"Club Politics" with Bruce Patterson from Butler National Golf Club

December 19, 2011

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. Bruce Patterson from Butler National Golf Club shares his views on the subject of club politics for assistant professionals and how we can gain some experience in such a dicey realm.

A big part of club politics is just being out there in the action, on the frontline and being a part of the daily conversations and situations that arise. The more you are out there, the more you will encounter issues that, although you may not handle them directly, you will be able to measure the situation and form your own opinion on how you would act. Bruce Patterson states this very aspect:

I allow my assistants to be on the front line in several areas such as rules in tournaments, making pairings for events, and attending golf committee meetings. My assistants are responsible for all of the buying of goods for the golf shop, so they are exposed to dealing with salespeople and communicating with the membership about why they choose certain companies. Also, I allow them to negotiate with large groups, setting up outing fees, and prices.

Some of these aspects Bruce talks about are aspects that are usually left to the Head Professional or somebody higher up. But by allowing his assistant professionals the autonomy and ability to be an integral part of these areas, the assistant professionals are being entrenched in the politics of the club.

Every golf operation is different, and the Head Professional sets the tone. There may not be a better avenue to experience club politics than attending golf committee meetings. Not every HP allows their assistant professionals to attend committee meetings, however some do. The ones that do are doing a huge favor for their assistant professionals. Bruce further discusses this important component of an assistant professionals learning experience:

They sit in on Golf Committee meetings where they share their opinions about tournament ideas and schedules, as well as member-related groups and time restriction policies in regards to guest play. They share their opinions and are held accountable for them as well.

It’s one thing to sit in on golf committee meetings, but it’s another thing to actually speak up and provide input at the meetings. Many assistant professionals are allowed to “observe” committee meetings, however they aren’t allowed to speak up in them. Bruce definitely steps it up a notch by allowing them to provide input. As assistant professionals, we don’t always know what to say in a given situation, and because of this there is the risk of getting cornered or coming off saying the wrong thing. It’s similar to teaching. We can “observe” an instructor teach the game all we want, but we don’t truly start learning how to teach until we actually start doing the teaching. If a HP is truly trying to set up conditions for his/her assistants to learn, he’ll not only allow them to observe meetings, but put their input and opinions into practice!!

When assistant professionals finally do attain their first Head Professional job, it can be difficult waters to navigate as they move forward in their position from year to year. Over his tenure at Butler National, Bruce has cultivated a club politics “philosophy” that has worked well for him and his staff:

I have always attempted to be fair and balanced. I bend first to understand the member’s perspective and allow it to pass, but if needed, I will stand up to any member if I know what is being challenged is wrong and not in the best interest of the club as a whole.

I think one thing we can all relate to as golf professionals, is that we can’t please everybody. Another aspect we can all relate to is balancing members trying to pull you into issues while keeping your distance enough to stay out of it, however still making them happy. Bruce has a nice way of thinking about this situation that helps him draw the line:

I try to apply this principle to all situations; if I have 100 players on a given day and 4 are not making it enjoyable for the remaining 100, then I would happily upset 4 vs. the other 96! Also, I was an assistant for a year and a half at my own club and I observed how each member would demand their own pricing for a guest, so when my time came I explained to the members my policy was for ALL members. Although I may have lost some business at first, I gained and established the respect of guidelines from the membership in the long run.

Because of how many situations arise on a daily basis, as assistant professionals, we are a lot more engulfed in club politics than we may realize. Bruce ends with some simple yet great tactics to follow when trying to handle politics but also get our feet wet in them so we are ready for our Head Professional positions:

Listen, observe and take notes about what seems to work and what does not work. You will learn from experience and proper record keeping.

Bruce is right. We have to keep our eyes and ears open. It’s easy to let our guard down and take a break from listening throughout the day. Sometimes we aren’t paying close attention to situations we are in or others around you are in. The more we can do this, the more we’ll recognize club politics in action and we can start forming a basis of knowledge to carry on with us in the future.