Wednesday, September 29, 2010

What is Your GO TIME?

Ten Rules of Golf Business Preparation
Success in the golf course management world is not about who is the smartest; research shows that IQ is largely unrelated to status in the high powered corporate food chain. Success is not about who has the best education; consider this, only 14% of Fortune 500 companies are led by brainy Ivy Leaguers. And success is not about who has the best funding or resources; many successful businesses started in garages, dining rooms, and the back of cars. I am sure we have all witnessed golf greens at high budget golf course in less than perfect conditions.

It’s no surprise that prior to a world class golf event, advance teams from one of golf’s sanctioning bodies arrives at the club to pour over the many details that must be taken care sometimes years before the scheduled event.

In the day-to-day world of maintaining a golf course as well as other business endeavors, the single greatest influence on who achieves success is preparation. The more prepared you are to confront the many challenges of golf course management, the more successful you will be. As uncomfortable as this sounds the best prepared superintendents escaped the 2010 summer season with minor battle scars. Deferred maintenance practices and knee jerk mid-summer field decisions led to major turfgrass losses in many cases.

To attain any goal of success, you must engage in the needed preparation which involves: "Maintaining consistently high quality year-round efforts resulting in optimal preparation for maximum in-season success."

1906 Chicago Cubs, World Series Champions
The purpose of all of your preparations is to perform your best at Go Time which is: "Seasonal experiences that place you and your team under the most demanding conditions, faced with the most critical decisions, with the greatest rewards/risks on the line, in the most important management situation of your life" (think of Go Time as your Super Bowl, World Series or Stanley Cup all rolled up into one).

 Golf course management in some areas is a year-round proposition. Even in areas that experience mild winters a period of less stress occurs at a time of year that opens the door to prepare for the Go Time season. With this understanding, I want to present to you my basic Ten Rules of Preparation needed before Go Time:

Ten Rules of Golf Business Preparation

First Rule: Preparation is the foundation of all success. This preparation involves six important areas: 1) Essential information (e.g., goals; based on plans, surveys, strategies) ; 2) Task-specific knowledge and skills (e.g., soil and water tests, yearly budget plans, timed maintenance plans, well prepared core team); 3) Resources and tools (e.g., experts, equipment in top shape, network of colleagues); 4) Psychological and emotional capabilities (e.g., determination, confidence, resilience); 5) Interpersonal skills (e.g., leadership, empathy, assertiveness, communication, inspiration, decisiveness); 6) Physical health (e.g., illness free, rested, well nourished, reasonably fit).

Second Rule: Success comes from the days, weeks, and months of preparation leading up to the culmination of those seasonal efforts. Many golf course practitioners believe that it's what happens on a key days or weeks during the season that matters. But I believe that success is determined more by what you do in the days, weeks, and months leading up to the crucial days of the golf season in your part of the world. If you've put in the time and effort to develop yourself and your team in the six areas I described in the First Rule, then you will know that you have done everything you can to achieve your goals and you will perform your best on those important seasonal days.

Third Rule: Three essential qualities necessary for preparation and success are patience, persistence, and perseverance. Preparation takes time and you will experience many bumps along the road. Patience ensures that you realize that there are no shortcuts or easy roads to success. Persistence will get you to keep grinding away when you are tired and stressed from a long season. Perseverance will enable you to stay motivated and positive in the face of the inevitable obstacles and setbacks you will experience.

Fourth Rule: You must take responsibility for everything that can impact your preparation and performance. Success is not a simple goal; there are usually many components that must be considered and steps that must be taken. You cannot leave anything important to chance. To ensure that you are doing everything you can to achieve your goals; you must take responsibility for everything that might influence your efforts. Can you say with confidence that you have complete command over everything that might impact how you perform?

Fifth Rule: The purpose of preparation is to develop effective skills and habits. When you have identified those six key areas from the First Rule, you have a precise plan showing you what you need to do to achieve your goals. Education, training, experience, and teamwork that help you fully develop all of those areas that will ensure your complete preparation. These experiences will ingrain in you the essential skills you can then access when you arrive at Go Time.

