"Leading & Managing" with Sam Wiley from Wee Burn Country Club

May 30, 2011

Sam Wiley is the Head Professional at Wee Burn Country Club in Darien, Connecticut. Sam joins a stellar list of past golf professionals at Wee Burn, including Stewart Maiden, Jimmy Demaret,  Bob Goalby, Harry "Lighthorse" Cooper, and Roy Pace. Sam gives us some great perspective on the subjects of leadership and management in the context of our golf operations.

When you hear the words "leader" and “manager”, what comes to mind?

A leader in the golf industry, as well as any industry, is someone who guides or oversees. Someone who portrays a professional image and leads by example. Someone whose conduct is always being observed. A leader is a person that is looked up to. A manager is an individual that delegates to staff, is detail oriented, exhibits excellent time management skills and needs to be extremely organized to be most successful.

How do you balance the two and do you favor one style over the other when it comes to running a golf operation?

I would prefer to think that I am leader, but I truly think I am constantly floating between the two styles throughout the day. I think we as golf professionals have to be careful that we don't get caught up trying to do everything. My staff learns through me being a better manager and delegator of responsibilities.

In your opinion, are requirements of assistant professionals more managerial and do we become more of a leader when we become HP?

Unfortunately by job description this is true, but I think by asking for responsibilities assistant professionals can be leaders. One way my staff leads is that they know that I am open minded to new and better ways of operating. Especially in today's world of fast changing technology. It’s important to recognize that many assistant professionals have the advantage of being more knowledgeable than me in some areas. Whenever there is an opportunity that I know our membership can benefit, I will let the assistant staff member take the lead. Another great way is to get involved with the Assistant Professional Board of Directors in your section. There is no question that assistant professionals will refine their leadership skills when they become head professionals. It happens the moment they sign the contract.

With regards to leading & managing, what are the overarching principles that you want your staff to embrace and take with them as they move on in their career?

Many times the staff members I hire are experienced golf professionals and understand the basic X's and O's of running tournaments, etc. What I try to instill in my staff is how to properly interact with members, as well as, how to form a cohesive team environment. I have always believed that the pool of qualified professionals is large and beyond the critical basics of our job descriptions, it is the type of person that you are and the relationships that you create amongst your staff and members that is critical to your long term success.

How do you give your staff opportunities to be leaders and how do you give your staff opportunities to be managers? Any formalized training process? Do you rotate responsibilities amongst your assistants?

My assistant professionals gain leadership experience through our junior golf program. Each year one of our assistant professionals is given the responsibility of junior golf coordinator. This gives these individuals the opportunity to coordinate and lead all junior golf activities. This begins over the winter as they set up the junior golf calendar, meeting with the junior golf committee. The assistant then leads the junior/parent kickoff meeting, they schedule all staff for the clinics including myself, conduct all junior golf/junior parent tournaments and are the emcee of the closing banquet and awards ceremony. This is a position that staff members always look forward to because it allows them to truly be the lead.

Formal training begins in March when all staff members receive manuals that outline our staff meeting dates for the year, a golf shop and outside operations policy manual, recommended reading materials, a summary of all staff members job descriptions and a tournament responsibility break down. We work through this information in the first couple staff meetings to ensure we are all on the same page. We also use mentoring or shadowing for new hires and interns.

I do rotate job responsibilities each year to make sure we are training well rounded golf professionals. When I worked for Craig Harmon he was a big advocate of the rotating responsibilities and a three year and out philosophy. He wanted to make sure his staff was well prepared when a job opportunity presented itself.

How can assistant professionals become better leaders and how can we become better managers?

I think assistant professionals have more opportunities to become better managers within their normal roles and responsibilities. For example, the staff member in charge of scheduling is truly learning to manage. It is their job to interact with the other staff members and navigate the mine field of balancing personal requests and professional responsibilities. I also think the job of tournament coordinator allows each person to sharpen their skills as a manager. These individuals must be organized to the smallest detail to ensure the event goes off smoothly. Many times these professionals are delegating responsibilities and then following up to make sure they have been completed.

With respect to leadership, can you think back to your previous bosses and current mentors and tell us what they did/do that set them apart? What did/do you learn from them?

I moved through my apprenticeship with a very businesslike approach. I knew the strengths of each of the professionals that I went to work for. I sought out and was fortunate to work for national award winners in merchandising, teaching, professional of the year and Bill Strausbaugh winner. I believe to be successful at the highest level you don't necessarily have to be first in any one category but if you are in the top 3% or 4% in teaching, playing, merchandising and administration you will be successful in the high end private club business. The quest to improve and educate should never stop. I continually seek advice from former employers and peers. I truly enjoy spending time watching the Butch Harmon's and Jim McLean's of the world teach. I think this is something that has diminished over the years. I spent countless days and weeks traveling and watching the best professionals teach and I think that has paid huge dividends over my career.