up that the current employee has spent too much time with his local chapter of the GCSAA or another trade association. But if the pro wants to get involved at the local, sectional, regional or even national level of the PGA of America – or play in tournaments – the board and members are all for it.

Clubs want their supers on property and visible (but not too visible), their hands and boots dirty. If you’re thinking of volunteering at any level, that’s great. But be careful. I love that you want to get involved, but I also love you getting paid and putting food on your table, and those should be your priorities. We’re in a “buyer’s market,” with many good candidates waiting to take your job if you slip up. Not being available when the greens chairman or his buddy has a question can quickly become a big problem.

Volunteering is not always a good fit, or a smart idea, for the mainstream superintendent. Nor is it smart for every club to let its superintendent run for office or serve on a committee. But the club might not be willing to say that out loud, so it’s up to you to carefully assess your situation.

Therefore, before you give your time, give the following close attention:

  • Start the process early, and before doing anything with the organization, shore up things at home. Be visible and stay in front of the members. At the same time, work on your speaking (and listening) skills: Learn to present a point, stand up for what you want and debate your side of a position.
  • If you are going to participate, make it good for the club – not just for you. This may be hard to do, but it’s probably the most important point to remember. Your club, members or customers, and board must be your first concern.
  • Get involved for the right reasons: to educate yourself, interact with fellow supers and to put your club in the spotlight. Your service should eventually move your club into circles where it hasn’t been by giving it recognition and prestige.
  • Before spending time away from the club, make sure you have a good relationship with the general manager and golf pro. They may be jealous of your time away and if you aren’t on good terms, they could hurt you with the board, members and your crew.
  • Start slowly. Serve for a year then assess the impact on yourself, your family, your staff and the golf course.
  • Remain very visible to your crew and members. And with your crew, don’t be so absent that they forget who’s boss.
  • Who’s covering your butt when you’re gone? You need a strong, quality No. 2 (this is true whether you volunteer or not) who has your total support and can run things when you’re away. And give him/her the proper credit.
  • If you are volunteering to advance your career or gain status in the industry, think again. These are the wrong reasons, and will almost certainly produce the wrong results.
  • Remember, you’re not only representing yourself, you’re the face of your club, too. If you come to a meeting wearing flip-flops, or use the meetings simply as an excuse to play golf and drink beer with your buddies, you’re wasting your time. Superintendents don’t get enough respect as it is, and you’re not doing yourself or the rest of us any favors.
  • If volunteering and working for an organization involves lots of time and exposure on the Internet and through social media, be careful. While it’s important to be socially and technically savvy, there is such a thing as being too visible. Many clubs won’t welcome the exposure.

Again, giving back is admirable. But know the perils and pitfalls – to yourself, your job, your family, your club and course – before you get involved. The job you have is tough enough; spread yourself too thin and you might not have that job much longer. GCI

Tim Moraghan, principal, ASPIRE Golf ( Follow Tim’s blog, Golf Course Confidential at or on Twitter @TimMoraghan