"Club Politics" with Bob Ford from Oakmont CC & Seminole GC

November 7, 2011

The land of club politics is a place where if it's not harvested properly, you'll soon find yourself walking on egg shells. Club politics can be an area of thin ice, but as assistant professionals working to become head professionals, it would seem important to have some involvement with club politics so that when we do make that step, we are ready for the challenges. The problem is that assistant professionals can only be so involved, so it makes it tough to become well-versed in politics-aversion/management.

Bob Ford, Head Professional at Oakmont Country Club and Seminole Golf Club, has continued his generosity by providing PIFG with some great perspective on how he involves his assistant professionals in club politics and how he has managed club politics for 30+ years at Oakmont.

Mr. Ford begins by filling us in on the roles of his assistant professionals:

Only my top two guys are involved in club politics, one at Oakmont and one at Seminole. They go to committee meetings, they contribute their ideas, provide input, and they are asked of their opinion. For my other assistant professionals, I pretty much just tell them to keep their head down and dodge the bullets. If they continue to work hard, they'll have an opportunity to move up the chain and be in a position where they can be more involved with club politics.

Club politics can get pretty nasty sometimes if we are not careful. It would seem that, in the case of Oakmont's golf operation, it is more efficient to have just one assistant involved instead of two, three, four, or more. That way communication is streamlined, and their really doesn't have to be any worry about misconstrued messages coming from several different individuals.

Additionally, it's one thing to be able to observe committee meetings and take the minutes, which is a situation that many “high ranking” assistant professionals are in. There is a lot to be learned from that. But it's great to hear that Bob's top assistants are encouraged to actually provide input and offer opinions at the meetings. That is something that may not be as common as it should be. Actually contributing in the committee meetings steps up the learning process because we get to learn what works and what doesn't work, as well as how to communicate properly in the situations that committee meetings present.

In speaking with Bob, we can also learn that involvement in club politics can even come in the most basic of ways:

As an assistant professional, just your daily work will involve you in club politics to a certain degree. As you put your time in, be aware of the players but don't be the one fighting the battles. Listen and pay attention and you'll observe situations and maybe even encounter situations where you can privately evaluate what happened and think about what you would do if you were in a similar situation. In the midst of keeping your eyes and ears open and paying attention, it's extremely important to communicate with your HP and keep him/her apprised of everything.

It can be easy to take our daily grind for granted and think we are not really learning much when it comes to club politics. But that couldn't be further from the truth. If we pay close attention to the situations that surround us, you'll probably come to find that there are many learning opportunities throughout the course of a day. Watch your HP in action, pay close attention to how he/she operates. Would you do it that way or would you do it this way? Would you change this or would you change that? Ask your HP why he/she made the decision they did? Pay close attention to how he/she interacts with members in good times and in times of tension. There is a lot to learn simply by paying attention during the daily grind as an assistant professional.

These days, being fortunate to stay at a club for more than a decade is an accomplishment with all that is going on inside and outside of the club. When I asked Bob about how he has managed club politics at Oakmont CC for over 30 years, he gave some great perspective on how his involvement has evolved over time:

I got dragged into politics early on in my tenure at Oakmont. Members used to always want to know my opinion and they still do. I made plenty of mistakes that I learned from, and luckily they weren't too serious. You really have to pick your battles and keep from offering your opinion too often. You have to be careful in committee meetings and you have to be sure to pick your words carefully.

Certain members like to get close to the golf professional. They dig and pry, and sadly use it to their advantage. Such instances have gotten me into some uncomfortable situations. Since coming to Seminole, I've really tried to lay low at both facilities and keep my opinion to myself as often as possible. I've really tried to divorce myself from the deeper depths of club politics.

With that said, I have always just tried to HELP the club leaders make their decisions. And it's important to make sure that there is a level of trust between myself and the leaders that issues remain between us.

Bobs response reminds me of the fact that we have to remember that we are merely employees at our clubs. We aren’t members and we don't have a stake in the club like the members do, so our opinion should be taken with a grain of salt. When we give it, we must realize that the member’s interpretation of it can be different than how we meant it (similar to the media), so it is very important to choose our words carefully and back out of situations when necessary.

Bob and I then talked about a subject that I am sure we all encounter more frequently than we should. It is always a challenge to balance members trying to pull us into an issue, and keeping our distance enough to stay out of it, however still making the member happy. How do we strike a balance with this?

It is a very delicate balance. I think it's a personality thing. I think it's important to know your members and know what makes them tick. Gathering this information can take a long time. It's also important to utilize and really stand by the clubs rules, regulations, and procedures. They are there so many issues that can potentially arise will be addressed simply by reviewing them. One thing you want to stay out of at all times is partaking in conversation about other people. Members talk about other members, and it's very important to stay neutral and not have a position on other members when speaking with a member.

Bob hits home with how important it is to know your members. Every member seems to have an agenda. They all have different personalities and it is important for us to get to know them. That's another reason why it is so important to play with the members as much as possible, especially when we are rookie head professionals:

In my opinion, the number one thing you can do as a rookie Head Professional is to play with as many members as possible. There is no better way to get to know them than to spend four hours with them. You don't have lunch with someone and leave saying, I know that guy, but spend four hours with them, and you really do leave feeling like you know them.

If you want to know what makes members tick and figure out how to approach them and handle situations better as they arise is to play golf with them. The more you can do that, the more you can get to know your members and the more they can get to know you. The more developed the professional relationship is between you and the members, the better you can handle situations involving them.

Hopefully you have taken a few things from this opening entry to our club politics series. We feel that being aware of and having a good working knowledge of club politics as an assistant professional is extremely important now, and critical when we transition into our first HP position.