Why is Michigan’s own Steve Hammon running for the GCSAA board? Pat Jones decided to find out.
I am old as dirt and I have been watching GCSAA board members and presidents come and go for 35 years. When I find out a friend is running I often try to talk
them out of it or at least challenge their assumptions. They may not understand the commitment involved (which is substantial). They might think it’s a way to advance their career (though it’s often not). Or, in some cases, they may be doing it for exactly the right reason which is giving something back. I did not try to talk Steve Hammon out of running when I spoke to him recently.
I’ve known him forever so I didn’t doubt his commitment. But I did want to find out why he was running, what he hoped to accomplish and why, when he could easily rest on his laurels a little, he’s decided to go national. Here’s our interview…
How on earth have you stayed happily in the same job for 25 years?
From my first interview at Traverse City, I could just tell that the members and the people here were very friendly and very genuine. It’s been like that ever since. I have stayed here because of the members. To be a super anywhere for 25 years always raises eyebrows but it’s the membership. Period. Two-thirds of them live nearby. Most are year-round. They are largely just hard-working families who love northern Michigan.
Who’s been instrumental for you during your time at Traverse City?
Eric Guttenberg has been my green committee chair for 23 of my 25 years and that speaks volumes. Diane VanderVeen has been our GM for the past five years and we really work well together. And there’s my first assistant Dan Spoor who was literally there 25 years ago when I walked in. When Jon Lamb left last year he stepped up and has done an amazing job as first assistant. He’s the real expert on our club.
You have been involved with the Michigan chapters for a quarter of a century, what’s been most rewarding?
When I first started we had a smaller northern chapter and that helped me get my feet on the ground. I worked to grow that group and, in turn, my network of friends and fellow members really grew at the same time. That got me started. Then obviously creating the new state chapter. The achievement of everyone involved with that – and we had expert help from all over the state – was just terrific. The merger was amazing at the time and a big relief to get done. Now we’re seeing remarkable growth as a result. I’m just really proud of Michigan and the chapter for doing it.
Do you think many more chapters will follow suit?
I know John Fulling has already worked with some states looking at it and there are more new state chapters in the works. The biggest question we faced here and the one every state organization has to consider is whether the local chapters would lose what made them special. That local flavor is so important. We made sure the social part of it remained. The state chapter concept isn’t a fit for everyone but the states that have the right leaders in place and can effectively present the merger for their members will move forward.
What’s the fundament benefit of merging the locals?
The amount of people who are able to give back their time these days — whether it’s for school, sports, church or the chapter — is shrinking. Supers have less staff and less money so it’s hard to commit more time for all the chapter business stuff. Plus there’s no need for duplicate websites, directories and other redundant stuff. And the convenience for industry partners to just have one contact and one place to provide financial support is great. Our partners love it.
You still get excited talking about this.
My passion has always been communicating and building relationships. The state chapter unified everyone because of communications and we continue to grow and succeed because we try to overcommunicate and make sure everyone knows exactly what we’re doing.
Speaking of that, I handed you a GCI Social Media Award a few years ago for your Twitter and blog efforts. How can other supers copy what you do?
What’s benefitted me the most is keeping things short. I’m not a writer so I keep it short and to the point. I used short little blurbs and learned a lot from other folks. Most of my posts are sharing successful events, shop ideas, equipment tips, etc. First of all, write it once, look at it twice, write it again and don’t push send until you’re alone and you know it’s correct. If it sounds a little hokey, delete and go back to step one and make it right. You need to have a positive message so I cringe when I hear other supers saying negative things about members and
golfers on social media. My philosophy is if your mom likes it your members will like it.
It can be daunting for folks who aren’t comfortable writing but you overcame that…
When I first got on Twitter it was a struggle but gradually members started following. Our world is kind of in the shadows so you have to shine some light on it. You need to market yourself and your team to show the members, the board members and guests what we do. Members who don’t know me get to learn about us through the blog. It opens the door for them. My blog has made open communication easier and they feel comfortable approaching me. Keep it short, to the point and a couple of pictures.
How cool was it when you found out you were the Golf Association of Michigan’s Superintendent Award of Merit winner last year in mid-pandemic?
It’s very humbling to have other supers and the members of the board single you out. When I see the names on the award, I don’t feel like I deserve to be on that list. It’s a great honor and it makes me feel a little proud and a little more confident about what I’m doing.
When did the thought of running for the GCSAA board become real?
It had never been a serious thought to run for the national board. I was always too focused on what we had in front of us here in Michigan. But it hit me this spring. I’ve had 25 years at my course and Sue and I both realized our kids are mostly out the door. I see having more time in my future. Sometimes when there’s time available people do less. That’s not me. I also talked quite a lot with my club board and many GCSAA past presidents and leaders. The more I learned, the more interested I became. Having full support from my club and my family solidified it.
So why are you running?
I’m really energized by the idea of having six or seven years of building new relationships and working with the best people in the industry to grow our profession and the game. For me, that’s just as good as it gets.
What’s the hardest part about committing to this?
You have to be ready to get outside your comfort zone. For example you need to decide if you really want to stand up with 2,000 people watching at the Golf Industry Show on the John Deere stage with Rhett Evans and Lauren Thompson from Golf Channel during a live show. (Laughs.) You have to consider if you’re comfortable talking on TV and speaking on behalf of all your colleagues at meetings around the globe? Do you want to possibly be president and do all that stuff?
It’s not for the faint of heart. What big issue do you think you’ll try to focus on?
I think chapter mergers are going to continue to happen or at least be proposed and I think I can be a pretty solid resource for those groups.
What is Steve’s burning gripe about the national that’s driving you crazy and you want to fix?
There isn’t one! I’m not a guy with an agenda. I just want to step in, serve where they need me to serve – maybe on some of the less popular committees – and see where I can help.
What do you think GCSAA has done well in recent times?
I’ve been really happy to see GCSAA offer health care and dental insurance. And things like the hurricane relief program and other grants to members in need have also been a big win. The BMP program has been huge and GCSAA has also been very effective helping with environmental concerns on a state-by-state level. When our state wanted to limit phosphorous our state chapter was ready. We went to Lansing. We had our facts in order and we already had a statewide stewardship program in place. Having the resources of GCSAA in your pocket during something like that is critical. I serve on the national grassroots ambassadors program and that’s helped me be more effective when we go to Lansing. To walk the hallways and meet with your representatives and senators – it’s been hugely successful to build awareness of what we do here and, obviously, in DC during National Golf Day.
What else gets you excited about this potential next chapter in your life?
Golf has always been part of my life and my family’s life. We were members at a club in Iowa and in Grand Rapids, my dad was a rules official for the Michigan PGA, my brother and I both played college golf and recently I’ve been coaching high school golf. The game means the world to me. Whatever programs are out there to grow the game, from the First Tee on down, I want to make sure we continue to fund them and develop new programs to give boys and girls the chance to start early and play golf. So many other sports go away as they get older but this is a lifelong game. Honestly the business of golf and an urge to grow the game is just in my blood. It is natural to me.
What should people know about you and why you’re doing this?
I’m a down-to-earth superintendent. I’m a person who builds a team at work that’s like family and I try to treat them like family. I try to be good team-builder whether it’s daily operations or the renovation team we put together a few years ago or it’s a group launching a state chapter. I think that might be the most important skill I can bring along to the board. Man I’m excited just thinking about it!