Teeing Off Right: Onboarding Strategies for Golf Course Success

Right now, hiring key staff such as assistants and equipment managers presents a ridiculous challenge. According to nearly half of the respondents in our 2024 Golf Course Superintendent Employment Trends Report, filling these key positions could take 3-4 months.

As the golf season hits its peak across most of the country, golf course superintendents and club leaders find themselves with even less time to devote to recruiting and hiring.

Yet, one fundamental area that needs constant attention is employee onboarding.  

In this two-part series, we’ll explore the elements of effective onboarding.

Investing into onboarding procedures, while often overlooked, is a critical step in ensuring success in a small period of time.  

Few things are more frustrating than finally filling a long-vacant position, only to watch your manager fumble the critical onboarding phase, effectively undoing all your hard work.

Expecting a new hire to understand all the fine intricacies of your operation, just because they have seasons of experience on the golf course or hold an accredited degree, does not excuse failing to invest in onboarding.

Leaving the new employee to fend for themselves and figure things out alone surely spells disaster. Within weeks (…sometimes days) the individual is not up to speed at work, not understanding the basics when it comes to their job, either quits or is completely disengaged.  

Gallup found that 88% of companies are bad at onboarding. Most companies don’t recognize that their managers are not comfortable or experienced in how to onboard employees.  

Effectively managing employees’ early experiences, and providing advice without it taking too much time is a fine balance.  It needs to be simple, easy and personalized. 

Onboarding isn’t just about learning the ropes; it’s about integrating into the team.

A well-structured onboarding process equips team members to grasp their roles, understand team dynamics, and see how they fit into the larger picture. 

Implement a 30/60/90 day plan to clearly outline the achievements expected of the new employee and define what success looks like. If you need a template, download here.

Encourage senior team members to welcome new hires on LinkedIn and other platforms, craft a short hype video to flaunt your culture in 60 seconds or less, and develop a first-day tipsheet that includes helpful contacts and fun facts about co-workers.

Clarify that the initial weeks will focus on mastering the basics of operations, workflows, club benefits, and culture. Set preliminary goals, take time to informally meet with the new employee, and perhaps establish a buddy system to connect them with trusted colleagues.

The first days in any role can be daunting. Since each golf course operates uniquely, new employees, including managers, often lack a clear understanding of their roles and responsibilities.

Simply having multiple seasons on the golf course or an accredited degree does not suffice; it is no excuse for skimping on a thorough onboarding process.

The subtleties of the course, member expectations, and operational standards can differ greatly. It is common for employers and new hires to have different views on processes, operational pace, and quality standards.

Remember to include small yet crucial details like a course map, emergency contact information, a golf calendar, standard operating procedures, communication protocols, and quality control measures.

Effective onboarding should include both theoretical and practical training sessions that enhance their confidence and competence, empowering them to make informed decisions and take initiative.

Investing in an effective onboarding process leads to smoother operations, improved team dynamics, retention and ultimately, an exceptional golfing experience for members and guests.

If you’re in need of further insight and best practices, set up a FREE Talent Strategy Call with our team.

Are you ready to build a top-performing team that drives results? Our proven framework, methodologies, and implementation is based on our personal track record of developing world-class teams. In addition to talent acquisition, we provide leadership development and ongoing consultative services for the golf course and club industry. Our team has personally coached and mentored dozens of future golf course superintendents across the United States. 

Leading Through Transition: Lessons from the Sidelines to the Fairways

Love them or hate them, the University of Alabama football program has been a mainstay in sports culture for the last two decades. 

After 17-years of historic dominance, the monumental shift in leadership from Nick Saban to Kalen DeBoer within a remarkable 49-hour period will have a profound impact on the university’s culture, economics and future direction.

The transition marks the end of a monumental chapter in American sports, comparable to the departures of coaching legends like Bear Bryant and John Wooden, but unique due to modern challenges like the transfer portal and NIL considerations.

Leadership transitions, especially in high-profile organizations like Alabama football, are littered with both opportunities and challenges. 

While a golf course superintendent or executive leadership transition at clubs may not have as much high-profile stakes, navigating leadership transitions in clubs share several operational and strategic similarities due to their prominence, stakeholder engagement levels, and the premium placed on vision and legacy. 

Navigating leadership transitions within golf clubs is often overlooked in favor of more apparent aspects of management.

Let’s Dive In

Whether due to performance related issues or natural succession, I’ve personally witnessed both good and bad leadership transitions and the downstream effects. 

Despite its significance, leadership transitions are often overshadowed by more visible or glamorous pain points. However, overlooking the importance of finesse, strategic planning, and understanding club dynamics can lead to tumultuous transitions, jeopardizing the club’s reputation, member satisfaction, and long-term success.

