Every now and again we get a nudge in the right direction. It can be from a loved one, a stranger, or a good friend. They see something special in you or an opportunity in your future that you just haven’t noticed yet. It’s not that you wouldn’t ever see it on your own, it’s just that they are looking at the situation through a different lens.
Over a decade ago my amazing wife Jill told me that one day we would be writing together and that folks like you will be reading about what we had to say. At the time I thought she was foolish, but lo and behold she was right. That vision has led me down so many interesting paths since then, and I couldn’t be more grateful for her prodding.
About a year ago I had a similar experience with a good friend. I was speaking with fellow TurfNet blogger and turf Renaissance man Frank Rossi when he dropped a bombshell of an idea. It involved taking the Mindful Superintendent to a whole different level and encouraged me to begin speaking publicly. He felt that Chris Tritabaugh (Hazeltine National, MN) and I would make a great team and that we should start sharing our stories together. At first I was skeptical, but it turned out to be a great suggestion. Chris and I spoke at last year’s GIS in Texas, and it was a fantastic experience (and if you are interested, we are presenting again in 2019 in San Diego).
But it turned out that public speaking was only part of Frank’s grand plan. He was envisioning something far more revolutionary and challenging. Through his travels and accrued wisdom, Frank saw many superintendents and turf professionals who were having a tough time. These greenkeepers were struggling with finding a balance between the demands of the profession and living a fulfilling life beyond the golf course. He felt they needed to hear the message we had to share but this time in a completely different setting. Frank believed we should create an event dedicated to resting, learning, and reimagining what it means to be a golf course superintendent.
Initially I felt quite unsure about his idea, yet within the uncertainty I knew there was enough merit to not cast it aside without giving it a shot. Every time I shared the idea with someone they had the same reaction… surprise, a pause, then total support. With every interaction the idea gained momentum and things began to fall into place. The pieces of the puzzle began to fit and this grand scheme began to slowly turn into a reality.
Fast forward to today. In just over two weeks from now, the initial “Mindful Superintendent Leadership & Wellness Retreat” will take place in my home province of Prince Edward Island, Canada (Oct. 4-8). A dozen attendees from across North America will come together to discuss mindfulness, leadership, and what it means to be a superintendent in today’s industry. We will explore themes like simplicity, balance, and creating a sustainable personal framework to take with us moving forward. We will rest, disconnect, reconnect and have a ton of fun in the process.
Chris and I feel incredibly grateful for this unique opportunity and we are looking forward to learning and sharing along with the first group of superintendent attendees. We could not have come this far without the vision and courage of people like Frank Rossi and the support of David Kuypers from Syngenta Canada.
So the next time someone takes you aside and shares an idea that might seem a bit “out there”, just pause and think it over. You never know where it might lead.
(The second part and follow up post to this one will be a recap and synopsis of the event. Stay tuned…)
the shore, the shore… forever more
the shore is where I’m bound
‘cause it’s the closest place to feeling free… that I’ve ever found
those troubles great will have to wait… right now I’m doing fine
in a place that is no place at all
and a moment out of time
“Chasin’ the shore” by Island author David Weale
No matter where you call home, there are special landscapes where the lines between the everyday and “out there” blur a little bit. Whether it’s the mountains, deep in a forest, or resting on a windblown plain we all have our spaces. I am blessed to live on an island. It’s not a very big island, so the shore is never far from where I am, and for me, that’s a good thing because when the weight of life becomes too much, the shore has a way of cleansing me and helping to restore perspective.
A long walk on a secluded beach centers me in a way few things can. Add in an abandoned wharf, perfect for a long sit, and it is just the thing to reset the mind. The edge of somewhere has a way of setting things right by reminding you that the only certainty in life is change.
We live in a world that holds dear to things staying the same. We wistfully hearken back to the way things were, pining after the “simpler times”. But comfort and simplicity never arise from holding on to the past, or even tumbling headlong into the future. That treasure only reveals itself when you realize that all you have to do is just be where you are.
In time all things will change, including the golf courses we spend our days toiling away on to provide a fun palette for people to play the game of golf. But make no mistake, the places we spend so much of our lives tending will eventually return to whence they came. They began as wild nature and to wild nature they someday will return. The knowledge of this doesn’t negate the effort we put into them at all. It is just helpful at times to take the big picture approach to life. Every piece of art that has ever been created, shared with the world, and touched someone will inevitably return to nothing. That includes each of us as well.
This past month our greenkeeping family in Atlantic Canada lost a dear friend. Long time TurfNetter, Nathan MacKay (Glasgow Hills Golf Course, New Glasgow, PEI) passed away suddenly. Nathan was 37 years old and left behind his wife Vicki and their three young children. Nathan’s death was a tough one to process, and everyone who knew him wanted to figure out a reason for his untimely passing. But in the end there simply was no reason.
Appreciating difficult facts of life such as the death of a dear friend doesn’t make the grieving process any easier. Grief has a way of forcing you to pause where you are, whether you want to or not. You can push it away, try to ignore it or even pretend it’s not as bad as you think... but it will get your attention one way or another.
For me, the weekend after Nathan’s passing was a hard one. I was both exhausted and devastated. I could have chosen many different unhelpful ways of coping but chose to venture to the north shore of our little island and let the grief wash over me. As I sat on a long abandoned wharf and felt the waves erode the sand under my feet, the grief for my lost friend held court. Sitting with my sadness and seeing it wash in just like the tide beneath me was powerfully freeing. Being present with my own feelings seemed like the right thing to do after so many days of everything feeling so wrong. In doing so I honoured the truth of my friend’s death and the truth of my own confusion and pain at his passing. Honouring truth isn’t always easy but it is always important.
I encourage you to take a moment or two this week to pause and appreciate the ever-changing dance of life as it presents itself to you. Even if things are difficult for you right now, take a moment to be grateful for everything you are blessed with. The truth is that all things will eventually change and pass away. Seek out that quiet place which allows you to connect with something deep inside yourself. You needn’t travel far to return to your own sense of personal peace.
Most of you know that I am a fan of meditation. We have discussed it here on more than a few occasions (the art of the pause, silence is golden). Recently I passed a personal milestone with my practice: 100 consecutive days. I have been practicing for a lot longer than that but decided to make a conscious effort this year to make daily meditation a habit.
Like any behavioral change a little positive reinforcement can go a long way. There are lots of different mediums and types of meditation instruction one can access. Along with books and talks, I have found it particularly helpful to use an app called InsightTimer (there any number of others that are popular as well: headspace, calm, or aura). They are all similar in nature, with the same end goal in mind; to create the habit of meditation. It’s funny because you wouldn’t think that a few gold stars and bells would help motivate, but at some basic level we humans are fairly predictable animals.
As I reflected on this personal milestone I became curious to explore what it has meant for my life. Has meditation really changed things? Is there really something behind all the books, articles, and science? Here are a few things I have learned over the past 100 days.
