My official title here at Drury University is Assistant Director of Facilities – Grounds. I much prefer to call myself the Head Groundskeeper. I believe this job title says something about my philosophy of grounds management. Including 'Groundskeeper' in my title reminds me, and more importantly my crew, that I am to some extent like my team. We are all focused on “keeping the grounds”. Unfortunately, sometimes a rift can develop between us. The crew and I can have differing opinions on how well we are functioning in our role. This rift usually stems from a communication breakdown resulting in different concepts of where we are, and where we are headed.
Getting to the bottom of it.
At the end of last year, our rift was why we were not being effective (we all agreed we could be better, the question was how). To find out why we had this gap in understanding, we undertook a meeting to have some discussion. I like to hear from my team because it gives them a voice and a stake in how we operate. Rather than ask why we weren’t effective, though, I chose to ask why we would accept mediocre performance? The answers were very interesting.
Lack of recognition – hard work is taken for granted by organization
Serious days result in more of the same – maximum exertion just gets us more maximum exertion
No finish line – perpetually behind
No consistency – emergencies prevent a plan
Appreciation not shown with meaningful currency – put it in the paycheck, take us to lunch, get good gloves, etc.
Little cognizance of how hard the work is – This isn’t a chain gang, but we do work hard
We tolerate it – self-explanatory
Complacency – we are in a rut
Putting thoughts on a board makes sure everyone is seeing the same thing.
We’d Gotten Soft
Every crew I’ve been in has had these issues at some point. But the best crews always find a way to overcome, or at least to manage and get by. My final summary of our situation was we were soft. I mean we lacked the toughness to put our heads down and perform. We didn’t lack knowledge, tools, or even the capability to work hard. We simply lacked the conviction to do what we knew needed to be done. We were at the point where mole hills became mountains, and small obstacles weren’t being overcome. Of course, no crew wants to be called soft. If I was going to help us overcome, I needed to figure a way to get them to see this issue from a different perspective rather than just “being soft”.
Finding a way out
Communication within the team has many benefits. One positive is misunderstandings can be presented for open discussion. Instead of asking how our team could overcome “being soft”, I asked how we could improve our effectiveness. The team came up with several answers. What I think is remarkable about nearly every team I have worked with is we all know how to do a good job. By teasing out the thoughts of the crew, they answered the question of improvement on their own, with their own language. Acting as facilitator, all I had to do was summarize concisely what they said. Helping the team craft answers creates an attitude of shared commitment to problem solving.
Seeing something in writing adds significance to what is shared.
Our Key Response
Overall, our crew performs pretty well on all these expectations. What we lacked most, at least in my opinion, was discipline. It is not that we had no discipline; it is just that we were demonstrating it inconsistently. Discipline allows a team to set a goal and pursue it to completion. Discipline also allows a team to manage problems that are potentially disruptive and overcome them. Discipline is the framework that underpins all other aspects of crew performance. At the end of last year, I told the crew we would set expectations and meet them. This commitment to discipline, first on my part, then on all our parts was to be the difference maker.
A Very Good Start
Crew dynamics fluctuate, but hopefully evolve. What seems to work for a period of time, sometimes does not work perpetually. This is to be expected. What must be sustained though is the discipline to set standards and goals, and then meet them. If the crew is committed to meeting high standards, those standards having been well explained and unanimously adopted, discipline becomes the catalyst for success. Apathy and inconsistency are the opposite of discipline. A lack of discipline becomes a consistent drag on all efforts to improve. So far this year our team has responded to the call to discipline and even they agree we are better for it.
A disciplined crew is appreciated by the entire organization. You may even get cupcakes as a thank you.
In what will surely be our last outburst of serious ranting, Rockbottum Country Club offers a Skeletal Golf Theory segment on a tried and true method for adapting to economic changes.
It's like Judge Smails said, "I've sentenced boys younger than you to the gas chamber. Didn't want to, but I felt I owed it to them."
I didn't want to do this film, but I felt I owed it to you.
You are going to see all kinds of "Tips and Tricks" for doing the Golf Industry Show. Most of them all the same. Because, hey... its a trade show. And in one form or another, all trade shows follow a certain pattern. You wanna read about having a plan, getting there early, drinking lots of water, fine. It's out there. I have a different take on things. And herein, you are gonna get some info that you probably won't see anywhere else, in the more PC world of doing the GIS.
1. Leave Your Clothes and Stuff at Home. Over packing is a sin. Don't be a sinner. You don't need 12 shirts, 12 pairs of pants, 12 sets of boxer and 6 pairs of shoes. No. Resist the temptation to take your whole wardrobe. 2 decent outfits. 2 casual outfits. 3 sets of undies. 2 pairs of shoes and a minimal toilet kit. I can travel for a month with this setup. So you can do a week. What does this mean? Yup, you'll have to do some laundry on the road. It will cost a few bucks, but even the lower end hotels can get this done for you. Bag check fees are steep. Laundry service is cheap. Rule: Take half the stuff you think you need and you will be just fine. Yes, this means that you may be seen in the same windshirt or blue blazer twice. Big deal.
2. Shoes. It's a trade show. Bring your best most comfortable shoes. Fashion isn't important when you feet hurt so bad that you can't walk on day two. That new pair of running shoes that are supposed to be bomb for walking? Give them a good shakedown at the local mall before you put them in your bag. Ladies, heels? Nah. Forget it. Unless you are one of the 1 percent who can do that kind of thing. We all have lots of fun with shoes, its cool seeing what everyone wears. My Yeezys and my Chucks will be in my bag. My FootJoys? No joy. My Cole Hahn wingtips? Nope. Be a little outrageous. It's fun.
3. The Weather. San Diego can be all kinds of things. So even though I told you not to bring too much stuff, understand that the Southern California coast can be rainy this time of year and it can be really nice. Prepare yourself for both. Even though no one wants to see your white legs, some shorts are a good idea for evenings. And so is a jacket.
4. Tijuana. Don't. Just don't. Unless you really know what you are doing across the border, a trip into Mexico isn't worth it. If you absolutely have to, do some research and get up to speed on the latest scams. AND DO NOT take the rental car there. Likely you aren't insured and the insurance you can buy at the border isn't designed for cars that you don't actually own.
5. Just Say No. In the weeks leading up to the event, you are going to be inundated with people asking you to meet them, do things, come to things, etc. Guess what? You can't do it all. You just can't. I laugh hard at the people who have themselves scheduled down to the minute. All it takes is two "old friends" to bump into you and that whole thing is out the window. Think hard about the things and people that you want to spend time with. And then, honor those commitments. Saying a polite No is so much better than just not showing.There are 22 bazillion turfheads at this thing. They all want to see you. You can't do it all.
6. Uber Up, Pup. San Diego has not great taxi cabs and really good Uber and Lyft Service. Get both apps. Use them. It's by far the best way to get around. Think twice about a rental car. Parking is a hassle and can be expensive. Never use Uber before? There's a YouYube video for that somewhere.
7. Pay Your Own Way. Scenario... Five Turfheads sit down for a sandwich and a few beers. Tell the server right away that everyone needs their own checks. Don't wait until it's time to go to figure out the bill. Everyone is on some kind of expense deal and you don't want to be the one who is the nice person at the moment and then has to explain to the GM why you picked up the check for the gang from the clubs richer than yours. At the same time, don't be a douche and stick others with the bill. A class free move. Please understand your commercial friends are not the ATM. They probably have constraints on what they can spend, so finding the salesperson to pick up the bill may sound like a foxy move, but it is just plain skeezy. And the worst? Crashing a party you don't belong at. Yeah, I get it. You don't care for organic fertilizers, until you hear that the organic fertilizer people are buying free chicken wings and sushi and you show up to see whats up. Classless.
8. Get Smart. There are so many opportunities to see great speakers at this event. Don't miss them. Seriously. One of the things I hate the most is missing great talks. Show up early to get a seat and realize that its really hard to get as much knowledge in one place at one time. If you don't do yourself the honor of hearing some great talks, then what the hell are you doing there in the first place.
9. Too Much of A Good Time is a Bad Thing. Look, I get it. There are plenty of opportunities to be social at this event. Plenty. But if you think you are going to drink all the craft beer in San Diego, you are being stupid. Don't. Enjoy. Be happy. Get up the next morning early and see number 6 above. Once upon a time it was ok to show everyone that you were at the Golf Show to have the biggest hang over. Those days are over. Long ago.
10. Don't Be Shy. See someone you recognize or want to meet? See a nametag with a place on it that you either know about or want to know about? Say something! Introduce yourself. I think one of the best things in the whole wide world is meeting a Turfhead. Making some small talk about grass. Learning something about them. Want to hang with the same old people that you see at home all the time? That's cool for a moment. But why not meet some new friends? Make some impressions. Put some new email addresses in the smartphone. Do it.
11. Beer and Pretzels. If you miss out on the TurfNet gathering, then there is no excuse for you. Be there. Meet me. Meet Kevin Ross... and Hector and Kiger and Reitman and Paul and all of us. And find out that we just wanna try to learn about you. Get a selfie. Have a moment to talk a story or two. I'm spending about a grand of my own cash just to be there, because it's so important to me to embrace the TurfNet Culture and see my friends. (if you don't know where and when, check the TurfNet Forum or your email...it's an invite only thing.)
