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Love Thy Green Chairman

While Green Chairmen are fast becoming an endangered species, they still prevail at private country clubs where the committee system is an important part of governance. For superintendents, it is critical to have a positive relationship with the Green Chairman to ensure professional longevity. During my career I worked with more than a dozen Green Chairmen. Some were good, others not, one was bad and all of them needed educating.

During my career I worked with more than a dozen Green Chairmen. Some were good, others not, one was bad and all of them needed educating.

The bad one thought that the maintenance department was available to improve his home landscape. He needed seed and fertilizer and borrowed tools. I drew the line when we he wanted my brand new chainsaw to take down a tree. I gave him a sharp axe instead. While chopping at the tree, he suffered a heart attack and died, never to bother me again. All the other Chairmen survived their tenure.

The process of educating the Chairmen involved establishing lines of communication such as written reports and memos. I learned quickly that the Chairmen were not interested in technical explanations. They wanted factual information and no surprises. Knowing full well that action speak louder than words, I made it my business to provide a superior product within the limits of the budget. I also kept track of the playing schedule of my chairman and tried to be around at the clubhouse to welcome him and meet his friends.

I learned quickly that the Chairmen were not interested in technical explanations. They wanted factual information and no surprises.

I kept a low profile at committee meetings, listening rather than talking too much. I presented written reports and kept the minutes. Draft minutes were scrutinized by the chairman and sometimes amended before circulating to other committee members.

Nearing the end of the golfing season, when work pressures begin to diminish, I invited the chairman and some carefully selected committee members to visit and play other golf courses and meet my colleagues. Such excursions were ideal opportunities to create lasting friendships that have endured long after my retirement.

10 Responses to “Love Thy Green Chairman”

  • Chuck Barber:

    Gordon that’s all good advice. Low profile, listen don’t speak, record, keep it simple and communicate as effectively as you can. It seems as though you don’t miss the departed greens chairmen who suffered a heart attack and died removing a tree. I find it interesting that you so value life in other ways but are seemingly cavalier at his passing. Surely he had a family or friends that cared for him?

  • Cavalier? Probably not at the time although he was a bit of a jerk, but 50 years later I have no tears left for the man.

  • Scott White:

    Gordon. I tend to side with Chuck Barber on most of his comments to your articles. Maybe these pieces are more about your ‘style’ of writing than their substance but I am surprised at how you lack any compassion for your old Greens Chairman. After having read your postings regarding the use of pesticides and there perceived relationship to your health issues I was truly disappointed. It almost seems to me as if someone who was so well regarded during his working years is trying too hard to be relevant today. At the very least I think you should site your sources of information with respect to pesticides and cancer. Isn’t that what any good writer would do?

  • Peter McCormick:

    Scott – Our culture is among the few around the world that sloughs off or trivializes our elders as “irrelevant”. As the one who invited Gordon to continue to share his knowledge, experience and – yes, opinions – with us through this blog (which by nature doesn’t require citing of sources), I firmly believe we would be far better off as a society and an industry if we paid more attention to those who trod before us instead of hurriedly showing them the door or offering the rocking chair. Some things change and become obsolete over time; others don’t. Much of what Gordon shares with us here is timeless.

  • Gordon: Very interesting and enjoyable stories that remind me a lot of when I was a greenkeeper back in the mid-late 1950’s thru the mid-60’s.

    Your choice of topics is unique and talk about the everyday experiences that evoke similar memories in many of us.

    Keep thinking and writing for you are recording Average Joe’s greenkeeping history.


  • Scott White:

    Peter. In our morning meeting we briefly discussed your comment and the first point that was put forward is that respect is hard to earn and is easily lost. I have a signed copy of one of Mr. Witteveen’s books and was taught a great deal about this business from Superintendents of whom I have the highest regard. This list includes my father and several other course managers from Gordon’s time. They paved the way for me and those who will come after. However, as someone who has twenty years experience on the golf course and will hopefully be working in this capacity for 25-30 more I would prefer if he continued to further the profession that treated him so well for so long. I too have had Greens Chairmen that I found difficult to work for and was happy to see vacate the position but I will never find satisfaction in their passing.

