Show & Tell – Golf Course Industry

© bradley s. little

I always thought superintendents could help themselves by being more candid with members and golfers. It may be more difficult to call a meeting with a conventional day-rate arrangement, but at a municipal course or private club, it is possible to gather the occasional public for an educational Show & Tell.

My intuition was tested in early August at the Burl Oaks Golf Club in the Twin Cities suburb of Minnetrista, Minnesota, 21 miles west of downtown Minneapolis. The club is considering an ambitious architect’s master plan Jay Blasi; it would address deficiencies in the infrastructure of the half-century-old facility while redirecting some holes to make ideal use of the terrain. The plan will create space for a new 9 hole, par 3 layout and an expanded practice area. Full disclosure: I was hired to help the club with their planning.

But it’s not about the virtues of the proposed plan, or even whether members will embrace it. What is relevant here is that during the member training sessions devoted to explaining the proposal, the Superintendent Nathan Peters stepped up and put his expertise on the line to explain the current state of the club. He wasn’t there to sell any particular version of the plan, or to advocate one way or the other. This is the board’s responsibility.

Now in his 10th year at Burl Oaks, Peters is focused on improving farming practices. He had previously made a few practical presentations to the board of directors to present his work, but never to the members.

It’s one thing to have hired experts explain infrastructure and agronomic issues. But there’s nothing quite like your trusted, well-known, locally trained professional getting up and explaining to members what he or she does every day. This is why it is so effective for the Superintendent to do a Show & Tell.

The members of Burl Oaks know very well who Peters is. This is evident from the members calling his name with a wave or a smile during his tours of the course. They know he works hard. What they don’t know – and can’t know – is what he’s dealing with.

It is one thing to tell an audience that the club has greens of three completely different structures and only some of them are fully functioning. It’s quite another to stand there with basic caps and show the differences between a USGA spec green, an old push-up green, and a poorly constructed “modified” putting green with thick thatch and a black coat. . The first cork showed 5-6 inch roots and held firmly in Peters’ hand. The second sample crumpled in front of everyone for lack of structure. The third sample looked like it was sitting in black pudding.

Peters was equally good at showing what a blown irrigation joint looks like. “We face this all the way through the golf course,” he said. “It’s like playing Whac-A-Mole.”

His 10-minute part of the hour-long presentation was by far the most effective segment. He focused on the issues the master plan addressed and seemed to impress upon the public the extent of the infrastructure challenges. The beauty of his speech is that he simply showed what he was dealing with and left it up to the members to decide what to do about it.

This does not guarantee that any particular outcome or plan will be implemented. But the club has now forged a better understanding between everyday golfers and their superintendent, one built on respect, professionalism and proven technical expertise.

Too often, highly trained superintendents inadvertently end up being their own worst enemy. Their skill, dedication and willingness to lead the crew that extra yard or two masks the underlying infrastructural issues and ends up making the golf course look trouble-free. The costs of compensating for degraded irrigation, drainage or turf conditions are hidden. These costs are considerable in terms of money, working hours and sleepless nights.

Ironically, at many clubs the case for necessary renovation would be easier to justify and more obvious to golfers if the superintendent was less qualified and more adept at letting the deterioration show through. But as I pointed out to the people of Burl Oaks, would you really trust a superintendent like that to manage you through the renovation and to run well with new equipment and pipes?

When you have a highly trained superintendent like Peters on board, someone who can make the most of a less than ideal infrastructure, imagine how much better the facility would be with the proper hardware in place.

Show & Tell goes a long way in opening your eyes to what the Superintendent can and does do. Anything that achieves this goal is a plus for the facility and the industry.

Bradley S. Klein, Ph.D. (political science), former PGA Tour caddy, is a seasoned golf journalist, book author (“Discovering Donald Ross,” among others) and golf course consultant. Follow him on Twitter (@BradleySKlein).

About Stuart M. McFarland

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