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July 2019

Forging an Ideal Collaboration with the Superintendent

By David Gould

At one point in his distinguished career, Larry Snyder spoke to his general manager about a green on their course that was stressed and thinning out. With a busy stretch of play coming up, the GM nixed the suggestion to pencil-tine aerify that green. On his own, Snyder located the green’s most oxygen-deprived section and performed the aerification. It was a risk, but no golfers came into the shop talking about holes or bumpiness. In short order that area became the healthiest part of the green. The GM was shown what happened and recognized both the correctness of Snyder’s judgment and his awareness that golfer perceptions did need to be taken into account.

“Relationships between superintendents and the people they report to only work when there’s trust,” says Snyder. “What happened with that green became a source of trust between the GM and me.”

These days, Snyder is a co-principal in Central Florida Golf, which owns and manages three courses. He and his partner, golf professional Kenny Nairn, go back a long way. They interact in a manner quite opposite to the fiefdom-versus-fiefdom pattern so often found at golf facilities.

“No golfer ever hunted down the superintendent to complain about some problem on the golf course,” says Snyder. “They go into the clubhouse. Which is why the superintendent needs to go in the clubhouse, too — every day if possible — and communicate. We have to speak to golfers with one voice.”

If you’re expecting Nairn to echo this call for a true partnership between inside and outside managers, you’re close. He actually goes a step further, believing excellent teamwork has to extend beyond just those parties and include basically everyone who comes on property.

“To me it’s about creating a culture,” says Nairn, a native Scot from St Andrews. “The golf course is a living, breathing entity that changes day to day. To the greenskeeper, it’s their pride and joy, but everyone should play a part in keeping it healthy and beautiful.”

Nairn is also a renowned golf instructor, whose students learn about course care along with proper swing technique.

“I taught the juniors to fill in divots,” says Nairn. “I taught them to fix pitch marks — especially the ones they didn’t make, themselves. This afternoon I’ve got the kids on the high school team spreading divot mix on four fairways. The superintendent will be coming by to thank them — there’s nothing better in the world for them than hearing that.”

The opposite of a course-mending culture is a complaining culture, according to Nairn. Like all golf instructors, he shoots a lot of video — he’ll even film a dues-paying member out on the course failing to behave properly.

“At a private club we once owned,” recalls Nairn, “the green committee meetings would turn into gripe sessions about course conditions. Mr. Jones would rattle off a list of complaints, then I’d take out my phone and show a little movie. Here’s Mr. Jones on No. 3 fairway, where he doesn’t fix his divot. Here he is up on the green, where he doesn’t repair his ball mark.”

Perhaps the Scottish accent Nairn still speaks with makes it easier to be so confrontational, but the obvious point is that you don’t have a culture of shared responsibility if you don’t do the work of enforcing that culture’s beliefs and values.

David Gould is a Massachusetts-based freelance writer and frequent contributor to Golf Business.

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