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Paul MacCormack: The Mindful Superintendent

Things I'm pretty sure to be so...

Posted 17 June 2017 · 3,734 views

In everyone's life they have a few core things they know in their heart of hearts to be so. I hesitate to use the word truth, because it can so often get twisted and deformed. One person's version of "truth" can be vastly different from someone else's, so for the purpose of this piece, we will leave that word alone.


In our industry there are also things that appear to be so. These things are not dogma, nor are they written in stone anywhere. They are simply things that I have noticed over the course of my career that just are no more, no less. This is by no means an exhaustive list, so feel free to add anything that you might feel adds to the conversation. Here they are in no particular order:

  • Work is better when it's fun. This goes for not only you, but for your staff as well.
  • Following that last one, it can be helpful to remember that we prepare surfaces for golfers to play a game on. It's not a life or death scenario. We maintain golf courses so people can also have fun... period.
  • Walk as much as possible. Whether it's moving from job to job, or you push or carry your bag when you golf, walking forces us to slow down and see things from a completely different vantage point... always helpful.
  • When you are out on course and you have one of those moments that stop you in your tracks (you know the ones I mean, flower or tree blossoming, or your entire crew working in unison) stop and enjoy it. Savor it. It helps one truly appreciate how lucky we are.
  • It can be quite useful to make pausing frequently a part of your day. It helps you to slow down and focus. A few deep breaths can bring you back to the present moment and go a long way to resetting your busy mind.
  • Yelling at people rarely (only exception being if they are in grave danger) helps a situation. Resist the urge to tear someone a new one, or dress someone down. It might appear to fix things in the short term, but it rarely does any lasting good.
  • Practicing your listening skills is a wise use of your time. Talk less, make eye contact, and truly be present when you are having a conversation with someone... no matter who it is. People in this world like to be listened to and feel appreciated.

Practicing your listening skills is a wise use of your time. Talk less, make eye contact, and truly be present when you are having a conversation with someone... no matter who it is. 

  • Unhelpful habits (isolation, negative self talk, procrastination) can be changed. You must be honest with yourself and move towards change with an open and compassionate viewpoint. You can't shame our guilt your way to real and lasting change.
  • Never stop learning or asking questions. Continuously approach your job and your life with an open, curious mind. As soon as you are certain about something, it's usually a good sign that it's time to move on to something new.
  • Thinking big is often very helpful, but not at the expense of the small day-to-day details. Remember to check in often and keep things in perspective.
  • Embrace your creative side. Whether it's on course or sitting home on your couch learning to play guitar, it's always helpful to embrace creativity.
  • You are not your golf course. The speed of the greens, the density of your fairway turf, and the look of your bunker faces has nothing to do with you as a person. Never use what happens or doesn't happen on the golf course as a tool for measuring your self worth.

Never use what happens or doesn't happen on the golf course as a tool for measuring your self worth.

  • Your personal bank of energy is not endless, so choose how you use it with care. Giving all of yourself to your job from time to time is fine, but doing it 24 hours a day, 7 days a week is not. Remember that you have a wife, kids, family, friends, and most importantly your inner self to allocate energy to as well.
  • Take care of yourself. Sleep lots, walk lots, eat well and give yourself a break from time to time.
  • Most things that are worth doing well take intention, commitment, and some heavy lifting. Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just keep swimming.
  • Be kind to those around you. Everyone is doing the best they can at any given moment. Doesn't mean you can't help out and lend some insightful direction, but don't overdo it.
  • Love yourself, love your family and friends, and love your job. Usually best to keep them in that order.


Take care and thanks so much for reading.


Performance Anxiety...

Posted 01 May 2017 · 1,115 views

When you write a blog with a certain theme you are constantly on the lookout for inspiration. No matter where you are or what you are doing, a thought or idea can sneak up and whisper to you. If you are mindful enough to create some space that day, you tune in and pay attention.


Such was this past Saturday as I was driving home from dropping off my youngest daughter Clara at dance class. The radio was tuned into a CBC show called "My Playlist." It's essentially an hour long show where famous musicians play their favourite tunes and talk about their art. This particular episode was hosted by a Canadian bass-baritone opera singer named Daniel Okulitch. Admittedly I had never heard of Mr. Okulitch, but that didn't matter. It wasn't so much his singing or his playlist that caught my attention; it was one of his stories.


He was reflecting about his first time singing on Broadway and the hardship that goes along with performing eight shows a week. Up until that point in his career he had issues with perfection and was stuck on the simple yet destructive idea that if every show wasn't perfect, it was no good at all.


