Like many of you I sat transfixed as Tiger Woods made his way to his unprecedented fifth Masters title. It was hard not to be swept away by the culmination of this archetypal hero’s journey and cheer him down the 18th fairway. It was great to see him don the green jacket once more, but more importantly it was really nice to see him happy.
It wasn’t until after a recent conversation with my dear friend (a former Assistant Superintendent of mine) Robert McGregor a few days later, that the arc of Tiger’s journey took on deeper meaning. Robert is in the very raw stages of dealing with a major health scare. A few weeks ago, he was admitted to the intensive care unit with incredibly high blood pressure. The doctors and nurses were astounded that his heart didn’t stop or that he didn’t suffer a stroke. Fortunately, they managed to get things under control and allow his body to return to some semblance of normalcy. Robert emerged from the hospital shaken, but with a new lease on life.
You see, like Tiger Woods, Robert had fallen into a series of choices that lead him to his present situation. There isn’t a time in any of our lives where we haven’t done the same. Commit ourselves far too much to our jobs, load too much on our plates, inadvertently ignore our friends and families, and generally make life far too difficult for ourselves and those we love. Now Robert’s choices were a lot less “over the top” than our friend, Mr. Woods, but they still had a detrimental effect on his health and his life in general. Most of us have made similar choices to Robert, and maybe even to some of Tiger’s, all the while not realizing the cumulative effect our daily decisions make on our lives until something happens to shake us up.
As we spoke, Robert and I both reflected on the “bubble effect.” It's that nagging feeling we all get from time to time when being a Greenkeeper overwhelms us. It starts innocently enough; the pressures of the gig start to add up (Robert managed two separate properties), we don’t sleep enough, we make some questionable food choices, taking care of our physical health is last on the list, and our home life begins to suffer. We get stuck in this bubble and think that the only reasonable choice is to just keep doing much of the same. We manage to limp through the end of the summer and then collapse into the off season. Then we rest up and simply start the process over again, without changing a thing. Once in a while we can get away with a tough season, but when this scenario becomes the norm… the outcome is inevitable. A physical, emotional, and/or relationship crisis occurs.
I’m sure that it wasn’t much different for Tiger. Living in a far more publicly visible bubble, it would have been much easier to succumb to his questionable lifestyle choices. The pain of his body failing, the immense pressures of competing, and rigors of celebrity would have easily led him down the road of unfortunate decisions and compound problems.
But life has a way of calling in the tab when it's due. We can continue down the path of suffering and poor choices for a spell, but the universe usually has a way of telling us (not so subtly) that it's time for change. At these times, something stops us in our tracks and renders us completely powerless. Applying compassionate, non-judgmental awareness at this crucial point can give us the space to check ourselves and make the all-important decision; do we continue with the same path? Or begin to fashion a new way of approaching our lives?
It can be really, really difficult starting out to make the necessary changes. After all, we have spent a great deal of time numbing our pain and suffering, and our default habits can take on seemingly supernatural powers of their own. It takes an unbelievable combination of compassion and courage to look in the mirror and begin to make friends again with the very person that got us in this mess. It's not even close to being easy but is always a far better option than continuing to make our lives far more difficult than they need to be.
Tiger and Robert’s paths to reclaim well-being are obviously different in the details, but the journey is strikingly similar. Both deal with the themes of self-forgiveness, non- judgment, and deep acceptance. Nowhere are these ideas more critically applied than within ourselves. Dealing with the whims and hypocrisy of others is tough enough but navigating our own mental minefield can be torturous. A constant refrain of letting go and staying present to your current reality is crucial.
It's also crucial to have the love and support of those who really matter to us. Vulnerability is a virtue that is easily covered over in many our lives, but critical life events have a way of stripping us down and leaving us barren. Finding ourselves in this state can be very destabilizing, but if we can find the strength to lean on those who matter, we can slowly find our way again.
By the end of our conversation Robert and I both found ourselves inspired by the fact that Tiger managed to turn things around and the thought that his journey is one that any of us can choose to undertake. Maybe Robert won’t be putting on a green jacket anytime soon, but the changes he will implement in his life will be no less monumental. He has the support of his family and friends, and most of all the courage to accept what life has presented. There will be stumbles, more than a couple missed cuts and even times when all will appear lost. But as long as he can stay true to the notion that self care is the most important thing, it won’t matter what color his jacket is.
Thanks so much for reading.
The practice of yoga has always fascinated me. The breath work, the mind/body connection, and the way it can absolutely destroy you without you leaving your mat. Yoga has had a profound effect on my body and my well being.
A key yoga lesson which has stayed with me over the years is that of support. A wise teacher once explained that when doing a pose, the primary source of strength doesn’t always come from the main body part you would assume it would. Instead, much of the strength and stability comes from the surrounding cast of limbs and muscles. They are the support staff and when you activate these seemingly unrelated parts, the pose becomes achievable.
This key lesson has been on my mind lately when contemplating our lives as Greenkeepers. When you think of your course, or, even more specifically, a green that might be struggling, it can be easy to assume you automatically know the source of the problem. But often the solution to a nagging issue can be a combination of seemingly unrelated factors. Things like air movement, shade, nutrition, compaction relief, or any other of a host of cultural practices can act as supports working together to improve the situation and provide relief.
What if you apply this same idea to your personal lives? If you are suffering, what are the support systems that you can look to that for help? What types of cultural practices can you rely on to help with your personal well being? Do you reach for the quick fix (insert snake oil jug of magical elixir)? Or do you have a dependable network of resources you can call on when we need to?
