After writing a monthly column in our now-retired print newsletter (TurfNet Monthly, for those not around then) for 17 or 18 years, I sort of ran out of things of import to say on a regular basis. No sense contributing to more milquetoast, editorial drivel or fill-up-space pontification... there's plenty of that elsewhere.
Occasionally something starts the gears whirring and prompts me to sit down and write. Yesterday was one of those occasions.
I finally caught up by phone with an old TurfNet friend (now retired) who I had been meaning to reconnect with for some time. Ah, what the heck, I'll blow his cool here. It was Matt Shaffer, of Merion Golf Club and the (rainy) 2013 US Open fame. You all remember.
Since retiring earlier this year after 43 years in the business, Matt is now Director of Golf Course Operations Emeritus at Merion. Nice. Good for him.
I consider Matt Shaffer to be one of the large handful of iconic superintendents who epitomize what all should aspire to. Certainly qualified and technically capable, but also professional, friendly and humble. His televised interviews during the 'Monsoon Open' gave the entire superintendent profession a huge boost image-wise.
I first connected with Matt back in the mid-'90s when he was at The Country Club in Ohio and thought he'd take a flier and join TurfNet. I recall meeting him for the first time at a Masters practice round in the same time frame, '96 or so. He was volunteering there and I was walking around in the crowd as a guest of Ed Nash.
"I just love TurfNet," he said with a huge smile. Hmm... I didn't recall ever hearing that before, certainly not with such passion or conviction. And I still remember it today, 20-some years later.
Other than seeing him at GIS or an occasional phone chat during the ensuing years, our communication was limited to me receiving the odd cryptic email from him with "YES!" or "ATTABOY!" or something of that ilk, with a brief reference to topic.
In any case, we chatted about many things. Retirement... his current renovation project on his parents' old (now his new) home near State College, PA... his other place on Lake Okeechobee in Florida... his career... the industry at large..... future plans for both of us.
Toward the end of the conversation, Matt said, "Hey buddy, you changed the industry." And he went on to cite some examples.
Catching me off-guard, that REALLY gave me pause for introspection. I shared his comment with Jon Kiger and John Reitman, my cohorts for the past ten years or so. And from a flurry of emails back and forth came a list of things that... well, I guess did change the industry in varying ways and extents.
TurfNet Monthly diverted from the model of how information was disseminated in print (and it was not provided free of charge). The TurfNet Forum, as the first web-based discussion group, changed the way information was shared. The 'TurfNet Bomb' gave frustrated consumers a loud voice among suppliers. Free job listings created a 'monster' job board. Free webinars forced others to ultimately follow suit. Superintendent of the Year and Technician of the Year awards... the first dog calendar... video channel... Hector... Beer & Pretzels... a hockey team... Randy Wilson poking fun at the industry and providing an oft-needed chuckle.
I stopped by a golf course the other day and the superintendent was out on the course, blowing out the irrigation system. So I chatted with the equipment tech. After I identified myself, he said, "I got this job through TurfNet," and then added, "Everyone I know got their jobs through TurfNet." That's pretty cool.
Writing this on the day before Thanksgiving, when we should all be taking stock of our lives, the thing of which I am most proud is the way we have been able to impact people's lives. By helping them get better jobs... by creating a platform where friendships are made and problems (often well beyond turf) are aired out. The personal stuff. The good stuff.
All of us have the ability to contribute to the greater good, often well beyond the obvious. Superintendents won't be remembered for how fast the greens were, but they will be remembered by those they mentored and helped get a leg up on life. By setting examples of leadership, fairness, conduct, work ethic, positive motivation and shared reward... if only an earnest 'thank you' or an ice pop on a hot day. All that applies to raising kids as well.
Opportunities for new friends and personal growth...
My wife occasionally laments not having a high-profile, highly-paid business career. She was a schoolteacher. I remind her that no other profession has the opportunity to reach, teach and mold so many. And she was great at it, still running across former students (or parents of students) on Facebook or in person and getting thanks for having impacted them in a positive way. A lot of people in the business world can't say that.
I don't know about you, but I can still remember the names of all of my grade school teachers. Many now-anonymous people have passed through my life since then, but I still remember the teachers.
I was watching a few Player's Tribune videos this morning, including one about David Ortiz, aka Big Papi. It occurred to me that I have no idea how many home runs he hit for the Boston Red Sox, but I will remember him for his huge smile.
I won't remember Matt Shaffer for his 43 years in the biz, but I will remember his cryptic emails of encouragement, his kind words, his smiling appearances on TV when his golf course was under water, and his friendship over the years.
When all is said and done, few are remembered for how well they fulfilled their job description. It's the other stuff.
I hope you take the opportunity this Thanksgiving to reflect on your life, take stock of where you are and where you want to go, what you have done and are going to do for others. What you're going to pay forward, asking nothing in return. How you're going to impact the lives of others, as it's own reward. And that's not a bad exercise to do periodically, more often than once a year at Thanksgiving.