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Archive for January, 2010

Want recognition? Toot your own horn!

The sports section of the St. Petersburg Times (Jan 28) included a half page feature on area golf courses titled Cold weather colors courses. The first two weeks of January were cold in these parts with nightly freezing temperature. We lost most of the annuals that we had carefully planted in November. Colorful bushes and flowering shrubs are now skeletal sticks with dead leaves.

Golf courses in my winter habitat south of there have not fared much better. Most courses overseed with northern grasses and the fairways, tees and greens are now strips and patches of green surrounded by dormant, brown native grasses. The article in the Times comments on these conditions and extensively quotes general managers and golf professionals, but no superintendents are mentioned.

That is a sad reflection on the state of our profession in these parts. There are many prominent superintendents and perhaps even a few TurfNetters in west central Florida who could have provided more in-depth information for the article than the GMs and the pros did. Why they weren’t asked is the question.  Could it be that the writer has no contacts among the local supers? Does the regional chapter not provide a copy of its membership to the golf writers and commentators? More than likely a lazy journalist just called a few courses and was referred to the GM or  pro and the superintendents did not answer the phone. Many superintendents are still largely invisible and some don’t always return calls.

I make it my business to contact the supers at the courses where I play. I stop by at the maintenance building and if I am lucky I get to talk to the mechanic. And I am not even looking for free golf. Green fees are ridiculously low at the courses where I play due to the recession and lack of players. The two week-period of daily freezing conditions must have hurt private operators in the pocketbook.

As for supers gaining more recognition, I suggest that individual superintendents try to establish contacts with golf writers. Most would accept an invitation to play golf in the company of one or more superintendents…

My conclusion is that in spite of great progress in promoting the professional image of the superintendent by regional and national associations, we have a way to go — witness the recent article in the St. Petersburg Times.

As an aside to the above I noticed that when cold weather makes the Bermuda go dormant, misses in seed applications become clearly visible. I have observed narrow, brown strips on tees and greens and half moon shaped misses on fairways. Most golfers don’t notice such things but as a former superintendent I am curious how such misses can be avoided.

As for supers gaining more recognition, I suggest that individual superintendents try to establish contacts with golf writers. Most would accept an invitation to play golf in the company of one or more superintendents. The local chapter may invite golf writers to their monthly meetings. GCSAA advertises on the Golf Channel and does its part in many other ways. But it’s never enough. We must not leave it to the GMs and the pros to speak for us. That would a step backward, and a travesty.

Many years ago I was advised by the local golf pro to toot my own horn and I have been doing it ever since.

Greenkeeping Common Sense (stuff you don’t learn at school)

You may have the best credentials but if you lack greenkeeping common sense the most important criteria in your resume is missing.  Greenkeeping common sense is learned on the job and passed on from father to son or mentor to student. Technology has changed but the fundamentals have remained the same. Following are some of the most important ones:

1. Greenkeeping is mostly housekeeping! There may be a valid reason for a disease attacking your grass but there is never an excuse for a messy golf course. As a superintendent you set the example for your staff and your golfers to pick up trash and put it where it belongs. You have limited control over the habits of golfers but you have absolute control over the conduct of your staff. Hire only persons with a neat appearance. Avoid the ones with messy cars. Many superintendents have been very successful housekeepers and are paid handsomely, especially when they succeed a messy predecessor.

2. Don’t let the little things escape your attention. If left undone, they will come back to haunt you. More superintendents lose their jobs for forgetting the little things than for any other reason.

3. Plan your work and work the plan. Prepare a list of projects to be done and post it in the staff room for anyone to see. Your workers will feel part of the plan and joyfully cross off every job that has been completed.

4. Smell your grass. Get down on your hands and knees, pick a little tuft and bring it to your nose. If it smells like rotten fish, get out the sprayer. For maximum effect do it on the 18th or the putting green with golfers watching from the clubhouse veranda.

5. Not all greens are equal. There are variations in exposure to sun and shade. Drainage is another variable. Therefore not all greens should be treated the same. Some require more nutrients, water and medication than others.

6. Most grass is lost on Sunday afternoon. When there is no one around to inspect the greens, disaster is likely to strike. This holds true especially during the 100 days of summer in the northern climatic zone.

7. You can’t get a clean shave with a dull razor. That saying goes back to the early days of greenkeeping but applies even more today. All other work is secondary compared to cutting greens perfectly with a sharp mower.

8. Never experiment on the 1st, the 18th or the putting green. If you are trying something new, do it on a green on the back forty, where your mistakes won’t be so obvious. Better yet use the nursery. If a disaster happens on the 1st or the putting green, golfers will get a bad first impression. If the same disaster happens on the 18th, golfers will retain a bad impression.

9. One rotten apple spoils the basket. When you wake up in the middle of the night and the first thing that comes to mind is an employee who is not performing, it is time to take action. Fire that person. Don’t wait another day and don’t refer it to the Human Resources department. (Another topic for another blog!)

10. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Postponing decisions for fear of making mistakes leads to inaction. If a job can’t wait, just go ahead and do it. It is often better to beg for forgiveness rather than ask for permission. Just the same don’t make too many mistakes and never the same one twice.

During the initial euphoria of a new position, perhaps your very first job as a superintendent, applying the above truisms will help you succeed and become a leader in your profession and ultimately happy retirement.

The golfer, standing sentinel…

While driving in our neighborhood on a spring day some years ago, a freshly cut tree stump caught my attention. I stopped to examine it more closely. A sad face had been beautifully carved into the stump and under it was written “NO JOB”, a phone number and the name of the artist.

I called the number and the next day I hired Aureo Consalvez, a native of Mauritius and a newcomer to Ontario to work on the grounds staff at the Board of Trade Country Club. I had a plan but I kept it to myself as I knew neither the GM nor the green committee would have approved.

During his first day at work we looked for a suitable tree on which he could practice his artistry. We found a towering white pine behind the 7th green that had blown over during a recent storm. It suited our needs perfectly. We cut off the top and tackled the 12 ft. base back upright again.

Then Aureo went to work. He built a scaffold around the stump and with a small chainsaw proceeded to outline the figure of a man. Next he got out his tools to do the fine trimming. He chipped away patiently as he watched the golfers on the course three-putt, slice, hook and shank, capturing their stern looks in the face of the golfer statue he was creating.

After just four weeks the statue of a golfer was completed and it became unique addition to our landscape. Visitors to the club came to admire the stoic golfer with the stern look. The green staff and I were pleased with the only golfer on our course who never swore and never complained.

Our golfer stood there all summer like a silent guardian overlooking the landscape and the golfers. Lightning did not strike him. He survived the harsh winter wind and cold and was still there when the golfers returned the following spring.

Then one night vandals came and cut him off at the base. The following morning all that remained were his shoes. It was a sad day for all of us. Some golfers even offered money to create another statue but nothing came of it. It became a memory of something beautiful that been destroyed thoughtlessly.