Dealing with stress as a Superintendent

Posted by Craig Zellers

Dealing with StressThis article is for stressed out Superintendents - but it’s not about you! If you work a 40-hour week, delegate without micromanaging and don’t leave your wife and kids at 9 p.m. to babysit the pump station, forget it. You won’t be interested. So please go back to the family dinner table and stop reading now. 

Now, for the rest of you, I’m privileged to have the opportunity to work with many golf courses in California Hawaii and Mexico. I witness a lot of superintendents stressing over the demands of the job and long days. 60-70 hour work weeks are common and taking frustration home from the course is expected. 

Do you go to sleep pondering which employees might not show up the next morning? Do you agonize over the weather, turf disease, over-seeding, aerifying, drainage, soil fertility, equipment, budgets and so much more?

Superintendents are geniuses and darn good at what they do. Superintendents are persistent and determined to provide the best product possible to golfers. Hey! I get. It’s in your nature as a Superintendent.

I used to be one. Not for long -  only 10 years, but I still had the privilege of having been fired from a superintendent’s job that I loved. A job I put my heart and time into. I say privileged because it taught me very early in my developing career that all of the turf, equipment, employees, irrigation challenges remained as the owner’s concern long after I was gone.

The bold statement that needs to be posed is one that I’ve told to young and old superintendents alike: “You can quit tomorrow, you may die or you could be fired. But all the problems are still theirs. Everything you took home and worried about remains with the golf course.”

Ever ask yourself who appreciates your time more, your family or your membership/owner? The answer seems obvious and easy as you say “my family.” No doubt they will appreciate your time more than the stressed-out turf and the golfers complaining about their day as they drink a cold one on the 19th hole.

The problem is, as a Superintendent, you see the dilemma from within and it’s tough. You are in the middle of the forest and can’t see the end nor can you identify the time that you entered the forest.

You are in a conundrum. Known also as a puzzling challenge or a mystery, a riddle in which you have placed yourself. All for the sake of your golf course. You have taken the job to heart and come to believe that this land is your land.

Recently I got a message from a Superintendent friend. He and the General Manager had just been terminated for economic reasons. He asked me why he had put in so many hours and taken so much to heart on a piece of property that he did not own. I shared with him the fact that I was practically singing and dancing as I drove to the unemployment office the day after I got fired. A million dollar flood, malfunctioning pump intake, Poa infestation, all of it was my responsibility and concern but those problems were not mine. I did not own the property.

The things we choose to worry about are up to us. In a peculiar way my friend was at peace with a decision that he did not control, but one that now controls his future. He will be a better Superintendent at his next golf course: but more importantly he will be a better family man and healthier internally. Despite the same challenges, he may decide to take off a couple hours on a Monday to read a book to his daughter’s class.

On a recent job-site, the superintendent disappeared for a couple of hours as we went about our business performing a water audit on his golf course. We noticed his truck was missing from its usual place shortly after his stress levels red-lined out.

Later as he drove his golf cart up to us, we noticed a devilish little grin on his face. He proceeded to confide in us that he was frustrated with the surprise budget requirement management was asking for and it required numerous hours of additional paperwork. 

“Did you get it done?” I asked.

He smiled and replied: “No mate, I went surfing and cleared my mind. Every superintendent needs a way to release the pressure,” He had taken up surfing months earlier and discovered it helped him deal with the stress during the middle of the day or after work on his way home.

Everyone should develop an outlet for themselves. If surfing is not an option, do something simple. When I was stressed as a superintendent, my assistant and I would go to the cliff edge overlooking the ocean. We would throw rocks into an old steel drum that sat down below the face of the cliff.  That fifteen minutes was all we needed to relieve the pressure and get back to work.

Try a new sport or hobby. Choose one that allows you to clear your mind and leave the job behind, if only for a few minutes.

We all know the economy can be tough, and you certainly don’t want to lose your job in challenging times. I’ve never heard of a superintendent who lost his jobs because he put in 50 hours a week and not 65. Keep your perspective and never forget that unless you are on title, it’s not your property. Find your outlet and enjoy the waves on the ocean of life.