A familiar line from many movies, usually coming once the original plan of the protagonist has backfired or gone awry, is when the sidekick or companion looks him squarely in the eyes and says, “So, what’s plan B?”
The hero usually gives a blank stare in response, indicating there is no plan B.
The infamous Plan B is then generally created on the fly (often with bullets flying over the hero’s head) and, of course, almost always somehow works out. But wouldn’t having that backup plan have saved a lot of hassle and stress?
For a golf course superintendent, having a backup plan can be just as important. In fact, I give you the argument that few professions need a Plan B as much as managers of golf courses do.
Why us, you ask? Well, think about it. A superintendent’s original plan is often dependent on several factors that are out of his control. If we were simply managing turfgrass itself, that would be challenging enough on its own. But throw in the fact that golfers use and abuse the turfgrass on a daily basis and this jacks up the difficulty level a couple hundred percent.
The more outside factors that influence your product, the more chances exist for a wrinkle or a flaw to pop up, constituting a new plan to your original, carefully thought-out strategy.
Being able to adapt and think on your feet may be what separates good supers from great supers – and separates averagely maintained golf courses from magnificently maintained golf courses. But, in the same respect, having that backup plan in place (or at least in the back of your mind) before the first plan starts to fail is probably a prudent idea. Think of it as insurance, if you will.
Following are five factors that can crop up on any given day that might be good reasons for a superintendent to have that Plan B ready to go at a moment’s notice.
1. Weather – Nothing changes the game plan more than Mother Nature. Rain, wind, snow, heat, cold – all of these things can affect the original strategy. Knowing the forecast for the week is crucial, but as we all know forecasters make mistakes. Anticipating those mistakes and even expecting them can go a long way in preparing for that all-important backup plan.
2. The pro shop – Even operations with great communication between maintenance staff and pro shop staff can run into problems. It’s simply the nature of the beast. An example? How about learning about a tournament on the day of. Has this NOT happened to anyone out there?
3. Golfers – This is different from the pro shop in that here you are dealing directly with the golfer. No middleman.
Golfers’ demands can be unfiltered and direct, and they may expect an immediate solution. Often there is no choice but to make changes to appease certain personalities.
4. Expectations – This one is a little more difficult to wrap your head around, but consider this: The expectations of the product (golf course conditions and playability) that have been set (by ownership, greens committees, golfers and even yourself) often affect the daily decisions you make.
For example, you’re planning on walk-mowing on a given morning, but after rolling a ball across the practice green you suddenly don’t like the speed of the greens. You pull the Stimpmeter out and now you definitely don’t like the number. So you quickly set in motion a plan to get a roller out behind the mowers and ahead of the golfers.
You’ve let your expectations dictate and thus change your original plan.
5. Outside Factors – This could include demands from homeowners that border the course, outside contractors building a bathroom on the back nine, or maybe a driver of a sand delivery truck dumping his load in the middle of the parking lot. (Yes, I have experience with the last one.) In short, be ready for anything.
Experience is probably the great equalizer in having that backup plan. Superintendents who have been at the same course for five, 10 or 20 years no doubt have encountered just about every possible sudden change to their game plans. No doubt seasoned veterans have that “subconscious” backup plan in place better than their counterpart rookie supers.
This isn’t to say that young supers can’t have a Plan B in place as well. In fact, maybe they need one more because they don’t have the experience with the strategy-changing factors that veteran supers have.
I guess the final thought is: Expect the unexpected.