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Living Legends

Dick Rudolph: A lifetime of lessons

Posted 04 April 2017 · 2,098 views

Leaders spend their lives inspiring others to strive for greatness, often against overwhelming odds. 

As a superintendent for 40 years at multiple golf courses across California, Dick Rudolph, 71, knows the importance of encouraging and motivating others. It was a skill he learned as a noncommissioned officer in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War, where convincing others to do more than they thought was possible often could be the difference between life and death.
"I learned a lot about management in the military," Rudolph said. "People came from all walks of life, and you quickly learned who you could trust, especially in a combat environment."
Change came rapidly in the Army in the 1960s. After completing NCO training at Fort Benning, Georgia, Staff Sgt. Rudolph moved on to Fort Lewis, Washington where he trained his own men for battle.
Within 24 hours of being shipped out of Oakland, California, Rudolph and his men were on the ground in Vietnam for their first mission near the Gulf of Tonkin. Surprises and booby traps lay everywhere, and Rudolph still remembers trying to make sure his men were aware of them.
"It was a shock to my system to say the least," he said. "Sometimes, I was in charge of a full company. It was a job, and we had an assignment. My goal was to accomplish the mission and look after the people underneath me.
By the time Rudolph left the Army, some 30 men died under his command. Needless to say, the experience taught him a lot about people . . . and a lot about himself.
"The military helped me develop a leadership style to where I felt as though I could accomplish anything," he said. "It was never a time to say no. You always had to find a way to say yes."
"I think about that all the time, actually," Rudolph said. "We would plan in advance, and I would tell people 'look right before you go left.' Still, sometimes people didn't make it, and it was disappointing when things didn't go the way you planned.
"I was lucky. I made it back."
Since 1976, Rudolph has put that leadership experience to work as a superintendent, including stops at places like La Costa, the Four Seasons in San Diego and Aetna Springs Golf Course in Napa. A graduate of Cal State-Fresno, he has mentored dozens who have gone on to become head superintendents.
"He's one of those guys who just wants to help people," said Andy Magnasco, superintendent at Carmel Valley Ranch in Carmel, California. "He's touched so many people."



The military helped me develop a leadership style to where I felt as though I could accomplish anything. It was never a time to say no. You always had to find a way to say yes."


Rudolph has had to heed some of his own advice about being tough in the face of adversity last year when he was squeezed out by a management company last year at Aetna Springs. He now is working for superintendent Matt Wade at Birdwood Golf Course at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.
"My aspiration was to work as a superintendent until I was 75. I'm coming up on 72. The goal was 2020, but that didn't work out," Rudolph said. 
"It was slightly depressing after all these years not going to work as a superintendent. Not to have that position was disheartening."
Still, the course at UVA has been a positive change for Rudolph, who says Wade's philosophy of giving employees a task and the freedom - as well as the responsibility and accountability - to complete it is much like his own.
"He delegates and allows you to do your job the way you think is best. It's a nice transition for me," Rudolph said. 
"I'm still active and hop to be working in golf for many years to come."
Rudolph only started playing golf while in high school, but picked up the game quickly and became a pretty fair amateur player. Before transferring to Fresno, he was an engineering student at Cal Poly where he also played on the golf team. There he went face-to-face with some of the game's best, including a former Stanford standout by the name of Tom Watson.
As a true golfing superintendent, Rudolph is able to see the course from a player's perspective. 
Although he always expected the same attention to detail from his employees on the golf course that he demanded from his men during Vietnam, Rudolph also recognized that he had to take a different route to reach that goal on the golf course.
"I always demanded a lot and expected them to have an attention to detail," he said of life on the golf course. "I empowered them to do a job, but I never stood over them. I knew they didn't make enough to be whipped. Because of this, I felt as though they respected me, and I forged some good relationships with many of them."

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