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Greg Wojick, CGCS

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  1. Guest Post by Greg Wojick In the first two parts of this series, we have reviewed the obstacles to contracts and how you can sell the idea to your club. This final part will provide you with a detailed roadmap on what should be included in the actual contract. When you get the go-ahead on the contract, your next step is to be sure that it covers all the bases. Here's a basic checklist based on industry standards along with lessons learned and a few cautionary tales from superintendents--and club members themselves--who have been through the process, or have chosen not to. The contract should define: Your responsibilities/performance parameters. Be sure to spell out your duties in detail. "Contracts offer peace of mind to both sides by setting expectation levels," says one superintendent. Peter McCormick of TurfNet cautions, however, that establishing performance parameters can be tricky. "Out on the golf course, performance in terms of playability and aesthetics becomes very personal, subjective, and not easily quantifiable. The only way to reduce subjectivity," he continued, "is if there is a document of agreed-upon maintenance standards in place. This should be separate from (but appended to) an employment contract so it can be revised as needed and agreed. The document of maintenance standards can also serve as the basis of a job description, which can be either integral or appended to an employment contract," he added. One club member I spoke to cited what he perceived to be a serious drawback to detailing duties and expectations: "By 'binding' both the club and the superintendent to specific roles and responsibilities, a contract limits everyone's flexibility," he said. "This may pose a problem down the road if the club decides it doesn't like the contract terms or wants to terminate it early. That can't happen without the superintendent agreeing to new terms to the contract." Moral of this story: Carefully review the responsibilities and performance parameters you agree to put in writing. The chain of command. "It's good to have something in writing that identifies not only what is expected of the employee, but also who, specifically, the superintendent is responsible to," said another survey participant, explaining, "The club's governance changes over time. Board members come and go, and at some clubs, general managers come and go even faster. It's important that new personnel understand the chain of command." Rule of thumb: The fewer people you report to, the better. Best case is only one! The length of your contract. It's always best to lobby for a multi-year contract or, better, one that automatically renews at the end of each year. Without a definitive end point, it seems both parties are less apt to think about making changes. As one superintendent with a short-term contract lamented:"I had a contract at a previous club, and it didn't seem to work in my favor. It always felt like a ticking clock that eventually would stop, prompting the club to take something away from me. When I started, for example, I had full family medical benefits provided by the club. When my second contract was up, they took that opportunity to force me to contribute to my benefits package," he continued. "And the small raise they gave me barely covered the new expense. If I had no contract, it wouldn't have given them a definitive time to make this move on me." Salary and performance reviews. Note what your compensation is, when it is payable (weekly, biweekly, or monthly), and when you can expect to be evaluated for a raise. More than half the survey respondents receive annual performance evaluations. Be sure to define a performance review schedule in your contract. "With a contract, you're assured some sort of financial growth," said one survey participant, adding what he perceived as a downside: "But along with that assurance is the pressure to live up to -- or exceed -- expectations, year after year." For most of the superintendents I surveyed, having a contract that offered financial security seemed to far outweigh any performance concerns. One of the most favorable stories I heard relating to contracts and compensation came from Peter McCormick. He shared a conversation he had once had with a superintendent who had worked for 10 years or so without a contract at a club that had not lived up to verbal promises of future salary advancement made when he was hired. Peter explained: "The superintendent looked around casually as jobs came up but was happy where he was, even though underpaid relative to others in the area. He had a frank conversation with his green chairman, who went to the board on the superintendent's behalf. The end result was a 10-year contract with a significant salary increase and retirement contributions," continued Peter. "Relieved of anxiety about his future and the feeling that he wasn't being properly compensated, he was able to move forward reenergized and with a renewed focus and sense of purpose." Good for both him and the club. This is another example of how contracts can work in everyones favor! Bonus compensation. You might consider building in a bonus for such things as becoming certified or maintaining your certification, meeting or exceeding your budget goals, managing a major enhancement project, hosting tournaments, bringing in new members, or any other practice you feel goes above and beyond your everyday job function. One survey respondent noted receiving a bonus for seeing the club's new irrigation system installation through to completion, on time and on budget. "The club gave me $25,000 and my assistant $5,000," he said. "They recognized that successfully managing a project of that size required many extra hours and superior organizational skills." Professional memberships and educational seminars. Don't hesitate to push for funding and time off to attend both professional and educational industry events. Explain how maintaining professional affiliations and attending local, regional, and national conferences, field days, and seminars are essential to staying abreast of industry trends and practices. Insurance. Define your medical, dental, life, and disability insurance coverage. This assures coverage for the length of your contract. As one club member noted, "If the contract promises the superintendent health benefits, you can't decide to stop paying for those benefits as a way to save money. The only way to change the terms of the contract is to renegotiate them." A perfect example of why a contract is worth pursuing. Retirement contributions. It's a good idea to include in your contract regular contributions to a 401K or other retirement vehicle. Vacation. On average, superintendents receive two to four weeks of paid vacation annually. Some reported receiving significantly more time, particularly during the winter months for a majority of superintendents in the country. Be sure to specify not only the amount of vacation time you want, but also when you would like to take it. If you want a weekend off in the summer with your family and can agree on that arrangement, put it in writing. Housing/housing allowance. Include maintenance, utilities, taxes, assessments, and related upkeep. Meals. Provide for a meal allowance. At least one meal a day is standard during the months of a facility's restaurant operation. A number of the supers surveyed are allowed any number of meals, as long as theyre on the job. Vehicle allowance. Many clubs provide a vehicle