There is always a way: One year later

Anthony Williams, CGCS, CGM, revisits the guidance he shared following the start of the pandemic and dissects how those lessons still apply to superintendents.

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The world as we knew it changed one year ago. COVID-19 landed and we were transported into a brave new world. A world full of unknowns, virtual meetings and real expectations. Golf Course Industry editor-in-chief Guy Cipriano and I had a phone conversation about the challenges our beloved industry was facing in March 2020 and from that conversation came the article There is Always a Way. We gave it to GCSAA chapters and it made its way around the industry to those who needed it. One year later we are making progress in this brave new world, but the question remains: Is there really always a way?

First, let’s revisit the key points of the article. The crux of things was some old rural wisdom supplied by my grandfather Ira G. Williams, who often said, “when times are tough, there is always a way. It may be difficult and it may seem unlikely or even impossible, but there is always a way.” This from a man who raised four kids through many hardships, including the Great Depression seems plausible. So, I applied this to our situation and shared it with everyone. I added a little wisdom of my own offering, including the need to control your emotions, the power of the will to succeed (the will comes before the skills) and that, ultimately, we all would need to blend tradition with innovation to find our way through. How did you do in 2020? Before you continue reading, take some time to reflect (good, bad and never imagined) and congratulate yourself on making it this far!

This is thing is a marathon

I never imagined we would still be pressed a year later. But I did think that we would be forever changed. The first sentence from the original article was, “there are seasons in our lives and careers that seem to define us.” Last year did that in many ways and, yes, we are making progress in this brave new world.

We all started making adjustments, beginning in small triage ways (pool noodles in the cups), then in practical season long ways (let’s adjust aerations and fertilizer to save money but accommodate more play). We know we signed up for a 40-yard dash and find ourselves in an all-terrain marathon – and it’s 24/7 at home and on the course. One year later I would expand controlling your emotions into managing your emotional health.

Superintendents are dealing with more stress than ever and even though we did more rounds last year many budgets stayed the same or went down. Beyond finances, the combination of worrying about the health of our staff (we are still in a global pandemic), members/golfers and family, political unrest, weather, and a myriad of other issues all take their toll. To succeed in this marathon superintendents will need to make time to take care of their personal health.

We are still in uncharted territory and the journey is a long one (the feelings of loss or lack are real), but success starts with being at your personal best mentally, physically and spiritually, and making good decisions that align with the long-term realities of your situation. Personally, I ran my first 5K in January 2020 at the Golf Industry Show. Since then, I have completed three half marathons and lost 40 pounds. It helped me on many levels. The difference in the duration and difficulty of completing anything this epic (pandemics are pretty epic) will cause some to lose heart, but preparation and perseverance will keep you going. Superintendents are experts at both. We made it here one day at a time, so keep moving forward. This too shall pass, and we will make it through this marathon and have the accomplishments to show for it!

Learning the big lessons and embracing change    

Last year I wrote about the need to blend tradition with innovation to make the changes necessary to be successful in this brave new world. Identifying the core needs and resources required to keep your operation in the black financially and growing has been the game changer. The superintendents that quickly adapted their people and programs, found the golf gold mine in 2020 and profited from it. At one point in 2020 our operation was completely closed with 30 percent of our normal resources. By the end of the season, we were fully open with 10,000 more rounds year over year (these were with single-rider carts to add even more traffic).

I have heard many stories of success from battle-tested superintendents. We all learned what essential maintenance looked like. We saw what a pandemic and fear can do to your staff, members and the world as we knew it. In 2020, golf as a game was reborn and superintendents reinvented themselves as flexible, fierce managers of the complexities that impact the game.

Throughout all sectors of golf, we saw people rally around the game and its many benefits. This was made possible by the synergy created when there is a shared vision. There was a way through this and it was unlikely, but history will show the resiliency of superintendents to make golf safe, profitable and sustainable sparked a fire that started a golf revival. How did you change and evolve under the pressure of 2020? How will you manage your career moving forward having made it through 2020?

The will to succeed  

Last year was tough. The losses were real. There were also personal stories of triumph and perseverance in the face of great obstacles. I set out to do more than survive in 2020. I wanted to thrive and I wanted others to thrive. That was the whole purpose behind the original article and the videos and webinars that I did in 2020. I connected deeper to my network and I challenged myself to give a better effort to the things and people that mattered to me. I did not allow myself the easy out of making any number of excuses for a lesser effort or result. It was not easy, but each day gave me blessings that became the fuel for success. I thought even if I have just one more day, let’s make the most of it.

I was not alone. Across the country superintendents embraced the personal will to succeed and then found new skills to make things happen. In the words of Marcus Aurelius, “You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” We have found strength; we have found faith and yes, we have found a way. We must carry on.

This year will also test us and so will the years to come. I am writing this in my office in Dallas, Texas, with 5 inches of snow on the ground and a bitter cold low temperature of zero degrees this morning. My team and I are still believing that we give our operation the best chance for success. The snow will melt. But we will not. How strong is your will to succeed in year two of the pandemic?

These are the words that I chose to close the original article in April of 2020, “we have never seen a challenge as great as the 2020 pandemic. I hope that you can use these words of encouragement to improve your personal and professional situation. Please follow the latest recommendations to be safe. Follow the posted rules for shelter-in-place or other directives from designated authorities and, above all, be kind to everyone you encounter (including yourself). My thoughts and prayers are with the golf industry and may we all find our way through this difficult time.” One year later I find even greater resolve in wishing you all the best as we navigate our way through this brave new world. Together there is always a way.   

Anthony L. Williams, CGCS, CGM, is the director of golf course maintenance and landscaping at the Four Seasons Resort Club Dallas at Las Colinas in Irving, Texas, and a frequent Golf Course Industry contributor.

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