Undercover super

By |  November 9, 2016 0 Comments

The idea came to me one day last year in advance of the city championship. I always play a couple practice rounds ahead of the event. I can call up and play by myself or ask to get put with a group.

I prefer the latter.

It’s fun to go undercover to get the scoop about what golfers are thinking. In the case of superintendents, espionage can be enlightening. It gives you the chance to learn what the average golfer knows or thinks about golf course maintenance. Pulling it off takes a little acting skill; very little if you have kids, or as my wife always says, “you’re good at B.S.”

Obviously, no one can know you in the group you get paired with, but you don’t need to lie, just embellish a bit. In my case, I was in landscaping. Oh, and don’t worry, whatever you go with will be forgotten rather quickly on the course. (Important side note — do not attempt this if you work at a private club. They already know you. #justsaying.)

Off to the 1st tee with three guys who seemed to be buddies, 10 to 15 handicaps. Mark was a painter, Henry was in construction and Robert sold cars. The first few holes settled everyone in. I might add that the “muni” was in good shape despite all the rounds.

On the 5th hole the greens all of a sudden got too slow for Robert, even though he had one-putted three out of four. Too much grain was to blame. (I wonder where he got that from?) For the next few holes, grain was the central topic. I did my best to explain grain and growth characteristics on putting greens, from a “landscaper’s” perspective. One of the guys seemed to understand. At least he started inspecting the edges of the hole looking for the worn-out side. Not long after that a putt rolled away from the hole right at the last second, the dreaded “volcano effect.” Gets them every time. If I had a nickel…

These guys had decent games until they wound up in a bunker. Lots of shots lost there. They all agreed the bunkers were inconsistent. I pointed out that the bunkers were raked that morning, but by the time we got there, too many footprints or half-assed attempts to rake them were adding to the inconsistency. So Henry raked a spot smooth and played a good shot from it. Go figure.

With a little wait on the 16 tee, green speed came up again. Robert had missed a short one on 15 and made a comment. I said the greens were cut at 7 a.m. that morning and had grown some since.

How did I know? I blew my cover, so I came clean.

They were extremely cool about it, and afterward we talked a lot about maintenance. They were interested and asked some good questions. They said that they only get bits and pieces about maintenance and appreciated the information. I think it made a difference. I’m not sure if I would have seen the same results if they knew right from the first tee that I’m a superintendent.

I’ve played golf with members throughout my career and I’ve heard similar comments. I take notes and ask direct questions. I’m expected to have the answers or solve the problem.

Our profession as a whole has worked hard to educate golfers about golf course maintenance practices. National, state, regional and local chapters of GCSAA, USGA, PGA and others have all contributed. It’s a never-ending job.

More new golfers might mean we have to repeat ourselves again and again, at least we hope so. There is still work to be done. Try going undercover at your course, have fun with it. Any way we can reach our golfers, whomever they are, is good.

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