It takes practice. Like learning any new skill, repetition is your key to success. Whether you are learning to play golf, play guitar or just be kind to yourself, constant practice and repetition are vitally important. It’s hard work and there are times you want to just skip it, but in the long run it’s worth it.
Flow. Deliberately making space for quiet time translates into more natural flow in your daily life. Things just seem to move at a different speed. The funny thing is that you still accomplish just as much (if not more) than you ever did before.
Opinions. You discover that they matter far less than ever before (especially your own). When you consciously practice silence, you don’t feel the need to interject quite as often. You spend more time listening you come to realize that most opinions are just that, opinions.
Clarity. Seeing things with more clarity is always helpful. Situations which seemed huge before, take on far less urgency when you practice meditation.
Ease. Similar to flow, life takes on a sense of ease. This doesn’t mean that life gets “easier”; it actually doesn’t change the regular comings and goings one bit. What it does change is your relationship with them. Your ability to side step the trivial things and pay more attention to the present moment creates the space which allows for a better sense of ease.
Blind Spots. By practicing meditation regularly, one is better able to see the defaults and blind spots that hamper us on a daily basis. When we can recognize our less desirable habits and apply a touch of self-compassion then we can work with them in a positive way. This also applies to our judgements and interactions with others. We can truly begin to experience the idiom “to start anew” and recognise the potential for life to be new in each new moment that arises.
Thanks so much for reading.
One of the fundamental truths of life as a human being is that, no matter what, we all suffer. Whether physical fatigue, mental exhaustion, anxiety or another factor... episodic or chronic... some measure of it is unavoidable. The level or degree ebbs and flows, but at some point we all encounter it. How we engage and relate to this inevitable suffering can be one of the keys to living a balanced life.
As golf course superintendents, our jobs require total immersion if we are to be successful. Pitfalls and traps such as long hours, pressure from members and management, and unrealistic expectations result. These can infringe on our quality of life at the minimum, and add up to burnout if we are not mindful of our condition and responses.
This suffering takes on a much deeper meaning when mental illness enters the room. We have all had an experience with mental instability, be it anxiety, discontent, apathy or simply a short fuse. If you tell people otherwise, you are simply lying to them and worse, to yourself. That lie is the greatest trick that mental illness pulls. Not only do those affected suffer with the actual disease or condition, but then most feel the need to hide it. The stigma or shame of dealing with mental illness in a culture that considers it a sign of weakness can be crippling in and of itself.
The ripple effect of this type of suffering can be extremely difficult for families and friends. They also feel the stigma first hand, and will often go to great lengths to protect and shelter their loved one. The affliction not only affects the direct sufferer, but also goes a long way in governing the lives of those that love and care about them. It becomes a tiring cycle of adaptation, frustration, advocacy, and compassion.
Thankfully there are signs that things are slowly changing. There are movements afoot to unlock doors and shine a light on the stigma attached to mental illness. For those who live this struggle every day it cannot come fast enough, but the tide does appear to be slowly turning. As superintendents and members of our broader communities as a whole, what can we do? How can we help?
I have experienced anxiety, depression, and panic attacks first hand. My lovely wife Jill has had to learn to cope with her anxiety and sensitivities over the years. My amazing oldest daughter Maria battles severe obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). These are struggles that our entire family deals with every day.
From that standpoint, here are a few tips
Help is available. If you or someone you know is struggling, please reach out and get help. No one deserves to suffer alone. Please reach out to anyone you know who might be suffering in silence; your help can literally change a life.
Vulnerability does not equal weakness. Those who deal with mental issues on a daily basis are some of the bravest and strongest people I know. The internal struggles they live with could cripple even the strongest of people. Allowing people the space to be open with their pain moves us closer towards being a healthier, more caring society.
Shine a light. The irony of mental illness is that it only gains power over us when we hide it. By keeping it locked away it only grows and becomes a far bigger problem in the long run. Bringing it into the open and letting people know that it's ok to have issues may actually go a long way to preventing more issues down the line.
Compassion is key. Those who suffer from one of the various forms of mental illness need helpbut they also need our compassion and our kindness. Care and love go a great deal further than shame and guilt.
Advocacy and education. If someone close to you suffers, educate yourself and then go to bat for them. Spread the word in an effort to change the perception of mental illness. Those who live with these diseases must have resources to learn how to manage their illness and regain their lives. Nothing changes unless those who can speak up do so.
We are all in this together. Many of the most highly intelligent, creative and thoughtful people throughout history (including those you know) have suffered from or are suffering from mental illness. High mental acuity and sensitivity can produce wonderful art, music, dance and writing. But the flip side is that many of these same people are prone to stimulus overload, anxiety and depression. Giving creative people enough space to be who they are helps us all.
Take care of yourself. No one is immune to mental illness, but taking good care of ourselves can go a long way to keep us mentally well. Study after study shows that self-care is vitally important to overall physical and mental health. Mindful meditation, whether through breath work to relieve anxiety or simply taking time to be truly present in life as it unfolds, can be a wonderful, life enhancing management tool once acute symptoms are under control. Making self-care a top priority can go a long way towards healing mental trauma and also lessening its impact in the future.
Thanks so much for reading...
Every now and again a book comes along that really connects with people close to you. Originally from an uncle, given to my mother in law, then passed to my son and then my wife, the book by James Rebanks has made the family rounds. As my wife Jill finished reading it, she turned to me in bed and stated, "You have to read this. You will get it. There are so many parallels between his life and yours."
The work tells the story of a forgotten way of life in the Lake District of the northern United Kingdom. James Rebanks comes from a long line of shepherds that have been tending sheep in this area for literally thousands of years.
This book was laid out by seasons and written as more or less as a series of journal entries. With an intimacy that was at times surprising, Rebanks shares the history and deep rooted connections that these folks have with both the land and with each other. Like most things worth doing, shepherding is phenomenally hard work, but by all accounts it transforms those who practice the craft and leaves them tied to both the work and the land in a truly meaningful way.
As I read through this narrative, I couldn't help but be struck by the similarities between the life of a shepherd and that of a greenkeeper. It was as if by living the life of the superintendent, I could completely relate to the lives of these people. By times the similarities were almost eerie.
The Connection to the Land -- The people of the Lake District have a deep sense of rootedness to where they are. The intimacy and depth of knowledge regarding their fells and farms are at times staggering. It is the kind of connection that can only come from spending a great deal of time working the land and understanding its wisdom. As greenkeepers I think we can understand that depth of knowledge. It that sense of connection that only comes from the balance between working the land in a physical way and appreciating it in a deeper, more spiritual way. Tuning into this connection may be the key to returning to a more simplistic, less intrusive version of our craft.
