Superintendents have a golden opportunity to educate others for the sake of their and the industry’s image

I’ve got a couple questions for you. Yeah, you, golf course superintendent person.

Are you doing all you can to educate others about what it is you do? And are you realizing and seizing those opportunities to educate, as well as projecting your image at the same time?

Let’s face it: Image is not something most of us think about a lot. But maybe we should from time to time. As the old saying goes: If you’re not looking out for yourself, who’s going to?

One could argue that image is more important for a superintendent today than it ever has been. And a huge part of that image – as well as job security – is your ability to educate others as to what you do on the golf course.

Never before has a superintendent’s ability to communicate and educate been as important as it is right now. Shrinking budgets and less revenue, as well as environmental groups breathing down our necks with new regulatory concerns, has produced an environment in which the 21st century super better be quick on his or her communicating feet.

With this is mind, I’ve come up with four different ways today’s progressive super can, and should, be projecting him or herself out there; four ways in which you can educate not only your own members and golfers, but the general public as well.

Here they are, in no particular order:

Through the Internet

Not sure if there are any clubs that don’t have a website anymore. This is no doubt the first and most logical step to take toward educating others about what you do.

If your course’s website doesn’t have a “Maintenance Updates” page, then you better get busy creating one. You can update it daily, weekly or monthly. If you think it’s something you want to do daily (More power to you!), you might want to consider linking to Twitter and creating an account simply for maintenance updates.

Another option is creating an interactive blog and linking to that as well. Getting feedback from members and other golfers (if constructive) can be a helpful tool. But more than anything it gives golfers a chance to weigh in and get their opinions heard.

I find Twitter a little too busy for what I want to do. I think a blog is cleaner and less complicated for the superintendent to convey his or her thoughts.

Be prepared for some negative stuff, but don’t take it personally. Try and respond to everyone, and do it objectively and without emotion. You’ve heard the expression, “Monday morning quarterback.” The same thing applies here with golfers. Let’s call them “backyard superintendents.” As I said, take all information and suggestions as seriously as you can. Professionalism is the key here.

In a newsletter

Because of the explosion of electronic media, many golf courses have gotten away from the traditional paper newsletter. However, some still have it, particularly private clubs. If you are one of those still putting it out, make sure you have the good ole “Maintenance Updates” or “Superintendent Editorial.”

The advantage to the newsletter over the interactive blog is that the information is going out, but not coming in. I shouldn’t say advantage. I suppose the word alternative would be a better choice. But, I must admit, sometimes it’s just more effective to state what you have to state and leave it at that.

Newsletters tend to be monthly, so the information you provide here is much more general than a daily blog or even a weekly update on your website.

In the local newspaper

Get yourself interviewed. Sound strange? It’s really not.

Chances are you or someone at your club knows somebody at the local paper. Local columnists are often looking for material, especially if they write on a daily basis. Many would welcome the chance to spend an hour on the course with you and see what you do. Throw in some golf passes and it’s a done deal.

This is an incredible chance to show the position of the golf course superintendent in a positive light. The fact is, when the maintenance practices at golf courses get mentioned in newspaper articles, it’s usually not for the best reasons. This is a chance to really set the record straight.

Talk about environmental stewardship, sustainability and the Audubon program. Talk about wildlife and the variety of plant species on your golf course. Talk about water management and water sampling. Talk about the reduced use of water, electricity and fuel in recent years. Talk about buffers and cultural controls. Talk about the First Tee Program and getting kids involved in a safe, fun activity. Talk about your continuing education and your membership in the Golf Course Superintendent’s Association, as well as your state pesticide license.

With the schools

Schools love to visit local golf courses, and chances are they’ll contact you before you even have to contact them. There always seems to be someone at one of the local grade schools and middle schools looking to get a class out on the course. After all, golf courses are great living, breathing ecosystems. Often, there’s no place better in a city, town or even a sprawling suburb that is more in tune with nature than the local golf course.

Get the schools on your side. Make that contact. It isn’t hard. They want to know what you’re doing to enhance the environment. And, chances are, you’re going to surprise and even delight them with descriptions of things like buffer zones, cultural controls, tolerance levels, water reduction and soil sampling, to name a few.

The same things you’d discuss with the newspaper reporter you’ll no doubt be touting to the kids. And don’t forget to mention the First Tee Program. Even have some brochures handy for passing out.

The thing that has always amazed me about talking to a group of youngsters is their genuine interest and concern for the planet. They ask the right questions. They, as much as anyone, are concerned about what you are doing that may affect their “home” in the future. But remember, they often get misinformation. This is a great opportunity to set the record straight.

There are many additional ways for superintendents to communicate the things they need to communicate. These include attending pertinent town or county meetings and voicing your opinion; calling or writing your congressman or senator when regulatory issues arise (which they will); and, perhaps one of the simplest of all, golf with one or two of your more vocal members from time to time. Getting yourself paired up with a disgruntled member every now and then provides you a comfortable manner in which to casually let someone know what it is you do and why you do it. In addition, it gives them a forum to speak their mind. I’ve tried this a few times with great success.

Although one of the least enjoyable aspects of the job, communication is a necessary evil. Finding effective ways to do it will undoubtedly make it significantly less stressful.