Turfgrass management is the easy part

By |  May 18, 2015 0 Comments

mark_woodward_smallAs I read the March issue of Golfdom I noticed the interview with Assistant Superintendent Cameron Watt from British Columbia, Canada. Cameron was asked if there was anything that surprised him about the golf industry. He said that what surprised him most is the amount of people management.

This started me thinking about my biggest challenge in all the positions I’ve held over the 40-plus years I have been in the business. Interestingly enough, after a great deal of personal reflection I realized that Cameron and I have exactly the same answer.

I’m not sure of the current statistics, but at one point I think more than 92 percent of all superintendents had either a two-year or four-year degree in turfgrass management, and most of those also had some experience working on a golf course. So most people who progress from student to assistant to superintendent these days have fairly strong turfgrass management skills.

However, managing the different personalities a superintendent has to deal with poses many challenges that aren’t fully addressed in turfgrass management school. Even if human resource management were more of a focus in school it would never fully prepare you for the complex issues that come up when you actually supervise and deal with people.

There’s no question that at this point in my career, dealing with people issues is by far the most challenging aspect of my job. As we all know, there’s a certain amount of talent and charisma one must possess in dealing with supervisors, boards of directors and golfers. But as we all learn fairly quickly in our supervisory/management positions, dealing with staff is a different animal.

I’ve had the opportunity to supervise many employees in the various positions I’ve held over the years. These have included professional positions, superintendents, golf professionals, clerical staff, administrative assistants, maintenance staff, golf starters, guest services staff, food/beverage staff, tennis staff, cemetery staff and professional baseball staff. I know Cameron Watt hasn’t yet supervised this number of different positions in his young career. But I’m willing to bet that by the time he’s my age the variety of positions he will have supervised will expand from what it is today as an assistant superintendent. Most superintendents I know who have been around the golf business for a while have continually taken on expanded roles at their golf facilities as they have progressed through their careers.

When you think about the variety of people you run into and the number of different personalities you have to manage, it’s easy to see why this portion of our jobs is so challenging. Every one of these employees has a unique way of looking at their position. If you couple an employee’s approach to their job with the vast number of issues they have with families, their attitudes, their different ages, different ethnic backgrounds, etc., it’s easy to see why people management presents new and interesting issues to deal with every day.

None of these unique issues have anything to do with turfgrass management, but they are equally important because without a solid and talented staff, none of us would be successful in preparing our golf courses for our guests.

Take it a step further and factor in turnover, training of new and existing employees, progressively disciplining employees, the hiring process, terminating employees, human resource compliance requirements, and the list goes on and on. I can fully understand why Cameron names this aspect of the golf industry as the most surprising and challenging.

Like Cameron said, it almost makes managing turfgrass the easy part of our jobs.

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