A box arrived in the mail the other day from Kyle Sweet, the certified golf course superintendent at the Sanctuary Golf Club in Sanibel Island, Florida. Of all things, a coconut was inside the box – but not just any coconut.
This coconut is painted brown with white stripes on its ends to look like a football. It’s emblazoned with a hand-painted logo of the Pittsburgh Steelers, my favorite NFL team. As sports collectibles go, the cool-factor needle is off the charts for this particular piece of memorabilia. I’ll never find a coconut football in any store.
Sweet’s gesture, which was a surprise, made my day. I was touched by his kindness. But that’s the type of guy Sweet is – he likes to make people happy by doing nice things for them.
I phoned Sweet to thank him for the coconut. Of course, I was dying to know how he had gotten into the hobby of painting coconuts with sports logos.
I discovered that Sweet has a little gig in addition to his duties as superintendent of Sanibel Island. It’s a hobby more than a side job, though, and it has more to do with extending member relations at the private club than anything else.
Sweet, in his 20th year at the Sanctuary, is known for more than just being the course’s superintendent; he’s known as the resident artist, who shares his work with the course’s members. And, like me, the members are thankful and appreciative of his work.
Take the coconuts. The first one he ever painted, which had a tropical theme, was for his son. When relatives and friends saw it, they wanted one. One day, a co-worker asked if Sweet could do a Green Bay Packers-themed coconut. He did better – he painted the coconut like a football and then painted on the Packers’ logo.
Then other co-workers saw the Packers coconut, and they all wanted “football coconuts” with their favorite teams. The Sanctuary’s members also saw the coconuts and put in their requests.
Sweet probably didn’t figure his coconut craft would become the rage of Sanibel Island. “It got to the point where I probably made 200 coconuts over a one-and-a-half year period,” he says.
He charges a small fee for the coconuts, about $30, mainly to cover the cost of materials. The members who buy them know they are getting a tremendous bargain.
Not only is Sweet crafty with coconuts, he’s accomplished with a camera. He often carts his camera equipment (about $4,000 worth) around the course and the island, looking for the perfect photographs.
Sweet photographs the wildlife on the course – the Sanctuary is built in the middle of a national wildlife refuge – and golf holes. The club uses many of his photos in communications and marketing material.
But then Sweet came up with the idea to use his photos to make cards, which Hallmark executives would love. The cards are constructed with fine paper and, of course, top-notch photos. The club began to sell the cards featuring Sweet’s photos in the pro shop. Sweet also sells cards on his own for a nominal fee and gives them away as gifts.
While Sweet’s artistry is a side gig and he makes a bit of money, the coconuts and cards are more about creating what Sweet calls “touch points” – connecting with people outside of his job as golf course superintendent.
“It’s a way for me to provide something to the members above and beyond the role of superintendent,” Sweet says. “They get to know me on a different level. It takes member relations to another level.”
Nobody should have to tell a superintendent how important it is to form solid interpersonal relationships with members/golfers. Some superintendents will tell you that it’s more vital than knowing how to grow grass.
So, if you’re the superintendent whom golfers know as “the guy in charge of the barn,” you might want to consider a plan to “extend your relationship with them,” as Sweet says.
You don’t have to grow a few coconut trees outside your maintenance facility, but your members/golfers would love a coconut football with their favorite team’s logo. I know I do.