  • Peter McCormick:

    Scott – Sometimes one must look for the pearl inside the oyster, particularly if one finds oysters not to their taste. There is much to take away from Gordon’s post if we look past the comment about the one chairman who he found difficult. The pearl in this case, in my opinion of course, is the single sentence, “They wanted factual information and no surprises…” That alone is a hard-won revelation that unto itself might save a younger superintendent his job… which is what it’s all about these days.

    Should Gordon just fade away, obsolete and irrelevant? I hope not. And I’ll forgive him a gaffe or occasional insensitivity (if that’s what his comment about the deceased chairman is generally perceived to be) as long as there are pearls in his writing that will benefit others. I can think of many retired superintendents (most notably Oscar Miles and Terry Bonar) who I regret not having recorded or cataloged some of their wisdom beyond their contributions to the Forum before they left the industry. That IS a shame.

  • Scott White:

    Peter. Agreed – and well said. I guess his ‘insensitivity’ is only a minor thing to me as well. The hair has probably been standing on the back of my neck since he posted his commentary regarding his belief that pesticides caused his health issues and his Doctor told him so. He may actually be correct (I am not of the authority to say) but when he posted that article I thought that he hadn’t helped his profession in any way because in the wrong hands that comment is taken as gospel and, as soon as a Doctor told him so it would become fact in anyone’s eyes who wasn’t unbiased enough to do some research. He would probably tell you that he used to mix mercury and arsenic with his bare hands. Times have changed and all I’m trying to say is that I am trying to create a life for myself as good as the one the game of golf provided to him. I don’t think those comments help me very much at all.
    Gordon Witteveen was both creative and cutting edge as a Superintendent and I think his teachings in this regard would far better serve me than the material in some of these postings.
    I guess good writing encourages both reflection and emotion and for that I thank him.

  • Chris Lecour:

    Chuck- I find nothing cavalier about Gordon’s comments regarding the death of the greens chairman. However, I would agree that it appears he doesn’t miss the chairman. Your point being? It doesn’t mean he wished ill on the man. Does he need to feign compassion for someone he did not like in life?

    Scott- This particular Greens Chairman probably died at least 15 and possibly 20 to 30 years ago. Let the poor man and any issue you have with this article rest in peace.

    Gord- Please keep at it.

  • Geoffrey Perkins:

    Only ‘thing’ better than reading Gordon’s beliefs and experiences is talking to him! Fortunately, I asked him to lunch at The Summit GCC last
    July (and with Phil Brown g.c. Manager) enjoyed a few hours of everything involving golf course management (NOTE: Not golf club management which plays 2nd fiddle to course management!).

    Having been Ch. of Greens & Property at The Summit for 10 years, I got to know Gordon well as with many other Superintendents: in fact, I hired one of his ‘trainees’ Cameron Cairncross as Super. for Summit in 1973, the year we hosted the Canadian Amateur (won by George Burns.

    It was a fascinating lunch and during it, the names of many outstanding Supers. were mentioned, to wit – Paul Dermott, Bob Heron, Paolina Scenna, Thom Charters, Paul White (recent interesting profile in the Green Is Beautiful magazine, Ken Wright, Syd Puddicombe (Mayfair GC, Edmonton, Jim Wylie, Al.Beeney, Bill Hynd, Bob Brewster, Bill Fach, Dave Gourlay. Some not mentioned, space prohibitive, but these were
    – and are – the cream of the crop for the 10 years of my tenure as Greens Chair, at Summit. Apologies to those whom I’ve not mentioned.

    Looking forward to another lunch next golf season, Gord., this time at Bay of Quinte GC, Belleville, now undergoing massive changes and under private ownership, relieving me of another year as Greens Chair.and in the belief that a sow’s ear may not become a silk purse, but a purse of quality leather – and well lined!