12. The Most Essential Piece of Gear? A battery pack and a charger cord. Seriously. Get on Amazon right now and get yourself a 10,000 mAh aux battery pack. It will be priceless. And a while you are at it, one or two new charger cords. Pack them in your man or woman purse. You'll thank me for this. You will.
That's it. That's the list. I will see you in San Diego. Well, Actually, I probably won't. But then again, who knows!!!
With each turn of a new year, it can be a helpful exercise to both reflect on the year that was and ponder the time ahead. I’ve never been a huge fan of the resolution thing and hopefully most of us have figured out that approach doesn’t really work anyway. Most resolutions fail principally because they start from a place of deficiency; the idea that something is inherently wrong with us and we just need to buckle down and fix it.
What if instead we simply reflected on our strengths and sought to set our positive intention on what is truly important to us? What might happen if we honestly reflected on the key themes of the previous year and examined whether or not they lined up with where we seek to set our intention? This exercise takes us out of the good/bad version of ourselves and replaces it with one rooted in acceptance. The funny thing is that it’s only when we accept ourselves fully, that we can start truly making positive changes in our life.
For me personally this exercise touched on three key themes this New Year. As I reflected on the year that was, and pondered my intentions for the upcoming year, these themes kept arising: presence, simplicity, and vulnerability.
Living a mindful life simply begins and ends with presence and means that we set our intention to be here for the unfiltered, raw immediacy of what is happening in our lives, and in the world around us. We can try to fool ourselves and come up with all sorts of strategies to get around it, but at the end of the day now doesn’t go anywhere… it’s right there waiting for us to return.
Over this past year my personal avoidance strategies reared their ugly heads multiple times. Fatigue and exhaustion will wear anyone down over time, and staying present and connected can feel akin to climbing a mountain in a blizzard. But when the winds die down and the snows abate, we can take a deep breath and reconnect. We simply start anew. This is the gift that returning with non-judgmental awareness to the present moment affords us.
Setting our intention towards simplicity can also be most helpful. When things get out of hand at any given time, it can usually be traced back to loading our plate too full. Some years just seem to throw more of life’s difficult truths our way and this past year had that in spades for my family and I. All of a sudden my already quite full plate began to feel overloaded. This is where making the choice towards simplicity steps in.
When life deals us a full house, it can be really wise to pause, step back, and evaluate our loads. We can all too easily find ourselves stuck in the habit of busyness and by adding those inevitable difficult life truths (death of a friend or family member, illness, or financial hardship) we realize that “just one more thing” can be the tipping point. When our plates are piled sky high, unfortunately the only realistic outcome is a plate shattering crash.
By identifying what is essential in our lives, we can work to eliminate all of the extraneous stuff getting in the way. Removing things and doing less can feel like a cop out in this age of constant busyness, but in the end the space we create will allow for a better quality of life.
During this past year I had to step back on more than one occasion and honestly look at my personal plate. Long story short, I had gotten off-message in a fairly substantial way and it forced me into the uncomfortable position of taking inventory and choosing to step away from a number of personal commitments. And believe me when I say it was really difficult for me to do this. I am not well versed in the art of saying “no”. I am also not particularly good at accepting the brutally obvious facts when they are right before my eyes. My loved ones helped me to see the detrimental effects my choices were having on both myself and those around me. In time, the need to let some things go became glaringly obvious to me. I gently gave myself the space to put my stubbornness aside, reflect on the choices I was making and decide to return to some positive lifestyle choices. I am happy to say that things are much better for my willingness to do so.
Creating a new relationship with vulnerability takes a great deal of courage. Laying ourselves bare and sharing our baggage with those who matter can seem quite daunting, especially in the male-centric turf industry. Vulnerability can sound more like a pest we believe needs to be defeated than a friend we should welcome to the table. But when we open to vulnerability, a funny thing happens… we suddenly realize that we are all the same. We are not individual green keepers struggling against the elements, alone in the wilderness; we are human beings. Our collective humanity binds us together and ties us all to the same moment. When we can step out of our self-protective cocoons and realize this shared nature of our lives, it all becomes more bearable, even relatable. When we open to the ever changing world around us and choose to connect on a deeper level we can better face the inevitable ups and downs of life, together.
So as this moment turns into the next, let's take some time to reflect on all that is important in our lives. Make a point to set aside some quality time to quietly think about creating some new intentions. May we honestly examine our values and what we consider most important in our lives as a whole and approach this exercise with openness, compassion and non-judging. And may we remember to always apply a liberal dose of kindness; both to ourselves and others.
There has been a ton of talk lately about Mental Health. That's good. While I am not being on the overused phrase "Creating Awareness", I also know that most people will never get or understand the topic. They should count their blessings.
I have never been shy about writing and speaking about myself. A certain lack of filter, perhaps. Sometimes, a cry for help. Sadly, a need for attention, in hard moments. Often, a simple therapeutic technique to talk about the hardest things. But mostly I just don't get not being real. I lost a blog sponsor because I did too much "Wilber about Wilber" and I am still gobsmacked about why that was an issue at all. That one may never resolve in my mind. I think a lot of Turfheads are realizing that without their Mental Health, their Agronomy means nothing at all.
Fashion has become to speak about job stress and mental health. A lot of opinions about this area started to show up. One such opinion (the source doesn't matter) seemed really off to me, so I reached out to that person. As it turns out, they themselves have never experienced any Depression or Anxiety, but they were more than willing to talk about it to "create content". Oh, OK. So we had a very strong conversation...and my bottom line was that maybe they should stick to talking about something they actually had a clue about. This person had none. The "don't worry, be happy" method doesn't work, but they believed that it just might.
I fought my depression battle for years in silent screaming. I was a true performer. I could rise to the occasion of a work day or an event and seem just fine. But the Black Dog attacked when I was alone, drawing blood, but leaving no visible marks. And that was my life from my early 20's until just before I turned 40. It worked. I managed it. And then I had my first episode of chronic pain. In my case, it was a knee injury caused by playing Paintball with some people lots younger than me. I came home from that day with golf ball sized welts all over me, and a badly messed up knee. However, just as I had managed the pain between my ears in silence, I also tried that with my busted wheel. A botched surgery and I endured even more. And on. And on. That was the start of me reaching what is called in clinical settings my distress management profile maximum. Simply, I ran out of tools and my body chemistry had taken over.
I have really good hindsight. We all do. And so it is easy to see now where I could have asked for help. Could have stopped trying to grind it out. Could have stopped faking it to make it. Another term I despise. What I also know now is that depression will never really leave me. It's around. It hangs out and waits until my triggers get pulled. And the Black Dog bites. Hard. But now, I let it happen. I realize what I did or did not do and I manage the situation. I have a tool set all stocked. My particular set of tools is unique. It works for me. It won't work for anyone else. Maybe parts of it might. But my own tank mix is my own. So it does no good for me to tell you the steps. To tell you when I use what for what. It's doubtful it would even make sense.
Through the discovery of my depression first aid kit, I intersected with a lot of different ideas and people. But for sure, without a doubt, the ones that helped the most and offered the best ideas were the ones who were there themselves. That was a key. You can't know the attack of the grizzly bear, until you have been bitten by one yourself and until you have learned to pet the bear and teach it tricks. Until you have stood in the river and fished with it, you can't know how to peacefully coexist with it. Some of my "helpers" were well studied, and that gave them much insight. But they lacked the scars themselves. And I learned to tell. Kind of like when we realize that someone giving us grass growing advice has only really ever mowed their own lawn at their home. They don't know the first thing about the preparation of a high quality sport playing surface.
So...why write all this. Simple. I'm telling you that if any of the talk about depression, anxiety, mental health, suicide or anything along those lines has resonated with you then you owe it to yourself to find qualified counsel. To seek help. To be honest with yourself and your loved ones about your silent screams. And to realize that the beginning of your awareness is also the beginning of a journey. You will stumble. You will fall. You will create affirmations. People who you think should understand you won't understand you. You will have amazing days where you could never imagine anything was ever wrong. And you will have darkness so dark that you won't think the sun will rise ever again.
How do I know? I've been there. I am there. And I am glad to be vulnerable and share so that you can realize that if you or someone you know is faced with this, there are answers.
(If you are feeling like suicide is the only way out, please Call 1-800-273-8255, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline. Help is there 24/7. How do I know? I've been there!)
Do you remember the real reason you got into the golf course business?
I frequently ask that question and the answers can range from positive outbursts of Pavlovian Pollyanna-isms to covert confessions of discomfiture. “I don’t know”, is usually followed by nervous laughter. The recently graduated will go into interrogation mode, searching for the “correct” answer, as if their career is at stake. A few admit it was to play more golf, while others claim it was the appeal of the science. I’m not sure about that one. They could have gone anywhere with that science alchemy, but yet . . . they chose golf. Maybe they envisioned themselves finding a cure for the Southern Cutworm.
But why would normal people choose a life of golf?
Could it have been a primeval response to the wide open expanse of golf’s playing field? Was it to avoid a life of airless cubicle servitude? Or because all the girls in your high school went crazy for golfers?
