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Archive for June, 2010

On my bike…

Lucinda was a barmaid at Cheap Charlie’s, a local watering hole on Route 52 frequented by motorcycle enthusiasts. One day, after completing her shift, she accepted a ride from one of the regulars, just for the fun of it. With the wind blowing through her hair as they roared down the highway, Lucinda must have been exhilarated. But then an accident happened. She was thrown off the bike and killed instantly.

A lopsided cross and some faded flowers now mark the spot where she met her maker…  a reminder every time I pass it on my bike of the finality of our days and Lucinda’s untimely death.

On my bicycle rides, I occasionally stop at Cheap Charlie’s for a dollar draft of beer. I had been warned by my poker buddies to stay away from the place at night. It had a rowdy reputation. But, by mid afternoon, on a warm sunny day, I felt safe and I needed to quench my thirst. Several motorcycles were parked at the front of the premises. I carefully chained and padlocked my expensive bicycle to a post and moseyed up to the bar. I was seated between two tough-looking hombres sporting pony tails, muscle shirts and tattoos all over their exposed flesh.

Michelle, buxomly barmaid and an apparent graduate from Hooters, served me a Bud.  The fellow to my left eyed me suspiciously and then asked: “Are you biker?”

“I sure am,” I replied without thinking, finished my beer and continued my tour of our neighborhood.

We Sacked the Greenkeeper!

In the hills of the Sorrentine peninsula in Italy, on donkey paths between whitewashed villages, I met an English gentleman who was part of our walking group. Once he discovered that I was a Canadian golf superintendent, he poured his heart out.  He was a committee man, he said, on an 18-hole course in England. He had even served as green chairman at one time. As we walked through the picturesque Italian countryside with views of the azure blue Mediterranean sea, he told me a familiar tale.

His club in England had experienced a substantial increase in play and decided to renovate its golf course. The construction company they hired persuaded the committee that an architect would not be necessary, since the contractor invariably changed the best-made plans of architects anyway. A decision was made to lengthen some of the holes as part of the renovation.

On the first hole, a new green was built some 50 yards beyond the old one. Thus it was possible to continue play on the old green while the new one matured. But all golfers are impatient and English golfers are no exception. The new green was put into play far too soon with the result that turf quickly deteriorated.

Additional greens were built and the golfers played on several temporary greens for much of the first season of the renovation program that was to be completed over a three year period. Meanwhile the condition of the old course began to deteriorate for lack of attention because of the construction work. Important maintenance work was left undone. The sand bunkers in particular suffered. It was all the fault of the greenkeeper, the contractor said, and the committee listened.

After several written warnings, the committee sacked the greenkeeper.  The less-qualified assistant was promoted and a consultant was engaged one day-a-week to help. More than a third of the renovation program remained to be done. My new friend, the committee man, was facing yet another summer of discontent on temporary greens. Where had they gone wrong, he wondered?

I patiently explained that renovation work on a golf course should never be attempted without direction of an experienced architect, regardless of the assurances offered by the contractor…

As we climbed the narrow stairs of Positano, walked on cobbled streets in Pompeii, and stood on the ruins of Tiberius’ villa on Capri, the fate of my unfortunate sacked colleague in England weighed heavily on my mind.

“What could we have done better?” the committee man asked. I patiently explained that renovation work on a golf course should never be attempted without direction of an experienced architect, regardless of the assurances offered by the contractor.  So much can go wrong, and so much had gone wrong. The golfers had suffered from inferior playing conditions and a man had lost his job needlessly… all because of an unscrupulous contractor.

In the heat of summer…

Occasionally in my travels I meet superintendents in obscure places who speak negatively of their peers who have advanced and risen above the crowd.  Based primarily on jealousy, such pettiness is harmful and retards the advancement of our profession.

Similarly, it is bad form for a new superintendent to blame his predecessor for all manner of mistakes and mishaps. It is understandable that new superintendents often feel invincible in the early stages of their careers. They have all the answers and receive an abundance of acclaim from their golfers. But all too soon the honeymoon is over and reality sets in.

The burden of looking after a golf course during the heat of summer can be a lonesome road. At such times the support of your colleagues can be a great source of encouragement and inspiration. I urge you to visit often with each other, share experiences and exchange information. In the big scheme of things, the company of your fellow superintendents is far more rewarding than any other group of people.

Remember, you are not an island unto yourself. You will need the company and support of your friends and colleagues. Seek them out. Take the first step and do not let jealousy and avarice get in the way of your progress and well-being during this often challenging time of year.