Life introvert. Work extrovert.
Trained psychologists likely have a term for this behavior. A Google search suggests this personality melding yields an ambivert. Instead of wading too deeply into behavioral science, I’m going to take an authoritative approach. It’s my life, so if I want to declare myself an introvert and an extrovert, I’m not going to let a Ph.D. stop me.
Traveling alone to industry events forces you to engage with others. So, if you’re going to drive more than 1,000 miles to attend an event such as Green Start Academy, you might as well conduct a few conversations along the way. Golf Course Industry wouldn’t be an effective publication if we quietly hunkered inside our Northeast Ohio offices.
Driving to Raleigh, North Carolina, site of Green Start Academy, served multiple purpose, including a selfish one. Fall is the best time to drive through the Appalachians. After flying to Raleigh in August and September, I sought the serenity of seeing parts of Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina from highway level. Sticking to the highways also created an opportunity to visit and learn from a pair of inspiring leaders: The Greenbrier’s Kelly Shumate and The Olde Farm’s Josh Pope.
The assistant superintendents who attended Green Start Academy are striving to emulate the professional successes of Kelly and Josh, leaders at elite facilities and key figures in helping The Greenbrier rebuild its golf courses following the devastating West Virginia floods of 2016. Josh, coincidentally, is a Green Start Academy alum.
The four-hour drive from The Olde Farm to Raleigh helped me mentally prepare for my fourth Green Start Academy, an event co-sponsored by Bayer and John Deere. Like any good superintendent, an editor or writer must begin a task with a plan. Forty-four hours in Raleigh offered an opportunity to boost existing relationships, absorb lessons from panelists and conduct meaningful conversations with at least a half-dozen attendees. An introvert could easily handle the middle objective. But strengthening and cultivating relationships requires gregarious action.
Bayer’s Mike Hirvela urged attendees in his opening reception remarks to sit next to strangers on bus rides. Great advice. I purposely lurked in the back third of lines to score seats beside unfamiliar faces.
First, I met Mississauga (Ontario) Golf Club’s Paul Sullivan. Next, I met Montclair (New Jersey) Golf Club’s Michael Sharpe. Finally, I tried to hold a conversation with Jefferson City (Missouri) Country Club’s Adam Distler, although an outgoing attendee, with support from his peers, opted to blare folksy tunes such as “Take Me Home, Country Roads” and “Wagon Wheel,” making communicating a bit tricky. At that point in the day, a rising turfgrass manager probably wanted to hear John Denver or Darius Rucker more than some dude who works for a magazine.
I asked the trio about where they work and their careers. I listened and learned — conversation, not interrogation — knowing assistant superintendents in contrasting places can help me better understand the plight of the modern assistant. Once the bus stopped, I handed them my card and dropped my go-to closing line, “If you’re hearing or seeing any interesting stories your way, or ever want to contribute an article, my lines of communication are always open.” Perhaps one of them will contact me in a few years. Or perhaps they left the bus disappointed a much cooler peer didn’t pick the seat beside them.
Successful superintendents already know what assistants and the students profiled in our cover story “Turfgrass Tigers” (page 12) are learning: a career features circuitous routes to a resting destination. The trek becomes more interesting – and fulfilling – when you open yourself up to others.
And yes, country roads can take you home.