Sixth Rule: Preparation requires a defined purpose, clear focus, and high energy every day. It's impossible to engage in quality preparation unless these three things are present. You must have a clear purpose that tells you precisely what you're working on. Without that purpose, you will make at best, haphazard progress toward your goals. When you identify your purpose every day, you ensure that you put directed effort into that purpose. You must have a clear focus on that purpose which involves consistently concentrating on the task at hand and avoiding distractions that will interfere with that focus. You must have high energy to achieve this preparation. All of your efforts will come to naught if you are not physically prepared (e.g., rested, relaxed, well nourished) to execute the purpose you have identified. When you have awareness and control of your energy, you enable your mind and body to direct all of its efforts toward your defined purpose.

Seventh Rule: However you perform in your day-to-day work is how you will perform at Go Time. When most people think of the best athletes (e.g., Peyton Manning, Albert Pujols, Michael Phelps), they often believe that what makes them great is their ability to rise to the occasion at Go Time. But what really makes them so successful is that what they do at Go Time is really no different than what they do every day in their off season training and pre-event routine. The same holds true in the golf course maintenance business. Your daily and seasonal work preparations and efforts should be filled with the same drive, intensity, and focus that you will need to tap into at Go Time.

Eighth Rule: Preparation is about the Grind. To be your best, you have to put a lot of time and effort into your preparations. I call this the Grind, which involves having to put hours upon hours of time into your work, well beyond the point that it is fun and engaging. If you let these immediate negative aspects of your work override your long-term goals of performing your best and achieving your goals, your motivation is going to suffer and you're not going to be as prepared as you can be and you won't perform at your highest level at Go Time. The number one reason for failure is when business people experience the Grind they get tired, frustrated, or bored, they either ease up or give up, all of which will hurt their preparations and ultimately the final product. What makes great superintendents great is that they understand it is what happens when they arrive at the Grind that separates them from everyone else. When they hit the Grind, they push harder.

Ninth Rule: Go Time Preparation comes from "one more thing, one more time." You can assume that golf businesses are working hard to become the best they can be, especially in this weak golf economy. Great achievers do, "One more thing, one more time." When you feel you have done enough, do just a little bit more. By doing one more thing, one more time, you are doing that little bit extra that will prepare you for Go Time and separate you from your competitors.

Tenth Rule: All preparation is directed toward preparing you and your team to perform your best at Go Time. Anyone can perform well in unimportant situations, under ideal weather conditions or when they are totally "on their game." What makes the great superintendents great is their ability to perform their best when it really counts. Go Time preparation will allow you to achieve Premium Conditions at Go Time, that late August Member/Guest after a brutal summer, that might be your equivalent of the Super Bowl, World Series, or Stanley Cup.

The Ten Rules above are a simple template of proven ways to become more prepared for the golf season. They all revolve around planning and preparation in the less busy golf season. Unplanned surprises and a fickle Mother Nature will always be a part of the golf maintenance business but they should never derail your best plan and keep you from delivering your maximum effort each day.

Consider this:

Confucius said, “A man who does not think and plan long ahead will find trouble right at his door.” Or, if you're not into Chinese philosophers how about Roger Maris, who said, “You win not by chance, but by preparation.” Rodger knew something about Go Time!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Here are some comments from the recent greens survey

Mark Luckhardt, Vice President, XGD Systems (Ontario, Canada) wrote:

Very interesting survey. First off, let me say that I am a big fan of USGA green construction. During green construction, speed is critical and a 12" rootzone of predominantly sand will allow a bulldozer to spread the mix without destroying the soil structure through compaction.

Building a soil green requires much more time to let the soil rootzone settle out and compact naturally through overhead irrigation and or precipitation events, and heavy equipment needs to be kept off of the soil based rootzone or compaction will occur. I believe the extra time it takes to build a pushup green is really the only reason you don't see more of it in this current era. The new green(s) need to be in play immediately and USGA construction fits the bill there.

Regarding your survey results showing a much higher percentage of sand based greens failing this past summer vs. soil greens, I find the results surprising. Obviously, a lot of variables contribute to green failure but I would have to say water and thatch management play a big role. With increasing pressure from golf clientele to avoid playing after aerification events, I feel superintendents are not being allowed to employ enough cultural practices to win the war against excessive thatch or organic material buildup in the top few inches of their rootzones, be it sand based or soil based.