The Connection to Each Other -- The only bonds stronger than that of the land were those that bound their families and community together. Each farm depended on the strength of their families and their workers to see them through. It wasn't always pretty, but in the end the deep respect they had for each other was evident. Greenkeepers are no different in that regard. Our dependence on our family support and the respect and hard work of our crews keeps us grounded and moving forward.
The Brother/Sisterhood of Shepherds -- This community of people was and is largely misunderstood by most that do not live it. The Lake District is a huge tourist destination in the UK, and most come simply for the scenery and the old world charm. But these shepherds live it, every day. They operate in a world that while governed by modernity, remains quite true to the craft. How many times as a superintendent have you felt misunderstood by those who play the game? How many times have you found a great deal of comfort in the fact that there are other greenkeepers, just like you, slogging it out each day, practicing an age old craft?
The Craft -- These folks take an immense amount of pride in the knowledge and wisdom they have accumulated over the centuries. Breeding sheep that can not only survive, but thrive in these inhospitable fells takes both skill and patience. It takes a lifetime of practice to achieve some semblance of success. There is a great deal of honor and respect that goes with practicing this art. Not so different from managing turf really; those who are patient enough to learn, listen to the land and the plants, try and fail repeatedly, will be the ones at the end of the day that garner the respect of their peers and achieve some measure of success in this game.
The Life -- The level of absorption into the life of a shepherd is full and complete. At times the author blurred the lines between life, and life on the farm. Most times they were as one. Rebanks recalled a stern chastisement from his daughter, telling him that 'all you do is think about sheep'. Unfortunately, as greenkeepers we can relate to that one all too well
Rebanks' writing style gives the reader a deeply personal glimpse into what it means to be a shepherd. It is at times relentless, heartbreaking, and almost mystical. One cannot help but be absorbed into the story of his life and how it continues today. You can even follow him on Twitter, using the handle @herdyshepherd1.
I will leave you with the 3 Rules of Shepherding
It's not about you; it's about the sheep and the land.
Sometimes you can't win.
Shut up, and go do the work.
Thanks so much for reading...
How many times have you struggled with a problem only to find that the tighter your grip, the more elusive the answer became? You doubled down, squared your shoulders and refocused, only to find that in your fervor, the problem had resolved itself without your intervention. Lost in the haze of your quest to fix things, doing nothing at all was actually the best course of action.
An old greenkeeping proverb states, "Doing nothing is often the hardest thing to do." But for many superintendents, this is a very uncomfortable prospect.
Our "fixing mind tells us, "If I could only do X, the turf would be better...", "If I could only get through to that staff member they would", or "If I could only convince that board member to see things my way, all would be good in the world. For many of us, doing nothing at all simply does not compute.
Not for fellow TurfNetter Jason Haines (@PenderSuper), of Pender Harbour Golf Club in coastal British Columbia. His blog post a couple of years ago titled, Five things that I dont do anymore and why, highlighted this notion of doing far less to achieve more in the long run. Jason's mantra is to continuously question, examine, and push the boundaries of greenkeeping. In his quest to do less, Jason had found that stepping back and simply observing can sometimes be enough.
Doing nothing is hard work. When there is a problem to fix, our egos tell us to get out there and do something at least! This notion forces us out far too early in the spring to begin overseeding, disturbing our surfaces to alleviate a perceived problem, or needlessly interfering with our staff in order to get the job done right. If we can step back and tolerate a little discomfort for a time, sometimes these issues resolve themselves without our constant meddling.
How often in our personal lives does this same dance play out? We superintendents are fixers by nature and it can be tough to hold back our innate tendency to jump in and save the day. Are you the person who people always look to for the answer? Many times that's fine, but sometimes it is helpful to ask yourself the question, "Is my input really needed?" This thoughtful pause can give us the space to not instinctively move into our reactive "fixing" mode and make room for things to sort themselves out for a change.
It's not to say that intervention is never required and we should always be completely passive about things. We get paid to fix problems on a daily basis; it's kinda what we do. But it might be helpful to evaluate your reaction footprint. Ask yourself if it's more effective to continuously react to problems, or might it be time to start responding wisely instead?
So next time you feel called upon to throw on your cape and rush out there to save the world, maybe pause first. Don't be afraid to question your first instinct that tells you to automatically do something, anything. It's alright to feel a little bit uncomfortable with a given scenario and just observe for a spell. You might be surprised to find that sitting back and letting things be just might be that best thing to do.
Thanks so much for reading.
I was finally able to attend my inaugural Golf Industry Show a few weeks back. It was a long time on the "to do list" as a Superintendent from the East Coast of Canada, and the experience did not disappoint. As I flew home, I was overwhelmed with gratitude and positive vibes from the whole event.
I would like to take a moment to thank some of the folks who made the trip so memorable.
Chris Tritabaugh, for teaming up with me to deliver my first ever seminar at the GIS. Chris was so accommodating and helpful during the lead-up, and delivered a great seminar.
Frank Rossi, for pushing me to step out of my comfort zone and convincing me to actually do the talk. He was also gracious enough to let me join him on the GCSAA Live broadcast and talk about mindfulness; it was a moment I won't soon forget.
all the participants in the actual seminar. Everyone was so attentive and respectful. It was a wonderful group to share our ideas with, and I'm sure they left with lots to think about. (Or maybe not think about)
all the people who stopped me and thanked me for writing the blog. It was so humbling to finally hear from those people for whom the writing actually makes a difference.
those brave Superintendents who actually took the time to share some of their stories of hardship and difficulty with me. The vulnerability and strength exhibited by those folks was very inspiring.
all the staff at TurfNet. It was such a pleasure to spend time with the Peter, Jon, Kevin and co. The community vibe was on full display at the famed Beer & Pretzels event. What a privilege it is to be a part of such a compassionate, caring group of professionals. It was also awesome to be able to meet so many long time TurfNet members in person!
my wingman and Turfnet member Mark Perry; its always better traveling with a friend.
my wife Jill and kids Maria, Lucas, & Clara. They put up with me working a lot of extra time before the event, and held down the fort while we were away. Simply cannot do what I do without them.
all the people who work in all of the service industries that make a trip like that possible. All the folks in the hotels, the airlines, the conference center, the restaurants, and any other entity that we came in contact with. We were always greeted with a smile and these people often don't get enough credit for the stuff they put up with on a daily basis.
So hopefully those who you who attended learned a few things and returned home a bit richer for the experience.
Thanks so much for reading.
We are well into the New Year and hopefully most of the resolution hoopla has passed us over until next year. It seems that the resolution craze has simply become yet another fabricated holiday that marketers and advertisers use to sell us things that we just don't need. They know that if every news outlet runs a story about how we all need to be better at being us, then they most assuredly have the product or service that that will help us achieve our goals.
