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The Joy of Greenkeeping

Paul MacCormack


A few weeks back a good friend, Michael Vessely (Culver Academy) reminded me of someone special who has had a profound effect on my life. He was not someone I ever met in person, but nonetheless always felt a deep connection with. This person had that kind of effect on all those he touched, met, and taught. I’m speaking of cultural icon, instructional painter, and humanitarian, Mr. Bob Ross - creator and host of The Joy of Painting television show that aired for many years on PBS.


You see, like millions of others around the globe, Michael recently introduced the gift of Bob Ross to his young daughters, some 25 years after the painting shows went off the air. I did much the same with my children a few years back and we still hunker down during some of the long and chilly evenings of our PEI winters to watch Bob’s magic brush and Zen-like demeanor.

"I guess I’m a little weird. I like to talk to trees and animals. that’s ok though; I have more fun than most people."  Bob Ross, The Joy of Painting

We all come across people in our lives who in some way have created a lasting impact on us. Their lessons may touch us in deep and compelling ways and leave with us something not readily apparent which subtly shapes us nevertheless. For me, Bob Ross was one of those folks. I started watching him back in my college days, and Saturday afternoons at 3 pm almost became a religious appointment for me. Recently, as I was reflecting on Michael’s words about Bob Ross, I concluded that Mr. Ross was actually my first introduction as a teenager to someone who embodied what it means to live mindfully. 

Mr. Ross was actually my first introduction as a teenager to someone who embodied what it means to live mindfully...

To live a mindful life doesn’t mean that you hike up to a cave in the mountains and disconnect with the world. No, it simply means that you live your life fully present to all that comes your way and make kindness and non-judging part of your moral compass. 

Here are a few of the lessons I learned from Mr. Ross and how they relate to the art of greenkeeping:

  • Presence – You could always tell that Bob was connected to his painting in a deeply present way. The way he taught and spoke intimately with his audience demonstrated his commitment to presence. He was able to convey so much in those amazing scenes because when he was there, he was completely there.

    Each day as turf professionals we are afforded similar opportunities; whether it’s with the people we work with or actually being out on our properties. If we can pause and be present with what is right in front of us, we may just see it for the work of art it truly is.

  • Humility – When you watch Bob Ross paint, you could easily mistake him for anything but what he was. His set was stark and simple. He always wore the same outfit, and most importantly, he never made you feel that he was better than you were. Even though he was never considered a master artist, he lived for the notion that the joy of painting could make the world would a better place for ordinary people just making their way in the world.

    Leadership within greenkeeping definitely grows stronger with a sense of humility. If we carry ourselves from a humble perspective, then those around us will respond in kind and we will see things more clearly as they are.

... show everyone, everywhere, that they have a gift inside them, which, with a little help and practice, could blossom...

  • Passion – Mr. Ross and those who worked with him gave of themselves tirelessly. They toured around the world sharing the gift of painting, showing everyone they came in contact with that they too had a special gift to share. This was Bob’s real secret; show everyone, everywhere, that they have a gift inside them, which, with a little help and practice, could blossom through using his painting technique.

    How do you work to inspire your team during the course of the season? Is your love of turf transmitted to those who work with you each day? If we can place more emphasis on why we love what we do more often, it will have a ripple effect on those around us.

  • Flexibility – When you watch a half hour show, you always know that he has an end goal planned for a painting. When recording an episode, he had the picture in his mind of how he wanted the painting to turn out. But the key point was that he was never rigidly tied to a specific outcome. As the time permitted, he let the painting take him where it would and thoroughly appeared to enjoy the whole process. There were no mistakes ever in Bob’s world; only “happy accidents.” This flexibility of mind turns the missteps of life into places where something new can emerge from.

    This is where the methodology of Bob Ross overlaps with turf maintenance more so than any other. As Superintendents we always have an end goal in mind, but flexibility has to be a central feature to any project or system we seek to create. Adapting and welcoming the change as a wonderful opportunity is paramount to moving through our days with flow.

