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Paul MacCormack: The Mindful Superintendent

The Story From Here… or There

Posted 11 March 2017 · 979 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 · 922 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 · 997 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

The Real Deal...

Posted 07 October 2016 · 3,454 views

The Ryder Cup was many things to many people, but for me it was the opportunity to see something up close that I have thought about a great deal. This blog has touched on many things and has hopefully created a balanced framework for many of us to look toward. But it wasn't until I got to spend a week at Hazeltine with Chris Tritabaugh and his crew, that I finally found what I have been searching for: a truly Mindful Superintendent.

Chris embodies all of the traits that one would aim for if one chooses to work mindfully in this industry. Those of us lucky enough to be behind the scenes working turf at the Ryder Cup were treated to an experience that we may not fully appreciate for a long time.

I finally found what I have been searching for: a truly Mindful Superintendent..."

Below you will find a few of the characteristics that we were truly blessed to see and experience firsthand:
Humility - if you didn't know who Chris was, you would never have known he was in charge. His simple dress code, calm demeanor, and unassuming nature were so refreshing. He was always quick to give the credit to his staff and kudos to anyone but himself.
Graciousness - Even before we walked the course for the first time, Chris took the time to introduce every member of his crew and every one of the 100 volunteers, personally. Not only that, he made a personal connection with each one of us. It was masterful.
Throughout the week Chris was always quick to return a compliment with a follow up thank you (see @ct_turf if you think that I'm lying). Every time one of us thanked Chris or any one of his crew for allowing us the opportunity to work alongside them, they quickly deferred and thanked us more. 
Vision & Intention - Chris's vision for this event extended far beyond the turf and the golf course. He and his team attended to every detail of the volunteer experience and made sure we all had the best possible time together. He mentioned time and time again that he had seen everything that was to happen years before in his mind's eye, and they simply set about to make it a reality.
Processes - Even through the crew exuded a humble facade, you knew they had worked hard to perfect their procedures for each task. But the best part was that they still deferred to the professional volunteers if necessary and never stopped trying to improve all week.
Leadership - Continuously though out the week Chris talked about the fact that he leans on his staff a great deal and expects them to be leaders in their own right. He is the antithesis of the micro manager; he is a true delegator. This mentality breeds leaders.

...he leans on his staff a great deal and expects them to be leaders in their own right."

You could see this confidence in the eyes of Hazeltine's assistants, interns, and staff. They knew that they had been given full rein to create the conditions necessary for this event to succeed, and they knocked it out of the park.
Staying Grounded - One of the best parts of the experience for all of us was having Chris's friends and family surrounding us all week. From our shuttle drivers, to the video crew capturing the volunteer experience (yes, they thought of that as well), to keeping the volunteer lounge rolling along, it was awesome to have that personal connection with those that matter most to Chris. Big shout out to his wife Lindsay, daughters Penelope & Olive (who made an amazing anniversary banner for their mom & dad), sister Emily, and brother Adam, and parents John and Laurie for making the volunteer lounge feel like home.
Moments of Zen - Now I am not sure if Chris specifically sets aside time for any kind of formal meditation (although that would not surprise me in the least), but I do know that he walks the grounds at Hazeltine constantly. One can only assume that his moments of silence and reflection come often during those strolls (plus he takes care of his physical health at the same time).
Grace under pressure - If you did not know that the Ryder Cup was going on at Hazeltine (it was kinda hard to miss), you would have thought it was just another day for Chris and his staff. The calming effect that had on everyone volunteering was amazing.
Fun, Fun, Fun - Chris said early during the orientation that our main goal during the week was to have fun. We all knew that there was a job to do, but we also knew that we were there to enjoy the moment. The team atmosphere was infectious and by week's end we had created bonds that will last forever. 
As I sit back and reflect on the week at Hazeltine, I am constantly surprised that I remember so much more than the turf, golf, and the crowds. Don't get me wrong, the turf was unbelievable, the golf epic, and the crowds well, they were crowds. But for me the most memorable moments happened far beyond the glare of the cameras and the roar of the boisterous fans. They are ones of friendship, connection, and being a part of something far greater than the Ryder Cup.

But for me the most memorable moments happened far beyond the glare of the cameras and the roar of the boisterous fans. They are ones of friendship, connection, and being a part of something far greater than the Ryder Cup..."

So once again, thank you Chris Tritabaugh. Thanks to your assistants and team leaders Ryan, Red, Steve, Keith, and Scott. Your mechanics, Ralph and Thomas, and all rest of your crew; Giovanni Pina Avalos, Joseph Brettingen, Tanner Burns, Omar Retamoza Clolico, Amado J Cortex, Matthew Darby, Thomas Day, Roger Denning, Michael Fremming, Jose A Garcia, Ignacio Miranda Garcia, James Gay, Lillia Vences Guillen, Herman Haag, Blair Hawkins, Robert Horoka, Michael Kantor, Gerald Klooster, Aaron Koller, Richard Kruger, Trevor McGuire, Christita Melander, Jesus Chicatto Mendez, Kevin Milbrant, Steve Miller, James Mirick, David Nestberg, Connor Payett, Doug Pernula, Thomas Radke, Martin Richardson, Thomas Roble, Javier Gonzalez Robles, Jack Roiger, Mitchell Ronning, Bradley Schuler, Nathan Shultenover, Glenn Shull, John Shelton, Paul Weatherly, Peter Braun, and Simon Winzar.  
Thanks also to all the volunteers and people that helped behind the scenes to make our week enjoyable. Special thanks to all of the volunteer superintendents and assistants from the Minnesota area and around the world for sharing not only the experience, but your knowledge and wisdom.

LIVE from the Ryder Cup: Turf Gel

Posted 30 September 2016 · 922 views

Beyond the spectacle, the perfect turf conditions and the insane merchandise tent, there is one thing that stands out more than anything else at this 41st edition of the Ryder Cup. It is community. It is the connection that only seems to come when greenkeepers, researchers, and industry representatives gather to work toward a common goal.


I got to spend some time with my fellow TurfNet contributor, Dr. Frank Rossi.


We have discussed the power of connection here on this blog before, (the ties that bind), but I have never experienced the deep sense of community and teamwork that has come from working together to produce the top notch conditions that exist this week at Hazeltine. They came from Sweden, the UK, Thailand, and even Prince Edward Island, Canada to help polish these playing surfaces into some of the best that have ever been produced.


That's me with Chris Tritabaugh © and my fellow PEI superintendent, Mark Perry, on the right.


As we gathered for the orientation, Hazeltine superintendent Chris Tritabaugh told us one thing. As he laid out the framework for what needed to be accomplished, he told us that since we were all professional superintendents he had no worries. He knew that we would handle the job. Whatever needed to happen, we would come together as a team and figure it out.


It is an incredibly powerful message for an accomplished group of professionals to hear. Borders faded, nationalism evaporated, and a feeling of Zen-like confidence has overtaken the crew. We know when we gather in the dark each morning to saddle up and head out onto the course, there is no issue that cannot be handled.


Fun is part of the volunteer experience.


No matter which team takes home the Ryder Cup, the experience and the memories that the Hazeltine turf crew and volunteers take away will be invaluable. Long after the roars of the crowds fade and the long flights home are done, we will all treasure the experience of community forever. 


Heading out.

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

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