That's not to say that there are not things that require a bit of rearranging. Need to eat a bit better? Yep. Need to walk or exercise a wee bit more? Yep. Bit more sleep? Yep. Need a gentle reminder to be more mindful in daily life? Checkmate. The funny thing is though, these things really never change. There are times in our lives when a few or all of these cylinders are firing, and just as often there are times when they are not. But one of the key realizations is that, quite simply, that's okay.
If we always start with the notion that life would be so much better if I could only make more money, lose weight, get more sleep, become a better superintendent then we start from a place of deficiency. We are going on the assumption that we are inherently flawed and that we need fixing. What if we started instead with the idea that, I'm actually okay just as I am? It doesn't mean that we don't set goals and work to make certain areas of our lives better. No, it simply means that we do so with compassion as opposed to shame and blame.
For me personally, I have decided to place more intention on sharing the 'the mindful superintendent' philosophy with a wider audience. I have enjoyed writing and interacting with the TurfNet group over the past few years and with the gentle prodding of some close friends, I have decided that it's time to start speaking to a wider audience. How it all unfolds at this point is still a bit of a mystery, but the first leg of the journey will begin in San Antonio at the 2018 GIS.
I am truly humbled and beyond excited to share with you that I, along with Chris Tritabaugh, will be giving a 4 hour seminar that will share Chris's unique leadership insights and my philosophy of mindful living. We are looking forward to sharing and interacting with as many of you as possible, and this seminar promises to be quite different from what you might be used to.
My sincere hope is that this talk will become the first of many to come. Not because I am such a fantastic speaker (I'm actually not too shabby), but more so because I believe it's a message that all superintendents need to hear. Our jobs are not getting any easier, and it will be up to us to chart a sustainable course for ourselves moving forward.
I am also in the development stages of putting together a truly unique, retreat-style opportunity for superintendents. The event would be intimate in scale, and focused on developing wellness and a mindful outlook on life. The hope is to host the first one this year (Fall 2018) and then move on from there. Stay tuned with this one; I will share more details as they emerge.
Thanks so much for reading and I hope to meet many of you in Texas! #beerandpretzels
Every now and again we all have moments that force us to tune in. It can be an achingly beautiful sunrise, that profound stillness that accompanies watching a child sleep, or the moments of reflection that come with the death of a loved one. Such events are so poignant and so groundless that we have no choice but to pause and pay attention.
For all of us in the TurfNet family these past few weeks have placed us square in the midst of one of these moments. The sudden passing of long time TurfNet member Jerry Coldiron (at age 60) forced us to pause and take time to remember the man he was. By all accounts Jerry was one of those guys who people just loved being around. His passion for life, his ability to embrace the simple joys, and his love for his family and friends made his untimely passing that much harder to process.
When we lose those close to us, life gives us an incredible opportunity for deep reflection. Not only on the life and times of the loved one who is no longer with us, but also for ourselves. As we process our grief and sadness, we are given a window into our own mortality. How we choose to look through this window can have an immense impact on how we move forward. Do you quickly draw the curtains? Sneak a fearful peak? Or do you throw back the sash and meet whatever you see without hesitation?
My youngest brother, filmmaker Andrew MacCormack (he helped the AGSA create this short film last year,
I had the incredible opportunity last year to meet and work with a young man named Jeremie Saunders. Andrew spent the better part of a year with Jeremie, recording his life and shooting a documentary for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). Working on this project changed Andrew's entire outlook and has had a profound impact on how he views his own life.
Jeremie has been living with cystic fibrosis for his entire 29 years. But even though he has lived with the burden of this fatal disease (life expectancy is roughly 30), he has made the simple yet profound choice to live his life to the fullest. Jeremie has known his expiry date for a long time. Many of us don't have that burden, nor that luxury.
He and his closest friends have spent the last couple of years creating a podcast called Sickboy. This podcast aims to remove the stigma of disease by bringing it out into the open and talking about it. They use the power of open dialogue to turn the idea that disease and death need to be hidden away on its head. They have helped thousands of people living with various ailments adopt a new outlook that focuses on living, rather than just simply waiting to die.
Jeremie was recently in Toronto, ON to give a Ted Talk. He spoke about his experience and pushed the audience to fully examine their own mortality. He challenged them to re-imagine their version of living, all the while knowing that we all end up in the same place when our journey is complete. I would encourage you to watch the full talk,
So as the holiday season approaches, take a moment to reflect on your own mortality. Not in a fatalistic, morbid way, but from a completely different angle. Look around you and offer deep gratitude for all the blessings that surround you. Have compassion for your loved ones, those in your broader community, and most importantly, yourself. Embrace your vulnerability and forgive yourself for anything at all. Changing your outlook in this way will have a profound impact on your life.
And when its all said and done, sit back and enjoy a beverage for @CaribeTurfman, Jerry Coldiron.
Thanks so much for reading.
The passing of seminal artists always has an effect on those fans who remain behind. With their deaths, we are confronted with a review of the full reach of their creativity and contribution to society as a whole. The magnitude of their contributions can easily be taken for granted while the artist is alive and creating, yet as in many things, it isn't until we posthumously acknowledge the power of their legacy, that we fully appreciate their artistic impact.
Recently, TurfNetters from north of the border (and in many pockets of the USA) had the opportunity to say farewell to one of the most enigmatic artists that Canada has ever produced. Gord Downie, lead singer of the band The Tragically Hip, passed away after a two year battle with brain cancer. Downie was one of those rare performers who encapsulated what it meant to be Canadian. The band's classically Canadiana lyrics and blues/rock music, which spanned a thirty year career, saw millions grow up with the Hip as the soundtrack of their lives.
After sharing the tragic news of Downie's cancer diagnosis with the public, the group made the bold announcement that they would make one last trek across the country to say farewell through song. It was a memorable tour that culminated with an epic final show watched by millions of Canadians (
Shortly after the tour ended, Downie released a solo project that dealt with long and devastating history of how the Canadian government has treated Native Canadians (The Secret Path). He finished by releasing a deeply personal record (Introduce Yourself) just days after his passing. It was his letter of reflection and gratitude to all those who had an impact on his life.
To say that Downie lived his last years with humility, creativity and courage would be a gross understatement. The man was a creative genius who never stopped pursuing his art until the bitter end.
As I reflected this week on Downie's passing, the notion of 'legacy' kept haunting me. Not so much how people will remember us when we are gone, but more so the impact we have on those around us on a daily basis. Those small moments and interactions with loved ones, coworkers, and complete strangers are the moments in our lives by which we can create a special legacy which endures.
We have a unique opportunity as Superintendents to reach out to many people. From our management teams, turf crews, golfers, industry partners, and fellow greenkeepers; to our friends, families, and our communities in which we live and work, there are innumerable ways in which to leave a positive and lasting impact. It is usually the sum of all those seemingly insignificant interactions which has the greatest influence over time. Sharing a smile with a stranger, taking the time to listen to someone's problems, or simply reading a book to a child can create an imprint which reaches far beyond the daily grind of tending golf courses.