Maybe it was because golf was so different from team sports. Golf is a solo sport, like cross country running, but more strategic. Golf is the opposite of football; golf’s rage and violence is usually limited to muttered oaths and the occasional hammer throw of a 7-iron. Sometimes we get a raging TV presser outburst from that British fellow with the tight plaid yoga golf pants and the hairstyle once popular with Alabama cheerleaders in the 60s, but he's probably just copying live rasslin' promos.
Compared to most sports, golf is polite and calm and sophisticated. You often discover golf by accident; it doesn’t come looking for you, in the form of a bullet-headed coach prowling the hallways. I was initially drawn to golf because that’s where my Dad could be found, when he wasn’t off doing Army stuff. Later, I was forcibly recruited into golf, walk-mowing greens and manning the pro shop—all before puberty. I don’t think Dad—who grew up chopping cotton—gave a hoot about child labor laws.
Dad left the Army to pursue golf. Not the superintendent side--the tour pro side. Golf was his calling. As life progressed, golf provided the support that sustained our family. When something sustains your family, you have a powerful reason to get up in the morning and go do it. Dad followed the path from pro golfer to golf pro to pro/supt and finally rose above all that to CGCS. Even without the college, he was very good, especially because of his expertise with bermuda greens. As a skilled player/superintendent, Dad developed a special intimacy with the course that no amount of time in a college classroom could provide.
In those days, golf was more of a rugged contest and less of a beauty pageant. Dad played a lot of golf, with other pros, fellow superintendents, board members and average golfers. This helped him to understand the most critical aspect of the job at that time: The way the course played was more important than how it looked. (Form follows function.)
Oh, sure, looks were important, but playability was the BIG factor. Looks could trigger complaints, but poor playability would get you fired--real quick. If you played with the Green Chair and a particular green putted goofy—costing somebody a skin—you knew about it right away. It wasn’t related third-hand from some whiny gossipy member who wasn’t there . . . it was experienced firsthand. That issue was the first thing on the agenda the next morning, even before the phone calls began.
When I got older, after surviving the junior golf phase, I slowly became aware that not all superintendents were “serious” players. This was a foreign concept to me. I grew up thinking the game itself shaped the individual superintendent’s philosophy and methods. I theorized that those who didn’t play “serious” golf were more like technical caretakers than golf course superintendents.
I was shocked by how many superintendents didn’t play the game . . . and then I fell into that trap myself. I had all the excuses: I stopped playing because after all the time spent trying to resurrect a Lazarus golf course, staying late to play was more like unpaid overtime. I was sensitive to members who resented seeing me on the course with a club in my hand, rather than shoveling sand where I belonged. I used the family excuse, too. (Although that didn’t stop me from spending every waking minute away from the course out hammering my bicycle down country roads.)
Eventually, I realized not playing was a bad thing. Really bad, especially since I had descended from the old line of pro/supts. Dad and Uncle Whip were both great examples of that early form of head greenkeeper/pro/GM.
A SHORT GOLF LESSON FROM THE WILSON BROTHERS
First, if you did play--back before the job became so demanding--give it another try. Golfers are part of a tribe, a cult, and if that cult has bestowed upon you the responsibility of taking care of their sacred tribal lands, it’s a good idea to be part of the cult, too. No matter how polite they are, if they suspect you are merely a hired fixer, well, you’re not really one of . . . them. They might even suspect you don’t care. Or worse, that you don’t understand why they are so traumatized by a putt that changed direction just at the moment they stood a chance to break 80.
During my most productive years, I had a ritual that involved walking nine holes with the golf pro every Tuesday. We went out roughly two hours before quitting time—I carried a radio—and we played for an iced tea. Sometimes we talked business, sometimes we just played golf. It created a strong teamwork mindset and eventually, board members asked to join in. That gave me a chance to explain why we did what we did, to recruit them to “our” side. Also it allowed me to crush my enemies, drive them before me and hear the lamentations of their women.
(Sorry, got off track there, that belonged in my New Year’s Resolution column.)
During his many years as a superintendent, my brother Mike made sure the membership knew he was part of the cult. He regularly outplayed the golf pro and on occasion, even competed for the club championship. (I wouldn’t recommend that last one, unless you’re like Mike.)
Mike understood another important aspect of the superintendent who played the game. The average golfer has great respect for the club’s best players. In fact, during the beer-fueled post round discussions in the bar, the club champion often has more credibility than the golf pro, the USGA and Dwight Eisenhower—especially when it comes to turf, golf course architecture and whether or not the supt is any good. Once, while Mike was laying sod around a green—repairing one of those cow paths caused by ignorant architects who insist on placing a bunker between the green and the closest cart path—a very influential member was experiencing one of those humiliating moments when his ball refused to leave the bunker.
Of course it was Mike’s fault. The sand was inconsistent, the wrong color, and hadn’t been raked toward the hole, making a sand save impossible. Mike listened to the golfer yell and moan about the sand and then calmly took the man’s wedge, dropped a ball in the bunker and hit it to within two feet. He handed the wedge back and returned to dropping sod.
Complaints about Mike’s course conditions dropped to minimal levels for years.
If you have a strong background as a player—college golf, high school golf team—but haven’t played in a while, get back out on the range. Hit from the back of the range early in the morning. During your morning inspection, carry a strip of artificial turf, a 7-iron, and hit a few, just to feel the spirit of the game. If you don’t have the player’s background, go find a pro you trust and get a few lessons. Get some of the modern game improvement clubs. (They’re like steroids . . . if everybody else is using them, you should, too.)
Ask your pro for a player’s discount and get him to fit you to new clubs. If he refuses, start parking the backhoe really close to his Porsche.
Play a few holes several times a week. Get a feel for the pure joy of walking alone on the back nine. If that won’t work in your particular situation, play the local public where nobody knows you. Get a set of used clubs. Study the golf teachers on The Youtube.
Find your way back home. Try to reconnect. Ask yourself why you are part of the game of golf.
If all you want to do is be a golf turf scientist, well, fine—but you’re missing the real magic of golf. And that’s a shame, because a lot of people are depending on you to lead the way.
Time for the last and final "Rockbottum Prophecies for the Next Decade of Golf". This is required listening for all those with a stake in the future of golf. Also...
ANTIGOLF protesters show up to riot and protest at Rockbottum CC...
The gang figures out what's been digging up #13 green and organizes a posse of vigilantes to hunt it down,
Momma handles a customer complaint in a new way and
Booferd resists Third Wave Feminism by telling Momma that dishwashing is woman's work.
Finally, Ludell installs a new hi-tech customer service facility in the clubhouse.
Presented by Vinylguard Golf.
Our favorite method for suppressing "The Noise" is Forest Therapy. You can practice Forest Therapy with a simple, short hike, or go on an epic adventure lasting several days.
At Rockbottum Country Club, we self-medicate with Forest Therapy when we've had too much holiday feasting or too much family togetherness or too much screen time.
We just grab a pellet rifle or a slingshot and go into the forest for some big game squirrel hunting. It's similar to raccoon hunting; if you come home empty-handed, nobody cares, and you still get the benefits of Forest Therapy.
Most grounds managers (including golf course superintendents) understand the important role that trees play in a landscape. Trees supply beautification, shade, pollution mitigation, etc. and on a golf course can add to the challenge of play. Show me a landscape devoid of trees and I will show you a landscape that is not even close to fulfilling its potential. The culture and maintenance of trees is a critical skill for a grounds crew and the amount of money spent on arboriculture emphasizes this importance. However, the life cycle of a tree continues long after it dies, and it can continue to play a significant role during decline, and even when dead in the landscape.
Habitat trees are a reasonable part of a sustainable grounds management plan.
How We View Death in the Landscape
The modern landscape is devoid of dying or dead plants. As soon as any plant begins to decline, or is out and out dead, it is immediately removed from the landscape and replaced ASAP. Nothing dead can be tolerated in our gardens. This exclusion of dead tissue is actually counterproductive to maintaining a healthy ecosystem. By not allowing the life/death cycle to follow its course to fulfillment, we lop off a segment of this cycle even as the benefits of this process are starting to be released.
Decline and Death is Only the Beginning
All living organisms follow an arc as they go through their lives. Decline (senescence, if you will) is a stage that is marked by slower growth, isolated or widespread tissue death, and increased susceptibility to pests and disease. In trees, this decline corresponds with a marked increase of the tree to provide habitat. Nesting increases in newly appearing cavities. Insects begin to feed on wood and leaves that are no longer able to fend them-off (production of defensive compounds is slowed in stressed plants). In turn, birds feed on the insects that are hastening decline further. The truth is, there is far more wildlife and ecosystem benefit living in the cycle of dead trees than living ones.
The importance of dead in a living landscape
Our landscapes are comprised of a multitude of organisms and cycles. Removing, or diminishing the diversity of organisms can damage the ecosystem and disrupt the continuation of cycles supporting our landscapes. The landscape carbon cycle requires dead plant material to return nutrients to the soil for turf and plants to use again. The organisms (micro and macro) that enhance the breakdown of organic material into carbon (and other essential nutrients) also require dead organic matter for survival. If we diminish the quantity of one, we diminish the quantity of the other. For this reason, our insistence on removing anything dead could be detrimental. Pests frequently invade trees that are stressed and declining. This attraction to these trees may draw pests away from other healthier trees, almost acting as trap plants. Regardless, dead plants are essential for any ecosystem.
Wildlife trees support and enhance the ecology of a landscape.
