NOTE: This column was first written and shared in the latter part of 2014. At the time, I was livid at the unfair treatment of a very talented and dedicated PGA Professional I had met in the course of the Michigan Golf Live broadcast season. I had no idea how far this letter would travel. Since its original posting 4 years ago, I have heard from PGA Professionals nearly every week. Emails, calls, and private messages have poured in from as far away as Australia. I also heard from a very irritated Board of Directors at a golf course that should be ashamed of how it treated a good man. For PGA Pros everywhere, this one is for you.
During the summer of 2014, I was invited to broadcast from a wonderful course in a part of Michigan that rarely gets mentioned in the listing of great golf destinations in the state – the tip of the Thumb. (Michiganders always have a map of the state very close by.)
There is a nominal cost associated with our live onsite broadcasts, as we purchase the airtime on several stations across the state. In order to pull together the needed dollars to make the broadcast possible, the PGA Pro at the host course – we’ll call him “E” – launched a remarkably energetic effort to bring together numerous neighboring courses and businesses to kick in a few bucks and receive some airtime.
It’s not unusual for our program to include multiple businesses when we visit a community. In fact, I prefer to have a variety of voices on the air to help keep things fresh. But I had never seen an effort quite like E put forward. He blew me away with his determination and his pride in showcasing the course he had called home for 23 years.
On the Friday evening before the Saturday morning broadcast, E and I played his course. I had never been there before and was excited to tee it up on a perfect July afternoon. My expectations were quickly blown out the door. I thought I was going to play a decent course that was more highly thought of by its PGA Pro than it should have been. I was wrong. This place was, and is, wonderful! I didn’t want the round to end. I was wishing my camera crew had been along for the ride so we could capture the beauty of the layout in this mostly forgotten (for golf) part of the world.
The axiom that a round of golf reveals great insight into the character of those playing, is true. During our few hours together, I came to appreciate E as someone who doesn’t play games, is very much dedicated to the game and the course he calls home. The pride in his voice came shining through every time he described a feature or some historical nugget about the hole we were playing.
Over the course of a season, I play a lot of golf. Michigan Golf Live is on the road every weekend for 25 weeks, broadcasting from a different destination each Saturday. I do not lack for rounds. By the time we hit the midway point of summer, I can sometimes get numb to the wonders of the game. Details become fuzzy, holes blur together, and road trips get less appealing. This one woke me up and stoked the fires of my love for the game. It was THAT special.
It’s now a few days before Christmas, and the images and memories of my time at E’s course are still fresh. A few weeks ago, he called to ask if I could make the drive back to the course and share some ideas with some folks from the community on how to more effectively market the town as a destination. We were also hoping to generate enthusiasm for producing a TV program that would shine a High Definition spotlight on this hidden gem in the Thumb.
I drove nearly two hours through the first sizable winter storm to hit the region. It was a tad slippery, but for some reason I was glad to do it. There is a bizarre trigger in me that truly appreciates actual – not faux – passion for ideas. E has that passion.
I went, visited, presented ideas, and headed back home confident in the knowledge that good things were going to unfold at E’s course. A couple weeks later, I emailed him to see what sort of feedback had come from the meeting.
I received this reply:
Hi Bill, I just wanted to let you know that the Board of Directors has made a decision not to renew my contract for 2015. I was informed that my position as I know it is being eliminated, as is the bar manager position, citing financial difficulties.
They are forming a new position called that will manage the bar and golf operations-as they need to save money by forming this new concept.
They told me I was welcome to re-apply, as they are going to post the job for other candidates, but there was no guarantee of re-hire.
So, at this time, I only know that I am no longer employed with (Course Name) after 23 years of service. I’m not certain what result the new process will hold for me.
This is a change they felt was necessary going forward and there was nothing I did (or didn’t ) do professionally to create this, but I was shocked (and disappointed) about the news.
I am writing this to you because, if this doesn’t work out for me, then you know the situation first hand and not through the grapevine or second hand.
