So you’re out and about in your golf car – scouting the course, checking the crew, prioritizing for tomorrow – and all of a sudden you look up and see him. He’s coming your way and there is no escape route. You roll your eyes, take a deep breath, engage your defense shield and prepare yourself for … The Complainer.

Every course has ’em – the regulars who always have a criticism or two about course conditions, pin placements, green speed … you name it. Especially if they are coming off a bad round of golf.

You listen intently, nod politely and address their concerns professionally. Unfortunately, it often happens that they don’t really listen to your responses. Chances are you’re not telling them exactly what they want to hear, which I can only assume from my own experience would be a confirmation that they are absolutely right, and their concerns should be addressed immediately.

When your semi-polite encounter ends, you part ways, each of you mumbling something disparaging about the other. Whether this is a meeting that happens daily, weekly, monthly or something in between, it’s always a draining experience.

Is there a way to break this unending cycle? I have a strategy that will not only help you combat these encounters, but may eliminate them altogether: Play golf together.

Invite The Complainer to a round of golf; surely you can muster a quick nine holes.

Come to the first tee armed with all the knowledge and professionalism that makes being a superintendent one of the best professions around. Abandon the fear that “a little knowledge can be dangerous in the hands of the layman,” and address his questions and concerns while you’re playing. This way you can go directly to the complaint.

For example, “Why is there never any grass on the back tee at number seven?” When you get to No. 7 seven, you can show them precisely why; i.e., the tee only gets one hour of sunlight between 3 and 4 in the afternoon, or it was built on red clay and there’s poor drainage, or the board needs to approve a quick irrigation upgrade because this tee was an add-on and isn’t getting any water.

Whatever the reason, it always seems as though The Complainer thinks you don’t know what you’re doing, regardless of the fact that the grass is beautiful everywhere else. Here’s your chance to whip out some real agronomy on him and show him precisely why things are the way they are, instead of from the seat of a golf car in a tense two-minute conversation.

There’s also another great benefit to this golf strategy – you get to find out who The Complainer really is and where he’s coming from. One of life’s greatest ironic personality traits is this: Some people are never happy unless they’re complaining about something.

You could be dealing with somebody who complains to feel better about himself, to show off his keen observational skills to impress you, or to simply feel important. When it comes down to it, there’s no need for you to take any complaints personally. Take them professionally. There’s a big difference.

If he’s out to impress you, this means he’s either impressed by you, or maybe even envious because of this great job you have. Keep that knowledge handy for your next encounter.

At the course I was at previously, No. 12 was a short par-4 with terrible soil and woods all along the south side blocking the sun. Drainage was badly needed and the board approved it. In the midst of the project we had trenches open up one side of the fairway and down the other. We were in the process of bringing in the gravel when one of our resident complainers, who happened to also be a board member, approached the superintendent and me in the middle of the fairway and asked, “When are you going to get around to starting the drainage out here?” His attitude was snarky, as if we were standing around doing nothing. He wanted to impress us by knowing our job better than we did.

After having the chance to play just a few holes with him, I learned this member was a doctor. He knew a lot of things better than we did, us not being doctors and all, but he was the kind of person who projected himself into thinking he knew more than everybody else, not just us. Once I learned who he really was, The Complainer problem was solved … until his next bad round of golf.


Jim Black also has great advice on how to communicate the importance of aeration to golf club members.