or an allowance to purchase one. Be sure to specify whether gas, insurance, and maintenance costs are included, as well as how often the vehicle will be replaced. Facility privileges. Note any and all club privileges you, your family, and guests might be entitled to. If you're entitled to use the pool, golf, or play tennis, note this, along with any fees that you are exempt from paying as an employee using the facility. Severance. Surprisingly, a number of superintendents surveyed did not have a severance package and longed for a reasonable separation agreement. Others were hoping to improve the package they currently have. Most who commented on their package understandably wanted their severance pay to grow along with their tenure. "My severance is three months salary," noted one superintendent who would like to negotiate for more. "I have been here for eight years and would like one month for every year of service, not to exceed 12 months," he said. There are a number of ways to handle severance. Among the most common is to pay all the annual salary that would have been earned from the actual date of termination and/or, as this superintendent noted, one month's pay for each year of service. Conditions of contract termination. It's important to spell out how, when, and why your contract -- or your employment -- can be terminated. One super surveyed stressed giving careful thought to the timing of a termination: "I would strongly encourage any superintendent who has club housing and a family in the town's school system to build in a termination notification on or before June 30. This way," he said, "you have two full months to find new housing and a new school system for your children. This was a big issue for me, and the club did agree to the new notification clause." Indemnification. Including this type of clause in your contract will protect you from claims, lawsuits, fines, etc., that you might incur as an employee of the facility. One superintendent surveyed felt it was more important to have some way to protect himself against "the bad decisions the club ends up making." While still another commented that, no matter what protection this or any of the other contract clauses might offer, his club would always have the upper hand: "If it came to a dispute between the club and me, their 200 attorneys would squish me like a bug," he said. "Basically, my contract is a piece of paper that says my benefits in writing." Keep in mind, as with any legally binding document, you should always have an attorney look at it -- and preferably one who knows the profession -- to ensure you're properly protected and that the contract complies with federal and state laws. "Contracts are worthwhile only if the language is properly written, and the only way to do that is to have a lawyer look at it," concurred one of the survey participants who, like many of the respondents, made sure to seek legal counsel. Final Thoughts If you're among the many superintendents seriously thinking of pursuing an employment agreement, remember that you should first be sure your track record qualifies you for a binding contract and then be fair about what youre asking for. If you shoot for the moon, you're likely to turn off an otherwise receptive group. If lobbying for a contract seems like more trouble than it's worth, keep in mind that once you've reached a mutually acceptable agreement with your employer, you can go to work every day confident about your job and undistracted by issues that may cause you to question your future employment. In the work world, there are few feelings better than that. Sections of this blog post were originally created by Greg in a survey for the MetGCSA. That content is courtesy of the MetGCSA.
  2. Guest post by Greg Wojick In the first part of this series posted last month, we covered the obstacles that contracts can encounter. So just how do you go about selling the idea of an employment contract to your green committee and board? As the other industry experts and superintendents I spoke to will agree: Its all in how you market yourself and the mutually beneficial rewards of having a contract. To start: Approach the idea of a contract when the course is at its best. If you have been employed at your club for a number of years, remind them of any and all of your noteworthy accomplishments, from money-saving measures and agronomic improvements to personal accomplishments, such as achieving certification. Then go on to explain that a contract is useful in: Defining expectations. If your employer defines in a contract exactly whats expected of you, you will spend less time second-guessing your employer's goals and more time accomplishing them. No guesswork; greater efficiency. Protecting the club's most important asset, the golf course. The last thing a club wants is to jeopardize the quality of course conditions by losing a superintendent in the throes of the season or just before a major club event. A contract can guard against inopportune resignations. One club member I spoke to pointed to this very reason for offering a superintendent a written contract. "The contract can lock the employee into a specific term (for example, two years)," he said, "or require the employee to give the club enough notice to find a suitable replacement (for example, 90 days notice). While a club can't force someone to keep working for them, an employee is likely to comply with the agreements terms if there is a penalty within the contract for not doing so," he noted. Ensuring consistency. Procedures and expectations for ongoing and future projects can be easily specified in a contract. This leads not only to better planning, but also the added assurance that long-term projects can be carried out as defined even if the committee heading up a project changes. Making compensation predictable. Employment contracts define compensation and benefits, leaving little open to interpretation or negotiation more than once a year. Building trust. Clubs entrust the care and management of the golf course to you. You want to trust the club to treat you fairly and equitably. A contract lays the groundwork for that trust by defining everyones responsibilities: your responsibilities to the club and the clubs responsibilities to you. As Peter McCormick of TurfNet confirmed, "everyone works better in an environment that provides assurances. Contracts minimize question marks and gray areas," he said, "and avoid issues of trust. Both parties know what to expect so they can get on with business without having to look over anyone's shoulder internally -- which is energy misspent." Be aware, however, of the harsh reality that many clubs are going to be looking after their interests more than yours. In fact, according to one club member I spoke to, "The club can view an employment contract as a tool to maintain tighter control over an employee. If the contract specifies standards for the employee's performance (a detailed job description) and grounds for termination," he noted, "a club may have an easier time terminating an employee who doesn't live up to the club's standards." A perfect reason to have a lawyer review your contract before signing on the dotted line! What should I include in a contract? When you get the go-ahead on the contract, your next step is to be sure that it covers all the bases. In the final part of this series, we will outline each aspect of what to include in the contract with pros and cons to each. Sections of this blog post were originally created by Greg in a survey for the MetGCSA. That content is courtesy of the MetGCSA.
