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Who are you?

Paul MacCormack


The identity of the Greenkeeper has always been one of adaptation and evolution. From Old Tom Morris, to Bill Murray’s lovable Caddyshack character, Carl Spackler, to our present day incarnation, Superintendents and Course Managers have moved out of the back shed into the boardroom. Our roles within the structure of our clubs and courses have grown over the years and in many cases seen us become key players in the overall vision within our properties.

Within the framework of this evolution, our national and regional associations have poured copious resources into both defining and elevating the role of Superintendents. And we as a community have also quietly assembled and lauded the qualities we value. Attention to detail, loyal to a fault, uniquely passionate and always willing to “do what it takes” or “go the extra mile” have become the reference points for many of us. We have been willing to humbly and quietly go about our business and get the job done.

In many cases this humility and willingness to sacrifice has grown our industry in a great many ways. The leaps in technology and our focus on education and learning has enabled us to create conditions that would have been unthinkable a couple of decades ago. This growth has also saddled us with an increase in expectation, both from our golfers and from within ourselves. The bar has indeed been raised in almost every area of our industry. But this evolution also begs the question…has it come with a hidden cost?

In our struggle to forge an identity for Greenkeepers and elevate our stature within the golf industry, we have also lost something along the way. As “the grind” has become celebrated, we have sacrificed more than we realized. We have convinced ourselves that we are inextricably linked with the inevitable ups and downs of our golf courses, and somewhere along the way, many of us have lost the plot.

As 'the grind' has become celebrated, we have sacrificed more than we realized...

Nowhere is this notion more evident than it is within the “turf is a lifestyle” mentality. It’s the idea that our jobs force us to sacrifice and structure everything else in our lives (including our well being) around the demands of our properties. Our relentless push to create amazing conditions day in and day out creates the illusion that the golf course matters more than anything else. Our family life, our friends and community and our physical and emotional health all must play second fiddle to the turf and our push to meet expectations. 

There are times within our careers that this level of dedication is warranted. Big tournaments, renovation projects or unexpected natural disasters can lead to multiple days of sacrifice and work. But these events are singular in nature. They require certain amounts of extra time to plan and execute, but when they finish we (should) take our foot off the pedal and recharge the batteries. The problem with the notion of “turf as a lifestyle” is that the foot stays firmly planted on the pedal at all times. And in the grand scheme of things, it’s simply not sustainable. 

The problem with the notion of 'turf as a lifestyle' is that the foot stays firmly planted on the pedal at all times. And in the grand scheme of things, it’s simply not sustainable. 

As with anything in life, when your focus becomes fixed and narrowed for a prolonged period of time we tend to lose part of ourselves. We get to a point where our identity becomes filtered through this singular lens and we forget the larger part of who we are. The successes and failures of our properties become our successes and failures. The unrealistic expectations of our members become entrenched in our psyche and become fuel for us to push and sacrifice even more. 

Dr. Gabor Mate once stated that the difference between passion and obsession is tension. If you can pursue something in your life with a sense of space and flow, then the idea of passion is healthy. On the other hand, if your version of passion involves tension, unhealthy sacrifice, and total commitment to the exclusion of just about everything else in your life… then you are in obsession territory. It might be time for us to ask this question both individually and collectively, and to look in the mirror and be honest with ourselves. Our culture as a whole celebrates this ideal of hustle and grind, so it should come as no surprise that our industry does the same. 

When we live from the 'turf as a lifestyle' scenario, it can also be helpful to remember that we are also sacrificing far more than our own identity. When we are fully committed to our turf lives to the exclusion of everything else, we are also affecting the people we love, often in negative ways. When the course always comes first, then it’s hard for resentment not to build over time.  Whether it’s our spouses, our children or our friends, it’s completely unrealistic to expect them to commit and sacrifice right along with you.  It’s tough to look in the mirror and admit that we have caused hurt and suffering with others, but in this case it’s the only way through.  

I speak as an authority on this matter because; unfortunately I lived from this place for many years. The course often took precedence over my home and family life, and it has taken a great deal of self reflection and internal honesty to come to terms with it. I’ve tried my best to heal the wounds it created. It’s neither a linear nor an easy process, but it’s worth it.

When the course always comes first, then it’s hard for resentment not to build over time.

When you watch a pendulum swing you will notice that it spends more time closer to the middle than it does at either extreme. It is toward this middle area that we need to shift our focus. We can find a place of healthy passion and still be very good at what we do. We can produce wonderful surfaces for golfers to PLAY A GAME ON and still have a life outside the golf course. We can continue this evolution of what it means to be a superintendent or course manager by embracing the idea that what we do for a living is but one small part in the totality of our identity. 

If any of this resonates with you, I would wholeheartedly encourage you to begin some internal inquiry. If you find yourself struggling or it feels like you are drowning in your work, reach out to someone and ask for help. If your identity has become completely enmeshed with the property at which you work, then work to find ways to create some healthy space and boundaries. We can move forward as an industry and continue to evolve to be better stewards of the land we tend, but only if we start to embrace the idea that we are much more than the limited notion that turf has to be an all encompassing lifestyle. 

Thanks so much for reading.

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