Incorporating Habitat Trees on Campus
Our campus has about 20% crown cover based on iTree Canopy assessment. This means we have many trees to grow and manage. Our tree demographics reflect a tree age span range of 1-100+ years. This is a good thing. But it means that every year trees die. Big dead trees are obvious in the landscape. In Victorian Europe, dead trees were considered beautiful. Dead trees were frequently left in the landscape to accentuate, draw attention, and provide contrast. But I digress. Our grounds crew usually removes these trees promptly, but occasionally the circumstances around the tree allow us to suggest the creation of a habitat tree. However, creating habitat trees is not appropriate in all cases, but can be a vital part of a sustainable grounds management program.
When and How Habitat Trees Make Sense
Habitat tree candidates (dead/dying), especially large trees, can be left untouched (if in wooded setting), or in our case, cut back to form posts or reduced trees. Since our entire campus is exposed to foot or vehicle traffic in some extent, any dead trees must first be mitigated for stability and safety. We do not want dead limbs dropping constantly. As a Certified Arborist, and in consultation with our tree Contractor, we determine if the location, species, stability, existing landscape context, etc. is right for a habitat tree. Next, we will cut the tree back to stable and durable structure that should remain intact for 5-10 years. Because the prime directive of dead trees is decomposition, habitat trees are regularly monitored to assess their safety and to screen for the time when complete removal is justified.
After a thorough assessment, this dead black walnut tree will be trimmed to form a wildlife tree.
Dead/Dying Trees Are Alive
Dead and dying trees ARE actually full of life. Large dead/dying trees especially, provide shelter, food, and even beauty in the landscape. Habitat trees can be used to highlight the science of landscape management, embody ecologic cycles, and demonstrate a sustainable maintenance approach. Managing habitat trees is not about simply leaving a dead tree to save money or time. It is about guiding the landscape by letting nature run its full course, because it pays benefits to our landscapes and organizations.
Wildlife trees can take on many different shapes and sizes.
More information on wildlife snags.
Warning! We’re about to go all Mickey McCord Safety Meeting on you, so pay attention and learn about one of the most dangerous things on your golf course. No, it’s not a chainsaw, the dimpled projectile, nasty, slippery restrooms, hovering mowers or crocodiles.
It’s THE DANGLER.
The Dangler has caused several of those injuries that still reside in my gray matter hard drive, no matter how often I delete them. (That’s saying a lot, because I have witnessed quite a few injuries.)
During my unsuccessful training period as a Special Forces Medic, I saw all kinds of trauma. Before the Army realized I was incapable of medical competence, they ran me through a variety of training, ranging from combat medic to 90 days in an Emergency Room. (There was also that period referred to as “Goat Lab”, but I will not speak of that.) My first night in the ER, the radio popped and crackled, warning us that five Navy Seals were coming in on a Huey, apparently blown up in a demo accident. I handled that poorly, rousting everyone out of bed, merely because I had no idea what to do.
After that, I saw parachute accidents, burns, a couple of gunshot wounds and a battered husband. One night, the ER was inundated with 82nd Airborne types who had been injured while attempting to occupy a local honky-tonk. The indigenous personnel, armed with tire irons, had vigorously resisted and the result was several paratroopers with impressive lacerations. The doctor, nurses and the real medics were busy sewing up tire iron wounds, but were falling behind. The doctor yelled, “Wilson, suture that leg wound!”
It was a hideous gash from just below the knee, extending several inches alongside the shin and terminating in the lower calf region. As I think back on that incident, I shouldn’t have said, “Yes, sir, but I’ve never sewed anybody up before.”
The trooper in question, a rather stout fellow, screamed and tried to escape—the technical military term is “un-ass the area”—but was gleefully restrained by several Military Police intent upon helping me accomplish my mission. I comforted the patient by telling him that I had successfully sewn up several oranges and then I demonstrated my nimble dexterity by fumbling the fish hook shaped needle used to close wounds. By the time I got through, the wound was worse than when I started, but the patient had a very impressive Frankenstein scar that he could make up all sorts of war stories about. On the positive side, the MPs had enjoyed a wonderful evening of wrestling inebriated paratroopers and I had learned the medical field did not need me.
Years later, while coaching high school football, I saw a compound femur fracture. During my bicycle racing phase, I witnessed several broken clavicles. These featured bones sticking out of skin, accompanied by lots of blood and hysterical shrieking. (The paramedics said shrieking unnerved the victim, so I quit that.)
On the golf course, I saw all kinds of chaos: Chainsaw accidents, partial amputations caused by hovering mowers, a hand trapped under an engine when a hoist failed . . . and an old fellow pinned in a bunker by an aerifier from the Jurassic period. (You remember, those exposed crankshaft models?) Since we didn't have cell phone cams in those days, instead of taking his picture, I hastily got the monster off of him.
I’ve seen golf ball impacts produce knots the size of apples, watched lightning explode a tree beside a golfer, who mentally destabilized and provided the afternoon's entertainment by running in circles and howling about Judgement Day. Once a week, I watched Buddy spill enough blood on the shop floor to shoot a chainsaw maniac horror movie. (Tara, Buddy’s bride, warned me not to give him access to sharp objects, but I thought she was kidding.)
But it was THE DANGLER that stands out in my tiny mind. It was '93, when a course marshal--who had ignored my warnings--drove past me dangling his left foot from his golf car. Suddenly, the old fellow was tossed from the cart onto the hard, cold asphalt of the parking lot.
His foot was almost completely ripped off, barely holding on by a single thread of soft tissue; blood pumped out like a broken 3” main. Golfers immediately circled around like vultures, trying to help by yelling things like, “His foot is gone, his foot is gone!”
I radioed for help, put on a tourniquet and treated the old guy for shock. The only thing I could remember from my medic training was to lie about how bad the injury was. “You’re gonna be fine, don’t worry.”
Next, I had to disperse the onlookers, because my patient became distressed when he heard a golfer puking. Fortunately he didn't see the golf pro faint.
The lesson here is, golf cars and utility vehicles are dangerous--and it’s not just The Dangler. Just watch The Youtube and stare in awe as hundreds of imbeciles jump bunkers like Bo Duke, run over each other with golf cars and spin 360s down slick, grassy, wet hills.
The Net says there are 15,000 golf car accidents per year, possibly more, with 10% of them being rollovers. I suspect most of those are not golf related, but The Youtube is heavily weighted toward golf idiots. Most of these numbskulls are unaware of the Law of Skateboard Injury, which states “Just because it heals up and you feel better, doesn’t mean it won’t come back when you’re 40 and hurt like hell forever.”
Golf course veterans all know that golf courses are inherently dangerous, with wild, irregular surfaces lying in ambush just off that path. We know a tractor will roll on a steep hill—isn’t that what those rollbars are for? We expect spray rigs to get hinky with the slightest weight shift . . . we’ve seen machines flip into those bunkers put too close to the green by architects with no superintendent experience. We’ve watched a lake grab a slick-tired triplex, we've ridden a rough unit as it bucks and spins downhill into the trees and calmly observed golfers launch a golf car off a bridge at full speed.
We know how to handle this: Crews need constant reminders to drive in a cautious manner, especially the newer crew members. They all need to be told about The Dangler, even if they think it's a myth.
As for golfers? They won’t listen. They can’t read signs. Golfers think the golf course is a magical theme park where Driving Under the Influence and gravity does not exist. At best, all we can do is repeatedly tell them, “Keep your hands and feet inside the ride at all times.”
A funny thing happened this week. After my most recent bout with intermittent recurring back pain (on and off for the better part of the past 25 years) I finally decided to go for a physiotherapy appointment. I’m really not sure why I hadn’t gone before; ignorance, procrastination, stubbornness... pick anything really. My wife picked stubbornness. My chronic back struggles had become a part of how I defined myself and I guess I just accepted that my back pain was inevitable.
Back trouble for me can be traced back to my days as a curler. I competed at a very high level and despite what you might think about the athletic ability involved in the game, it took a toll. Back issues just became part of the landscape for me and I dealt with it many different ways over the years. It took my youngest daughter Clara’s rehabilitation from a serious knee injury and my oldest daughter Maria’s OCD therapy success to open my eyes to looking at my pain in a new way and taking the necessary steps to address it.
Half way through my first appointment, the physiotherapist paused and asked me a question. “Did you realize how crooked you are?” I looked in the mirror and was stunned. It was something my wife Jill had repeatedly pointed out to me but up until this week I hadn’t really taken an honest look for myself and acknowledged what she was saying.
Apparently through the years when the pain flared my default was to walk like a pretzel to avoid the pain. This I soon learned was exacerbating the problem (as so often happens when we try to skirt around a situation instead of addressing it.) So, step one in my therapy journey was to place my awareness on being crooked and slowly but intentionally correct it.
That simple realization struck me as the funny part. How many times in our lives do we tell ourselves that things are the way they are and not much can ever be done to change it? How often do we pause and take an honest look in the mirror to see the true nature of the problem? Have we ever asked others for help? And most importantly have we had the courage and compassion to look at the issue through a different lens and take those courageous steps towards change?
When we begin to honestly evaluate the stories we live with every day, we soon realize they don’t hold as much water as we once thought. Many of our truths and opinions simply change over time and ideas that were once considered sacred turn out to be rather twisted. So too with unhelpful stories.
