Call Me Old Fashioned

Columns - america’s greenkeeper

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I received an invitation last month to the annual Past President’s Dinner at Carolina Golf Club and the invitation read jacket required. I’ve been fortunate to attend this event each year since becoming golf course superintendent and it’s always a great evening. The current board and members of senior level staff join the prior presidents of the club for an evening of lighthearted stories and good cheer just before Christmas.

This year’s invitation reminded me of something that happened at one industry event recently and sparked the thought for this column. Let me explain.

The renowned Syngenta Business Institute happened last month at the fabulous Graylyn Estate in Winston-Salem, N.C. In the past decade, Syngenta and the Wake Forest University School of Business have gathered more than 250 superintendents and exposed them to business topics such as leadership, human resources, financial management and negotiations. Think of it as a crash course MBA for superintendents. I was fortunate to be accepted in 2015 and still say it’s the single greatest professional education event I’ve attended. But the education you receive at SBI is more than just the topics each lecture covers.

Another great thing about SBI is the interaction on social media. Syngenta invites representatives of several industry publications to cover the event for their readers and followers. And once you’ve attended SBI, following the various social media feeds each year is a great way to reconnect with your fellow alumni, remember and reinforce the lessons you learned, and stay connected with the proceedings. I noticed two things immediately when the first picture of the 2018 class surfaced online: I recognized two people in attendance and there was one person wearing a cap.

Professional attire is requested at SBI, thus the individual wearing a fleece vest and flat bill cap stuck out to me in the photo. I don’t know about you, but caps worn indoors is certainly a breach of custom in the South. I don’t know this superintendent, and from speaking with several folks who were there, it is my understanding he was one of the most engaged attendees in the class. That’s great. But I still couldn’t get over his cap.

It reminded me of a conversation that took place around the dinner table our last night at SBI. The dinner is held each year in a cozy room inside the Manor House with formal place settings and the food does not disappoint. Our conversation centered on formal place settings where water glass and bread dish are yours vs. the person seated next to you.

Scott Griffith from Georgia told the group about his time in the U.S. Marine Corps and attending the annual Marine Corps Ball. Those of us familiar began to share our own experiences of how we came to learn the customs and etiquette with those less familiar. John Jeffreys from Pinehurst No. 2 told everyone the owners of Pinehurst Resort expose all staff to formal dinner etiquette training to ensure they are well versed and comfortable in these social settings because they are representatives of the brand when out in public.

I know the world is constantly changing and as each new generation comes along it appears like formal customs and societal norms fade into obscurity. But many superintendents work for GMs, boards, owners and/or members who come from the professional world. Whether it be in the board room, a formal dinner or some other professional occasion, it’s always good to know how to “fit in” as they say.

Events such as SBI not only provide you with the opportunity to learn the business things they did not teach us in turf school, but it also provides an opportunity to learn customs and etiquette that will help you in professional and social situations. Think of it like professional finishing school.

So next time you’re asked to wear a jacket to an educational session or seminar and scoffing at the archaic notion, perhaps you’ll remember sometimes there is more to learn than just the lecture topic. And if you’re still not certain which water glass or bread dish is yours, look me up at GIS and I’ll quickly share with you the foolproof country boy way to always get it right.

Matthew Wharton, CGCS, MG, is the superintendent at Carolina Golf Club in Charlotte, N.C., and President of the Carolinas GCSA. Follow him on Twitter @CGCGreenkeeper.