Those artists who leave the biggest mark on society do so by showing us possibility. They give us a glimpse into what things could be if only we imagine the world as powerfully, honestly and beautifully as they do. Even if only for brief moments, they enlarge our lives through their committed presence to creating art in their chosen path. This is the impact that living with presence and meaning can have on those around us. But it does require our committed intention towards engaging fully in our lives as each new moment presents itself to us.
Today I shall behave, as if this will be the day I will be remembered. Dr. Seuss
Throughout the years writing this blog, I always find the September edition the toughest one. Being a superintendent/GM in the northeastern portion of the continent is always difficult this time of year. You are worn out by the season, many of your younger staff members have returned to their studies, and you still have a few miles left to go before winter. Finding clarity and creativity can be a challenge.
Creative inspiration can be an elusive concept to pin down. We know it when it hits us, but try too hard to grasp and it slips through our fingers like kiln-dried topdressing sand. For me personally, creativity can be a double-edged sword during this part of the season.
When I walk too close to the burnout stage, my energy gets a bit thin. This is something to be mindful of as it is unpleasant to experience... but I have also discovered that my 'big idea' creativity gets a boost from feelings of fatigue. During such times, focusing on the task at hand can be tricky, but if you need someone to think beyond the ordinary grind, then I'm your man.
As superintendents, we have a unique relationship with creativity. The architect lays out their vision, golfers play on it, and we are charged with both preserving it and reimagining it on a daily basis. It's like taking custody of painting or a song that will eventually fall into complete disrepair if there is not someone to maintain it over time. It can be a delicate balance that has many different 'right answers'.
Creativity at this time of the year can also take various forms. Whether you are reorganizing your labor pool, analyzing your budget, or planning for next season, they all can benefit from new and inspired thinking. Being open to new ideas and merging them with your tried and true processes can be fun. We are constantly reevaluating our goals and finding new ways to achieve them.
Your attitude and thought processes inevitably have a big impact on your creativity. Are you resistant to change? (We all are to varying degrees.) Are you open to input from the rest of your staff? Are you constantly looking for new learning opportunities and taking advantage of networking?
Nothing ignites the spark of idea generation like visiting colleagues at courses nearby. I had a wonderful opportunity to visit two courses last week near Halifax, Nova Scotia. Both were in the care of good friends who are doing truly amazing things with their properties. They inspired me to come back home and measure some of their practices against our property.
Another helpful tool with regards to creativity is stillness. As one practices meditation, the mental clutter of unhelpful thoughts slowly recedes over time. When that mental clutter disappears, you end up with more clarity. Liken this to when an idea hits you when you are not thinking about it (my favorite time is in the shower). By clearing your mind of the chatter, your innate creativity bubbles to the surface more easily.
So this fall give yourself the chance to recharge your creative mind space. Lean into those feelings of tiredness and see what creativity might emerge when you are no longer holding the reigns quite as tightly. Take some well-earned time away from your course to reconnect with your loved ones.
Be well and thanks for reading.
"Embrace the vulnerability of being human as a source of strength." -- Pema Chodron
No, it wasn't this past week. It was actually the week before. One of our members took a serious health turn on the third hole and his playing partners brought him back to the clubhouse. It was one of those emergency events that you prepare for, hope never happens, and one that both my staff and I won't soon forget. We promptly called 911 and went into action responding to the situation, all the while keeping the area clear of patrons.
It turned out that the gentleman was suffering from cardiac arrest. We witnessed the paramedics work on him for a half an hour before taking him to the hospital in what was still a very unstable condition. During traumatic incidents such as this, your perception of time bends a bit. It seemed at once to take both forever and be over in an instant.
It wasn't until I got home that the weight of the event began to settle in. When you are caught up in a crisis, you don't have much time to process the full extent of what you are witnessing. It was in speaking with my wise teacher (wife Jill) that I realized that I was going into automatic "stiff upper lip" mode. She took one look at me upon my arrival home from work and knew that something had happened. She gently asked me about what had occurred and how I was doing. I brushed it off and replied, "It's all good". She looked at me with knowing eyes and told me that it evidently wasn't that good at all, and that I didn't have to pretend that it was.
Wham... she got me. My default masculine, cultured response was to push the pain of the event away. Pretend that it didn't really affect me that much and simply carry on. Maybe have a couple of beers and check out for the evening. But you know what? That wasn't going to work this time. I had to acknowledge that I was deeply affected by witnessing firsthand the poor gentleman's very serious health emergency.
So thanks to my wife's gentle reminder, I chose a more mindful approach to deal with my own aftermath. Instead of running away from the reality of suffering, I leaned into it. By opening myself to the trauma of the event, I allowed myself to fully feel the pain and fear of all involved. By bringing an openness and curiosity to my own experience, I noticed that my feelings were both raw and tender; and my own awareness of this left me feeling quite vulnerable. Sitting with the truth of your own experience can be a powerfully alive feeling -- yet it can also be extremely uncomfortable for those who are not used to sitting mindfully very often. This is where having your own mindfulness meditation practice can be very helpful.
By allowing myself to be closer to my own feelings of vulnerability, I was better able to compassionately navigate the aftershocks of the event with my staff. We spent the next few days meeting in person, sharing our experiences, and hoping for the best. The intimacy of those meetings was only possible through being honest about how shook up we actually felt.
At the end of the day, my staff and I recognized that while you can never be fully prepared for such an incident, being as present and responsive as you can manage to be is very helpful. And while you don't ever want such events to happen, it did give us a chance to come together not just as a team, but as a collective group of caring human beings hoping for the best possible outcome for another person.
(PS: The best part is the gentleman appears to be on his way to a full recovery despite a very precarious couple of days at the outset.)
In everyone's life they have a few core things they know in their heart of hearts to be so. I hesitate to use the word truth, because it can so often get twisted and deformed. One person's version of "truth" can be vastly different from someone else's, so for the purpose of this piece, we will leave that word alone.
In our industry there are also things that appear to be so. These things are not dogma, nor are they written in stone anywhere. They are simply things that I have noticed over the course of my career that just are no more, no less. This is by no means an exhaustive list, so feel free to add anything that you might feel adds to the conversation. Here they are in no particular order:
Work is better when it's fun. This goes for not only you, but for your staff as well.
Following that last one, it can be helpful to remember that we prepare surfaces for golfers to play a game on. It's not a life or death scenario. We maintain golf courses so people can also have fun... period.
Walk as much as possible. Whether it's moving from job to job, or you push or carry your bag when you golf, walking forces us to slow down and see things from a completely different vantage point... always helpful.
When you are out on course and you have one of those moments that stop you in your tracks (you know the ones I mean, flower or tree blossoming, or your entire crew working in unison) stop and enjoy it. Savor it. It helps one truly appreciate how lucky we are.