The trick with such radical transformation is to approach it with a measure of compassion and a good dose of courage. It can be very difficult to admit that you have not been totally honest with yourself and that has caused you or someone you love to suffer. Learning to accept life’s difficult truths is an important step on the journey of personal growth. Being kind to yourself in the process is critical. Remember that most of us are doing our best with the information we have available to us at any given time. Yet that said, exploring a more open and flexible approach to our own difficulties can lead us to new and more positive solutions to life’s inevitable problems.
So, if there is a particular problem or issue which has been plaguing you for a while, step back and look at it from a completely new angle. Ask for advice from people you trust and more importantly, listen. Let someone else shine a light on the problem and listen to opposing viewpoints. And most importantly, listen to yourself. When we quiet our minds and tune into ourselves, we might be surprised how close at hand a solution may be.
December 1989. Louisville, Colorado (between Boulder and Denver)
Like most supers in Colorado, late November and early December had me playing the guessing game of applying snow mold protection and blowing out the irrigation system. Go too late and there can be absolute hell to pay. Go too early and well, there can be absolute hell to pay. In my situation, it was worse, as I had been growing in a course and we were pushing just as hard to get things up and growing as is possible. So the idea of hardening off into happy grass dormant wonderland was not happening.
I'll back up a bit. I had taken this impossible job where I was handling the finish of construction, grassing and grow in. My staff was 6 people. Yup, that's how we did it back then. A bizarre form of minimalism based on not having any money because the project spent all the money on entrance signs and clubhouse designs. We reverse change-ordered the general contractor and took the job over. Insanity. And I didn't know better. I was 24 years old.
So it's December. And we are way behind. Way way behind. And I think to myself, what else could go wrong? Yeah... a bad thought. But you won't guess what's coming.
We had finished the snow mold sprays. We had blown out most of the irrigation system in a minor snowstorm, with just one small section to go that I wanted to leave on to try to get some last chance water on the last holes we had seeded. It had been cold, but clear and I needed the water.
We had managed to just about make it to some kind of seasonal stopping point. I was re-wiring an irrigation clock and a huge windstorm began. One of those kind of crazy Colorado winds that starts slowly and suddenly builds to "name your dog Toto" kind of intensity. Me and my red slippers, aka Red Wing boots, were hunkered down behind the clock, dirt in my eyes. Cold as the wicked witch's nipples and I thought I heard something. I wasn't about to break from my place of protection. So maybe it was just a flying cow or something.
I'd say the microburst lasted about 5 minutes. It seemed like an hour. It went from windy from a general direction to just outright swirling around me. I looked at some trees that were looking like those silly dancing men that car dealerships put in front of their places to entice you to look again. When it stopped a little I looked up. Happy that a tree didn't fall on me and something in my field of view didn't seem right. At all.
In the distance, an object. A huge one. Right in the middle of a tee box area. My brain took a moment to take in the scene and all at once, my entire system said, "airplane". I was looking at the remains of an airplane. Tail section in the air. Wings crumpled. I froze. Because back in those days there were no cell phones in my pocket to call anyone or start shooting video with and for what I am sure was just a brief moment, I totally froze. And then it occurred to me that I ought to see if anyone was alive. And so I started running. Not really knowing what I would do when I got there.
(This is the part where, in any decent blog post, a picture of a plane crash on the golf course should be. I don't have any pics of any of this. The roll of slides that I took was mishandled somehow and the film was exposed. And I don't feel like putting a pic of another crash is in good taste.)
Being first on the scene isn't always a good thing. It was pretty clear to me that I just ran up on two dead guys. One body was completely decapitated. One had a steering yoke through his chest. My CPR training on a dummy with fake boobs and nice complexion didn't include the chapter on dudes with missing heads and stuff in their chest where you were supposed to be doing "compressions". Clearly it was time to back away. The smell of fuel punctuated this idea.
The resulting circus was crazy. Others had seen the plane go down and had managed to call 911. And so from a back road to the property, the first responders rolled in. The first fire guy that I dealt with was pretty much an asshole telling me to get the hell out of there as he cut a barbed wire fence and motioned for this huge truck to drive right up on a newly seeded area. The truck promptly sunk to its wheel wells. Earning me even more yells from Joe Volunteer Fire Dude. As if I meant for the truck to submarine. (it took two huge tow trucks to free the fire beast, but that's another story)
Another truck took out a sprinkler head and of course it was pressurized. Old Faithful drenched everyone around as the wind played the shot perfect and sent water all over the scene. I ran for a valve key and got that one handled. But not before the whole world was yelling at me.
My afternoon was spent trying to manage traffic from police, fire, news and NTSB people. The National Transportation Safety Board guys ended up being really cool. But I think in the beginning, they were as pissed off as I was at the muddy carnage that the scene had become. A day later when they interviewed me for the their reports, they laughed at me when I described the scene I saw upon first reaching the plane. "This wasn't even a bad one", the investigator said. And I replied something to the effect of only one missing head must be a blessing, or some such.
Years later, when I got my pilot's license I often thought about the headless and chestless dudes that, according to the NTSB, made a bad decision to fly that day in conditions that their plane couldn't handle. And I vowed to become a student of the weather and the situation I would be flying in. No matter what. What this ultimately did was show me that unless my backyard oil well came in, I couldn't afford to buy the aircraft that would be awesome enough to make me more efficient than Southwest airlines. But I still love everything about aviation.
So when people talk about December Turfhead things, those discussions usually lead to snow mold and irrigation. I tend to remember plane crashes, which I'm glad everyone else doesn't have in their brains.
In this episode of Rockbottum Radio, the usual cast of idiots, oafs and varlets keep interrupting me as I try to pass along my proven techniques to skirt The Matrix and suppress the stress-inducing Noise in our lives. Most are simple, easy to do, and... cheap!
The TurfNet Maestro has proclaimed that this is me pontificating at my finest. Maybe he found that the shoe fit a little bit.
Last week, somebody demised Ludell on the practice tee and police suspicion immediately fell upon the various Alphabets. (They had the strongest motive to see Ludell silenced.)
A huge mob of Ludell's betrothed (all three of them) formed outside the courthouse and demanded justice. Minutes before the Sheriff boarded the Greyhound bus for Kansas, a shocking video surfaced, claiming to show what really happened.
We will show you the footage, but keep in mind, a skillful editor can twist reality . . .
For a large part of the country, we are entering the so-called “off-season” in golf. This means you might actually get some time away from the course. Add to that, now through early January is when many people slow down, work less, and spend more time with family and friends for the holidays. Which is great, but it’s also a prime opportunity to get your career materials up to date.
Once early January comes, you’ll be focusing on plans for the new season, attending seminars and conferences, and Spring will be here before you know it. While it’s easy to just relax and let these next couple months pass by, now is the time to get motivated and get your materials up to date.
I’ve said it before many times to those that know or work with me, you have no idea when your dream opportunity is going to present itself. You have to be ready, today.
To that end, here is a quick checklist to help with getting materials up to date:
Is your resume ready for today's trends?
Obviously, your resume should be up to date with the latest information about your current position. But it should also reflect the latest trends in both what clubs are looking for, and overall technology trends. This means a couple things.
You should really consider how your resume is formatted so that it displays well on mobile devices. The vast majority of hiring people now view your resume the first time from their phones. Proper formatting for phones can be a big “jump off the page” moment for your resume to them. I recently wrote about a solution I have developed for this issue here >
Think about the hundreds of resumes a club may receive for a superintendent position. A wall of bullet points is not the best way to stand out and garner a closer look. Consider more unique layout options, ditch responsibilities bullets for “skills and achievements” sections, and keep the resume shorter than you think it should be... trust me.
I have written about resume techniques quite a bit on this blog. Check earlier posts for details on some of those points.
Do you have a career website that helps?
Let’s face it, the golf course maintenance industry is graded heavily through subjectivity. Every golfer views conditions differently based on their skills, expectations, and price and pride of membership. How you show them your skills is key to their interest in you.
A website for your career allows you to showcase your very best conditions in an environment you can control. It really is a must-have to increase your chances for attaining interviews on a consistent basis. Plus it can be updated easily as your career advances and is even useful as a marketing tool to your current members if tweaked properly.
But be careful, a poorly built website with DIY design can work against you, making your career look less that professional or how you run an operation. Money spent here is a sound investment in your career that will pay off year after year.
Is your portfolio interview-ready?
If you are granted an interview, a huge majority of clubs will then ask you to send them your portfolio, either digitally via a website or PDF, or in print. If you have a website, obviously that is great. A supplemental PDF version of your website serving as a portfolio document is a nice touch though. For one, you can send both your URL and a PDF file they can distribute as the want. Then, you can delivery hard-copies of your portfolio at the interview. It’s a formula that works.
That portfolio file should again be professional looking, and match the look of your resume and website. It shouldn’t be a theme from PowerPoint or Word. It should take the best of the website, and expand your thoughts on agronomics, course presentation, communications, leadership, etc. Things like that, you wouldn’t want displayed for the entire internet to see (read: rip off), so they are great for an offline document like a portfolio.
Is your content hitting the target?