  3. Guest Post by Greg Wojick I've been in the industry more than 35 years as both a golf course superintendent and now a principal in Playbooks for Golf, and in that time, I've seen many changes -- in equipment, technology, management techniques, and in the education and agronomic expertise required to do an increasingly demanding job. Despite these advances, few superintendents throughout the country are acknowledged as professionals worthy of an employment contract. According to the GCSAA Compensation & Benefits Report completed by superintendent members in recent years, only 20 percent of the over 3,000 who responded have a written employment contract. That statistic doesn't seem very encouraging. So why are employment contracts still more the exception than the rule among golf course superintendents? PROBLEM #1: The most apparent, long-standing problem I see is that laypeople, i.e., green committee and board members, still don't fully understand what it is that superintendents do, much less comprehend the level of skill and the breadth and depth of knowledge required to manage a golf course operation. We all have read or heard about the fantastic new contracts that pro athletes/managers/coaches obtain (most always through the negotiation by their agents and/or lawyers). Why? Because in professional sports, owners and boards almost always "get" what the coaches and athletes actually do. Many were former coaches or athletes themselves. What's more, the quality of the work of these new hires can be easily judged by wins and losses and statistics. In other words, there is little mystery to what people in the sports arena do. You can say the same about the golf facility's general manager. Members pretty much understand what's involved. General managers are considered key players in the golf facility's profitability, while the superintendent's essential role in the club's viability often goes unrecognized. Confirming this great divide in understanding, one industry executive noted, "The club member's general viewpoint about superintendents is that they are analogous to a head engineer. The GM is regarded as more of a CEO. Although these characterizations are changing," he said, "its still the 'CEOs' who get the written employment agreements." In fact, about 75 percent of general managers countrywide are awarded employment contracts according to many in that industry segment. In the modern-day golf world, many green committee and board members will attempt to grasp what a superintendent does -- and often erroneously believe they know the job better than the superintendent -- as they Google everything from "effectiveness of calcium nitrate" to "growing Bermuda grass in my region." Unfortunately, even with this drilling for knowledge, a true understanding of the concerns, challenges, and constraints of the job eludes even the most well-intentioned committee member. We have studied this subject thoroughly at Playbooks, and have begun a new software platform that should create a much better environment to combat this critical issue by combining the best features of Twitter, blogs and native apps to let the superintendent control their message from one central location and ensure golfers actually receive it. Its called Conditions App and is fully launching this spring. Expanding this problem: Then, when it comes to hiring, those entrusted with the super's hire typically just use their intuition or thoughts from grillroom friends to rate and reward or terminate. More and more superintendents find themselves being told the club has decided to go in a different direction. There are no assurances of employment beyond today particularly when no contract is in place. I spoke several years ago with Peter McCormick, TurfNet founder, about this very issue and he pointed to "employment instability" as the single biggest threat to the golf course superintendent as a career -- and as an industry. "Underlying 'employment instability' is the flux of personnel over time on the employer side, particularly at private clubs," McCormick explained. "The people who hire a superintendent and are privy to the conversations at the interviews and resultant agreements and expectations -- whether they are a general manager, club official, committee, or board member -- very often aren't around five or ten years down the road. Unless those discussions and agreements are memorialized in a document agreed to by all parties -- in effect, a contract -- it all becomes hearsay over time. And hearsay can lead to potential misunderstanding, disagreement and rancor," he cautioned. PROBLEM #2: I found that many supers don't have a contract simply because they don't ask for one. Some fear a club's rejection. Others told me they're happy to operate without a contract. One superintendent who spoke to me anonymously, like the others I surveyed, was among the many who just didn't think to ask for an employment agreement: "The members who hired me are smart. If they really wanted me to have a contract, they would have offered it to me before I agreed to take the position," he said. Unfortunately, in today's highly competitive job market, many newly hired superintendents are so pleased that theyve been selected from the throngs of other applicants, that lobbying for a contract barely crosses their minds. It's understandable, then, that most new hires will quickly agree to a reasonable offer without any negotiation, but many are also overly optimistic about their future with their club. They assume they will always be held in high esteem because, of course, they will always keep the course in top condition and will never make a mistake worthy of their dismissal. "Everyone loved me at the interviews," said the same super, believing his honeymoon period would never end. Equally optimistic, another superintendent told me: "I feel if I continue to work hard and communicate effectively, I will be able to overcome any tenuous situations that may arise. In other words," he added, "if I get dismissed, it will be my fault." Despite the club's seeming upper hand during the interview process, there's actually no better time to ask for a contract than at the time of hiring. It shouldn't jeopardize your situation, but rather enhance it by establishing you as a competent professional who, like other industry professionals, expects more than just a handshake when agreeing to accept the job. AN OBSTACLE CAN BECOME A SOLUTION: A contract offers superintendents what I call "failure avoidance". It spells out exactly what the employer expects of you and what you can expect of the employer. It basically stipulates the employment agreement and terms of employment. It also protects the superintendent from termination at the whim of an employer, indicating the process in which separation or termination could occur. Unfortunately, some employers will perceive this as a reason to steer clear of contracts. As one club member admitted, "Employment contracts bring with them an obligation to deal fairly with the employee. In legal terms, this is called the 'covenant of good faith and fair dealing'. If the club ends up treating an employee in a way that a judge or jury finds unfair," he continued, "the club may be legally responsible not only for violating the contract, but also for breaching their duty to act in good faith." In my opinion, this is all the more reason to lobby for a contract. It can protect both superintendent and employer, which offers an overall talking point for superintendents planning to approach their club about securing an employment contract. ROADMAP TO A CONTRACT So just how do you go about selling the idea of an employment contract to your green committee and board? As the other industry experts and superintendents I spoke to will agree: It's all in how you market yourself and the mutually beneficial rewards of having a contract. In Part 2 of this exploration (check back next month), we will lay out a detailed road-map for a well-written and attainable employment contract. Sections of this blog were originally created by Greg in a survey for the MetGCSA. That content is courtesy of the MetGCSA.
