As the parent of a 21-year-old daughter and 18-year-old son, I’m resigned to the fact there isn’t much agreement between father and children at this point in time.
Though they think I’m somewhat of a nerd, I take a much more philosophical approach and chalk it up to generational differences. I hold out hope that they will come around to my thinking as they mature (much like I did, of course). Until then, I will tolerate music with words I can’t understand, a bedroom floor that doubles as a closet for clothes and car floorboards covered with every food wrapper and drink cup known to mankind.
What does this have to do with golf? Well, within a period of two months I witnessed a beautiful thing: an extremely successful 50-something male golf course superintendent and a 20-something female collegiate golfer in lock-step agreement on an issue of great importance to the future of the industry.
Every year I speak to a college sports management class about careers and share what opportunities might exist for students with their respective skill sets. This year, after the class ended, a young lady named Kristi approached me to ask about a career in golf. I learned she was on the golf team and grew up in the industry as the daughter of a golf professional. In her youth she would spend time in the pro shop and on the driving range. I suggested she consider a career as a golf professional herself based on her playing expertise and knowledge of the pro shop.
Suddenly, her face became expressionless, her chin dropped and she said softly: “About the only time I got to see my dad was when I went to the club. His hours were terrible. He eventually quit, which is sad because he was very good at what he did. I love golf, but I also want a life.”
Fast-forward a few weeks. I was skimming through tweets about the Golf Industry Show when I came upon one from Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA) Past President Sean Hoolehan. He questioned why some speakers were sending the message that assistant superintendents could expect to work 60 to 80 hours per week. He reasoned this type of communication was part of the reason assistants were leaving the industry. I didn’t have to wait long for feedback, as the retweets and favorites rung up like a winning slot machine. His viewpoint had received almost unanimous support.
Wait a minute! Wasn’t this the same generation that walked a mile to school through a foot of snow every day? Weren’t they part of an industry that wore long work hours like a badge of honor? And now, they are agreeing with a 20-year-old college student about work-life balance?
Based on the social media discussion of Hoolehan and his peers, it’s apparent superintendents are willing to engage in a discussion about a subject many had long considered taboo. After all, superintendents were known for their hard work and dedication. Reducing hours spent on the job would be counter to the culture. But superintendents (along with pros and club managers) are witnessing a talent drain. Young professionals are leaving the industry in search of other opportunities because they want a better life and/or they see no future in golf.
My concern is a business-as-usual attitude will force talented individuals to leave the industry (or not pursue it) when the industry needs them more now than ever. We know rounds are flat to declining; we are losing golfers; and we’ve had more than 1,000 courses close in the past 10 years. We need to retain the talent to help address those ills. The silver lining is it appears the discussion is ramping up and moving to a more public arena. This is an issue all of golf can and should address together.
My hope is that Kristi wins the conference title in the upcoming weeks, and then goes on to experience a bright future in the golf industry. She’s the kind of person golf needs.
COVER PHOTO BY DAVEJKAHN/SIGNATURE/ISTOCK