If you have a website and portfolio, you need to ensure that whatever is in them actually gets your career highlighted in the proper way to the target market. Guess what – the target market is golfers, not turf guys. They don’t care to see 30 pictures of the drainage installation process. All they see is dirt. Golfers want to see the results of a project, the conditions/design/setup they will play after the project is complete.
The best content you can use are before and after images. They show exactly the changes in the course and conditions, and how you brought about that transformation. When they are laid out in a professional manner, they are critical to golfers understanding your ability to bring about change, which is honestly a driving force behind a lot of open positions.
After images are fairly easy to obtain, before images are a different story. Very few actually have them. So here’s a good tip: go out today and take pictures of the course. Now you’ll have “before” pictures in case any projects or conditions improvements come along in the near future.
Also be sure that your content is telling the right “side” of the story. Golfers don’t want to hear about drill and fill, graden, tine sizes, etc. You are better served mentioning that you use the latest in agronomic practices to deliver a course that is “insert what you want golfers to think” here. They again want to know the results of the practices and not the process, especially at the initial application. They may ask specifics later on.
There are many subtleties to content strategy; take time to consistently review it for the best angle.
Do you have a network outside of turf?
I don’t want to spend a ton of time on this, as I have written about it twice on this blog - the original idea is here >
Many opportunities for new positions are found not through job boards or superintendent networking. They are found through connections outside your peers. You should have a strong network with golf pros, GMs, chefs, and most importantly, golfers at other clubs. The above link provides some strategies for this goal. Make time now to plan a path to achieve this for next year.
Answering yes to all of these means you are ready for that next great opportunity, today. If not, work to get things updated and ask for help to move things along in a professional manner. People like me are available to become your partner for career success.
Reward your career this holiday season... and it may very well benefit your entire family.
Everyone should read Paul MacCormack's "Afterglow". It's a new direction in dealing with life on turf.
It also proves TurfNet is still the leader in adaptive metaphysical approaches--and just plain leading from the front.
Great minds like Peter McCormick, Dave Wilber and the big names who gathered with Paul MacCormack at the Mindful Leadership and Wellness Retreat have been pushing us in this direction for years.
But way out front, so far ahead that they got a little behind--except for Momma--is Rockbottum CC . . . especially Buddy. Not convinced? Here's an old film that proves we pioneered metaphysical healing in the high pressure career of turf.
We had a feeling that we were on to something. An idea for an event that was so far out of the industry box, there was no packaging left. We sincerely hoped that it would have a lasting impact on the attendees; that the small space created would open a door to new possibilities and a fresh way of approaching what it means to be a Superintendent. We had no idea the impact our first retreat would have.
The beta version of the Mindful Superintendent Leadership and Wellness Retreat has come and gone, but the legacy left behind is just the beginning. Twelve of us gathered in St. Peters, Prince Edward Island to take a mindful pause, introduce some new ideas, and share. The openness and vulnerability shown by the participants was staggering. The turf conversations were inevitable (and amazing) but it was the chats that went deeper, way down into the root zone, which left the most indelible footprint.
Our weekend was loosely defined, but had definite purpose. The absence of a written itinerary left some feeling a bit unstable… but that was intentional. There was a master plan and a ton of organization involved, but there was also enough space built in to allow things to meander. This intentional space created the room for something special to emerge. Intentional spaciousness works like that — it creates the breathing room we require in order to be spontaneous and more receptive to openness and possibility.
The first day was devoted to introducing the practice of mindfulness. We talked about the value solitude, presence, awareness, and the power of pausing on purpose. After a morning of learning and discussions, we took to nature to practice. A two-and-a-half-hour silent hike through the fields, forest, dunes and coastline of nearby Greenwich National Park turned out to be the perfect way to demonstrate the immense power of taking time for silent reflection and solitude.
A 2-1/2 hour silent hike through Greenwich National Park demonstrated the power of solitude.
Some of the most impactful and important parts of the weekend were the natural, organic discussions which occurred. There was purposeful space created to allow them to occur, but the nature of the discussions was left open ended. Our evenings were dedicated to the conversational flow of ideas and the group responded beautifully. Topics like team culture, stress management, anxiety, divorce, and what it means to be a woman in turf yielded wonderful insights. A concept everyone connected with was that as Golf Course Superintendents and more importantly, human beings, we all suffer. At any given time, our level of suffering changes, but we are all in it together. This realization really brought the group together and produced many illuminating conversations.
We also had a good deal of fun. The whole vibe was meant to be relaxing and restful, but there was definitely an element of active fun built in. We played golf (horribly for a bunch of folks who spend most of their time on golf courses) at the nearby Links at Crowbush Cove and had a blast. Our wrap-up meal was a lobster dinner at my parent’s cottage and I’m not sure we could have laughed any more. They say that laughter is good for the soul, and trust me when I say our souls were just fine after that meal.
The last day of the event was dedicated to discussing leadership and culture. Chris Tritabaugh delivered a wonderful seminar that wove together his direct experience with his extensive knowledge. All involved were completely in the moment and the resulting discussions and observations were amazing.
There isn’t enough room left on this page to express the amount of gratitude I feel for making this event a reality. So many people worked so hard to make this possible and I would be remiss if they were not mentioned…
Frank Rossi & Chris Tritabaugh – Thank you both for the many heartfelt conversations which preceded this retreat. The inaugural event would not have been possible without your belief in and support of the idea itself. Your presence in St. Peters was powerful in creating the cohesion for the weekend to play out as it did.
David Kuypers & Syngenta Canada – I cannot say enough about the support we received from David and his group. David was able to see the vision right along with us and then made all things possible with the sponsorship of the event. Our gratitude for Syngenta Canada’s support is immense.
Karen Milligan and her staff at The Inn at St. Peters – For the last event of their season they went out with a bang. Their kind attentiveness to our group and wonderful food and hospitality were second to none. We sincerely hope to be back another year.
Andrew & Brad – These two professionals worked diligently to capture the essence of the event on video. Their patience and creativity were a pleasure to witness. We are really looking forward to the their creation.
My wife Jill, and children Maria, Lucas & Clara – They put up with a great deal most of the time from the likes of me. Thanks to them for giving me the space to make the retreat happen in the midst of a very challenging autumn in our family.
My mom & dad, Ann Marie & Ray – The hosts with the most sent us off beautifully with a lobster dinner at their cottage on Sunday night. It was a very generous, typically Maritime way to cap off an amazing weekend. Also, a big thanks to my father for driving and sacrificing his time to make sure everyone was where they needed to be all weekend long.
My staff at Fox Meadow – Events like this simply cannot happen if you don’t have complete confidence in your team. Thanks so much to Finn, Paula, Sean & Trevor for always going above and beyond to help things run smoothly at Fox Meadow.
Peter McCormick and the team at TurfNet – If Peter hadn’t taken a chance and given me the space to write The Mindful Super blog all those years ago, the idea for this event may never have materialized. The blog was essential in creating a community of readers considering the concept of mindfulness and its application in the lives of superintendents.
To Leasha Schwab, Brad Allen, Eric MacPherson, Sean Tulley, Chris Zugel, Miranda Robinson, Michael Vesely, Pat O’Brien, and Max MacKenzie. Your openness, flexibility and courage to participate in this event were so inspiring. The way this group of strangers came together and shared so much of themselves created a very special bond. Thank you so very much for being the seed for something which hopefully grows into a positive changing force in our industry and in our lives in general.
So where does this event go from here? It’s hard to say really. The momentum is strong and the vision for the future is healthy and vibrant. Stay tuned…
I was working on a piece about how modern country club boards resemble the leadership of Rome in their last days—you know, lounging about in togas, unaware of the reality building outside the wall—when I remembered it was almost Halloween. So, from deep in the Rockbottum vault, a previously unreleased Halloween story:
Way back in ’73, on a cold afternoon in late October, I was splitting a mountain of firewood with Old Roy—not to be confused with just plain Roy, the AM radio preacher—and we sat down to take a break. We had a small fire going, not to keep warm—the axe was doing a good job of that—it was more of a keep you company kind of fire. The previous winter’s ice storm had gifted us with the world’s supply of downed trees and Dad decided that since I was near worthless on the golf course crew, maybe I might be a woodsman.
As we sat by the fire, Old Roy pulled out his prized Sherlock Holmes pipe and stuffed it full of a fragrant tobacco I remember as Borkum Riff, lighted it and leaned back to study the trees just beginning to color. “Boy,” he said through a cloud of smoke that smelled like spilled bourbon, “I reckon you being a night waterman, you seen things out there?”
“Yeah,” I nodded, “but not what I was looking for.”
Old Roy eyed me like I had said something crazy. “What was you looking for?”
“Flying saucers . . . never did see one.”
“I seen stuff,” Old Roy pointed his pipe stem at me, “and not just everday stuff like UFOs and little spacemen.” I sensed a story coming, because Old Roy had an amazing talent for delaying work with long, convoluted tales . . . a skill I was to develop later in life. At this point, I wasn’t really interested in one of his stories about what it was like to work on a golf course back in 1947 or how he toured with several famous bluegrass bands I had never heard of.
“Old Roy, if you’re gonna tell me again how we aerify in the fall to release the evil spirits from the greens, I—“
“Son,” he cut me off, anger in his voice, “you ought not to make fun of stuff you don’t understand.”
