DAVID FEARIS, Director of Membership for the GCSAA, talks about the issues facing golf in America. As you will see, there are similar issues to those we face in Oceania
Hopefully the title caught your attention. If you don't know what 'BLT' stands for, it refers to a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich and has absolutely nothing to do with you as a professional greenkeeper. Now "BCL" will, but I will hold you in suspense for a little while.
First, please let me tell you a little about myself. I am presently the Director of Membership for the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA). I have been in this position for two years. My actual career in the golf course management started as a youngster working on the maintenance crew when I was 14. I enjoyed it so much that I went to Purdue University and got a turf management degree. From there I was an assistant superintendent for two years and a head golf course superintendent at the C.C. of Peoria (Illinois) for 12 years. Then I decided to go into sales for four years with O.M. Scott & Sons. However, being a golf course superintendent was in my blood; so I went back to being a superintendent at Blue Hills Country Club in Kansas City, Missouri for sixteen years. I actually retired from there and was doing some consulting work and teaching seminars for the Club Managers Association of America when 9/11 hit.
So, back to the real world I went as a product sales associate for one of the companies I was consulting with. Then the job at GCSAA became available, and here I am. So, I have experience as a golf course superintendent, a sales person, a teacher, and now am in the association management world. Also, in between all that, I served on the GCSAA Board of Directors from 1993 to 2000, serving as president in 1999.
So let's get back to 'BCL'. It stands for Business, Communication, and Leadership. The reason this subject comes up dates back to the National Golf Foundation (NGF) meeting held in late 1999. The NGF gives an overview of the game of golf every ten years. In 1989, golf in the United States was in a growth mode. However, in 1999, the NGF said that there were too many golf courses and not enough golfers.
Obviously, many were in disbelief when this was announced. However, it proved true as there were more courses in the U.S. closed in 2006 than were built. This hadn't happened for over three decades. So, during that golf boom, golfing rounds were up which related to positive revenue. Now, rounds are down, and golf courses are competing for the golfer's dollars.
This down turn in revenue affects the whole golf facility including the golf course management end of it. In many cases the golf course superintendent's attributes were strictly aligned to the skills of golf course management. Now, with this loss of revenue, the term 'success of the facility' enters into the picture.
This actually is a positive for the golf course superintendent. It means that the superintendent is a main contributor to that success. Surveys have shown that the golfers return to the golf course because of the conditioning of the greens, tees and fairways. Thus, the golf course superintendent relates directly to contributing to the revenue of his/her golf facility.
However, this is a different style of thinking for the golf course superintendent. He or she is use to thinking in agronomic terms, not business terms. Employers have told GCSAA through various forms of communication, including committees, that they expect golf course superintendents to have good agronomic skills. This is very evident in the excellent condition of the golf courses. However, the employers said that they have noticed a lack of skills in the areas of Business, Communication and Leadership.
In my contacts with assistant golf course superintendents, they readily admit that they lack the BCL skills and were not exposed to them in college. So, they are taking courses in these subjects and also learning them on the job. We know at GCSAA that 93% of our members join because of the education offered by us. This education comes in many different forms - seminars offered at the GCSAA Educational Conference and Golf Industry Show (over 100 with 21 new titles in Orlando), regional seminars, web casts, external education (often times put on by distributors) and self-study courses (on-line). However, GCSAA has found that golf course superintendents will pick seminars that relate to agronomic practices and then take those BCL seminars if the agronomic seminars are full and unavailable. Some of the BCL seminars offered by GCSAA are:
Business: 'Inventory & Budgeting Management', 'Financial Essentials for the Superintendent'. 'Administrative Management',
Communication: 'Customer Service - A Superintendent's Perspective', 'Negotiating for Success', 'Write It Right'
Leadership: 'Leadership Skills for the Golf Course Superintendent', 'Coaching Skills for the Golf Course Superintendent', 'Managing Your Manager, Committees & Boards'
In this business world that we live in today, education is a very important part of our jobs. The professionals that you work for, lawyers, doctors, teachers, etc. all have to have continuing education. So, let's take a closer look at these Business, Communication and Leadership categories.
Business: This is the one of the main components of the 'Success of the Facility' concept. As we talked about earlier, the golf course superintendent is a major player in this concept. Conditioning of the golf course can affect revenue of the entire facility. Increased rounds can equate to increased food and beverage sales, increased pro shop sales, increased hotel rooms if you are a resort course, etc. Understanding the financial situation of the entire golf facility is very important.
Communication: You have heard the statement that you can never communicate enough. I am a firm believer of this statement. Very few times do I play a golf course that is not in excellent condition. However, when I hear of a golf course superintendent that has lost his/her job, it is not because of agronomic reasons. It is often a lack of communications with the employer or golfing membership. The following two quotations illustrate this:
"Communication may be 80-85% of a superintendent's job with agronomy being 15-20%." Dr. Joseph Duich, Professor Emeritus - Penn State University.
"Most superintendents lose their jobs because of poor communication as compared to the actual conditions of the course. If the course is in good condition, poor communication skills won't hurt as much. But, if something happens and you lose turf and you don't communicate to your members properly, then your whole world falls apart." (anonymous)
It is the nature of a golf course superintendent's job to not be around the golfers in a day-to-day environment. You are at the course very early in the morning when the golfers aren't there. Then your maintenance facility is off 'the beaten path.' So, you have to make a real effort to come in contact with the golfers and also the rest of the team at your golf facility - i.e. the golf pro, the manager, etc.
Also, remember that there are other forms of communication beside the oral one. Written communication is also very important. You can communicate to your constituents by means of emails and newsletters.
The golfers and your employer aren't the only ones that you communicate with. You communicate with your crew on a daily basis. Also, you should be communicating with the general public that aren't golfers to explain to them the environmental benefits of a golf course. So, as you can see, communication is an on-going and very important process.
Leadership: You, as a golf course superintendent, are a leader or else you wouldn't be in the position you are in now. You lead your crew in their daily activities. This is a challenge as labour can be a problem. In the United States, it is very hard to get qualified labour. The youth don't want to work at a golf course because of the early hours and working weekends. Then, if you do hire those persons younger than yourself, you realise that they have different work values than you. So you have to learn how to coach and lead them.
You should use your leadership skills when you meet with the manager, golf pro, etc. in your facility's team meetings. Then, if you do have to meet with committees, you should take the lead by formulating the agenda and keeping the committee on focus during the meeting. If you think about it, you use your leadership skills more times than you think.
I hope that I didn't confuse you between 'BCL' and 'BLT.' As your job gets more business oriented, I believe that continuing education, especially in the field of Business, Communication and Leadership, will become even more important.
web site www.gcsaa.org/