It can be quite useful to make pausing frequently a part of your day. It helps you to slow down and focus. A few deep breaths can bring you back to the present moment and go a long way to resetting your busy mind.
Yelling at people rarely (only exception being if they are in grave danger) helps a situation. Resist the urge to tear someone a new one, or dress someone down. It might appear to fix things in the short term, but it rarely does any lasting good.
Practicing your listening skills is a wise use of your time. Talk less, make eye contact, and truly be present when you are having a conversation with someone... no matter who it is. People in this world like to be listened to and feel appreciated.
Practicing your listening skills is a wise use of your time. Talk less, make eye contact, and truly be present when you are having a conversation with someone... no matter who it is.
Unhelpful habits (isolation, negative self talk, procrastination) can be changed. You must be honest with yourself and move towards change with an open and compassionate viewpoint. You can't shame our guilt your way to real and lasting change.
Never stop learning or asking questions. Continuously approach your job and your life with an open, curious mind. As soon as you are certain about something, it's usually a good sign that it's time to move on to something new.
Thinking big is often very helpful, but not at the expense of the small day-to-day details. Remember to check in often and keep things in perspective.
Embrace your creative side. Whether it's on course or sitting home on your couch learning to play guitar, it's always helpful to embrace creativity.
You are not your golf course. The speed of the greens, the density of your fairway turf, and the look of your bunker faces has nothing to do with you as a person. Never use what happens or doesn't happen on the golf course as a tool for measuring your self worth.
Never use what happens or doesn't happen on the golf course as a tool for measuring your self worth.
Your personal bank of energy is not endless, so choose how you use it with care. Giving all of yourself to your job from time to time is fine, but doing it 24 hours a day, 7 days a week is not. Remember that you have a wife, kids, family, friends, and most importantly your inner self to allocate energy to as well.
Take care of yourself. Sleep lots, walk lots, eat well and give yourself a break from time to time.
Most things that are worth doing well take intention, commitment, and some heavy lifting. Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just keep swimming.
Be kind to those around you. Everyone is doing the best they can at any given moment. Doesn't mean you can't help out and lend some insightful direction, but don't overdo it.
Love yourself, love your family and friends, and love your job. Usually best to keep them in that order.
Take care and thanks so much for reading.
When you write a blog with a certain theme you are constantly on the lookout for inspiration. No matter where you are or what you are doing, a thought or idea can sneak up and whisper to you. If you are mindful enough to create some space that day, you tune in and pay attention.
Such was this past Saturday as I was driving home from dropping off my youngest daughter Clara at dance class. The radio was tuned into a CBC show called "My Playlist." It's essentially an hour long show where famous musicians play their favourite tunes and talk about their art. This particular episode was hosted by a Canadian bass-baritone opera singer named Daniel Okulitch. Admittedly I had never heard of Mr. Okulitch, but that didn't matter. It wasn't so much his singing or his playlist that caught my attention; it was one of his stories.
He was reflecting about his first time singing on Broadway and the hardship that goes along with performing eight shows a week. Up until that point in his career he had issues with perfection and was stuck on the simple yet destructive idea that if every show wasn't perfect, it was no good at all.
"As much as we strive for perfection and greatness in our performances, it can be crippling if it's our only focus. The act of performance is what the audience wants. They want someone who performs with a sense of abandon and joy. If you do ten performances, one might be brilliant, one might really not be that great, and the other eight should fall within a realm of acceptability that you and your teacher might know the difference, but they will be just fine for 99% of the audience. As a professional, it's when you can adopt that mindset that you are free to let go, express, and be free on stage instead of being so concerned with perfection."
I always like to explore the connections between performing artists and what we seek in our lives as greenkeepers. We learn the basics, train under mentors, and practice until we can practice no more. Then, each day of the season, we (along with our crews) perform. It's a long, exhausting schedule that can leave us spent on closing day.
Then, each day of the season, we (along with our crews) perform. It's a long, exhausting schedule that can leave us spent on closing day...
Being constantly consumed with perfection can make the season even longer. It can place unrealistic demands on our psyche and create suffering where there needn't be. As Mr. Okulitch said, it can be crippling if it's our only focus.
If our intention to create the best playing surfaces possible is in tune with the professional journey of being a superintendent, then we can be free of the shackles of perfection. Being constantly tied to the end result leaves us blind to what is happening right in front of us. If we only see the finish line, we tend to miss all the creativity, art, and passion that is the voyage.
So make goals, practice your craft, and strive to be the best greenkeeper you can be. But don't forget to take it all in as you proceed down the path. Be good to yourself and those around you, and remember that 99% of the time our audience is happy to be playing golf rather than being at work.
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:
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.
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 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.
Looking forward to things is half the pleasure of them... Lucy Maud Montgomery
This post will be the first in a "once on a lifetime event" series. The Mindful Superintendent is on the road this week in Chaska, Minnesota, volunteering with the world class turfgrass crew from Hazeltine National Golf Club. The 2016 Ryder Cup Matches take place here this week and to say I am looking forward to it would be a gross understatement.
While reflecting on our preparation for this exciting week, anticipation was the word that just wouldnt go away. My good friend and fellow TurfNetter, Mark Perry (Rustico Golf Course in PEI) and I are making the trip together. The lead-up for us involved lots of texting, checking details, and sheer excitement. We have been just like a couple of kids during the prelude to Christmas.
Chris Tritabaugh and his turf team at Hazeltine have to be on a completely different plane of anticipation. They have been preparing this course for everal years, and a few days out now I can only imagine the excitement they are feeling. All the early mornings, long hours and sacrifice come down to three days of Ryder Cup insanity no pressure.
Chris Tritabaugh and his turf team at Hazeltine have to be on a completely different plane of anticipation. They have been preparing this course for several years, and a few days out now...
When we approach major events in our lives with a positive outlook, anticipation becomes a valuable asset. Our focus sharpens, organization intensifies, and our "Spidey" senses begin to tingle. If we can stay on the mindful side of things, these tools can make our events memorable.
On the flip side, if anticipation becomes fuel for unnecessary worry, increased anxiety and scattered nerves, it can incapacitate us. It clouds our focus and leaves us scrambling to bring it all together. By feeding the wrong beast, we can only look back on major events with exhaustion and regret.
Everything that I have seen and heard from Chris thus far leads me to believe that he and his crew fall firmly in the positive camp. They appear to approaching the build up to the Ryder Cup with a great deal of excitement along with a healthy dose of fun. By keeping that focus on what is important, they can know that that the lasting legacy of this event will be one of fond memories.
When seeds are planted, the seedlings must be watered, nourished, and given room to grow. Just like humans, they require proper growing conditions and ongoing, loving maintenance.
When irrigation systems are new, they require a lot of training. Because they leak it takes a while to get used to the new pipes. As they age they become more unpredictable, leak more, and become much less "depend"-able.