  4. By Greg Wojick Greenkeeper /green-keep-er/ noun: Someone who solves myriad problems average golfers didn't know they had in a way they don't understand. See also Wizard, Magician. It has always been difficult for me to accept the fact that most golfers don't understand even a small fraction of what happens behind the scenes in golf course maintenance. Maybe, much like magicians whose acts continue to mystify their audiences, the work of the golf course superintendent is just too much to fully grasp. Attempting to bridge the gap between the knowledge of the professional turf practitioner and the lack of knowledge of the golfer is far from easy! In fact, it's probably one of the greatest challenges facing golf course superintendents today. After all, the job of the superintendent is complex. It spans numerous fields of knowledge well beyond greenkeeping. Most superintendents know volumes about fertilizers, increasingly sophisticated grooming equipment, sprayers, and irrigation systems, turf pests and diseases and the herbicides and pesticides that prevent and control them. Like a doctor, they have to be able to diagnose -- and treat -- the inevitable problems that arise affecting turf health -- while keeping a watchful eye on the environment. At the same time, they're expected to have the acumen of corporate execs, who are accomplished schmoozers, public speakers, and skilled at managing sizable staffs and equally sizable operating budgets. Few golfers understand -- and sometimes superintendents themselves forget -- the vast scope of knowledge the job requires. And many, by nature, are falling short in the interpersonal -- or schmoozing -- aspect of the job. Who, after all, has time for it in the thick of the season when the greater concerns of turf health and ball roll weigh on their minds 24/7, right? Wrong! Though the average golfer will never fully understand, or frankly want to understand, the intricacies of turf management, it's still important to rub shoulders with the regulars and club officials who have at least a casual interest in better understanding maintenance practices. They may want to understand why greens may be fast or slow or why carts are being restricted to paths only. They may be a bit confused when they're scolded for not raking sand in bunkers or replacing divots, not fixing ball marks on greens, riding carts inappropriately, or not corralling the divots at the practice range tee. There are a few insanely interested golfers who want to Google what causes certain turf diseases or grain on greens -- all the more reason to make it a point to communicate with the golfers at your club or course. I'm sure you've all seen how a little knowledge can be dangerous and result in some troublesome misunderstandings. Communicating Made Easier Fortunately, whether we actually rub shoulders with members or communicate through the club's publication or website or through social media, there are numerous ways to keep those who are interested apprised of what we do and the impact it may have on their game. New on the block are apps that first allowed a club's general manager to alert members of clubhouse activities and menu changes Now similar apps are available that allow golf course superintendents to alert golfers to myriad golf course developments, from areas under construction to aeration dates. Daily, I read with enthusiasm, interest, and many times humor, the tweets, the blogs, the newsletter articles and the website efforts of superintendents. Thanks to these internet options, communications efforts have slowly been increasing. Kudos to the supers who dare to take the time and give the effort to educate and communicate. All in all, the efforts to demystify the details of maintenance are worth it. Done well, these communications will keep members and golfers happily informed and even earn you the recognition and respect that will peg you as a valued contributor to your club or facility. For those communicating and those who haven't fully taken the leap, here are a few tips that may help you feel more confident in your communications: 1. Are you communicating to the right audience? It may be more fun to tweet out to your superintendent buddies, but make sure that, in whatever you share through social media, you put your best foot forward. Pretend you're a new golfer at your facility who's waking up eager to play golf. He or she is thinking: Is the course wet today? Is it open? Are the greens fast, soft? Is there any construction activity I should be aware of? Are there any outings? Will pesticides be applied today? Are carts restricted? Is the practice tee turf available for practice? Using your tweets, blogs, etc., to communicate useful information to the right audience will go a long way toward bridging the knowledge gap. Golfers don't really care that one of your workers didn't show up again today. Work toward using your communications to enlighten the VIP list at your club: the GM and professional staff; the green committee members and the chairman; the club president or the owner; the caddie master or starter; the key restaurant personnel and even the caddies. All these people are likely to come into contact with golfers and can serve as messengers of your updates and information. The more people able to offer accurate, detailed information on your behalf, the better. 2. Are you using the latest available communication tools? How does a super get the chance to go beyond the routine issues on the golf course and explain the more complex issues that face the course? How does one explain the many types of bunker liners and bunker sands for instance? Using blogs, photos, and pointing to research articles are always good options, provided those research articles can be easily digested by the layman. For those who would like some of the work done for them, our new app (Conditions) contains a library of informative, easy-to-read articles that help explain many of the complex challenges we all face on the golf course in a format that members are now used to via an app. With the job of golf course superintendent getting increasingly complex and demanding, online communication options seem the way to go. But keep in mind, it should never totally replace the in-person communication. Developing personal relationships is, and always will be, a key aspect of the job. 3. Are you taking enough time each day to communicate? Communicating, no doubt, requires time and effort. And sometimes, you may wonder if it's really paying off. But I can assure you, providing regular course updates, particularly during times of extreme heat stress or disease outbreaks, can only serve you well. Members will appreciate having the ability to understand what is going on at their golf course and will feel more confident in your ability as a turfgrass manager. Just as important, it will eliminate the need to speculate about what is happening on the course. Future success for superintendents is tied to the success that they have when it comes to communicating with those not-in-the-know. And today, the superintendent has more tools available than ever to do it! After nearly 30 years as a golf course superintendent and consultant, Greg Wojick co-founded Playbooks for Golf in 2008.