"As much as we strive for perfection and greatness in our performances, it can be crippling if it's our only focus. The act of performance is what the audience wants. They want someone who performs with a sense of abandon and joy. If you do ten performances, one might be brilliant, one might really not be that great, and the other eight should fall within a realm of acceptability that you and your teacher might know the difference, but they will be just fine for 99% of the audience. As a professional, it's when you can adopt that mindset that you are free to let go, express, and be free on stage instead of being so concerned with perfection."


I always like to explore the connections between performing artists and what we seek in our lives as greenkeepers. We learn the basics, train under mentors, and practice until we can practice no more. Then, each day of the season, we (along with our crews) perform. It's a long, exhausting schedule that can leave us spent on closing day.


Then, each day of the season, we (along with our crews) perform. It's a long, exhausting schedule that can leave us spent on closing day...


Being constantly consumed with perfection can make the season even longer. It can place unrealistic demands on our psyche and create suffering where there needn't be. As Mr. Okulitch said, it can be crippling if it's our only focus.


If our intention to create the best playing surfaces possible is in tune with the professional journey of being a superintendent, then we can be free of the shackles of perfection. Being constantly tied to the end result leaves us blind to what is happening right in front of us. If we only see the finish line, we tend to miss all the creativity, art, and passion that is the voyage.


So make goals, practice your craft, and strive to be the best greenkeeper you can be. But don't forget to take it all in as you proceed down the path. Be good to yourself and those around you, and remember that 99% of the time our audience is happy to be playing golf rather than being at work.

The Story From Here… or There

Posted 11 March 2017 · 1,155 views

We all love a good story. From our favorite bedtime yarn to our best movie, stories capture us in a unique way and share what it means to be human. Stories and those who tell them bind us together as a culture and allow us to access a deep sense of shared community.


But what happens when our stories become, well, not our stories? What happens when stories are used against us for nefarious reasons? In this day and age this appears to be an increasing problem. The wild west that is the internet is chock full of false stories passed off as truth. Every day billions of dollars are spent by marketing firms trying to tell us a compelling story that will in turn convince us to buy something we dont need.  And then there is politics


Creative storytelling becomes even more problematic when our leaders and politicians engage in deliberate falsehood. Everyone assumes that politicians are going to fudge a wee bit, (heck I think its even in the job description) but lately it has gone beyond the little fib to grandiose, boldface lying. The stories we are hearing every day from every corner of the globe are designed to pull the wool over our collective eyes and keep us permanently in the dark.


Too often the bigger issue is that we allow this foolishness to go unchecked. As a society we have been flogged with so much misinformation and creative storytelling that our apathy cells are multiplying at an alarming rate. Its high time that we start to take back the narrative and start telling our own stories again.


Our greenkeeping community has many great stories to tell, but we are notoriously bad at self promotion...


Let's start with what we know best: ourselves. Our greenkeeping community has many great stories to tell, but we are notoriously bad at self promotion. We need to highlight not just our agronomic successes, but also our under the radar stories that all too often seem to make their way to the back of the closet.  Here are a few of these stories

  • Brian Youell (Uplands Golf Club), Dean Piller (Cordova Bay), and Gregor Kowalski have raised over $1,000,000 for multiple sclerosis in Victoria, BC. (local golf superintendents earn national award giving back)

  • Chris Tritabaugh and Ryan Moy (along with the crew) show us all that you can host a major event like the Ryder Cup and still run a calm, smooth operation. Their approach has shown that there is another way forward through better management.

  • Ken Nice and his team at Bandon Dunes won the 2016 Environmental Leaders in Golf Award. (Nice earns award for environmental stewardship at bandon dunes)

  • Paul Carter and his crew continue their outstanding environmental approach to golf course maintenance at the Bear Trace at Harrison Bay. Paul has won too many awards to list here, so I will just share a cool article about his eagles (golf-eagle-cam-tennessee-earth-day)

So let's make a pledge moving forward. Let's start doing a better job telling our own stories. Tell people about all the good stuff we do, whether its on or off the course. This industry is chock full of amazing people who have stories worth telling and it's high time we let people know.


Editor: Paul is too humble to blow his own horn, but his recent public relations effort (along with his brother, Andrew, who produced the video, and the Atlantic Golf Superintendents Association) should not go unmentioned:


Welcome to 2017...

Posted 26 January 2017 · 1,200 views

As you might know from previous posts round about this time of year (un learning, merry christmas to me), I am a big fan of the Christmas season. But, as you also may have guessed, I am not a big fan of the New Year's resolution thing. I am all for challenging the status quo and improving one's life, but feel that it should be an ongoing, lifelong pursuit, not just a once a year sound bite.