After years of constant rolling, greens seal off and become hydrophobic. Aeration is necessary to open channels and allow flow again. Same goes for our minds. When we become hardened by rigid ideas, it can be helpful to poke holes in them to allow new flow (occasional deep tining is also very helpful).
Topdressing is like any good habit in our lives. The consistent application of small amounts of goodness is very beneficial.
The consistent application of small amounts of goodness is very beneficial...
Adequate amounts of food, water, and light along with proper exposure to stress are key for optimum greens performance. Apply similar amounts of same for optimum life performance.
Be open to other (informed) opinions about the management of your property. Seeing the same old thing through a different lens can be very illuminating. Apply similar amounts of same (informed) opinions to your own life.
Over the top bunkers can be nice to look at for a spell, but as with life, high maintenance can be exhausting, costly and an unwise use of resources.
Keeping your mowers sharp, properly adjusted and clear of debris yields happy turf. Keeping your mind sharp, properly adjusted, and clear of debris yields a happier super.
Keeping your mind sharp, properly adjusted, and clear of debris yields a happier super...
When placed optimally, trees add strategy, beauty and biodiversity to a golf course. If allowed to grow unchecked they block light, cause turf to suffer, and degrade strategic intent.
If used wisely, ideas can allow us to grow and appreciate the beauty of the universe. On the flip side, if negative, hurtful ideas are left unchecked they can also block the light and cause a great deal of suffering in our lives.
Dormancy and rest are key to turf health and recovery. Dormancy and sleep are key to superintendent health and recovery.
Following carts on the same path over and over leads to compaction, stress, and worn out turf. In life, try taking a pull cart once in a while
This post may sound like a bit of a rant. Okay, it's a flat out rant a Wilberesque "if it did not happen in a research trial, it did not happen"-style rant, if you will.
My kids were asked by someone the other day if they were ready for school. It wasn't even August (unlike some parts of the southern US, here in the Maritimes we don't return to school until September). My youngest daughter was perplexed by the question and asked us afterwards why adults ask kids such silly questions. Unfortunately there was no good answer to that question, so we simply reminded Clara that it is still the summer so go outside and be a kid (for as long as humanly possible).
A couple weeks back a few Supers somewhere in the US were tweeting pictures of Halloween decorations in full display at an unnamed box store. It wasn't even August. How on earth could people possibly need Halloween decorations in July? Is your planning that intense that you need to have the articles on hand three months before the holiday occurs? Ugh
How is it that we have let ourselves become such slaves to both real and imaginary holidays? It seems like from Valentine's Day to the Super Bowl (don't even mention Christmas) we simply live our lives waiting to buy crap we don't need to celebrate the next "once in a lifetime event". It's even hard not to be a cynical old crank with regards to the Olympics that are taking place in Rio. I love sports and the thrill of competition, but if I watch one more "inspirational vignette" brought to me by Chevrolet, or Coke, or McDonalds
If we are constantly conditioned to lean forward towards the next event, then how can we possibly be present in the life that is happening right in front of us? How can we enjoy a movie or album, when the trailer for the sequel is playing the day after the release of the original? It's as if we are stumbling forward with blinders on, just waiting for the powers that be to point us in the right direction so we can keep right on consuming.
If we are constantly conditioned to lean forward towards the next event, then how can we possibly be present in the life that is happening right in front of us?
We are in dire need of a vacation from the constant stream of manufactured holidays. It feels like at times we are in a long line that is heading nowhere fast. It's high time we duck out of line and start questioning in what direction we are actually heading. Refuse to be taken in yet again be a flashy commercial that is trying to convince us that we can't live without another piece of crap that "celebrates" our culture.
Presence can be an antidote to this foolishness. If we pause long enough to enjoy the moment, then holidays and events become fun again. Instead of immediately looking towards the next production, we simply take the time to revel in what is actually happening. Time with friends and family becomes better, and the actual holiday becomes a richer experience. Mindfulness allows us to see through the illusion and get back to what is actually real.
So enjoy yourself. Take a moment and really enjoy yourself. It's worth it.
We are now a couple of weeks removed from the 2016 edition of the US Open golf tournament. Hopefully John Zimmers and his crew got some much needed rest, and the USGA has slinked back to their lair to plot their next revenge against Dustin Johnson (I'm not saying the word conspiracy, but you know)
After the dust of a Major settles and we have moved on to our next set of tweets showing a dozen fairway mowers cutting all at once and balls being dropped into 10" rough, what are we to do with ourselves? Well, we could start by reading Mr. Wilber's brilliant soliloquy concerning the reality of Major golf events: The Reality of the US Open Golf Championship Has Nothing To Do With The Reality of Golf, (please read it really even if you don't come back to finish this post, just read it). And if Dave's sobering words are not enough we could move to deeper reflection.
As I sat and studied Oakmont during the course of the week, one word kept pecking at my brain: vision. Not the kind the USGA uses, but rather the vision that moved Henry C. and William C. Fownes to build the most difficult golf course in North America. It was an idea which was so simple, yet profound enough to produce arguably the most iconic golf course in the United States. Even though the vision was lost for a time, its aura was strong enough to power a bold restoration that would make even Randy Wilson weak in the knees (insert audio of chain saw here).
It was an idea which was so simple, yet profound enough to produce arguably the most iconic golf course in the United States..."
Whether you agree with the notion of building and maintaining the most difficult test of golf in the world is irrelevant. The fact is the people who tend and play on the property each day actually revel in the fact that it is ridiculously hard. Of course the rough is deep, the fairways narrow, and the greens maintained to obscene standards; its Oakmont after all. It is the Fownes' original vision which fuels this ideal, and it has proven to be an immensely powerful one.
The strength of this vision got me thinking about the inherent value of a sustaining personal vision. We have all seen what can happen when a story goes awry. If we take a wider view and look at cultural phenomena like nationhood or religion, we can see countless examples of visions which have taken wrong turns. Unfortunately, the power of a story does not always take into account whether it should have been told in the first place.
...the power of a story does not always take into account whether it should have been told in the first place."
Our own personal stories can also take unfortunate turns. Destructive habits, addictions, and the general turmoil with which life presents us can serve to derail any of us. What if we had a personal vision which was as strong as the original intent for Oakmont? What if we had the positive intention to live our lives in the best way possible and the intention to back it up? Even if we got lost in a forest of misguided tree plantings, we could still find our way back to this intention. It might take a good deal of time and hard work (insert cutting trees in the dark of nightpowerful metaphor), but the strength of this vision could bring us back to a place of peace.
Our personal vision need not be as extreme as the church pew bunkers. It doesn't need to be as unique as the perennial Poa that Mr. Zimmers and Co. tend. It simply needs to be our own. A story which is open and flexible, yet steadfast in its core message, can serve as an anchor for all your most important life decisions and also be a beacon to others in their time of need. Hopefully through the thunderstorms, the triple cut & rolls, and the foolishness of those who make up the rules, we can look at our story and say that it was enough.
