How Teamwork Leads to a Successful Golf Course 

Hole 16 Oakland Hills Country Club
Hole 16 Oakland Hills Country Club

When I look back over all the classes and seminars I have sat through in the past years, I cannot help to think that most of my learning occurred in my first year OUT of school. This is where I learned the things that do and do not work in our industry. This is where I learned how to act when things do not go according to a nice little schedule printed up in January. I have been able to grow so much because of the respect we have for our co-workers and how that translates into good teamwork.

I had my greatest chunk of learning occur during that first year because of the team I joined at Oakland Hills Country Club when I graduated. I like to think of us as though we are a family. Management is like the parents of the group. It is from them that I learned the greatest principles, the things that you can’t take from a book. I’m not necessarily talking about agronomics; it’s other things like dealing with committees and setting attainable goals to ensure member satisfaction. They are the ones I seek out when I have questions regarding my career or questions about our industry. It is from them that I have gained the greatest philosophical knowledge about everything involved in becoming and being a golf course Superintendent.

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Ethan Haveman Assistant Golf Course Superintendent  Oakland Hills Country Club
Ethan Haveman Assistant Golf Course Superintendent Oakland Hills Country Club

They are also like parents in that they will allow the assistants a leash, an area to learn things on their own, but not entirely out of their control. Many times I have gone to them with an idea and have received the response that includes a smile and a, “Go ahead and try it.” They know full well that the idea is most likely not feasible, but will allow me to do that piece of learning for myself, just as they learned many lessons in the past. It is the trial-and-error that they have faced many times that they know I must also endure in order to truly learn.

I believe that the parenting comparison is mutually beneficial. I think that many days go by when management learns more from us than we may from them. Just as children grow and become more independent, they must also learn what they can trust us to do and what is necessary to promote the most growth among the assistants. While the bulk of their work is planning and coordinating day-to-day, I am certain they learn new tricks and ways to approach certain things from time to time also.

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My co-workers are like my siblings. The ones with more experience have been like older brothers to me. They are also teachers, in part. It is from them that I have learned many of the things that do and do not work on the course itself. We can most easily identify with each other and, with an open line of communication, work together to best resolve an issue. The best mentor I have had in my career happened to be a fellow assistant. He was very open to my questions and took the time to make sure I understood everything. I had always thought that a mentor was supposed to be one’s boss, but it can be anyone who is willing to listen and facilitate learning. I am very grateful to him for the help he gave me.

Hole 11 Oakland Hills Country Club
Hole 11 Oakland Hills Country Club

This should be a good reminder to all Superintendents, remember that someone is always trying to learn from you by watching what you do and say, and how you handle situations. The people in positions below you are like a sponge, ready to soak up any and all information that you can give out. Think back to when you were younger and first started in the industry. It is likely that you decided at some point that you either wanted to someday run an operation like your boss, or you may have said, “I’ll never do it that way.” There isn’t any single correct way of doing things, it depends on need. But just remember that you are shaping many people’s views on things in the industry. Help them gain the tools to someday be successful and look back on their days at your course fondly.

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It is very beneficial for Golf Course Superintendents to try and facilitate learning in their assistants and crew, because the more they know, the easier things should become for management. There are two ways in which I feel a Superintendent can pass on information to assistants. The first method is working together and having a direct information feed from the Superintendent on down. When this is done there is no error or gap in information, really a very simple way of doing things. The second way that a Superintendent can facilitate learning is to let his assistants run with an idea of their own. Trial-and-error is a great teaching tool and often the way people learn best. A mix between the two also works very well, it just depends on the dynamics of the teacher and student. One thing that is very important with trial-and-error versus a direct feed of information is that if people are allowed to make their own mistakes, then they must also depend on themselves to find a way to get things done. It really allows for someone to use their imagination, which is important. If everyone just did things the way the person before them had, then the operation would never become any more efficient. There is no ceiling for achievement when people use their imagination.

The road to learning and success does run in both directions. Assistants must try to learn and broaden themselves every day. There must be a desire for a gain in knowledge on the part of the assistant. Assistants must use every tool at their disposal in order to better themselves. The best tool that they often have is the Superintendent. Assistants need to get every bit of information that they can from their superiors. From my past experiences, a Superintendent will never get tired of someone asking them questions in order to better themselves and their career. It is good for both sides because one gains knowledge and insight while the other reinforces ideas and possibly even stimulates new ones. Keeping that line of communication open is essential to both short and long-term success.

Every day when you go to work, remember and be aware that you are probably impacting someone’s ideals, even if you are both unaware of it. There are many things that you can learn from your co-workers, and the best way to better yourself and the golf course is to be open to your colleagues and to work together. A successful team is one that trusts each other and works together toward the group’s shared goal of ongoing success.

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