"Empowerment" with Bob Ford from Oakmont CC & Seminole GC

June 27, 2011

Bob Ford has been the Head Golf Professional at Oakmont Country Club since 1980 and Seminole Golf Club since 2000. He has moved more than thirty of his assistant professionals on to Head Professional positions of their own. Bob has been a leader in our industry in every capacity as he has been recognized on sectional and national levels for his teaching, playing, and merchandising abilities. But I am inclined to think that it’s not those abilities that have moved so many assistant professionals onward. Rather it has been his ability to make everyone around him better that has made the difference. In this short but poignant interview, Bob takes us back to 1979 as well as explaining his empowerment model for his current staff. We hope you enjoy Bobs insights into how he has accomplished what he has accomplished.

What is empowerment to you?

Empowerment to me is giving my staff authority and responsibility. Ultimately it’s my butt on the line but frankly I could never do all that is required by myself and would die trying.

How were you empowered when you were an assistant?

As an assistant, I was in charge of the daily receipts and reconciliation of all sales which at that time were $125,000 for the year!!!! I did the banking (what there was that wasn't member charges) and that’s about all, however the business learning experience was very helpful when I took over. At the time I had no experience with invoices but when I did take over in November 1979, by the time spring arrived I was fully versed and ready to go.

How do you empower your staff?

As far as my staff goes, each assistant professional is in charge of a particular vendor and we do the buying together and then they are in charge of the receiving, approving the inventory, and displaying it on the floor. This gives them a sense of ownership of that area and they receive wonderful experience from that relationship. One assistant is in charge of tournaments, one is in charge of Junior Golf, and one is in charge of scheduling and the website. All of the assistants take turns with starting our players to get to know everyone. We do have a Director of Merchandise who is not a PGA member and is also a part time bookkeeper. So everyone has authority over their particular area and the obvious responsibilities that go along with their area.

What negative effects to do you perceive as happening if empowerment does not exist in a golf operation?

Without this dispersing of responsibility, one person could never do it all and the assistants learning experience would be greatly affected in an adverse way. By the time one of my assistants gets to be my top guy, they have made countless decisions (some good, some bad), and they will be ready to become my successor if my plane goes down. It is not easy for some personality types to "Let Go" but without allowing others on your staff to make some serious decisions, it will take longer for them to become confident in themselves and your members will soon see the way the operation is run and will always ask for you, knowing no one else can make a decision. Plus, it didn't take me long to realize, many of these young, wonderful assistants, were a lot smarter than me and only made me look better in the eyes of my members. So the moral of the story is: Hire bright, good looking assistants, give them responsibility and authority to make decisions, live with the mistakes, grow from them, grow together and make our game better!!!!!

There is quite a bit to take from Bob's perspective, but I think one of the biggest things is the consequences of not letting go if you are the Head Professional. If you are the HP and you are not empowering your assistant professionals, it will take longer for them to become confident in themselves and comfortable in the golf operation. The staff will always feel like they are on "pins and needles". Just as important, like Bob said, your members will soon see the way the operation is run and will always ask for the HP, knowing no one else can make a decision. Some Head Professionals want it that way because they perceive that it further secures their job, and there may be some truth to that, but it's not a healthy environment for anyone.