Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People” was one of the first self-help books ever published and is regarded as one of the greatest self-help books ever. I don’t know how many golf course superintendents have read it, but I have certainly heard some outstanding anecdotes recently about how superintendents have gone to another level to win friends and influence people, specifically those they associate with at the golf course.
Considering it’s January – a time for New Year’s resolutions if you believe in them – I thought it was a good time to share some of these anecdotes, although winning friends and influencing people at the golf course should be regarded as an infinite measure.
Let’s start with a story from Kevin Smith, who went above and beyond the call of duty to provide superior customer service, especially from a superintendent. Some superintendents shy away from golfers on the golf course, not wanting to be seen. But in Smith’s case, he sought out golfers on the course with the sole goal to appease them.
Smith is vice president and director of agronomy for Charlotte, N.C.-based Pinnacle Golf Properties, which oversees six courses in North Carolina and South Carolina, including Bryan Park Golf & Conference Center in Greensboro, N.C., where Smith is based. It was the sizzling summer of 2012 when Smith, roaming the course in his utility vehicle, came upon a foursome of golfers who were playing/laboring in the heat.
“They were sweating profusely,” Smith recalls. “I asked if I could get them some water.”
The golfers had no idea who Smith was. He could’ve been a mirage, for all they knew. But when Smith returned with free bottled water, he had made some new friends, not to mention satisfied customers.
“Random acts of kindness can make a difference,” Smith says.
The marching orders at Bryan Park and the other Pinnacle courses are to provide crazy-good customer service. If a golfer loses his ball and a maintenance worker is nearby, the maintenance worker goes to help the golfer find his ball.
“If we can help a golfer, he will remember that, and he will have a good feeling about the maintenance staff,” Smith says.
Dale Carnegie would be proud.
Superintendents must also influence and be friends with their peers, especially golf pros. But in my 15 years of covering the industry, I’ve met superintendents from private and public courses who don’t get along with their courses’ golf pros. In fact, I’ve met several superintendents who abhor the pros.
Dale Carnegie would say you’re making a big mistake. If you don’t get along with the pro, you’re setting yourself up for trouble. Maybe it’s time to consider putting aside your differences, compromising on certain issues and becoming friends, not foes.
Chris Carson, the golf course superintendent at Echo Lake Country Club, an 18-hole private club in Westfield, N.J., has been in the business for 35 years. One thing Carson learned early in his career was to get along with the pro.
“We’ve had a great relationship, which has helped me,” Carson says. “There’s no competition or animosity between us. We’re a team.”
Carson and Echo Lake’s pro have a mutual trust. They strive to stay on the same page for their own benefits. They are willing to compromise. “We have each other’s back,” Carson says.
Both have worked Echo Lake for nearly 30 years. Coincidence? Doubt it.
“How to Win Friends and Influence People” doesn’t contain a chapter on being brash, arrogant and getting your own way. Incidentally, those are not three character traits that Clem Wolfrom displayed in his amazing 51-year run as superintendent at the Detroit Golf Club. Just the opposite.
“The good Lord will knock you on your butt when you get too cocky,” Wolfrom told me a few years ago. “That’s why I never get too high.”
If Wolfrom could write his own book on how to win friends and influence people geared toward the golf industry, he would include a chapter titled, “Humility will get you everywhere.”
Every day, no matter the condition of the course, Wolfrom would go to the clubhouse for lunch to talk to members. If he had to, he would answer questions about why the course wasn’t in top condition. “Sometimes, I would’ve rather had a root canal than gone up to the grillroom because I knew I was going to catch hell,” Wolfrom says. “But that’s the time you had to be there.”
That’s the kind of guy I want as an influence. And a friend.