I’m sure it’s pretty commonplace over the course of one’s career that you land a golf course superintendent position in order to correct a situation gone bad. The course “isn’t what it used to be,” and you’ve been hired to turn it back around.
Piece of cake, right? Have a look around, assess where the problem areas are, maybe meet with the membership to get a good feel for expectations versus budget restrictions.
Then it’s time to meet the crew you’ve just inherited. Like any crew, there are probably a handful of “lifers” to go along with the seasonal crew members that have been on a year or two.
Most times the lifers can be a valuable asset. They know the lay of the land and where the trouble spots are. They’re familiar with the idiosyncrasies of all the equipment and have a fair amount of enthusiasm for their work.
The seasonal crew … well … this is usually where most of the babysitting takes place. You try to instill a sense of pride for a job well done, you train and train again, but mostly they have one foot out the door while the other foot is stuck in first gear.
I recently had the good fortune to take on an opportunity like this. A beautiful golf course that the previous superintendent kind of lost interest in. It showed in the margins, and in the multitude of shortcuts that were taken to get things done quickly rather than correctly. The most frustrating thing for me, however, was that it showed in the crew.
It was like the title to a new Bruce Willis sequel: “Bad Habits Die Hard.” Not only were my days spent evaluating and re-evaluating course conditions based on historical irrigation, fertilization and general maintenance practices, but I found I needed to spend just as much time trying to untrain 95 percent of the crew of their bad habits.
I consider myself a pretty good manager of people. I’m fair-minded and believe in constructive correction versus yelling. Sometimes the constructive correction is more forceful based on my frustration level, but I do my best to keep it professional — “You need to be more involved in the task at hand” — versus personal —“What the hell is the matter with you? Are you an idiot?”
By season’s end I learned something about this scenario: It didn’t work.
No matter how hard I tried or how many times I corrected him, the guy driving the bunker rake drove around the rakes in the sand, left rakes in the grass, and entered and exited at the same point every day, dragging sand farther and farther out into the rough instead of picking up the implement before driving out.
When I told the tee mowing guy to replace tee markers in side positions instead of always in the middle like they had been doing for years, he said, “I’ll keep that in mind.”
The fairway mowing guy was used to milking this task for three days, claiming he was always getting caught by golfers. Come to find out getting caught by golfers was his goal, so it would take all day and he wouldn’t have to be bothered with a second job. He even “offered” to come in on Saturdays to finish mowing fairways when necessary because of rainouts or whatever. Sorry, not mowing fairways on Saturday, but nice try. He was visibly offended when we got our hands on another fairway unit and I sent out two mowers — all fairways done by noon on the same day.
What a novel idea.
Same thing with greens. With a crew of seven, the first time I assigned greens mowing to one guy on a triplex his first question was, “By myself? Golfers will catch me!”
“Um … we are here one and a half hours before the first tee time. You should be able to stay ahead,” I said.
Silly me. I assumed the greens would be mowed in order. Nope. They had to jump around in an order that was convenient for them. By the end of the season there were some days they were still getting caught because they couldn’t untrain themselves. Not once did I ever say “hurry up and get this done!” All I said was “just stay ahead of the golfers, please.”
These are grown men I’m talking about — guys that have been back for three, five, even eight seasons. I couldn’t even break them of their five minutes- late habit, either.
Luckily 2015 is a new season, and an opportunity for new hires. My new hires. The labor pool in my area is pretty shallow, but I’m sure there are a few out there willing and eager to become part of our rebuilding program … if I can get just them to show up on time.