Another question I ask is, are soil temperatures higher in sand greens than soil greens? One would think that with the extra pore space available in a sand root zone that would promote more air circulation and keep temps cooler. But, with excessive organic material in the top few inches is the opposite occurring in sand root zones? If oxygen is not circulating in to the lower rootzone, perhaps these high soil temps contributed to turf loss. Conversely, a soil based rootzone would seem to promote higher soil temps in general as well, but I am not convinced that is the case. Maybe, some research has already been done on this to validate or disclaim my opinions.

Armen Suny, Owner of SunyGolf (Arizona) wrote:


Interesting results of your survey.

You and I both have good observational skills and have seen that USGA greens are far from bullet-proof. I continue to struggle with the thought that a false water table is good for growing anything except for rice. Excuse me, my nomenclature is not politically correct, I meant perched water table.

I would be hesitant to add more than a trace of clay dust to a USGA green because I would suspect that if you added just a little bit of soil that it would become difficult to overcome gravity and get the greens to release their water. You might have to fill up the entire profile with water to get gravity to overcome the tension created by the addition of soil.

On the other hand, I would have absolutely no problem adding soil to a mix that is placed on ripped or sandy subsoil with or without drainage. If it was in an area of high rainfall, I'd add more drainage. Compost or at least good compost is a great component in any mix. It adds life and good microbes to the mix and generally minimizes the amount of weird patch diseases.

Bob Lohmann, Golf Course Architect, Owner Lohmann Golf Designs (Illinois) wrote:

Hey Mike,

I have been traveling a bunch lately and haven't had a chance to study your survey. I think a lot of the good and bad things that happen to green are more to do with how they are managed than what they are built out of. The best management techniques include adequate sun, good air circulation, and proper surface drainage. It takes a smart and aggressive supt. to recognize this and do everything in his or her power to have these present on all the greens. When these are not present or if the weather is uncooperative, it takes a good supt. to adapt their management techniques to keep the grass alive and not worry about tournament conditions. Just because a green is built to the recommendations of the USGA or similar methods, the supt. can't forget to respect "Mother Nature" and needs to adjust the techniques and inform the players that expectations should be slightly lowered in tough weather times.

It is not an easy job and we should all respect the keeper of the greens when conditions like we have had this past spring and summer are causing havoc with the golf courses.

Hopefully we can continue this discussion later after I have had a chance to study your survey.

Brad Anderson, Superintendent of Birmingham Country Club (Michigan) wrote:


I wonder how many of those clubs that suffered loss of grass on USGA greens actually built those greens to spec? And there is also the issue of cultural practices - how many of those USGA greens that suffered loss have had a proper cultural program through the years? Obviously all of that would be very difficult to determine for certain.

Ben Rink, Superintendent of Champaign Country Club (Illinois) wrote:

It is difficult to pinpoint the "cause" of the decline other than it was too hot, too wet, or too dry. All summer I felt like if I even looked at the turf sideways it would just roll over and die. I pulled off nearly all cultural practices (old pushup greens) and just rode it out until we had a break. At this point I am happy I did because my greens are the best turf on the course! I think that, as Bruce pointed out, since the damage has been so widespread and talked about (WSJ article and such) that most of us superintendents are dealing with club leaders that are aware that damage isn't isolated to their course. Almost a "get out of jail free card." The telling story will be the recovery efforts. I have found that my empathetic membership is slowly turning into an impatient membership now that the weather has moderated. Communication between us and them has never been more important!

David Downing, President, Signature Golf Group (South Carolina) wrote:


I would suggest some more questions after the question about losses…if you suffered 15% or more what do you feel was the primary cause(s):

Greens Construction
Winter Damage
Poor Drainage
Too much Drainage
No air movement
Lack of resources

At this point the survey just shows some losses….people need solutions!! Need to know the whys to avoid them in the future!!

Bruce Williams, Director of Business Development, ValleyCrest Golf, (California) wrote:

Nice job on the survey Mike.

I believe it is valuable for the leadership of golf courses nationwide to know the extent of the damage this year. It surely was not isolated and supts work harder in years like this although the results may not show it. 120 days of pure screaming hell for many golf course supts across the country.

What do you think?