“I ain’t makin’ fun, Roy, I seen stuff, too, it just wasn’t worth tellin’.”
“Well, like one night on Little Mountain, I was sitting in my Cushman waiting for the greens to finish watering and I saw something sitting on a tee and the more I stared at it, the more it looked like a little man about two feet tall, and he was watching me. When I turned the Cushman headlight on to look at him—he ran off.”
“Hmm.” Old Roy took a deep puff on his pipe, “you ain’t much good at tellin’ stories, son. See, the Cherokees have a world of stories about the little people that infested these forests back before the white man came and ruined things. Them Appalachian mountains is overrun with little people. Add that to your story.”
I sat in silence, considering if I should pick up that axe again, but it was getting near quitting time, not more than an hour away. “I suppose you can do better?” I used my sarcastic teenage tone, which was about like I talk now.
“Yes, I can,” Old Roy wriggled back against a log and assumed his storytelling posture. “Back in ’63, on a real uppity country club north of Atlanta—it was out the woods back then, but now it’s surrounded by concrete—anyway, the club was having a Halloween party, cause they was always havin’ parties, any excuse to dress up, likker up and dance—“ Old Roy stopped to watch Dad’s truck go by on #17, calculating whether we needed to hop back up and axe some, but the truck turned around and headed back toward the front side. I threw another log on the fire.
“So, the Boss Man had already gone home, he was a real religious greenkeeper and he didn’t hold with celebrating devil stuff, and that left just me and Mickey and Roosevelt there to put everything away and lock up. Mickey was a worthless kid, kinda like you but not as bad, and Roosevelt was about 75 years old and he knew how to work. He had grown up choppin’ cotton and workin’ the fields and he had no intention of givin’ up half a day’s pay over mindless doings like Halloween, so there we was.”
“Where you was?” My attention span back then was not something to be proud of.
“Locking up the barn, don’t you listen? That’s when Dr. Morlin—he was the club president—Dr. Morlin drove up in his Cadillac and gave us a bottle of Jack, with the seal still on it, and said he didn’t feel right about them havin’ a big party up to the clubhouse while we did all the work and went unnoticed. So we thanked him and when he left, we sat down on our picnic table by the fire pit and Mickey went and got some Co-Cola to mix with the Jack, and pretty soon, we was havin’ a fine old time.”
“I hope something happens soon in this story.”
“Well, about halfway through the bottle, Sammy the golf pro comes running up out of the dark, from the direction of the clubhouse, where he shoulda been partying with the rich folk, and he’s completely out of breath and all white-eyed and he grabs our bottle and takes a big chug without even asking.”
“Was he a big drinker?” It was getting interesting.
“Not really, but it pissed Roosevelt off, a golf pro putting his mouth on our bottle and all--but then Sammy says something terrible has happened and he was gonna get the blame.”
“Blame for what?”
“He said he was sitting out on number #1 tee bench with Mary Jane Brokawski—she was a dentist’s wife, real purty gal—and Dr. Morlin came up and accused him of cavorting with at least ten member’s wives, eleven if you count Mary Jane. Then Mary Jane slapped Sammy and ran off crying. Sammy said he didn’t see the problem with romancing lonely women, as Dr. Morlin was also engaged in extra-maritals. But Dr. Morlin said that it was different, cause Sammy was just an employee and right then, an icy cold wind blew over them and suddenly . . . there was a spook standing right there beside them!”
“What kinda spook?” I was in BS detecting mode, after all, it was a Halloween costume party.
“An old gray woman, taller than Sammy, and really thin--lean as a lizard. She was wearing gray rags that flapped in the wind—no color to her at all—and she reached out and touched Dr. Morlin with a bony hand . . . and he fell stone dead right there. Sammy like to had a heart attack and ran down number one and he could hear her behind him, rags flappin’ in the wind. He thought he was gonna die and then he saw our fire and came straight to us--when he got close, he couldn’t hear her anymore.”
“Pretty good story. So Sammy killed Dr. Morlin?”
“Naw,” muttered Old Roy, “cause we was sittin’ there lookin’ at Sammy like he was a axe murderer or somethin’, and Abe--that was Roosevelt’s redbone hound--Abe starts growlin’ out toward the fairway, the hair on his back standin' up. We couldn’t see nothin’, but Abe decided he had had enough and he took off runnin' toward the highway, bawling like he was on the scent of a rabbit. That's when a cold wind hit us, blew my hat off and Roosevelt says, “I've had enough, too” and he lights out for home.
“Standing right there about ten feet away was the same old woman Sammy said killed Dr. Morlin. She was eight foot tall and her skin was stretched thin over her bony face, especially when she grinned real big—had lots of teeth—and then she reached out with her hand that seemed to me to be more bone than skin and Mickey yelped like somethin’ had bit him and ran right through the fire to get away and that’s when I fell over the picnic table. Sammy started hollerin’ like he had a siren in his throat and he ran back out on the golf course. When I managed to get back up, I was alone and the fire had blown out . . . but Sammy was still out there somewhere screamin’ in the dark.”
Old Roy knocked his pipe on a log and pointed toward Dad’s truck coming toward us, so we grabbed our axes and went back to splitting wood . . . at least until Dad drove on by. Old Roy dropped his axe and sat back down. “Next morning, Roosevelt found Doc Morlin right where Sammy said, and the Sheriff came and talked to us, but we didn’t say nothing about the spook, so the Sheriff allowed as how it was either a heart attack from drinking or his wife got tired of his runnin’ around and that was the end of it.”
“But what happened to Sammy?”
“Never heard from again,” Old Roy muttered. “But you know how golf pros are . . . he’s probably out there right now, givin’ golf lessons to other folk’s wives—only I expect it’s really hot there.”
Recently our crew got together for what is a regular but somewhat infrequent occurrence. We came together to discuss how we might improve our operation, and foster an atmosphere where the crew can freely speak their minds. As I am sure most Grounds Managers can attest to, the crew loves to talk and express their ideas. Groundskeepers are rarely shrinking violets with their opinions. What is difficult is not getting them to talk, but channeling that talk first into positive contribution, and then into concrete/measurable plan of action. What I do know beyond a doubt is that for all the ideas we come up with, the ones that are most likely to stick are the ones the crew come up with themselves.
It’s About Having a Voice
I have yet to meet a person in groundskeeping that is hesitant to share their opinion. However, this does not mean that all the talk we hear or participate in is always beneficial. Beyond the daily chatter, important talk sometimes reaches a point where the crew needs to share their voice to gain some beneficial result. It goes without saying, but is also worth repeating, that talk can’t initiate change without getting to the ears of someone who can influence the situation. Having a voice means providing feedback and viewpoints to decision makers in your organization. Don’t let good discussions end at the crew level. However, it is vital to remember that in some capacity we are all decision makers, and that we must all share our thoughts.
Inviting the crew to regular campus meetings makes them feel included, thereby more likely to speak out.
No One Has a Voice if No One Listens
On the surface, this seems obvious. Listening (more accurately hearing) is the essential step necessary to create a voice. “If a tree falls in the forest, does anyone hear it?” truly does apply here. When my crew expresses thoughts on any subject affecting them, it is imperative to understand what they are really getting at. It may be exactly what they say, or there may be some other message wrapped up in it. When I listen to hear (more accurately understand), I share in giving my crew a voice. We cannot stop here though. The crew must listen and give you a voice. Managers must be sure that the crews voice be heard, and understood, by our bosses too. Our bosses play a significant role in creating the world Grounds Crews work in and pushing the words of the crew up the chain of command adds to their voice.
More Than Venting
Talking with the crew is about much more than just giving them a safe space to blow off steam. Yes, letting team members get thoughts off their chests is valuable, but effective team communication provides more. If it sounds like a crew is just complaining, who wants to listen to that? Grousing and griping gets the organization nowhere because it isn’t meant to build up or generate useful discussion. Far too often, complaining is just negative noise, and sometimes is intended to hurt or create negative outcomes. I heard a good phrase the other day, “complaining with a purpose”. Making the team aware of undesirable circumstances to shine light on them thereby promoting analysis of these conditions is very useful. The negativity of complaining can become a habit and should be discouraged.
Presentation style speaking is good for sharing information, but not for fostering dialogue.
Change Requires Speaking Out
All too often team members are dissatisfied with something that is occurring in their job but feel they are powerless to do anything about it. This sense of resignation may be an understandable conclusion based on the organization. On the other hand, feeling powerless may be more about the individuals own predisposition. Making improvements rarely happens without energized and willing participants. Change for changes sake is not smart, but perpetually doing things the same is not always smart either. When I talk with my crew, I am always impressed with the good ideas that they share. Even their bad ideas (there is usually a few of those too) reflect an energy and intention of trying to improve our work process and atmosphere. Creating an environment where ideas can be shared openly without fear of negative consequences is essential to a high functioning grounds operation.
Keep Talking It Out
I define myself as a “long-talker”. This means I can take a seemingly long time to say something. My reason is I have a crystal-clear image of what is in my head, and it is challenging to use just a few words to be sure to convey my thought accurately to another. Fortunately, not all conversations require deep thoughts of great importance. We are all familiar with tailgate meetings comprising just a few sentences to refresh awareness on a topic. Listening to new voices is also a good way to generate conversation. Regardless of how you structure your talks, keep talking to the crew. It will pay off, and all of you will appreciate the conversation.