So to start this year off, we are going to touch on an issue that has been prominent in my consciousness lately. It is the concept of groundlessness. You know those times in your life when the rug is completely pulled out from underneath you, and you are faltering in the middle of a slow motion fall. These times can be catastrophic, tragic, and life altering. They shake our sense of being to the core and leave us feeling completely without direction, but they can also remind us that nothing in our lives is static and unchanging. Change is the only constant.


I have personally been going through one such "groundless" experience for the past few months. Fox Meadow, the course that I am (thankfully still) the GM/Superintendent at, has changed ownership. The process of the sale and changeover has been a rollercoaster ride of emotions and unknowns, but things are progressing positively now. Many of you have probably gone through similar experiences. The golf industry is shifty at the best of times, and we all live with a bit of uncertainty even when things are going well.


The golf industry is shifty at the best of times, and we all live with a bit of uncertainty even when things are going well...


Like any unsettling event, the core staff and I have gone through many personal ups and downs. We have felt upset, worried, unsure of our futures, and most of all scared. These emotions can eat you alive if you are not careful, sweeping you away into the abyss of fearful scenarios. There have been many worried chats about how things might turn out, but meeting it together as a team has made a huge difference for all of us involved.


One thing which has helped a lot during this tumultuous time is the simple gift of the pause. My staff and I have been using this tool to constantly remind ourselves that things will work out if we can stay focused on the bigger picture.  It has been important to allow ourselves to be human. Being fearful and upset are completely normal emotional states during a time like this. But by working on pausing in the midst of the upheaval, we afford ourselves the space to make conscious decisions about what needs to be done.


These emotions can eat you alive if you are not careful, sweeping you away into the abyss of fearful scenarios...


This is not to say we have all been Zen monks about the whole situation, allowing the world to unfold around us with total equanimity. Practicing pausing has allowed us to take a step back and focus on what has made us successful as a management team in the past. This has helped us avoid getting trapped in "what if" scenarios to which there are no answers.


Our futures are never certain. Change is the only true constant and our ability to truthfully accept and deal with our circumstances will determine a great deal about the quality of our lives. The space afforded by taking pause gives us the breathing room to take stock, view our situations with honesty, and then move forward together in a positive direction.

The Weight

Posted 05 December 2016 · 1,400 views

Last week marked the 40th Anniversary of "The Last Waltz", the legendary final concert by the equally legendary musical ensemble, The Band.  While reflecting on the band and the film, I couldn't help but circle back to their most famous tune, The Weight... a song that speaks to the journey that is life, and the extra baggage we may carry along the way.



Our ability to endure pressing weight in our lives is a fascinating part of the human experience. Whether it's a physical, emotional, or even a mental load we bear, the effects on us are usually similar. We shape our lives around this baggage and learn to adapt to its presence. We will often go far beyond what would be deemed reasonable to accommodate the burden, rather than being the least bit curious about the underlying issues.


Fixing the problem may not be quite as easy as it sounds. Especially with burdens of a physical nature (i.e. cancer), one can't just move past it. What we are speaking of here are those afflictions that we may not even be aware of... things like anger issues, deep rifts within a family, addiction problems, or even simple physical conditioning.


We can go to tremendous lengths to convince both ourselves and others that there is simply nothing we can do to change. We tell ourselves that the problem is simply too large to overcome, and the changes that would be necessary in our lives to tackle the problem are just too big to contemplate. This mindset becomes the truth we believe and it in turn prevents us from moving in any sort of positive direction.


This mindset becomes the truth we believe and it in turn prevents us from moving in any sort of positive direction...


Often times we dont move towards necessary change until our hand is forced. We may know deep down that a different direction may be the answer, but the story we repeatedly tell ourselves keeps us bound by the shackles of impossibility.  Sometimes all it takes is a shift in perspective. A small crack in the veneer that allows a new idea to penetrate, and opens us to a completely new viewpoint.


Its always fascinating when you move past an infirmity. Whether its something simple like tennis elbow or an issue has a deeper impact on your life, the freedom that comes from moving forward is liberating. Once the weight has been lifted, we often look back and marvel at the impact the problem had on our lives. We literally cant seem to remember our lives without the burden, so when we finally take control and create anew, life takes on a whole new meaning. 


If you have had an issue that you know deep down needs fixing, take a few moments to step back and get even a little bit curious. You don't have to change anything, just merely be inquisitive. It might be the first step towards "taking a load off" and your journey through this life might get a whole lot sweeter.


"You must learn to master a new way to think before you can master a new way to be."

-- Marianne Williamson

Paul MacCormack's Mindful Superintendent blog is presented by Redexim North America and Bayer Golf.

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