No one likes to be told how to do their job, particularly by people who’ve 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.
Before offering 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 pandemic has you and your reduced staff trying everything you can to allow for 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 not, shame on them.
But there you are, the meeting is on the calendar. How do you handle criticism and attempt to solve issues? Should you retain experts to assist in explaining concerns or solutions? Consider this 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 — 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 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 beforehand — including 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.
- Provide visuals.
- 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. 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 come back with an answer soon.
- Plan for any possible question, about the course, about you and your staff. Imagine the worst possible scenario.
- 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, the course, the members.
- 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. Know the facts, know your numbers, and know your job.