Interview with Jim Smith, Jr. Director of Golf at The Philadelphia Cricket Club

February 1, 2010

As Director of Golf of The Philadelphia Cricket Club, Jim Smith, Jr. oversees a large staff that covers 36-holes of golf plus a 9-hole course at a separate location not far away. The Wissahickon Course was designed by A.W. Tillinghast in 1922 and The Militia Hill Course was designed by Dr. Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry in 2002. The 9-hole course used to be an 18-hole course that hosted the 1907 & 1910 U.S. Open Championships, how's that for some golf history? Mr. Smith is Past President of the Philadelphia Section PGA and he has a Golf Professional of the Year award and a Merchandiser of the Year award to his name. He has graciously given his time and insight to do this interview so that assistant professionals can gain perspective, we hope you enjoy.

What are some aspects of your position, that if you didn't do them well, they would be detrimental to the operation?

I think the single most important role I serve is building a terrific staff and supporting them in every way possible. There is no way to be successful individually - it requires hiring great people and letting them grow and excel. I've often said that if given a choice between making a member happy and making a staff member happy, I'll always go with the staff, because they, in turn, will do what it takes to make the member happy. Aside from building a team, I'd say being highly organized and detail-oriented is unquestionably necessary, as is the desire and ability to form relationships with EVERY member on a personal level.

What are the overarching principles of your operation that you want your staff to buy into and perform at a high level and take with them when they leave?

• Figure out how to say ‘yes’!
• Anticipate so you don’t have to react.
• Organization is the foundation.
• No detail is too small to overlook.
• Do the right thing.
• Exceed expectations.
• Perception is reality.
• Every interaction represents an opportunity.
• Write it down.
• Responsiveness stimulates respect.
• Never underestimate the power of being nice.
• Preparedness demonstrates professionalism.
• Others rely on you.
• Challenge the ‘norm’ to do things better.
• Status quo is the same as getting worse.
• Do for others – it will come back to you.
• Your reputation is all you have.
• Service excellence is about attitude, not money.
• POS somebody every day.
• Humility is admired.
• Fix mistakes.
• Avoid shortcuts.

What do you look for in a potential assistant professional? A head professional? And what kind of advice would you give a young assistant professional on his/her path in this business?

When I'm hiring someone for the operation, my main goal is to locate a person with a great personality; a willingness to work hard and learn; and, most importantly, the ability to work well with the existing staff. For any of the golf professional positions at The Cricket Club, the candidate actually spends more time interviewing with the staff than with me. This business isn't rocket-science - if someone is a good person with good character and a passion to excel, most of the rest of the stuff can be learned. With respect to an assistant getting ahead in the business, my number one piece of advice is to tell them to do something to stand out. There are a LOT of golf professionals looking to be promoted - sometimes, they all look alike to an employer or search committee. What are they doing to stand out? Are they great players? A great teacher? Have they networked at every opportunity possible? Do they write for a publication? Do they work at a great club? For a well-known and great professional? What is their 'in'? If you don't have one, good luck - the business is very difficult to move ahead in and if you aren't doing things to make yourself known, I'm sorry to say that you've got little to no shot of ending up where you probably want to be.

As complex as PCC is, can you describe your general experience of having to oversee 45 holes of golf, and essentially 3 clubhouses?

I honestly think I have the best job on the planet! I'm at a terrific facility with multiple great courses; the membership is off-the-charts fantastic; the staff I work with couldn't be much better; and I'm getting paid to try to make people happy who are already arriving at the facility in a good mood! While it's a very large operation with a lot of moving pieces, I've found that as long as I'm super-organized and keeping my eye on every item, and as long as my co-workers perform as I know they can, keeping things running smoothly is hardly as difficult as it might appear.

Some clubs don't have an assistant professional hierarchy, i.e. First Assistant and/or Second Assistant and so forth. Do you buy or sell the hierarchical concept for assistants? If you buy it, why? How might it potentially hurt an operation?

I absolutely do not buy into a hierarchy - ever since I had my first staff, I've never delineated between positions. In fact, every assistant golf professional that works with me is paid the same amount of money, regardless of their tenure. To use a football analogy, I'm a big believer that a golf staff shouldn't be comprised of a high-paid quarterback, a well-paid running back, and then a bunch of lesser paid lineman. Every person needs to have deep responsibility and accountability, not on a sliding scale based on tenure or a title. Competition among staff to be the best and make the best impression is a good thing; in my opinion, having a hierarchy hurts that process and stymies personal and professional growth.

How do you draw the line between being your direct reports friend and their boss?

I have had many very good friends work with me - note I said work 'with', not 'for'. I'm not any more important than those I work with, from our Director of Instruction to the caddies who work seasonally. As long as everyone understands that friendship can't affect the ultimate goal of providing the members and guests with the best experience possible, I think it's healthy that workers like each other and want to spend time with each other outside the workplace. All that said, if I see friendships taking precedence over getting the job done, it'd addressed very quickly and decisively. As long as everyone respects each other, it can work.

It’s easy for many to assume that once you're a PGA member, a head professional position just falls in your lap, and that simply isn't the case. When an assistant of yours works hard for a lengthy period of time and achieves his/her Class "A" status, and asks you "What's next?" What would you explain to them?

What's next is what they want to be next. Not everyone wants to be the head pro at a top-100 type facility; for some, securing a sleepy job at a low-activity facility is perfect. What is most important is that my co-worker truly identifies and understands what will make them happy, and then does everything possible to get there. My job is to help them in that cause.

During your different experiences, how have you approached and handled the ebbs and flows of the fluctuating wants and needs of the members and guests?

I might be oversimplifying this, but I really don't think what we do is that complicated. If we listen to our members and guests; if we do everything possible to say 'yes'; if we take the time to establish relationships; and if we park our ego's at the door, it's really not all
that hard to make others happy.

Do you require college degrees of your assistant golf professionals?

All of my staff have degrees and I do believe it is an important part of being a well-rounded professional.

How has the economic downturn affected your operation and have you taken any measures to combat the effects? If so, what are the approaches you have taken and have they worked?

Like all operations, we've been forced to endure some cutbacks. That said, my strategy (which was accepted) revolved around the simple idea that if given a choice between good facilities and great staff/service, or great facilities with average staff/service, which is preferred by members? When I ask that question, almost everyone answers #2 knowing that it takes people to provide the service and cultural support that people expect as members at a private club. I don't care if it's the best course in the world – if there aren't people in place to run it properly, it's a losing proposition over the long term.