Focusing only on what’s immediately in front of a greens mower can result in uneven striping. The same applies to the business of golf course management, where failing to take a long view can have real effects on budgets and operations. Photo courtesy of Chris Carson
When I was first taught how to mow greens, my instinct was to look down at the front of the machine to make sure that I was properly overlapping the cut. I quickly learned that this resulted in short and jerky mower adjustments that left a less-than-ideal mowing pattern of “banana” or “anaconda” striping. Once I learned to look ahead of the machine, I was able to make the minor adjustments needed to ensure a straight and attractive set of lines on my greens.
When I became a superintendent, I learned a similar lesson when it came to the business decisions that were now my responsibility. A short-term, narrow focus that addressed only the immediate need in front of me frequently had me regretting my inability to take a step back to consider the long-term consequences and opportunities that eventually became evident over time. Through years of experience, I’ve learned that taking the long view is best for my operation, for my club and for my membership.
Let’s look at the classic rookie mistake that many new superintendents make when preparing their course for their first member-guest tournament. Feeling pressure to perform and show off the course, new superintendents may choose to lower the height of cut on their greens and initiate an aggressive cutting schedule to get the greens in great shape. Double and triple cutting at this reduced height, coupled with frequent rolling and perhaps aggressive growth regulation, are methods that can produce exceptional playing surfaces, but they are also reliable ways of compromising the health and quality of the greens later in the season. I have paid for the mistake of having fast greens in July with sick greens in August, and I quickly learned that the short-term need for quality during important golf events must be balanced with the health and viability of the green surfaces.
Many U.S. businesses face similar concerns. Pressured by stockholders, companies frequently emphasize quarterly results over the long-term growth and health of the company, and we have seen in the news the poor results that can develop from such an approach. Many European and Asian companies, interestingly, take a different view — business and employee development are all about the future, and short-term results are not as important as long-term strength.
Similarly, investors seeking to time their forays into the market are almost always outperformed by those with a buy-and-hold approach. Reacting to breaking financial news with rapid-fire trading is a strategy that reminds me of my first days on a greens mower, and commonly results in poor performance.
A successful program in golf course maintenance departments is one that relies on solid long-term planning, supported by the club’s mission and goals, and then has thoughtful adjustments made to it according to need, always with the goals of the club in mind. From the superintendent’s perspective, learning to “look ahead” in your budgeting requests, in your operational needs and in the development of goals and initiatives are the keys to long-term success.
Years back, as part of the GCSA of New Jersey’s club relations committee, I visited a club where the superintendent was concerned that a bunker renovation project was going to create significant long-term problems. During our visit on the course and the conversation that followed, the superintendent and I identified several potential maintenance challenges that would develop in these newly designed bunkers. Access to the bunkers by machinery was going to be severely limited, and the new flashed faces were going to require lots of hand work. These changes were going to weigh heavily on the operation’s budget. By taking a long view of the project, we helped the decision-makers at that club understand that more manpower would be needed if they chose to continue in the direction they were headed.
Establishing the balance between the immediate and long-term needs of your course can be tricky, but successful superintendents do just that, while also communicating the issues to their bosses in a way that makes them understand their concerns and support their decisions. Taking the long view by having the end in mind can help you avoid problems and help your course thrive.
Chris Carson is the GCSAA Class A superintendent at Echo Lake Country Club in Westfield, N.J., where he has worked for 30 years. He teaches courses on budgeting and professional development at the Rutgers Professional Golf Turf Management School. A 31-year member of GCSAA, Chris has served as president of both the GCSA of New Jersey and the New Jersey Turfgrass Association.