With our two kids in college, my wife and I recently decided to downsize.
We lost a flight of stairs, gave up 500 square feet of living space and took a half hour off my lawn mowing duties. We also began to purge items collected over 26-plus years of marriage. Surprisingly, my wife did not make issue of my wanting to keep an old, smelly, sweat-stained, sun-faded, dirty baseball cap. Since 2011, it has hung on my bedpost when it wasn’t being worn during my jog on the treadmill or doing yard work.
I had not given much thought as to why I had not pitched the hat years ago. I had a collection of more than 100 and received at least 20 or so since acquiring this one. Moving seemed like the perfect opportunity to trash it, but I just could not do the deed. I came to the realization that it represented something important to me. It was given to me by Dan Dinelli, CGCS, at North Shore Country Club in Glenview, Illinois.
In my 18 years in the golf industry, I have been inspired by countless superintendents, but by none more so than Dinelli. He is a person of numerous admirable traits including an insatiable thirst for knowledge, undying loyalty to his staff, and a deep respect for club members and the facility.
“I was not a great student,” Dinelli says. “I had to tear things apart first and then put them back together to understand how they work. I had to ask a lot of questions. I still do that today. I think you keep asking questions to arrive at a better solution.”
But the best of Dinelli’s qualities is an unselfishness and willingness to share what he calls his “good fortune” and “blessings” with others. He is clearly uncomfortable talking about himself and his successes, deflecting the spotlight to those he has encountered along the way. Dinelli scoffs at the notion he is extraordinary or anything more than your typical golf course superintendent.
His peers know better.
“He’s a constant tinkerer,” says Cale Bigelow, Ph.D. at Purdue, who taught a seminar at the Golf Industry Show with Dinelli. “He always thinks there is a better way to do something, and not afraid to try.”
A longtime research partner of Dinelli’s, Frank Rossi, Ph.D. at Cornell, says his admiration stems from Dinelli’s “willingness to think outside of the box, or better yet, not even think there is a box.” Rossi points to Dinelli as a person who “understands the need to meet the short term demands of the golfer, with a focus on the long-term.”
Luke Cella, executive director of the Mid-Atlantic Golf Course Superintendents Association, points to Dinelli’s humility, in addition to his knowledge, as a reason others gravitate to him. “He’s got an open mind and listens to others – Dan isn’t threatened by another’s expertise; instead he likes to harness their knowledge to solve the mysteries that he encounters.”
It’s impossible to spend any amount of time with Dinelli and not come away inspired. His thirst for learning and to undertake “special projects” help him persevere in an industry that he admits can be brutal at times. It deflects complacency and fuels his drive for continuous improvement.
For my money, that is the best message Dinelli delivers – in both actions and words. If we are to persevere, we must not lose that fire to advance ourselves. Once we muzzle our desire to improve, we sell ourselves and others who depend upon us short. Unfortunately, it is easier said than done. However, just as Dinelli does, we must make a conscious effort and dedicate time to achieving our goals.
For me, I’ll always have that ratty-old hat to remind me how it is done.