  5. Guest Post by Greg Wojick Our industry has always been about so much more than growing grass. Eventually everyone has an issue arise, either agronomic or elsewhere in the operation. My belief is that whenever you're in trouble -- and even before you are in trouble -- you better be able to communicate well. I'm usually impressed with superintendents' technical competence and professional conduct. If only that were all you needed for success! The reality is that a major part of your success as a superintendent is having the ability to present yourself and your ideas clearly and effectively before your Green Committee or general membership. Unlike the casual conversations you have with your colleagues, crew, and golfing membership, presenting to a group requires thought and preparation. It's your opportunity to enhance your image as a confident, knowledgeable, and likable professional and to win favor on a proposal or idea that might not otherwise be taken seriously. You'll find a lot written about the mechanics of composing and delivering a presentation. I want to talk, instead, about another aspect of presenting that I feel is equally important to a presenter's success -- and that is how your thoughts are divided among several things and which one is critical to your success. I see presenters who give most of their attention to themselves. They are visibly self-conscious, their gestures are not natural, and they worry more about the technique of their presentation than the results. Other presenters concentrate mostly on their messages. They try to produce perfect sentences and end up stumbling over their words. They search for the perfect word and end up saying "uh". They look at and talk to their visuals to a fault. The best presenters give the highest percentage of their attention to their audience. They connect or make contact with their audience by first taking the time to know their audience and then tailoring their presentations to their needs and concerns. Let's face it, even the most pertinent, hard-hitting information can fall on deaf ears if you fail to connect or make contact with your audience. So how do you engage? You make contact and connection with your eyes, your voice, your gestures, and your body language. This means you must look at the audience -- not at your notes, sound sincere and committed as you speak, use gestures to emphasize your words, and appear confident and secure with your stance and posture. Practice these skills until they become natural and you appear to be just "having a conversation with the audience." The more prepared you are and confident you feel about your presentation, the better you'll be able to respond to unplanned situations. Practice your speech out loud -- even record it to help you spot areas that sound strange or unnatural, it's easy with phones now. But don't practice gestures and facial expressions in front of a mirror. If you rehearse too many gestures, that's exactly how they'll look. Rehearsed. Let them come naturally to you. Get yourself prepared and comfortable so that you pay only minimal attention to yourself. Rehearse adequately so that you are thinking about the delivery of your message and not the message. When you can spend less time thinking about yourself and your message, you'll have more time to focus on what's most important in the room -- and to your success: the audience.
  6. by Greg Wojick, Playbooks for Golf Many golf course workers can now be thankful that setting up the course is over for the season (not so for the sun belt guys and gals). Course set-up is that recurring job that golfers can easily understand but it can also become a tedious chore for the worker routinely assigned to this hugely important duty. Day after day this set of chores is expected to be done with perfection lest the superintendent will hear about it. If a violation with course set-up is consequential enough and not detected in time by a staff member, (i.e. hole location on a slight slope) golfers may never forget it! Lets take a look at just some of the detail of a comprehensive daily course set routine: Clean and set up tee markers (for all sets of tees) Fill divots with seed/soil from previous day Fill divot boxes Empty broken tee containers Pick up any trash on course, around buildings Set up the practice area tee/position locations Check club cleaning units/towels Check practice area signage Check practice ball supply Check on course restroom facilities Set hole locations on the practice green(s) Check the ball washer fluid and towels (if you have them) at each location Clean and reposition benches on tees, at the practice area too Check ropes, stakes, scatter mechanisms Clean plaques on tees, in the fairways Check and reposition signage Decide on where to position hole locations on each green Repair a few ball marks Check bunker rake placement Empty garbage receptacles Check on divot containers for caddies, in divot-concentrated areas of fairways, in golf carts Making note of and communicating weeping sprinklers or sprinkler heads stuck on Repairing damage from overnight animal burrowing Golfers will comment with some degree of authority about most all of the items on this list of daily chores (most often hole location) and many have specific thoughts about how the work should be done. As an example, many golfers feel that the tee marker locations should deliver variability but also end up with an overall yardage about the same as what the scorecard indicates. Additionally, golfers typically want each par three hole to play at different yardages so that the same club (i.e. 7-iron) is not used for each of the par three holes. This requires that tee marker location combined with hole location be in the correct synchrony. Seems easy enough but just try explaining that to the recruit who you hope is competent enough to handle the course set duties. Well-trained assistant superintendents oftentimes get the course set assignments but because of the increasing demands on assistants (spraying, fertilizing, watering, etc) I have seen staff other than assistants performing course set on most all of the courses I visit. More specifically I have noticed that many of the workers are foreign language speaking who may or may not have command of the English language, which adds to the challenges of perfect daily set up. Have you ever been notified about a ball washer that is dry or a rope that is drooping? Has a worker ever inadvertently left tee markers in the same place or forgot to change a hole location? How about the cart arrow sign pointing in the wrong direction or the Snickers bar wrapper blowing across a fairway? Criticism is sure to follow these mis-deeds much sooner than would a fertilizer spill or a spray skip. The myriad golfer gadgets that are now commonplace with golfers should give us a strong clue in the quest for daily course set perfection. Golfers love their gadgets! Yardage plaques can now easily be checked by golfers range finders (and caddies). Other yardage markers like the 150, 100, etc can be critiqued with accuracy. Smart phones can actually detect the slope on greens and also can have daily hole locations pre-set on an app (our own ezPins system does this) that golfers can see before and during their round of golf. With all the complexity that overall course presentation entails, specific course set up remains the most often criticized part of what the golfer can confidently discuss with turf pros. Superintendents should never minimize course set. Similar to setting up a restaurant for fine dining, the slightest indication that something is 'off' can start a downward spiral of course comments. I know a few supers that will set the course themselves each day to avoid issues. I know one superintendent who sprays a small dot on the tees and greens each morning to help his staff with the decisions about where to place markers or holes. Everyone has their own procedures for course set and most don't let the uninitiated ever perform the task without proper guidance and experience. I have found that the weary and glazed-over worker who is asked, because of his/her sense of doing things well, day after day to set the course eventually learns to avoid risk. This risk avoidance becomes manifested with hole locations in similar spots time after time. It also shows up with tee marker locations in the middle of each tee. Ironically, by trying to avoid risk of criticism, the worker creates a noticeable sameness to the course set up. Sameness of set-up leads to criticism. There is the paradox! Consider this as a New Year's resolution or simply as a holiday gift to yourself and your staff: create a set of SOPs (standard operating procedures) for course set up. This document of procedures can be distributed to your green chairman and his committee, to the golf staff and caddie group if you have a caddie program. In the SOPs detail, the reasoning as to how the hole locations are selected and how each worker is trained with the responsibility of setting pins. This doc should be clear and approved by the chairman and committee. Additionally, an automated computer system for selecting hole locations is a very realistic, affordable solution to hole location nightmares, with more courses opting for this all the time. I can provide more details on how this works great for all parties involved -- green committees, pros and superintendents -- from direct experience at clubs I have consulted at in the past year. Just contact me directly if interested. Perfection in course set up rarely happens each and every day throughout the entire year, but when the occasional mishap occurs, communication with respect to procedures can go a long way towards understanding. And maybe with this extra effort more workers can be properly and confidently trained to set the course.