Take care, and have a safe and Merry Christmas, It’s been a pleasure to work with you.
We’ll see what happens going forward.
And just like that, my fuse was lit.
To: All Involved In Leadership Roles At Public And Private Golf Clubs And Courses
From: A Disgusted Observer
Re: Shortsighted Stupidity
I may never fully grasp the “wisdom” that envelopes a group of people who find themselves in charge of a golf property. Whether the course is public, private, or combination of the two, it seems that most of my friends who work tirelessly as PGA Professionals spend most of their time ducking for cover from those who sit in authority over them.
For 15 years, I have traversed this state in an effort to grow and promote the game. I have had the honor of working alongside some wonderful men and women who consistently showcase the very best that the game has to offer – dignity, diligence, energy, excellence, sincerity, and commitment.
Why do you insist on treating your PGA Pro so poorly?
Every fall, my email Inbox receives far too many notes from excellent professionals asking for a reference because they’ve just been let go. Most often, they’ve been blamed for a dip in revenues, as if they are in charge of both weather and marketing efforts. In only the rarest of occasions is there a clearly legitimate cause behind the firing.
The problem isn’t (usually) your PGA Pro. The problem is you, the leadership. You can’t clearly define what you want to be, how to reach a consensus on the direction you want to take the club, or a strategy on how to get there. Instead of hammering out those answers, it’s much easier to blame the Pro, fire him/her, complain far and wide about how you’ve finally fixed your major stumbling point, and begin the search for a replacement.
In the case of E, the membership of this semi-private/mostly public course was divided. Some wanted to grow the number of rounds played, knowing that would increase revenue. Many wanted to keep the place to themselves, somehow arriving at the conclusion that a course in financial trouble would magically escape that trouble by replicating its model year after year while expecting better results.
That, my friends, is what Einstein accurately defined as “insanity.”
I strongly encourage the leadership at clubs across America to try a new approach. What if, instead of the revolving door of PGA Pros, you changed YOUR mindset along these lines:
Set a firm definition for the personality of your club. Are you public, private, or both? If it’s both, stop kidding yourselves and start marketing to the public.
Take in the opinions of your PGA Pro. No one better knows the membership and most frequent players more than the person they see every day. They have shared things with your Pro that no survey will ever reveal.
Understand that you are dealing with actual people with real lives. Just because you have reached a position of leadership doesn’t entitle you to forget the reality that families are impacted by your decisions. In fact, true leadership will honor that knowledge.
Prepare an actual marketing strategy. If you still solely rely on print ads in your local paper, have never heard of social media, and your website was last updated in the early 90’s, stop embarrassing yourselves. It doesn’t matter if your PGA Pro is Davis Love – if you don’t market effectively, no one will find you.
Inspire people to come and play, but also inspire your staff to stay. Do something encouraging instead of the opposite.
Deliver a quality product on and off the course. Invest wisely. Lean on insight from your PGA Pro, instead of reflexively blaming him/her for everything you don’t like. There is a concept in psychology called “projection.” The premise behind the term is to blame someone else for your own shortcomings. Stop it.
To my friend E and all the other PGA Pros I’ve had the honor of meeting over the last 15 years, I want to say thank you. Keep up the good fight. This game needs you.
To those involved in the leadership of courses, thank you as well. I have made many friends in the world of course ownership. Most are outstanding in their vision, energy, and treatment of their staff. Some are not. This game needs you as well.
In no way do I believe all decisions involving personnel are simple and clear cut. Owning and operating any business brings with it a variety of challenges that can often lead to difficult, undesirable decisions.
My encouragement and admonition is to be sure those decisions which result in good people being turned loose are not caused by a lack of true, clear, defined leadership.
Michigan Golf Live
UPDATE: E quickly found a great job in a much warmer part of the world. His prior employer continues to struggle, clueless about marketing. PGA Pros reaching out to me, tell me that this letter served as a bit of a rallying cry for them. I’m honored.