I visited a fellow golf course superintendent recently at his private course. It was an unannounced visit. I was in the area and thought I’d pop in and invite him to lunch.
He wasn’t in his office. The equipment tech loaned me a cart and said I’d likely find him on the back nine, “Relaxing with a little work.”
Relaxing with a little work threw me, but I drove the cart out to the back nine.
At first I couldn’t find him. The only workers I saw were a gal mowing fairways, a guy with a back-pack sprayer and a man with a string trim off in the distance working on some tall grass in a ditch.
I tried my buddy’s cell with no luck, so turned around and drove through the back nine again, this time in reverse order. Still, I couldn’t find him. I was about to give up and try the front nine when I looked over at the guy string-trimming in the ditch. Something about the dude seemed vaguely familiar.
I drove toward him. Sure enough, as I approached the man in rain pants and safety glasses, I realized it was my buddy. He looked up and, when he realized it was me, gave me a sheepish grin.
At lunch I asked him if he was short-staffed. He looked at me, clearly puzzled. I pointed out the fact that he, the superintendent of an upscale private club, had been whacking weeds in a ditch less than a half-hour earlier.
“I like to get into a ditch with a string trim every now and then,” he said. “It relaxes me.”
At some level I could relate. A superintendent’s job can be stressful at times, and every now and then it’s nice just to find a simple yet physical job to get your mind off things.
But as we talked more, he confessed that he tries his best to do all of the maintenance jobs at least one day a year. At least for an hour or two.
Not only did I admire this, but something about it made a heck of a lot of sense.
One advantage that came instantly to mind was for training purposes. How can we train someone on a job we haven’t performed ourselves for many years, or maybe ever?
An example would be fly mowing. When I started working on my first golf course back in the late 1980s in Florida, I was the fly-mow champion. I’d spend anywhere from 20 to 30 hours a week with that thing hovering the lake edges in front of my feet. But that was over 25 years ago. Can I really feel good about training someone on a job I haven’t done myself in a quarter of a century?
I started going through some of the jobs I have people do on a daily basis that I haven’t done myself in years.
Bunker raking. Tree pruning. String trimming. Fixing an irrigation leak.
Of course, all superintendent positions are not created equal. The amount of actual physical maintenance work every super does or doesn’t do is no doubt a direct reflection of the budget (and expectations) of that particular golf course.
While some superintendents have no choice but to do many of these jobs on a daily basis, others (even though they may want to) simply have no time to do them. They are pulled in too many other directions.
Green committee meetings, sub-committee meetings, budgeting, accounting, purchasing, tracking labor, hiring, dealing with golfer concerns, regulatory issues, chapter meetings, vendor visits, irrigation concerns, disease concerns … the list of things a high-end superintendent must do on a daily basis can eliminate any opportunity to walk mow a green or grab a string trim and head to the nearest grassy ditch.
But maybe, despite how pulled you are in other directions, every super needs to find a little time here and there to perform some of these jobs. Perhaps we need to consider it part of the job, as important as purchasing chemicals or meeting with the owner.
Maybe the only way to make it happen is to actually think of it as something you have to do.
Then, next time you’re in a ditch whacking down that waist-high grass, you won’t feel quite so guilty. You may even find yourself thinking of it as “relaxing with some work.”