Paul Worster, recently elected onto the board of FEGGA, takes a look at the workings of the committees of a typical members' golf club. Paul is convinced that by actively steering meetings at work, the greenkeeper/course manager can avoid issues and confrontation before they start and, in so doing, become more central to the needs of the business
A survey in America two years ago positively identified the Superintendent/Course Manager as the most important person in the club structure. The success of the Course Manager, particularly in producing good greens, was felt to be pivotal to the success of the business.
Recently in the UK, I've heard of many greenkeepers coming under severe pressure or even being made redundant. However, I want to see the greenkeeper becoming regarded as the most important figure in the club structure: the person to whom the club look to for leadership in developing the course.
So, let me give you a couple of brief examples of what can go wrong in Committee and Board Meetings and look at how the Greenkeeper/Manager cannot only avoid the pitfalls, but start to take charge.
Last year, I attended an evening to recognise the environmental success achieved by a famous club in the south of the UK. Around forty delegates enjoyed presentations charting the progress of various environmental initiatives and discussed the issues encountered along the way.
However, during the question and answer session, a visiting secretary stood up. "This is all fine and good," he said, "but it's only working well here because this club wants it to work. I've just spent six months working with my course manager, catering manager and professional to form an environmental policy for our club. We dealt with everything; wildflowers and composting, re-use of waste cooking oil, disposal of cardboard and stationery, energy, lights - the whole lot. I presented it to the Committee the other night, who gave it a quick two minute reading and then threw it out with the comment, the 'ruddy staff are starting to run this place".
Another secretary responded: "That's because some clubs still are not viewed as proper businesses by volunteer committee members who only serve for relatively short lengths of time. We have accomplished business people on our boards but, for some reason, they don't always apply the same successful business ethics and practices to the club as they do to their own companies."
He added: "At my board meeting last week, we had a twenty-five minute debate on the appropriate length of socks to be worn on the course this summer. Long socks, short socks, football socks, nylon socks, red socks, white socks - the list was endless - I tried to minute it, but we didn't reach any firm conclusions. The next item on the agenda was the purchase of a £26,000 tractor, and that went through in less than a minute."
Now, all this set me wondering. My own experiences as a volunteer director taught me that meetings don't just happen, and they certainly don't reach successful outcomes by default. The meeting agenda and any supporting information are very important documents, and the chairman and managers' inputs into these are pivotal. Good and thorough preparation for the meeting is absolutely vital, and disputes and discussions around anything remotely sensitive or controversial need to have been resolved as far as possible well in advance. In other words, individual members of the committee often need to have been sensitively won over in advance of the meeting by lobbying and discussion.
Let's take another look at those two examples. It's not realistic to expect a far-reaching environmental policy be accepted and embraced by volunteer committee members 'on the hoof' without any prior preparation or consideration. This laudable policy making should, right at the outset, have involved the input of the Chairman of the Committee. He should have run it by every single member of his committee and should have ironed out any sticking points well in advance of the meeting. It should not have been included, even as an agenda discussion item, never mind a vote, until the chairman was assured of the support of the meeting.
Likewise, the socks issue is not an appropriate matter for a board of directors to waste valuable time debating, at length, during a formal meeting. The chairman should have asked each of his committee (including the course manager) ahead of the meeting for notification of any issues which may require attention. When a dress code item such as socks was flagged up, he would have had the time to refer it straight to the general manager, who would then have been able to confer with a couple of other local clubs and source an appropriate existing policy. The easily reworded document is then circulated ahead of the meeting for comment.
Come the actual meeting, a new policy for the club, previously agreed and proven to have worked in a similar background, can be formally signed off without any undue delay. Relieved of lengthy discussions over trivia, the board then has the sufficient time and energy to properly consider the important tractor purchase.
To summarise - the input of General Manager and Greenkeeper/Course Manager into the meeting preparation is vital and, as professionals, we MUST involve ourselves in this process. Setting a suitable well researched agenda - with well presented supporting information - is critical to the smooth running and positive outcome of any committee meeting.
Discuss and resolve any remotely controversial matters with all committee members prior to the meeting to ensure there are no lengthy debates or nasty surprises. You, the greenkeeper, need to identify your professional objectives for the meeting and work to achieve them. The chairman will very soon recognise and support you as the professional person - because you support him and make his job easier.
About the author: Paul Worster is Course Manager at Minchinhampton Golf Club and a former BIGGA Chairman. He is now a director of FEGGA and believes in strong Greenkeeper Associations preparing and equipping their greenkeeper members for management.