"Empowerment" with Bruce Patterson from Butler National GC

July 11, 2011

Bruce Patterson is the Director of Golf at Butler National Golf Club in Oak Brook, Illinois. Butler National is consistently voted by Golf Digest as one of "Americas 100 Greatest Courses". Bruce has a strong leadership background that includes his current position as District 6 Director of the PGA of America, representing Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana. Bruce gives us some great perspective on the significance of empowerment in our golf operations and it's critical nature when it comes to our development as assistant professionals.

What is empowerment to you?

Empowerment to me, is giving authority to staff members, and in my opinion it has to be full authority. Since they are the “front line” who will be engaged the most with the members and their guests, I need them to have the most authority to make rational decisions and judgment calls. From my view this benefits all involved; the member, their guest, the club’s image, and my operation.

Were you empowered when you were an assistant professional? How so? How has the empowerment you experienced impacted you today?

When I was an assistant, I was not empowered to make any decisions and I needed to seek approval for any type of issue. For what would seem like a simple solution to a problem I had to stand by not being authorized to answer a concern. So, when I became a Head Professional on my own, I vowed to set up a system that gives authority to my staff in making “game time” decisions. To that end, I feel that this has made my operation “speak with one voice.” I believe we are consistent, and we hardly ever position the member to be in an embarrassing position. Our goal is simple; to make sure the member feels like they are the most important member at the club.

How do you empower your staff? What are any unique practices you utilize to empower them?

To empower the staff I make certain that we all understand what rules we have, the level of their impact, and what flexibility we can offer. I like to use the airlines as an example, an agent at the gate has a vast amount of authority and makes timely decisions, rather than calling for upper management for approval, and I like my staff to feel the same amount of authority. When this happens, solutions are timely and seamless if handled appropriately.

Can you explain, in your opinion, why empowerment is so important when creating a learning environment for assistant professionals that fosters their growth?

Empowerment establishes confidence and accountability, and I also believe that it better prepares an assistant golf professional to go through the interview process with real examples of how they have and will administer their golf shop. I further believe that with this approach, they will enjoy their job more and will become life long, quality, PGA professionals.

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

If empowerment does not exist in a operation, then that particular individual simply becomes a wonderful #2 Golf professional who can function well but can not become the MVP that each club or course is looking for in their Golf Professional. They will always need to be lead, and rarely will they be willing to take any chances or show true leadership on the club’s behalf. They become a good “Indian” but not a good “chief”.

Bruce, would you like to add anything else as we wrap things up?

One of my major goals in hiring an assistant professional is to provide them with all the necessary tools and resources to allow them to reach the goal of becoming a Head Professional. I personally get no greater satisfaction in seeing this become a reality; my commitment to them from day one is this and is my goal for them. 19 have made it so far, more to follow.