  7. Guest post by Greg Wojick, Playbooks for Golf -- I recently visited the CMAA (Club Managers Association of America) website. One of the first things I noticed was that more than two dozen executive search firms were listed. I looked further, scanning many of the search firm sites. I saw that there were numerous searches for general managers, most often referred to as COOs and occasionally CEOs. I also saw searches for assistant general managers, executive chefs, directors of food and beverage, golf professionals and golf shop staff, marketing positions, and human resource positions. Though all the jobs listed were for golf club personnel, searches for golf course superintendents were conspicuously absent. None of these websites listed searches for a superintendent! That prompted a visit to the GCSAA website. Not one executive search firm was listed there. I even went so far as to track down executive search sites that specialize in golf course superintendent hires, and no active searches were listed. Hmmm. Debate on Super Searches It appears that clubs are willing to pay thousands of dollars to enlist professional help to hire key individuals at their clubs, but the golf course superintendent isn't among them. I find this particularly interesting since, from what I understand, a survey revealed that golf course conditioning is considered to be the most important aspect in the business of golf course management. Golf Course Architect Robert Trent Jones, who is clearly well versed in all that goes into cultivating a healthy and well-groomed golf course, was quoted as saying, I don't have a definitive answer for why most clubs haven't recognized the importance of enlisting the help of a search firm to hire their golf course superintendent. I do know, however, that increasingly general managers, working together with search committees, have taken on the duties of hiring the superintendent. The merits of this practice, in my mind, are debatable. The golf course, as we know, is one of the club's most essential and valuable assets. What is a golf club, after all, without its golf course? What's more, the skills and knowhow required to successfully manage a golf course operation don't come easily. It's a science that requires years of study and experience to master. Superintendents must be diagnosticians, capable of recognizing myriad turf diseases and insect infestations, while pinpointing just-the-right remedy from a dizzying array of pesticide and insecticide options. But this is just a piece of the whole. Superintendents, at the same time, are required to manage sizable budgets with great care and precision, communicate effectively with club staff and green committee members, and inspire peak performance from their staff members, seven days a weekparticularly from early spring through late fall. This is a sizable and highly specialized job. Tips for the Candidate Clubs conducting their own searches for superintendent can't possibly know the nuances of the profession, but I've witnessed times when they've taken a fact or two out of context to project that they have a grasp on what it is that superintendents do. Not only does this fail to adequately vet a candidate, but it makes it challenging for the person being interviewed. Aside from recommending that clubs consider passing the search for superintendent on to a qualified search firm, I'd like to offer a word to the wise to those interviewing for a superintendent's position, particularly assistants seeking to climb the ladder. First, keep in mind that search firms with expertise in the turfgrass management industry understand the complexities of the job of golf course superintendent, and they are highly qualified to evaluate job candidates' ability to manage a particular golf course operation. They understand what's involved in topdressing, the use of moisture meters, and the life cycle of the annual bluegrass weevil. By contrast, those who are familiar with golf but not deeply involved in the turf world, may have heard these terms, but won't fully grasp them. It's essential, therefore, that you practice describing your qualifications in layman's terms. In other words, keep it simple. Also be sure to communicate your experience and expertise with professionally done career tools. Portfolios and digital websites are essential to ensure that proper communication actually takes place. When I take time to ponder why clubs rarely enlist a search firm for hiring a golf course superintendent, I have to wonder whether the industry goal of elevating the status of the profession may actually be falling short. And when I watch the GCSAA TV spots that encourage golfers to thank their superintendent, I can't help but feel that thanks may just not be enough. SIDEBAR Take It From the CMAA Also on the CMAA website was an idea that I thought might work for the golf course industry. There's a list of 223 individual CMAA members who are available for Interim Management Service (IMS). The IMS is designed to assist clubs that are in need of immediate temporary management assistance. In the turfgrass management industry, an IMS doesn't exist. But maybe its time has come. I would bet that superintendents would put their names on a list to help out a club in need. There seems to always be a pool of supers who are in between jobs and would be pleased to fill in temporarily. Perhaps local chapters could initiate this list and advertise it to area clubs. Just a thought. After nearly 30 years as a golf course superintendent and consultant, Greg Wojick co-founded Playbooks for Golf in 2008.
