Little did I know, but just six months into my career in the turf industry, I learned what I consider to be the golden rule of golf course management. At the very least, it’s one of the Ten Commandments.

It was at the 1997 Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA) conference and show where a panel of veteran superintendents were imparting their wisdom on an audience of young turf professionals. Ted Horton, who in 1967 at the tender age of 23 was named the superintendent of the iconic Winged Foot Golf Club, was forcefully succinct.

“There are only two types of golf course superintendents. Those who have killed grass – and those who will kill grass. You can take your chances and not tell anyone grass is going to die. Or you can get ahead of the situation and communicate why the grass is dying.”

For those who know the oft-honored Horton, his delivery never lacks passion or emotion. I’ll never forget the moment he uttered his comment. He grabbed the microphone and clutched it like a television evangelist. He pushed up his glasses from the bridge of his nose and paused. He slowly scanned the room in order to capture the rapt attention of the audience. His eyes got wide, then with force and conviction, he slapped us with that dose of reality.

So, all I have to do as a superintendent is to tell my boss that grass is going to die? And, all will be good? If only it were that simple. The truth is, being a good communicator isn’t easy.

Why is that the case?

Because there is risk in communicating. If the two parties are not in agreement, do they eschew communications so as to avoid conflict? After sending the email, did you cringe immediately after hitting the send button for fear of a negative reaction? Have you ever picked up the phone in a fit of anger and let someone have a piece of your mind, only to regret it later?

While all of those outcomes can be damaging, so too can the alternative – saying nothing. Not communicating only allows issues, misconceptions and inaccuracies to fester. Or even worse, your employer/supervisor is left to make decisions based only on what others may tell them if you don’t communicate.

We’re at the point in the year where, for most superintendents, the schedule is about to really get busy. Now is time to get ahead of any concerns and properly communicate with your employer/supervisor. You should talk about the conferences you attended over the winter and what you learned that can be implemented at your facility. You might share your thoughts about items that may or may not be in your yearly or long-range plans that are worth considering. You should also outline how the winter months affected the turf and what you’re doing to address the situation.

Here are some tactics you can employ that will help enhance communications with your employer/supervisor:

  • If the topic is remotely complex or will entail significant conversation, make the communications face-to-face or at least via phone to allow for feedback or discussion.
  • Agree on an agenda in advance and document outcomes/next steps (even if they’re basic). Meetings should include a review of previously agreed upon outcomes, next steps and assignments from the prior meeting.
  • Rotate the location of the meetings. Examples include the parties’ respective offices, the grill or banquet room, on the course during a round of golf, off-site, etc.
  • Provide documentation to support your conversation in advance of the meeting to help convey your point. This might be a magazine article, research, photos, video, drawings, etc.
  • Consider a regular communication that utilizes technology such as a blog, electronic mail/newsletters, Twitter, etc. These should be utilized as a means to inform and seek feedback. Sensitivity and complexity of the topic should be evaluated before using public communication means. These communications should not replace regular, more formal meetings identified above.
  • From a content perspective, make sure you not only share the “what,” but also the “why” regarding your actions.

Unless you plan on being the first superintendent never to kill grass – or at least not have it die on you – communication should be a primary tool of your trade. The ounce of prevention is much less expensive than the pound of cure.