Discerning and thoughtful clubs recognize simply replacing one leader with another demands a nuanced approach, requiring finesse, strategic planning, and a profound comprehension of the club’s distinctive dynamics.

Therefore, recognizing and prioritizing these aspects in leadership transition projects is essential for ensuring the seamless continuity of operations and the preservation of the club’s unique identity and culture.

Challenges and Opportunities

Changes in leadership spark discussion, skepticism, uncertainty, and organizational realignment. These transitions can profoundly impact the organization’s culture, performance, and future direction. 

The loss of institutional knowledge, disruption in operations, delays in efficiencies, continuity concerns amongst the team, risk of golf course performance, economics or conditions creates a very uncertain time for all stakeholders. Most importantly, trust amongst all parties can be extremely fragile.

On the flip side, fresh perspectives and ideas can improve operations, morale and member satisfaction. Most importantly, a new leader can enhance accountability, attention to detail and a voice to connect with the team to drive growth and development.

Strategic Communication

From my experience, the foundation of a successful transition lies in establishing honest and open communication from the top. 

Whether it’s welcoming a new leader or beginning the search for a new team member, fostering a trusting relationship sets the tone for collaboration and productivity. 

Throughout my career, I’ve observed that the most successful transitions occur when there’s a mutual exchange of information and a genuine effort to understand each other’s expectations and preferences.

Involving key stakeholders whether club boards, executive team or key department figures can diffuse concerns. Providing regular updates, key milestones, and considering their input can alleviate stress, and provide confidence the club is moving forward in a positive direction.

Whatever “elephant in the room” or low-hanging fruit that exists, address concerns proactively. 

Engage the Team

Change can sometimes be unsettling, leading to feelings of isolation or frustration among team members. As leaders, it’s imperative to acknowledge and address these concerns through clear and concise communication. By articulating expectations and providing a roadmap for success during transitions, leaders can alleviate tensions and foster a sense of direction and purpose within the team.

During the transition process, I’ve found it invaluable to engage in honest conversations, asking questions like “Here’s how we do things. How do you like to do things?” This two-way exchange not only promotes transparency but also helps in aligning expectations and setting a solid foundation for the future. Introductions to established team members further facilitate the integration process, ensuring that everyone is on the same page from day one.

Other best practices include: 

  • Provide support and resources to address change management
  • Reinforce core values, and encourage a shared vision for the future. 
  • Manage expectations and outline plans to address any changes in operations
  • Educate new leaders about ongoing or legacy issues within the organization
  • Leverage internal strengths to embrace key personnel
  • Celebrate successes during the transition

Navigating leadership transitions, whether in the high-stakes world of collegiate football or within the strategic operations of club operations, demands a foundation built on open communication, mutual respect, and a unified pursuit of success. 

By embracing change with an open mind, fostering trust through transparency, and celebrating collective achievements, organizations can not only weather the storm of transition but emerge stronger, more cohesive, and poised for future triumphs.

If you’re in need of further insight and best practices, set up a FREE Talent Strategy Call with our team.

Are you ready to build a top-performing team that drives results? Our proven framework, methodologies, and implementation is based on our personal track record of developing world-class teams. In addition to talent acquisition, we provide leadership development and ongoing consultative services for the golf course and club industry. Our team has personally coached and mentored dozens of future golf course superintendents across the United States. 

Book a Talent Strategy Call

Unconventional Leadership

By Pat Sisk, CGCS

Using Moneyball Principles to Build a High-Performing Golf Course Maintenance Team

Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game” is a book by Michael Lewis, published in 2003, about the Oakland Athletics baseball team and its general manager Billy Beane. It describes the team’s non-traditional approach to assembling a competitive team in a hyper-competitive hiring environment.

Today, the game of golf and the prospects for continued growth is in a superior position. The success of your operation and future professional advancement may depend on your ability to reimagine your hiring practices and team development initiatives. Those who embrace an unconventional approach will likely enjoy the best chance for future success and career advancement.

In the world of golf course maintenance, leadership is no longer confined to traditional roles or backgrounds. Much like in sports, where unconventional players can make a significant impact, identifying and developing non-traditional leaders can positively transform a maintenance team. By applying Moneyball principles—leveraging data-driven analysis, identifying undervalued talent, and fostering a culture of innovation—golf course managers can assemble a dynamic team capable of achieving excellence. This article explores how to implement these strategies to identify, hire, and develop non-traditional leaders for your team.

