Monday, January 4, 2016

Dealing with the New Greens Chairperson

“As a golf course architect what suggestions can you give a superintendent on how to deal with a new green chairman who wants to play golf architect?”

I have been designing and building golf courses for nearly 25 years.  The beauty and challenge of having been at it for so long is that I have had the pleasure of working with several clubs for over 15 years…which means I have had to deal with a fair share of green chairperson turnover.

Sometimes the transition is seamless, as the new chair might have been a long standing member of the greens committee and shared in establishing the direction of the Club.  Other times it can be a mutiny where a greens chair is being pushed out due to philosophical disagreements or personality conflicts. 

As a golf course superintendent the relationship with the greens chair can vary in many ways.  There are those that take on an aggressive approach with the superintendent, trying to set and push forward a personal agenda that may or may not be productive and/or best for the golf course.  There are also those that will defer to the knowledge of the golf course superintendent regarding most issues on the golf course…this can work well and be productive as long the superintendent has a clear and manageable vision.  Usually the relationship between the superintendent and the greens chair falls somewhere in between these extremes.

In order to establish credibility with a new green chair there must be clear and concise objectives set forth as well as a communication protocol that is productive.

1.       A Look Back
A great place to start with a new green chair is to bring them up to speed with what has gone on over the last season or two.  This means outlining the good and the bad.  It means developing a clear picture of the golf course from an historical perspective to allow the new green chair to work from a point of knowledge and understanding.

2.       Golf Course Master Plan
If a master plan is in place that was developed by a qualified golf course architect, this will answer a lot of questions the new green chair may have.  A comprehensive golf course master plan identifies enhancement opportunities throughout the golf course considering strategic, agronomic and aesthetic issues.  The master plan will also address playability for all skill levels, maintainability of the features on the course and life cycle planning for bunkers, greens, cart paths and tees.  If the course has an historic pedigree a Master Restoration Plan is the best tool to ensure that any improvements to the course are restorative in nature and embrace the course’s past. 

3.       USGA Visit and Site Report
The USGA provides an invaluable site analysis service that delivers the golf course superintendent and the greens committee recommendations regarding overall maintenance practices, agronomic and environmental conditions, tree management and general enhancement ideas.  The USGA report along with the Golf Course Master Plan are the main tools which give direction and rationale to the improvement process.  These tools also give credibility to the planning and execution process allowing the greens chairperson and committee to work more productively with Club Boards and Club Administration.

4.       Make it Official
Clubs may also decide to have Golf Course Master Plans and supporting improvements directives and recommendations written into the by laws of the Club.  This will provide for clear direction, consistent results and quickly resolve disagreements regarding architectural ideas.  As with every Master Plan, there should be some level of flexibility allowing for productive discussion, but the plan should establish a path that is consistent with the overall goals and objectives of the Club.  

It is important that the green chairperson doesn’t seek to put their singular stamp on the golf course.  I can’t tell you how many times I have dealt with greens committees and chairs that have just returned from some resort golf vacation, saw a unique style or feature and insisted that they needed this feature on their course. 

It is also important that the relationship between the golf course superintendent the new greens chair begin from a point of mutual respect.  In many cases the new greens chair brings extensive golf knowledge either through travel or as an avid player that may add value to the planning of improvements to the golf course.  Enhancements to the golf course should always be a team effort.  In fact, I have found that in most cases the original ideas for change built into a master plan only get better when executed with an engaged team.

Quite simply, the best way to deal with a new greens chair who wants to play architect is to hire a qualified golf course architect to work with the Club.  This can be as simple as a consulting relationship to address and solve specific issues on the golf course or can extend to the provision of a comprehensive golf course master plan for the course.  I either case the architect will work closely “with” the chairperson, the committee and the golf course superintendent in the best interest of the Club.  This also has a tendency to take some of the pressure off both the golf course superintendent and the greens chair when addressing club members, committees and boards.

Integrating the Golf Course Master Plan with the commission of a USGA report and the provision of an education session by the golf course superintendent with the new greens chairperson will provide the necessary foundation for a strong productive relationship.