  8. Several weeks ago, I had lunch with the vice president of Arccos Golf, a startup company that has developed technology intended to help golfers improve their games. The system they came up with allows the golfer to use the data created by each swing of the golf club (sensors are attached to the club) to identify weaknesses and strengths -- among many other useful data points -- like quantifying the percentage of time that your approach shots miss the greens to the right or to the left of the flagstick. I found Arccos's concept intriguing, so the company gave me a demo set that I could put to the test on the golf course. I was assured that the device was not difficult to use, particularly for the young and tech savvy -- i.e., the Millennials -- who were quicker to pick it up than the Boomers or even Gen Xers! During the course of this conversation, I also learned that this older crowd made use of just a portion of the new system's capabilities and, in the end, were more likely than their younger counterparts to give up on using the gadget altogether due to frustration or distrust. The Millennials, on the other hand, are more likely to utilize the entire system almost immediately, AND quickly adapt to the regular updates and free software enhancements. Hmmmm. As one of the users from the Boomer generation, I can't say I found the system difficult, though if I did some soul-searching, I guess I could say that I, too, would gravitate toward using the device's more basic and essential functions. In today's technology-based society, its almost a curse having been born in what I call the BT (Before Technology) Era. With kids virtually leaving the womb with a cell phone in their hands, navigating technological devices becomes second nature to them, just as a second language or a sport like skiing is when learned at an early age. I do have techno-envy when I watch my 19-year-old son and my 23-year-old daughter quickly and more easily navigate their electronic gadget of choice. It's not that I can't accomplish the same things; it's just that it takes effort. It is far from second nature. Okay, so I'll probably never be a techno-savant, but I refuse to throw up my hands and give up on keeping up when it comes to new strategies and tools that can benefit me, personally and professionally. If you have been in turf management for 20 to 50 years, you undoubtedly have wisdom, insight, and value to add. Just keep in mind that technology gives you new means to keep demonstrating and applying that value. Don't get down on yourself because you failed to learn the latest software or app. Just make it a point to master it, and then watch your productivity grow. Why not start today by making technology your friend, and bear these pointers in mind: Practice yields proficiency. A family friend was a textile designer for more than 30 years. When her craft first started going digital, she felt lost and obsolete. Then she realized she was best off learning by doing. She began to welcome assignments that required new software skills, and in addition to taking courses to retrain, she hired a kid she found to coach her through the job. Last I checked, she still calls on him. It;s how she stays current. Pick your kids' or a young staff member's brain. In the book Overcoming the Digital Divide by Shelly Palmer (President of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, NY, and the digital living guru from CNN, Fox Television, NBC Universal and satellite radio), I read that the two groups with most tech smarts are typically those under age 25 and those over 45. The latter are often parents who have their own onsite techie to school them: the 16-year-old playing Xbox in the family room. Find daily blogs that sift through tech stories and talk about only the things you should focus on. That adds up to a five-minute read that keeps you up-to-date and in the know. Go into a Verizon or Apple store and don't just grab latest device with the most press. Tell a sales associate what you do for a living and ask the person to show you the smartphone, tablet, or device that is right for you. Always ask for device demos that focus on the specific functions, tips, and tricks that can boost your personal productivity. Take it one step further and sign up for the workshops that Apple and others typically offer to help you master relevant programs. Winter is the perfect time! Though older is wiser on so many fronts, ignoring technology and its increasing role in the turf profession is a certain pathway to obsolescence. Everyone should anticipate and embrace the inevitable technological advances. Like Arccos Golf has introduced it's golf club sensors to enhance golfers' experience on the course, we at Playbooks for Golf recognize the importance of introducing, and continually improving on, technological devices like the Coverage System that will streamline and simplify various aspects of superintendents' jobs. Slowly but surely, technological advances are taking hold in the industry, particularly among the Millennials streaming into the industry. So come on, Boomers and GenXers, you smart, mature people. Make the same commitment to staying technologically up-to-date. Every day there's at least one twenty-something techno geek suggesting you just move over and let him take over. Ignore him. Pull out your smartphone and stand firm!
  9. by Greg Wojick, Playbooks for Golf In my last guest column for TurfNet, I wrote about the role of the assistant superintendent and the need for superintendents to consider rethinking their approach to hiring and retaining these essential contributors to their operations. When I suggested that superintendents work to retain their assistants with training to "work smarter, not harder" and that they provide greater rewards in pay and benefits for their efforts, I predictably received pushback from several assistants who are either unhappily enduring their positions for lack of another opportunity or leaving the industry as one said, due to "a combination of the long hours, high stress, most often unappreciated effort, and the diminishing salaries". With that, I would like to reiterate--and expand on--some of the points I made before: Namely that superintendents should step up their efforts to reward and retain their assistant superintendents. Reward and Retain In most other careers, a low supply/high demand problem gets handled with enticements. If there is a shortage of engineers or any other professional position, higher pay and greater benefits are offered. In our profession, unfortunately, low supply of willing candidates is the new normal. With an increasing number of clubs snapping up two and three assistants and fewer-than-ever students entering the turf field, a low supply of qualified candidates has persisted for some time with no letup in sight. Yet the "enticements" to lure qualified assistants in our profession is less-than-desirable. The rewards? Long hours with regular weekend work, low pay, and a weaker-than-ever promise to eventually become a superintendent. I'm all for hard work, but what has developed in this stagnant worker marketplace borders on exploitation. The traditional pathway and time frame to a superintendents position isn't what it used to be. Competition is fierce for those top-tiered positions, with clubs today looking first at those candidates from marquee clubs. The old paradigm I mentioned in my previous blog of "two years and out" just doesn't exist any more. And that doesn't have to be all bad for assistants or superintendents. Finding Assistants and Keeping Them In short, I recommend that superintendents consider these changes to the typical progression in our profession: Entice university-trained candidates with better pay, better hours, and better benefits. Train them into your staff culture and try to retain them for a longer period of time. Make them feel valued and welcomed. Use a search method that painstakingly reveals the best candidate for the position. Resist taking the easy way out to get employees. Don't default to simply calling your buddy down the street as your only method to find a worker. Tap into your local population to find workers to fill specific jobs. Its time-consuming to do this, but its not hard to train someone to, for example, hand-water greens and hand-mow. With effort, you can find a worker to perform those two tasks, which would ease the burden on the assistant. Consider offering intern positions to those in fields other than turf. Civil engineering, business, landscape architecture, floriculture, education, are areas where students might want to get involved at your course. If superintendents can shift their mindset just a bit and begin to think of their assistants as valued long-term members of the operation, they could eliminate the stress of scrambling for new assistants because theirs left the industry or took another assistant's job. If superintendents recognize and reward their assistants for exemplary performance, even if its with just a day off for golf, they might actually have a valued employee who will be inspired to exceed expectations at their course for years to come. Attractive jobs in the golf course maintenance industry should not be limited to those with the title of Golf Course Superintendent. After nearly 30 years as a golf course superintendent and consultant, Greg Wojick co-founded Playbooks for Golf in 2008.
