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An Open Letter to The Green Chairman


Dave Wilber

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(I've had the pleasure to work with both great and awful green chairmen. This summer, I'm calling it the Summer of the Noobie. And so, in Wilber Fashion. Time to write an open letter.)

 

Dear Mr. Green Chairman,

 

Posted Image

Do you, sir, really understand your job as Green Committee Chairman? 
 
How in the world did you get so little direction for this position when given it? Please tell me that you passionately accepted this position with the understanding that it may be the most important committee chair at your club. If you don't feel that way, why are you "serving"? Politics? Really?
 
For some reason it seems to be in your head to learn all about agronomy so you can tell your superintendent what to do. In just a few months, to pick up everything there is to know about growing grass. Well, guess what? Can't be done. In your short term (and that's what you'll have if you keep to your current path) you can't learn agronomy. You can pick up a little, and that's good. But constantly questioning everything and everyone because somehow (in your analysis) there may be a better way? Just a waste of time. Everyone's time.
 
So what can you do? It's pretty simple actually. Here's the list:
  • Build consensus among the membership by being a benevolent dictator. Management of your turf care department isn't for the uninformed. Thus your tactic of asking everyone what they think renders you powerless. Tell them what they should be thinking. Better.
     
  • Identify and understand the things that constrain your club's turf care department. Every superintendent has a list. It usually always has to do with dollars. Often it has to do with labor. Sometimes it means equipment. Nearly always, there are tournament and event scheduling issues. More than likely there are irrigation and shop facility needs. Notice a trend with dollars? Listen to your superintendent. Ask what he needs. Then, get yourself in front of the club's movers and shakers and move and shake some change.
     
  • Avoid pet projects of your own design. You did not get this job to leave your mark. That kind of thinking has clubs all over the world saddled with sublime to absurd features on the golf course. Don't do it. Empower your superintendent to enlist the help of professional advice. Then see point #1 above.
     
  • Your superintendent is a person, not a machine. The job comes with long hours and a lot of stress. Scheduling meetings late into the night when he gets up at 4am isn't good. He likely has a family. A young family. To keep that family, he or she needs some time at home and away from the golf course. Don't ask him to join your Saturday AM foursome or your three-day golf and scotch soaking weekend. Find ways to interact with him, or better yet, limit those interactions.
     
  • Posted ImageYou must be the golf course Advocate and Champion. That means not allowing the GM to cut the maintenance budget to buy new espresso makers or $222k worth of spin bikes. At board meetings you must ask, constantly, if superfluous projects and expenditures are more important than golf. Now and then, they are. But not that often.
     
  • Learn that the golf course changes, and be real with your expectations. Weather, play, seasons, agronomic inputs all make for a changing playing surface. No one, and I mean no one, wants it perfect more than your superintendent. No one. So when you tell your superintendent that some 5 handicapper thought the greens were a little slow on August 15th, you are showing, clearly, you don't get it. And when a member writes you a letter outlining all the things they don't like just after a string of tournaments, hot weather and ladies 9-hole championships, think twice about how you represent the efforts of the turf care department. Oh and those 25 Mondays that are packed with outside outing monkeys? Death.
     
  • Champion your superintendent's education. Anyone who has been around a group of dedicated gnarly turfheads knows that most of the time they talk about grass. So keeping your super from gathering with other supers is just plain stupid. Pay for his continued education in whatever form he needs. For some that may be volunteering at a big event, for others the Golf Industry Show, for nearly all, local gatherings (informal or formal). A TurfNet subscription. Your super isolates himself at YOUR club for long days and getting away to see new perspective and network is key to success. This can't be optional.
     
  • Don't ask the golf pro or the GM about grass. Unless they have opened the shop doors and grown it themselves for a living, they don't know. They may know what members are saying. And that's good info. But you can get the same info from the bartender and there usually isn't a political slant to the story. DO, however, work hard to help the GM, pro, swim instructor and everyone else know what an ace your superintendent is.
     
  • Control your committee. Being a green committee member is a privilege. It means sitting on the most important committee at the club. Have strong meeting agendas. Get rid of members who don't show up. Use Robert's Rules of Order for your meetings. Allow the superintendent to present a written (and if necessary Visual report). Don't have lengthy open debates without calling the question. And most important, demand that decisions made in that room are supported, understood and disseminated with PRIDE! See point #1 above.
So, Mr. Green Chairman, it's not about you. It's about your golf course and your golf course superintendent. Put your ego aside and listen, learn and understand.  Empower and support. Then stand back and watch the magic. 
 
Regards in Golf,
 
 
 
Dave Wilber
Consulting Agronomist 

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Dang Dave,

 

Sounds like you may have drawn from some of your experiences with me and the illustrious DF chairmen I had the pleasure of working with. You should sell this with your (or better yet, USGA) letterhead to every turf head in the land! Well done.

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