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It Ain't The X's and O's

Randy Wilson


There's an old saying in football coaching:  "It ain't the X's and the O's, it's the Jimmies and the Joes."  The winless coach considers this to be profound wisdom, while the winning coach will stress the quality of leadership as the most important factor in a team's success.  While coaching high school football, after my GCS career was over, I learned that the X's and O's rule was really more of a 50/50 formula.  Even a great coach can't win if the team is a bunch of cupcakes  . . . but it works both ways.  A team loaded with talent can still have a losing season, if the head coach is a doofus.

This concept also applies to golf course operations.  1951295227_skeletonrestingongolfclub.thumb.jpg.94cb9a89acabd5a97c5ff29457fb4fe4.jpg

One course might have the greatest GCS in the state, but without a good crew, one that's experienced, motivated, and happy, well  . . . that course will probably have a losing season.  Another course might have a great crew, but if the GCS is a big doofus, that course could also suffer a rough season, albeit with a greater potential for career frustration, insults in the break room and fights in the parking lot.

Crew quality is typically affected by factors like the local cost of housing, an inflexible pay structure, a difficult work environment, (swamps, floods, armed robbers posing as golfers) and jerks on the crew who delight in running off new hires.  Or perhaps the course has been burdened with incompetent management for decades and subsequently developed a poison reputation.

The toxic combination of a tyrant heading the board of directors, coupled with a weak GM, a golf pro who rows against the rest of the team . . . and the aforementioned doofus in the GCS slot, will consistently suffocate a golf course.  A similar command structure often exists in football and rarely fails to neuter a team's spirit.

At Rockbottum CC, we have had experience with all of these deviations from good sense, yet we survived.  We did this by maintaining a positive attitude, lots of exercise-induced euphoria, and a measured application of Skeletal Golf Theory, or SGT.  For your reading pleasure or maybe just to help your late winter sanity, we have included at least six SGT methods for keeping the crew/team in a positive and productive frame of mind.

SGT RULE #1:  Analyze and Identify the different types of individual personalities on your team.  While I was originally taught to "mix things up" in order to keep the crew interested, as well as heavily cross-trained for team efficiency, I noticed there were always a couple of individuals on the crew that were uncomfortable with constant change.  For instance, we had a Nam vet who enjoyed doing the same task every day.  "Snake" really liked changing cups and prepping the course.  After CC & Prep, Snake would pull a quick maintenance drill on a rough unit and spend the rest of the day in the tall grass.  If I pulled him out of his routine for a project, he never complained, but he was most productive in his comfort zone where he ran on autopilot.  (It was easy to tell if he was unhappy, because he would toss a snake on my desk.)

Another Nam combat vet, "Bambino", was at his best if he was always doing something different . . . after a quick nap on the fertilizer bags.  Crew management can be similar to coaching football.  Some people are just better on defense.  Leave 'em there.

It's tough to believe in the strength coach who looks like Mr. Bean

SGT RULE #2:  Lead From The Front.  Show the crew you've been in the trenches, not just freshly dropped off the bus from Yale.  They will have more confidence in you if they think you actually know what you're doing.  Jump on a mower, work a shovel, get in the hole with them, share an irrigation trauma story, stay on the saw all day.  Don't just wave your arms, yell and point at your clipboard/tablet/phone and then zip off in your truck screaming at the radio.  It's tough to believe in the strength coach who looks like Mr. Bean.

SGT RULE #3:  Keep The Team Informed.  Without taking 45 minutes on the chalkboard/whiteboard/virtual thingy, tell them WHY they are doing a specific, repetitive, mundane task exactly the way you want it done.  They are more likely to buy in and increase the job quality if they know why.  Again, it's like football, where the O-Line is the most important unit on the field, but incompetent coaches will often treat them like mindless grunts and are surprised when the blocking is invisible.

SGT RULE #4:  Develop The Team's Interest in Golf.  If key team members learn more about playing the game, or even just the history, it helps them see things from the golfer's point of view.  Golfers are prone to crazy behavior and if the team is out there with them all day, it's beneficial to know why golfers are sometimes irrational.  If the GCS is a known golfer, it inspires team confidence in the play calls.  I once played for a D-Back coach who had never played football.  (He knew a lot about volleyball.)  When he signaled for a safety blitz, I wasn't really that confident in his strategy and probably didn't give 100%.  Or 50%.

SGT RULE #5:  Tighten The Chain of Command.  If your operation has a lengthy chain of command, you had best get control of it.  Nothing will destroy team morale like a Jekyll and Hyde chain of command.  When a team member receives orders from the 1st Asst. and those orders are countermanded by the 2nd Asst. or the Foreman and the Green Chair and the President of the Ladies Association, confusion reigns.  In a worst case scenario, the GCS arrives and rips the crew member a new orifice for not doing it "his" way.  At this point, the crew member with excellent control of his emotions will often clock out and walk out.  The entire coaching staff needs to get together and teach the same techniques.

SGT RULE #6:  Lighten It Up.  I once took over a course where the crew had barricaded the GCS in his office.  Twice.  The vibe at that course was awful, so I immediately instituted ten minutes of parking lot Frisbee time, just before clock out.  (As long as machines were clean and prepped.)  Crew morale improved quickly,  even though the course had a history of not getting along.  A sense of brotherhood formed and the course returned from near dead.  It was just like one of those football movies where animosity turns to friendship.  That's especially important in case you unknowingly have a mass murderer and a serial killer on the crew.  Trust me on this one.

Note:  I had to delete Rule #7, the one about mandatory stimping at 1100 and 1400.

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Well done.

I might add a rule: Understand that the crew is not motivated by the same things you are. While they like seeing the course in good shape, they are trading their time for money and you should try to get them as much of the latter as you can.





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Thanks, Fred.  I may have forgotten SGT Rule #53:  If the equip mgr is good, provide a throne and play a royal fanfare when they enter each morning.

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