If this is how your crew responds to your meetings, it's time to try a new approach.
Friday morning, we woke up at the Rosapenna Golf Resort in County Donegal and the golfers had a short walk to their golf pavilion. We were playing the Sandy Hills course which was designed by Pat Ruddy. The resort also boasts a course laid out by Old Tom Morris but it was booked for a Golfing Union of Ireland competition.
The weather was fairly brisk as seventeen golfers took to the tee for our 8:20 start time. Once the golfers were dispatched on the course, many of the non-golfers had a leisurely breakfast and made the short walk into the village of Rosapenna.
On the first tee at Sandy Hills.
Scott Schukraft and Mike Cook gear up for their last round of the trip.
The Sandy Hills course at Rosapenna Golf Resort could qualify for one of the nicest golf courses you've never heard of...
Here more than some, it pays to hit it straight.
As the tide was out, we were able to walk along the beach. Once in the village, we walked up some steps along the rocks, found a local coffee shop and the McNutt Tweed Shop - a specialty woolen store. The items in the store were unique to this region and certainly could not be found in the myriad of stores back in Dublin. The operation is so small and intimate that one of the lead designers was working the till that day.
The non-golfers took the beach walk to the village.... and were greeted by a friendly sheep along the way.
McNutt Tweed Shop in Donegal.
A light rain started as we were leaving the store, so we opted to walk through the village to return to Rosapenna Resort. After the golf, we enjoyed soup and sandwiches in the café above the golf pavilion. We had time for one final group shot around the iconic statue of Old Tom Morris.
Simon had been dispatched back to the Matthews home base as he was to be redeployed as a driver on Monday and needed a three-day break from behind the wheel. Our driver for the drive back to Dublin was none other than Paddy Matthews himself, founder of the company. We loaded the bus as usual and settled in for the 4+ hour ride to Portmarnock Links Hotel. Once in Portmarnock, the evening was spent packing up for the next morning's drive to the airport and reminiscing on our outstanding and remarkable week together.
Final loud-out at Dublin Airport.
A few couples (the Crowthers, Galls, and John Brauer and Lisa Donovan) opted to stay in Dublin another evening, but the rest of us took the bus to the airport to catch a series of flights home. We caught one last amazing Irish sunrise on our way to the airport, and it symbolized the beauty of this country that we had experienced for the entire week.
On Thursday we checked out of the Bishops Gate Hotel in Derry and boarded our bus to Ballyliffin in County Donegal, back in the "South" of Ireland. On the docket for the day was a face off against the Irish superintendents on Ballyliffin's Old Course as part of the 10th playing of the TurfNet Emerald Challenge/Jim Byrne Cup.
The Old Course at Ballyliffin Golf Club.
The Irish brought 16 of their best golfers and our group had a total of 20 players in the event. It was determined that since four TurfNet players had to play together two would play representing Ireland to even out the teams. After a coin flip, it was determined that Matt and Cheryl Crowther would play representing Ireland. That was only fitting given Cheryl's Irish heritage which includes relatives from County Clare.
Paul Rauker, JJ Young (formerly of Tralee), Ken Flisek, and Fintan Brennan from Portmarnock Links ready to face off in the TurfNet Emerald Challenge
Ray Brennan and Trevor Dargan from Ireland with Tripp Trotter and Jorge Croda
We started out with cold winds but the weather eventually warmed and calmed down a bit. Andy Robertson and his crew had the course in great shape, just as it was during the 2018 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open in July. Scoring for the event was based on the Stableford system. Ireland eked out a win by a score of 207 points to 199.
The winning Irish team (yes that’s Matt and Cheryl Crowther with them - Irish for the day!)
All players in the 10th TurfNet Emerald Challenge Jim Byrne Cup after the round at Ballyliffin.
JJ Young is the recently retired head greenkeeper from Tralee Golf Course in County Kerry... the first course we played on our first trip to Ireland in 2009. JJ had arranged for an additional trophy in honor of the event being named for Jim Byrne. This trophy was made out of thousands years old bogwood and was a fitting tribute to a special man.
JJ Young explains the making of the special trophy in honor of Jim Byrne, long considered the father of professional greenkeeping in Ireland.
Ballyliffin Golf Club was a great host for the TurfNet Emerald Challenge/Jim Byrne Cup
The non-golfers were able to tour the nearby Doagh Famine Village and Malin Head - the northernmost point in Ireland, before picking us up for the ride to Rosapenna.
Non-golfers visited Malin Head - the Northern-most point in Ireland - Simon our driver for the day on far right.
View from Malin Head - Ireland’s northernmost point.
During World War II, the white rocks at Malin Head alerted German pilots that they were over neutral Ireland.
Famine era thatched roof home.
Breathtaking scenery for the non-golfers that day.
Learning about poitin (illegal malted barley pot still whiskey) on the Doagh Famine Village Tour
After approximately an hour and a half on the bus, we arrived at the Rosapenna Hotel and Golf Resort – also in Donegal and our home for the evening. We had a delicious meal in the hotel restaurant, courtesy of Paul Raucker and Foley United. An excellent piano player provided post dinner entertainment.
Josh Webber and Jake Coldiron on the bus.
The Rosapenna Hotel and Golf Links in Co.Donegal.
We had a fairly tame and early evening in anticipation of our final round of golf the next day at the resort’s Sandy Hills Course.
Wednesday morning found us waking up in Northern Ireland for the first time on our trip. We were greeted outside the hotel at 8:00AM by Paul Doherty of Bogside History Tours. From our location just inside the Derry City Walls, Paul began our personalized tour of Derry. We learned the history of Derry as a walled city dating back to the 1600s and walked on top of the wall. We then proceeded to the Bogside area of Derry, the location of the infamous Bloody Sunday on January 30, 1972.
Paul Doherty of Bogside History Tours speaks to the group on top of Derry’s famous wall.
Paul has specific ties to that event as his father, Patrick Doherty, was one of the 13 killed on that day. Paul admitted that other tours in the area take a milder, more politically-correct approach to their tours, but he and his family feel strongly that their perspective be told directly. Our tour with Paul ended at the Museum of Free Derry. On display was the belt of Paul's father, which had a notch from the bullet that ultimately killed him.
Inside the Museum of Free Derry we saw the belt Patrick Doherty (our tour guide’s father) was wearing when he was killed on Bloody Sunday. The notch is from the bullet as it went through his back.
After the tour we made a quick stop at the Bishop's Gate Hotel to pick up our golf gear, then got on the road for the 40 minute drive to play Castlerock Golf Club’s recently renovated Mussenden Links Course.
Our home for two nights in Derry: the recently renovated Bishop's Gate Hotel.
Portrait hanging in the lobby of the Bishop’s Gate Hotel. We knew we would like it there!
Castlerock Golf Club - founded in 1901 - was actually one of the newest courses we played. Castlerock recently completed a six hole (mostly greens) renovation and it was evident that these new holes were an improvement to the course. Early on about 80% of the work was done by outside contractors, but as the project came to completion more of the work fell to the existing staff of nine.
Kevin Collins, Mike Cook, Matt Crowther, and Scott Schukraft on the first tee at Castlerock’s Mussenden Course
The weather at Castlerock was great, except for a few light sprinkles. Course Manager Charlie Edgar visited with us out on the course. Matt Crowther's caddy had left all of his cold weather and rain gear back at the clubhouse, so Matt loaned him his TurfNet vest for the three or four holes when the weather was less than perfect.
Castlerock Course Manager Charlie Edgar greets Matt Crowther, Mike Cook and Scott Schukraft out on the Mussenden Course.
John Gall, Tripp Trotter and Jake Coldiron with Charlie Edgar out on the course.
Fashion faux pas! Charlie took issue with Kevin Frank’s hat from a rival course so he loaned him his for the photo!
The weather turned cool so Matt Crowther’s caddy donned Matt’s TurfNet vest for extra warmth - looking good!
After golf and a quick round of drinks in the club bar, we were back on the bus to Derry and rejoined those who had opted to spend the day relaxing, shopping, or touring there.
Our dinner was sponsored by John Brauer and IVI Sandtrapper and started with drinks at the historic River Inn - the oldest pub in Derry, established in 1684.
The traditional Irish band Connla was a last minute addition to the TurfNet trip this year as they had arranged a short tour of Northern Ireland when their original plans to play farther afield fell through. They had just returned from a 12 week tour of the US. Lead singer Ciara McGafferty greeted the group and said “It’s funny – we can’t wait to get back to America and youse can’t wait to come to Ireland!”
Connla entertained us during dinner, sponsored by John Brauer of IVI Sandtrapper.
The group of five entertained us as we sat down for dinner, took a short break while we completed our main course, and finished off the evening with some rousing tunes, including performing Eric Clapton's Layla as an encore.
Cheryl and Matt Crowther get reacquainted with Paul Starrett - Connla’s guitar player
Connla lead singer Ciara McCafferty and dinner host John Brauer
Two members of the band live in the Bogside neighborhood and were literally a five-minute walk from the venue. After signing a few CDs and chatting with our group, Connla headed home and we headed back to the hotel to rest up for our departure the next morning and our participation in the 10th TurfNet Emerald Challenge/Jim Byrne Cup at Ballyliffin.