Just for a brief moment, imagine the following scenario. You are on your way to the clubhouse for an important management meeting with your GM. Before the meeting you rush to the first tee to check up on your project crew, who is handling the ongoing irrigation project on #1 tee (it has not been going well, and you know if you don't check in, things will only get worse). You arrive to find them standing around scratching their collective heads. You guide them through the next steps and tell them you will return in about an hour. As you leave, you frantically check emails on your phone and have about ten notes that require your immediate attention. You are now late for the original meeting and arrive with your mind anywhere but where it needs to be. The meeting does not go well, and you leave wondering why your relationship with your GM has gotten so adversarial. It's only 9 am.
Now let's take the same situation, and look at it from a completely different vantage point. You are on your way to the clubhouse for an important meeting with your GM. It is an important chat, so you want to have time to clear your head before you arrive. You come upon your project crew who is handling an important irrigation project on the first tee. The project is going well, and the team leader updates you on their progress. You pass along a few words of encouragement and carry on. As you continue en route to your meeting you notice how firm a couple of greens are; might be time to send out the moisture meters and plan for a watering cycle. You arrive at your meeting with your GM with a clear mind and an open perspective. During the session you discuss many important issues and you both leave the meeting with positive outlook.
So what do you think is the main difference between these two scenarios? Surely the second scenario sounds preferable. The superintendent in the first instance is stuck on overdrive, and most likely will not be enjoying the rest of the day. But truth be told, the main difference is that the greenkeeper in the second situation simply chose to walk instead of drive to start his/her day.
"An early morning walk is a blessing for the whole day..." -- Henry David Thoreau
Like many great ideas, the notion of a superintendent choosing to walk the golf course instead of drive is met with more than one or two raised eyebrows. When Chris Tritabaugh (Hazeltine National in Minnesota) first learned of the practice from Thomas Bastis (California Golf Club of San Francisco) he had the same skeptical view. "Of course I asked the questions everyone asks: How do you carry a hose? What if you have to get somewhere quickly? Thomas decided this was a good thing to do and he makes it work." It took him a bit of time and thought to wrap his head around it, but Chris has embraced the practice fully.
To date, Chris has only been on a cart once this season (aeration time, last week). Before you say, yeah but he has lots of staff to get everything done, just remember that Hazeltine is hosting the 2016 Ryder Cup this fall, so Chris is a wee bit busier than most of us. "Time is the biggest perceived obstacle to superintendents walking the course. We need to stop using 'being busy' as an excuse for why we don't do things the right way. Eating, working out, etc, are all things that suffer because we are too busy. It's a matter of priorities and walking the golf course is a priority for me; it comes first and everything else falls in from there."
Walking the course full time has made Chris a better manager. "You cannot micromanage from your feet. One of the lessons I have learned over the years is that I cannot be the sole 'trigger man' of our operation. As a superintendent, if you make yourself the lone trigger man you will find yourself running (driving, actually) from point to point all day long. You will feel the need to work endless hours because your staff will be waiting for you to make a decision. You get to the point that you never take a day off, because you will know that nothing gets done without your presence."
Along with becoming better at delegation and crew empowerment, Chris has learned to get in touch with the Hazeltine property on a more visceral level. "I am in-tune with everything happening out there. I know what the surfaces look like and feel like. Sure, I may not see every green every day, but I see enough to know what's taking place and if I want to see every green, it's a simple adjustment."
Finally Chris expounds on the purely personal benefits that come from constant movement. "I believe the best thing about walking is the opportunity it gives me to mix my work with my own personal fitness. I feel no shame in saying I take advantage of my workplace to make myself healthier."
By being present on the ground level, we see the golf courses we manage from places of presence. We are lucky enough to work at some of the most beautiful places in the world and when we are not speeding along at mach one and spending our day on constant overdrive, we might just slow down long enough to catch a glimpse of something special. Walking our properties gives us the vital space we need to move through our days with intention and purpose. The health benefits of constantly walking are simply an added bonus.
Maybe walking your course full time is a bit much all at once. But I guarantee that you can find the time to walk your property a few times per week. If you can approach this time mindfully, you cannot only tune into your property on a deeper level, but you can also reach a place within yourself that you might be ignoring. Decisions come easier with reflection and your staff and coworkers will appreciate your more balanced approach. Taking the time for a mindful stroll can create an immense change in your outlook as both a greenkeeper and as a person.
"Everywhere is within walking distance if you have the time..." -- Steven Wright
(My sincere thanks goes out to Chris for sharing his thoughts, and for Thomas Bastis for showing him the way)
It's funny how our minds work. Sometimes the most innocuous thing can trigger a cascade of thought. Case in point: a few weeks back my neighbor told us he and his partner were going away on vacation and asked us to keep an eye on his house. He left us his keys and was off.
Now at any other time this would not warrant a blog post. Not much to see here. But when we hung up his keys it hit me immediately. My neighbor's key chain had the saying "Mind the Gap" on it. I have since found out that this popular UK phrase is a reminder for people as they step on the subway in London to be mindful of the dangerous gap between the edge of the platform and the train. My mind took it from there.
Why would this phrase resonate so much, you ask? Well, to me these three words distill the art of the pause. Mindfulness at its core is all about reminding ourselves to pause and rest in awareness of the present moment. We always have that opportunity to stop and start again.
As superintendents, we have many opportunities to mind the gap. When we are having a difficult interaction with an employee, a tough chat with our greens committee, or when we are agonizing over a tough financial decision, we have the chance to pause, and step out of our habitual reactions and rest in the pure awareness of the present. When we take the time to mindfully pause, we open up space for a more thoughtful course of action.
When we take the time to mindfully pause, we open up space for a more thoughtful course of action...
Minding the gap is equally applicable to our personal lives. How many times do we react in anger or frustration to a situation at home? Often we immediately wish we had acted differently. When we use the split second pause to interrupt our knee-jerk reaction, we create the space in which to choose a more compassionate response.
On a personal level, minding the gap can lead us to a deeper place within; a place of restful solitude and retreat which only we know exists. Think about the sense of connectedness we feel when we stop to watch the sunrise as we are changing holes in the early morning. Think about the incredible feeling of wonderment we experience when we observe wildlife in its natural surroundings, or that feeling of contentment when all the bullshit and drama of the world momentarily drops away and everything appears well in your life. These moments are always available to us -- but they do require that we pay attention to all the moments of our lives as they are happening.
Now if our friends from across the pond don't mind the gap they can run into some serious difficulty:
But here in the colonies we have the chance to see things a bit differently. If we choose to use our gap carefully, then we have a unique opportunity to change our lives for the better.