  • Wonder & Gratitude – When Bob wasn’t painting, he would often reflect on the abundance and many gifts in his life. He had a deep reverence for all things natural and that was always apparent in his art. You could see the joy that painting and teaching brought Mr. Ross with your eyes closed. The very best part of watching his show, was that you usually carried on with your day happier than before you started.

    How often to you pause for a sense of wonder? Do you make gratefulness a central part of each day?

  • Compassion & Kindness – You could always see that Bob Ross had a deep empathy for all beings. You could sense his caring nature for his students and also for animals in need of extra care. Our kids’ personal favourite was “Peapod” the squirrel who loved to sleep in the pocket of his shirt.  We named a resident squirrel in our yard in honour of Bob’s Peapod.

    As leaders, kindness and compassion for those people whom we work with on a daily basis can make a world of difference. Realizing that our team members are people just like anyone else, with all the joys and sorrows that make us human, will have a lasting impact. As well, demonstrating compassion and caring for all the living things who share our golf courses as their home too requires courage and a willingness to acknowledge that the living world encompasses far more than we humans are often willing to admit or kindly engage with. Bob Ross always had room in his home for so many little creature friends. In an era of climate change and biodiversity loss we might do well to find room in our hearts and on our courses to make space for more than just humans and turf.

  • Sense of Humour & Fun – His painting shows were always light hearted and almost whimsical in nature. His jokes and comical nature, well placed and balanced by his calm demeanor. His one liners as he beat his brushes on the easel to clean them are the stuff of legend.

    Keeping things fun just makes work better. People don’t mind working hard, but if you can approach each day with a sense of levity and humour it changes the vibe considerably.

So, take a moment and think about your own life and craft. Do any of the above attributes ring true? It doesn’t matter whether you are a painting instructor or a Superintendent, being kind and working to inspire others transcends life itself.

When we reflect on those persons who have had a profound effect on us, it’s usually long after the fact. These people can be someone close to us, or in the case of someone like Bob Ross, be someone whom we have never met. If you are lucky enough to have someone like this in your life, take a moment and share your gratitude. The power of sharing your positive feelings with people has a ripple effect that is felt far beyond this simple act of kindness.

From all of us here at TurfNet, I’d like to wish you “Happy greenkeeping… and God bless”.  

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You know I am a Fan Boy, for many reasons. This is, one of your very best pieces and I have read it no less than ten times.

It hits home for me. My mom was a painter. A good one. Like, she sold stuff and did murals for people good. And she was a huge Bob Ross fan. She didn't always agree with his technical side, but she saw that he endeavored to bring a lot of joy to people via the canvas... and she understood that. Often his was on her TV in the background when I would call  from wherever in the world.

When I dropped everything to be her caregiver at the end of her life, three clicks on Amazon brought us all of Ross' DVD's. And she and watched every day together.... talking. Commenting. And enjoying the peace of it all. we even set up her easel and let her go to town. He hands were shaking badly, but she still had her it factor. 

So I appreciate your helping me to remember that this former Paratrooper made a difference in her life. And mine.


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Thanks so much for sharing that Dave. What a wonderful memory, she sounds like she was a super cool mom. 

Thanks again for the kind words,


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Great column, Paul.  Enjoyed reading that.  Your writing has a calmative effect, at least on me.

I stopped watching Bob, maybe the late 80s, because he made me feel guilty for dropping so many "happy little trees".

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4 hours ago, Randy Wilson said:

Great column, Paul.  Enjoyed reading that.  Your writing has a calmative effect, at least on me.

I stopped watching Bob, maybe the late 80s, because he made me feel guilty for dropping so many "happy little trees".

I told Paul that reading his stuff is like sitting by a nice fire. Of course it was 101 degrees when I wrote that, but still the calming effect is the deal.

I hate being such a leg humper, but I just love this blog post. So much. I wanna marry it, or at least bottle it and splash my face with it, or something.

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Funny you mention dropping trees and such Randy...I've had more twinges of remorse as of late with a chainsaw in my hands. But once the view opens up and the turf grows better and we don't spray as much, it goes away.

Thanks so much for the kind words guys.

Be well


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