What does your network look like? Here are a few that have helped me over the years…
Physical Well Being – How are things for you physically? Do you take care of your temple? Exercise of any kind will do, along with getting any nagging issues taken care of. It’s really easy for us to let our physical health slide when we are in the throes of the season, but if our bodies are working properly it can go a long way to helping you deal with the rigors of the gig.
Mental Well Being – Do you make regular visits with yourself? If so, are you good friends with that person? A lot of us do better caring for the physical part, but completely neglect our mental wellness. If we are tending our inner faculties on a constant basis, then we stand a much better chance of living a healthier life overall. If we instead choose to pretend that we are “always fine” then it’s just a matter of time before the house of cards topples.
Taking care of our inner well being can take many forms. We can have hobbies, we can practice some form of meditation or “personal quiet time”, attend to ourselves spiritually, or anything at all that takes us inside and fosters a positive relationship with whom and what we discover.
Family – We can’t always choose the personalities which comprise our families, but we can choose how we interact with them. Taking care to focus on family well being and the quality of our relationships can be a key part of our support structure. Often times our families are unintentionally sacrificed for our courses. No superintendent job is more important than your family. Make it so, and you will be lucky to have them there when you arrive home. This job is a challenging one but having a supportive family unit can make a world of difference.
Friends – Like family, having a network of friends that you can rely on is paramount. Nowhere is this more evident than when you have a solid group of superintendents you can call on when things are tough. As a group, Greenkeepers have an amazing amount of empathy and knowledge to share with each other so make sure you tap that resource. No one understands what you are facing better than a good friend who has been through the same thing. Sometimes a good venting session is all that’s required to set your perspective right again. It’s also very helpful to have a stable of non-turf related friends. Supers have a funny habit of getting completely absorbed in the world of growing grass, so it can be mighty helpful to have friends who bring you back to the outside world from time to time. (See The Zealot's latest post for more wisdom on this topic… "Wisdom in the Craft Brew".)
These and other support systems can go a long way to ensuring that Greenkeepers are not only successful in their workplaces, but also healthy human beings. When you are vulnerable enough to realize that you are not an island, you can develop the courage necessary to ask for help. And before long you will realize that you are holding a yoga pose that you might have once thought impossible thanks to your supports.
Thanks so much for reading.
We are all part of communities. I am a family member, a citizen of my small town, I am an Islander, a Maritimer and a Canadian. You can say similar yet different things about yourself. Whether it’s at the family level, within our surrounding neighborhoods or even based on our geographic locations; we are all part of a something bigger than just ourselves. At the macro level we are also part of the larger human community and even the community of all beings that makes up this planet. We all are inextricably interconnected in this life because we need each other to survive.
Within our turf industry, our affiliations with community can take many forms. We have the TurfNet group, GCSAA, CGSA, BIGGA, and the many other national and provincial/state level associations. Bringing it down to the micro level we also have small groups of Greenkeepers who gather informally or chat frequently by phone or via the occasional visit. Any way you cut it, these communities are essential for our well being and sense of connectedness.
I have been incredibly fortunate over the past year to visit some of these associations, and I can tell you with confidence that despite geographic differences we are not that different at the group or individual level. I have had the privilege of witnessing first hand turf workers coming together, for the exchange of knowledge, support and friendship. The energy and sense of connectedness from such gatherings is palpable. On many different levels there are bonds forged which go far deeper than simply growing grass; and this is a very good thing.
When we gather as a turf community, it also serves to remind us about the wider reach of the industry on the planet as a whole. When one segment of our industry researches or creates something new, it can have far reaching impacts on the rest of the wider turf community and beyond. Many times these repercussions are positive, but not always. Sometimes we can be so focused on the hype surrounding the next emerging technology that we can forget to ask whether we needed it or not. As a community, it can be helpful for us to occasionally step back and critically examine the trajectory of the industry and where it fits into the larger human experience. Is this technology/action beneficial for the wider ecosystem? Am I causing the least harm possible in my agronomic choices? After all, to slightly tweak John Donne’s famous phrase “No human is an island...”, nor is any segment of this industry independent from the world at large.
It can also be helpful as a group to step back and honestly listen to and create space for those who feel excluded from the mainstream community. Often times, through no direct malicious intent by the dominant majority, parts of our community can feel excluded or left behind. Sometimes the exclusion occurs because there are those who cannot afford to attend many of our gatherings due to the financial situations at their facilities. Other times the sting of exclusion is felt by the minorities within our community. Minorities being marginalized due to race and/or gender are the biggest subgroup within the Greenkeeping community, and we need to realize that it’s a real issue that needs to be addressed by the group as a whole. This unintended discrimination can leave these people on the periphery of much of the important decision making that steers the community as a whole. In this regard we can and should do better.
Building on a communities’ strengths is vital. Realizing that we all have blind spots is critical. As a collective we need to remember that our core strength is our ability to support each other. Whether it’s via sharing of knowledge, lending a helping hand in times of need, or simply being a listening presence, our ability to be there for each other binds us in a way that most industries would envy. But we cannot rest idly and ignore those voices from the margins. We need to open our hearts and minds and allow for new ways of doing things to replace outdated traditions and entrenched views.
In a real sense, all life is interrelated. All men (and women) are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality. -- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
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.
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.
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…
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.