1. Redefining Leadership Criteria: In traditional hiring processes, leadership qualities may be narrowly defined, focusing primarily on experience and formal qualifications. However, Moneyball techniques advocate for redefining leadership criteria to encompass a broader range of attributes, including creativity, problem-solving skills, adaptability, and passion for the work. Look beyond conventional resumes and consider candidates who demonstrate a strong work ethic, innovative thinking, and a willingness to creatively challenge the status quo.

2. Data-Driven Talent Identification: Moneyball emphasizes the importance of statistical analysis in talent identification. Similarly, golf course managers can utilize data-driven metrics to assess candidates potential for leadership roles. Analyze performance indicators such as productivity levels, project outcomes, and team collaboration to identify individuals who consistently deliver exceptional results. Consider implementing assessment tools and performance metrics tailored to the specific requirements of golf course maintenance practices to evaluate candidates objectively.

3. Cultivating a Broad Talent Pool: Diversity is a cornerstone of effective leadership. Moneyball strategies encourage managers to cast a wide net and actively seek candidates from nontraditional backgrounds and skill sets. Consider recruiting individuals with experience in related fields such as landscaping, agriculture, business or environmental science, as their expertise may bring fresh perspectives and innovative solutions to the maintenance team. Embrace diversity in age, gender, ethnicity, and educational background to foster a creative and forward-thinking work environment.

4. Investing in Training and Development: Building non-traditional leaders requires investment in training and development initiatives. Moneyball principles advocate for identifying raw talent and providing opportunities for growth and skill enhancement. Implement mentorship programs (such as apprenticeships), leadership workshops, and continuing education opportunities to nurture emerging leaders within the maintenance team. Encourage cross-functional collaboration and knowledge sharing to cultivate a culture of continuous learning and professional development.

5. Encouraging Challenge and Innovation: Non-traditional leaders often thrive in environments that encourage risk-taking and innovation. Embrace a culture of experimentation and creative problem-solving within the maintenance team. Encourage team members to explore new techniques, technologies, and practices that can enhance course conditions and operational efficiency. Celebrate successes and learn from failures while fostering a culture where individuals feel empowered to challenge conventions and pursue innovative solutions.

6. Promoting Leadership from Within: Effective leadership development entails recognizing and promoting talent from within the organization. Moneyball strategies prioritize internal talent cultivation, leveraging insights gained from firsthand experience and institutional knowledge. Identify promising individuals within the maintenance team who demonstrate leadership potential and provide them with opportunities for career advancement and increased responsibilities. Create a supportive environment where aspiring leaders feel empowered to pursue leadership roles and contribute to the team’s success.

7. Evaluating Performance and Providing Feedback: Regular performance evaluation and constructive feedback are essential for developing non-traditional leaders. Implement frequent performance review mechanisms that assess not only quantitative metrics but also qualitative attributes such as communication skills, decision-making ability, and team dynamics. Provide actionable feedback and mentorship to help individuals identify areas for improvement and capitalize on their strengths. Foster a culture of accountability and transparency, where feedback is valued as a catalyst for personal and professional growth.

8. Embracing Change and Adaptability: In today’s dynamic landscape, adaptability is a hallmark of effective leadership. Non-traditional leaders excel in environments where change is embraced and opportunities for innovation abound. Encourage flexibility and agility within the maintenance team, empowering leaders to navigate challenges, seize opportunities, and adapt to evolving industry trends and technological advancements. Embrace change as a catalyst for growth and transformation, positioning the maintenance team for long-term success in a competitive market.

Leveraging Moneyball principles to identify, hire, and develop non-traditional leaders can empower golf course managers to build a high-performing maintenance team capable of achieving excellence. By redefining leadership criteria, embracing diversity, investing in training and development, encouraging innovation, promoting internal talent, evaluating performance, and embracing change, managers can foster a culture of leadership excellence and drive continuous improvement within the team. As the golf industry evolves, cultivating non-traditional leaders is essential for maintaining competitiveness, enhancing operational efficiency, and delivering exceptional course conditions that delight golfers and elevate the overall experience.

If you’re in need of further insight and best practices, set up a FREE Talent Strategy Call with our team.

About The Author

Pat is an experienced golf industry professional with a demonstrated history of facility and team transformation. High-level performer who has utilized his skills to produce world-class playing conditions. Skilled in Budgeting, Landscaping, Turf Management, Renovation, Project Management and Team Building. Strong community and social services professional who graduated from the University of Massachusetts.

Are you ready to build a top-performing team that drives results? Our proven framework, methodologies, and implementation is based on our personal track record of developing world-class teams. In addition to talent acquisition, we provide leadership development and ongoing consultative services for the golf course and club industry. Our team has personally coached and mentored dozens of future golf course superintendents across the United States. 

Book a Talent Strategy Call