From MiGCSA Board Member Adam Garr, his blog MI Turf Mondays
Are you a golf course superintendent?
Is it what you are?
Or is it who you are?
If there’s one trait I think most superintendents share, it’s that they take certain aspects of the job extremely personally. They care, perhaps too much at times. And for good reason—a golf course superintendent is a literal caretaker of the property. So when Mother Nature takes a swing with bad weather, an employee widens out a fairway accidentally, or the pro shop sneaks a twosome off the back nine early in the morning, it’s hard not to take it personal.
It’s your job to care.
When you care as much as superintendents do, everything can start feeling like a personal attack. Look no further than Twitter or Facebook. There are a lot of well-meaning superintendents who post things on social media when the frustration boils over. Divot shaming paying members. Carts parked on collars. Equipment in the pond. They’re posting these things because they care, and because they know their audience (also superintendents) can relate to their struggle.
You care, almost to a fault. Which makes it extremely difficult to separate the superintendent profession from the superintendent lifestyle. But when the job becomes your identity, that’s when it can also become a problem. Let's see if that's become the case.
Answer these questions honestly:
- How many of your goals are tied to your career?
- Are you you always trying to “do more with less”?
- How much do you think about the golf course when you’re not there?
- When's the last time you got a good night's sleep?
- Are you self-medicating due to job stress?
- Does poor course etiquette feel like a personal attack?
- Will the whole place fall apart if you're not there?
- How does your current Twitter bio reflect who you are? Did you list your job before your family and outside interests?
Has the superintendent profession become your identity? Is your self-worth these days tied to the results of the stimpmeter, an "attaboy" from a member in the locker room, or a random good review on GolfNow? The sheer hours required to produce a championship-caliber golf course, and the effort required to maintain those conditions day after day, already puts you in a position to not have much of a life outside of work during the season. When that happens, work begins to become the measuring stick for our successes and failures.
|Success isn't always guaranteed, despite the hours and the effort.
Our society puts a value on tying hard work to success. We work harder. We put in more hours. We should always succeed, right? Not the case in this profession! In this job, you can do everything right and still feel like a failure at times. It's the challenge of managing a living playing surface expected to be perfect every day.
The success of the product is ultimately in the hands of the weather and the stability of your club's infrastructure, and that’s not something that can ever be controlled—only managed to a point. Extreme events such as flooding, drought, and winter kill always have the final say, no matter how many hours you put in. Unpredictable events such as the pump house going down, equipment breakdowns, or building fires are also beyond your control.
In 2013, I wrote a blog post that went viral, entitled “The Cost of Being Super” (find it here). What you may not know, is that when I wrote that, I was standing at a literal crossroads in my life. My career was in a total upswing, while my family life had become an absolute disaster. I was becoming a great superintendent, but I was also a crappy husband and a ghost of a father.
I’m not sure how or when it happened, but being a superintendent had become my identity. I convinced myself that the golf course needed me more than my family did.And so, I missed Ella’s first steps. I wasn’t there for Lila’s first bike ride without training wheels. I stopped reading to my kids to answer a phone call from my GM about empty ball washers at 7PM. One year, I even got up from the Christmas dinner table to go into work and snow-blow greens.
People still ask me why I left my job as a superintendent. The truth is, I left because I cared too much, and I cared too much about the wrong things.
I’m not going to tell you to care less. I know that you can’t. But if you feel like your job has become your whole identity, there are some good first steps you can start taking today.
Take the personal element out of the professional element at work. Don't let the little things work you up. For example, don’t shame your membership about poor etiquette over social media. Spend that energy on educating them on proper technique instead. And should that lesson fall on deaf ears, then just clean up the mess and move on. Realize that they’re paying customers, and at the end of the day, you’re the one getting paid to clean up after them.
Find a way to have fun again at work. Remember what attracted you to this industry in the first place. Embrace the things you love about this job the most, and do them. Start as soon as tomorrow. (Give me a sunrise, a coffee, some music, and a cup cutter any day of the week!)
I encourage you to focus on finding activities outside of work that bring you joy. Let your talents be what define you. Make use of the gifts you’ve been given. Stimulate different parts of your brain, outside of the parts dedicated to golf course maintenance.
Start measuring your success outside of work, and never, ever let that damn stimpmeter measure your self-worth.
Be more than just a golf course superintendent. Be you. The turf will never love you back, no matter how much you care.