By Greg Wojick
Greenkeeper /green-keep-er/ noun: Someone who solves myriad problems average golfers didn't know they had in a way they don't understand. See also Wizard, Magician.
It has always been difficult for me to accept the fact that most golfers don't understand even a small fraction of what happens behind the scenes in golf course maintenance. Maybe, much like magicians whose acts continue to mystify their audiences, the work of the golf course superintendent is just too much to fully grasp.
Attempting to bridge the gap between the knowledge of the professional turf practitioner and the lack of knowledge of the golfer is far from easy! In fact, it's probably one of the greatest challenges facing golf course superintendents today.
After all, the job of the superintendent is complex. It spans numerous fields of knowledge well beyond greenkeeping. Most superintendents know volumes about fertilizers, increasingly sophisticated grooming equipment, sprayers, and irrigation systems, turf pests and diseases and the herbicides and pesticides that prevent and control them. Like a doctor, they have to be able to diagnose -- and treat -- the inevitable problems that arise affecting turf health -- while keeping a watchful eye on the environment. At the same time, they're expected to have the acumen of corporate execs, who are accomplished schmoozers, public speakers, and skilled at managing sizable staffs and equally sizable operating budgets.
Few golfers understand -- and sometimes superintendents themselves forget -- the vast scope of knowledge the job requires. And many, by nature, are falling short in the interpersonal -- or schmoozing -- aspect of the job. Who, after all, has time for it in the thick of the season when the greater concerns of turf health and ball roll weigh on their minds 24/7, right? Wrong!
Though the average golfer will never fully understand, or frankly want to understand, the intricacies of turf management, it's still important to rub shoulders with the regulars and club officials who have at least a casual interest in better understanding maintenance practices. They may want to understand why greens may be fast or slow or why carts are being restricted to paths only. They may be a bit confused when they're scolded for not raking sand in bunkers or replacing divots, not fixing ball marks on greens, riding carts inappropriately, or not corralling the divots at the practice range tee.
Though the average golfer will never fully understand, or frankly want to understand, the intricacies of turf management, it's still important to rub shoulders with the regulars and club officials who have at least a casual interest in better understanding maintenance practices...
There are a few insanely interested golfers who want to Google what causes certain turf diseases or grain on greens -- all the more reason to make it a point to communicate with the golfers at your club or course. I'm sure you've all seen how a little knowledge can be dangerous and result in some troublesome misunderstandings.
Communicating Made Easier
Fortunately, whether we actually rub shoulders with members or communicate through the club's publication or website or through social media, there are numerous ways to keep those who are interested apprised of what we do and the impact it may have on their game. New on the block are apps that first allowed a club's general manager to alert members of clubhouse activities and menu changes Now similar apps are available that allow golf course superintendents to alert golfers to myriad golf course developments, from areas under construction to aeration dates.
Daily, I read with enthusiasm, interest, and many times humor, the tweets, the blogs, the newsletter articles and the website efforts of superintendents. Thanks to these internet options, communications efforts have slowly been increasing. Kudos to the supers who dare to take the time and give the effort to educate and communicate.
All in all, the efforts to demystify the details of maintenance are worth it. Done well, these communications will keep members and golfers happily informed and even earn you the recognition and respect that will peg you as a valued contributor to your club or facility.
All in all, the efforts to demystify the details of maintenance are worth it...
For those communicating and those who haven't fully taken the leap, here are a few tips that may help you feel more confident in your communications:
1. Are you communicating to the right audience? It may be more fun to tweet out to your superintendent buddies, but make sure that, in whatever you share through social media, you put your best foot forward.
Pretend you're a new golfer at your facility who's waking up eager to play golf. He or she is thinking: Is the course wet today? Is it open? Are the greens fast, soft? Is there any construction activity I should be aware of? Are there any outings? Will pesticides be applied today? Are carts restricted? Is the practice tee turf available for practice?
Using your tweets, blogs, etc., to communicate useful information to the right audience will go a long way toward bridging the knowledge gap. Golfers don't really care that one of your workers didn't show up again today. Work toward using your communications to enlighten the VIP list at your club: the GM and professional staff; the green committee members and the chairman; the club president or the owner; the caddie master or starter; the key restaurant personnel and even the caddies. All these people are likely to come into contact with golfers and can serve as messengers of your updates and information. The more people able to offer accurate, detailed information on your behalf, the better.
2. Are you using the latest available communication tools? How does a super get the chance to go beyond the routine issues on the golf course and explain the more complex issues that face the course? How does one explain the many types of bunker liners and bunker sands for instance? Using blogs, photos, and pointing to research articles are always good options, provided those research articles can be easily digested by the layman.
For those who would like some of the work done for them, our new app (Conditions) contains a library of informative, easy-to-read articles that help explain many of the complex challenges we all face on the golf course in a format that members are now used to via an app.
With the job of golf course superintendent getting increasingly complex and demanding, online communication options seem the way to go. But keep in mind, it should never totally replace the in-person communication. Developing personal relationships is, and always will be, a key aspect of the job.
...online communication options seem the way to go. But keep in mind, it should never totally replace the in-person communication.
3. Are you taking enough time each day to communicate? Communicating, no doubt, requires time and effort. And sometimes, you may wonder if it's really paying off. But I can assure you, providing regular course updates, particularly during times of extreme heat stress or disease outbreaks, can only serve you well. Members will appreciate having the ability to understand what is going on at their golf course and will feel more confident in your ability as a turfgrass manager. Just as important, it will eliminate the need to speculate about what is happening on the course.
Future success for superintendents is tied to the success that they have when it comes to communicating with those not-in-the-know. And today, the superintendent has more tools available than ever to do it!
After nearly 30 years as a golf course superintendent and consultant, Greg Wojick co-founded Playbooks for Golf in 2008.