  10. by Greg Wojick Looking through the assistant superintendent job listings on the TurfNet Job board the other day reinforced in my mind that the superintendent's approach to their assistants' positions may need some rethinking. For years and decades, superintendents handled their assistants by hiring young, letting them learn by doing and observing, and then, after a year or two on the job, sending them on their way to their first superintendent's job. 'Two years and out' was the typical mantra. Times have changed. With the glut of qualified assistants vying for a handful of superintendent opportunities each year, the wait has become three to five years and out -- if they're lucky. But for many assistants, those years come and go and they're still where they started. If they've managed to maintain their enthusiasm through those 100-hour workweeks, the superintendent keeps them on, expecting that they'll continue their job hunt. An Alternative Approach Think about this: Most supers hire and train an equipment manager or a horticulturist and almost never assume that these hires will move on in a couple of years. They'd much rather retain these employees if they can continue to handle the challenges of the job. This type of hire makes a lot of sense when you think about it. Many superintendents state that assistants enter the business intending to be a superintendent one day and the typical approach employed in the industry is due to this reason. This is acknowledged, however the competition to gain a superintendent position has started to make a change here -- assistants are leaving the industry in large numbers due to lack of superintendent positions and no room for promotion or compensation at their existing club. Add to that 60-plus hour work weeks in season where they could make about as much working at a local Home Depot, as someone stated in The Forum recently. It makes a strong case that it may be time for a new path. So I'd like to suggest an alternative approach and a healthy change to the super's mantra. Instead of two years and out, why not make your mantra, Hire, train, and retain? Hire Right the First Time To make this new mantra possible, it will mean starting with a new mindset. Many superintendents will, in a pinch, hire assistants thinking that even if they're not the perfect fit, they'll do the job for a time and then leave. With this no longer being the case, it's essential that you spend extra time and effort on the front end making sure that you hire the best fit from the start. The 'hire, train, retain' approach requires a serious search effort. Calling your buddy down the street and asking if he knows anyone who's available, is not the type of effort I'm talking about. As most veteran supers know, sometimes that method works, but often it doesn't. To conduct a comprehensive search, it pays to use not only listings like TurfNet, but also firms and consultants who can also help with the time-consuming duty of identifying the right fit for your particular operation and course. Another tack to consider is to beat the bushes locally to see if you can identify a person who may not have a turf degree, but who is a quick study, eager to work hard, loves the game of golf, and will likely be satisfied staying on as a career assistant. True, this approach can seem daunting, particularly if you've lost an assistant at the start or middle of the season, but if you've ever endured a bad hire -- and I know most veteran supers have -- then you know this hiring approach can pay lasting dividends. Try a Progressive Training Approach Many superintendents will craft a yearly spray strategy for their pesticide and fertilizer applications. How many lay out a training strategy that allows for the success of their assistants? I have heard so many superintendents say that they expect their assistants to work 100 hours a week. Aside from being a little daunting for even the most ambitious young assistants, is that training? Is that giving them something specific to strive toward or achieve? Is working 100 hours a week going to instill pride in their work, or just wear them so thin that they end up hating the job and, ultimately, the profession? Aside from providing assistants with specific performance goals and standards, why not consider a work schedule that more closely mimics other hard-driving careers where people do have quality time away from the job? Working hard and long is not always horrible -- as long as it's not constant. What's more, there is a law of diminishing returns. More hours do not mean greater productivity. Fatigue can slow the mind and body to a point where productivity will actually diminish, and worse, more accidents are prone to happen. The best thing you can train your employees to do is to work smart, not long. Offer them an opportunity for growth in skills and responsibility. Good training makes for greater job satisfaction and the likelihood that assistants will stay the course. Retain Good Help Consider this job listing: Work in the golf industry. Expect 44-48 hours per week during the season. Golf privileges with time to actually play. Excellent opportunity for career growth. Sounds reasonable, right? Maybe even desirable? Let's face it, you're more apt to attract and then retain people if they feel they will be treated reasonably -- not simply as a workhorse -- recognized as a valued member of the operation, and rewarded for exemplary performance, even if it's with time to play golf. If you're finding it difficult to hire just-the-right assistant, let go of the idea that overworking assistants is their right of passage into the golf business. Convincing yourself, and your club of the merit of a 'hire, train, retain' approach may be your ticket to that gem in the rough -- an assistant who will work smarter, not longer, and be inspired to exceed your expectations for years to come. After nearly 30 years as a golf course superintendent and consultant, Greg Wojick co-founded Playbooks for Golf in 2008.
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