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Posts Tagged ‘general manager’

Fertiliser: less is more

Posted by mynormas on August 9, 2016

I was doing training at a golf club the past couple of weeks. It was about basic chemical application, y’know, calibration, safety, pest identification and stuff. Since it was the fourth time for the club (the superintendent organised it every alternate year), I thought I’d slip in a module about fertilising, just to keep the training interesting and hopefully to ensure I get invited back next year. Two things came to mind:

One. I was explaining about the nutrients required by turf and how important each nutrient in its own way to the health of the turf. I was writing on the white board when suddenly I drew a wooden barrel (or cask, if you prefer) and mentioned about Liebig’s Law of Minimum. I said that according to Mr. Liebig, each nutrient is important and lacking in any will affect the plant’s health.

Liebig's barrel

Liebig used the image of a barrel with unequal staves to explain how plant growth is limited by the element in shortest supply, just as the level of water in the barrel is limited by the shortest stave.

During the lunch break a participant showed me a picture of the Liebig’s barrel sent by the superintendent (he was sitting at the back of the class) to their group WhatsApp presumably because my drawing was bad. It then occurred to me that I actually read about Liebig’s Law 22 or 23 years ago! I remember because I read it in the local public library. I know it was that long ago because back then, knowledge wasn’t the only thing I was pursuing at the library and when I got married, I largely stopped going to the library.

Anyway, Liebig’s law was more than 150 years old and there probably are people who disagreed with him but the fact that I recalled it at the particular instant reminded me about something I heard or read about the mysteries of the mind and how we don’t actually lose information in the brain, so I came to the logical conclusion: I am more than just a pretty face.

The second thing that struck my mind was when I was explaining about measuring green sizes and the participants eagerly asked that it be included in the practical session later in the evening. Know this; most of my participants are not particularly fond of practical sessions because it involves a lot of calculations. Know this too: many superintendents don’t know or don’t measure their green sizes.

Training day at KLGCC

I told my participants that knowing green sizes is important because it will be easier to weigh the amount of fertiliser needed for each green – based on fertilising rate – as compared to calibrating the fertiliser spreader or worse, having no system at all. It would also make it easy to buy close to exact amount of fertiliser needed instead of the usual one ton figure when what you really need is 0.8 ton for 18 greens for six months (all figures not real).

As an example, if we decide to fertilise at a rate of 1.5kg/100 sq.m then green 7 which is 600 sq.m in size will get 9kg, green 8 (703 sq.m) will get 10.5kg, green 16 (345 sq.m) shall receive 5.2kg of fertiliser brand Y which, when calculated with the percentage of nitrogen in the fertiliser, we can say that each green receives 150g of nitrogen per 100sq.m.

Furthermore if the total sizes of all 19 greens in your course is 9,200sq.m, and you think you will stick with applying 1.5kg/100 sq.m/month of that particular fertiliser, then you’ll know you need 125kg of it every month or about 750kg for the next six months. Why order more? Yet it is quite common for clubs to order an exact one ton despite the protestations of the supplier “NO! Don’t order so much! Order just enough for your needs!”. Ahem.

It is disappointing that I can still find Malaysian golf clubs that apply fertiliser at the rate of one bag per green regardless of green or fertiliser bag sizes. The other method I’ve seen was when I was told that this club used the setting ‘J’ on brand ‘X’ fertiliser spreader. That could’ve sound reasonable except that the spreader was never calibrated and the superintendent doesn’t know the rate of fertiliser he applied.

In the first club, after measuring the greens and weighing the fertiliser according to the size of greens and rate of application, they cut down their fertiliser use from 16 bags to 12 bags per month. Guess what? The greens were greener and in better condition two months later. In the other club, they chose to be secretive about the amount of fertiliser used before measurement or maybe they didn’t know or maybe they were upset that a consultant was forced on them and didn’t want to cooperate: didn’t matter  to me, based on a few factors, I chose a new rate and the greens improved too.

If you think by saving the club’s money every month, producing  greener and better greens means that I’m getting a huge paycheck; you’re wrong. Despite the improvements at one particular club, it still hasn’t paid me for the last four months of my consultancy there. No kidding.


Posted in Golf Course, Golf Course Superintendents, Greens, Padang Golf | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Emperor, General & Concubine

Posted by mynormas on February 23, 2016

I was in a client club recently and the Superintendent was telling me of his new staff who despite having agriculture or horticulture certificates are lacking in knowledge in what to do on a golf course. He did not see himself as responsible for his workers knowledge.

As a consultant, I see things at a client company as an outsider, usually with a fresh set of eyes and (hopefully) an unbiased mindset. I’m sometimes called in when the company wants the golf course to reach another level; not necessarily because there’s a problem. Other times, I’m called because there is a need for a third-party opinion, a referee even, to resolve a problem at a club that led to a (real or imagined; yes, IMAGINED) deterioration of the golf course. I will meet with a few people at the company and talk to them to see what the issues are. It never fails to surprise me how many people believe that the problem is other people.

These issues reminded me of a story about Sun Tzu – he who wrote the Art of War and an emperor of his era. Be reminded that China wasn’t one whole nation yet but were divided into a few smaller nations.

The version of the translation that I read was written by James Clavell, a renowned novelist himself and this version were full of interesting side stories that serves to illustrate better Sun Tzu’s 13 chapters. It was a very interesting book and I read it several times, it was also the only book I ever burned; I had it when I was working in a plantation 25 years ago and electricity was shut off at 10pm. To continue reading, I put a candle between the pages of the book and I must’ve dozed off. The book was singed but still readable so I kept it. I’ve lost it since then, probably loaned out and never returned or lost in the house moves I’ve made over the years. It’s been a long while so I may have forgotten a few details and I may be adlibbing or paraphrasing a few dialogues therefore if you are into details and accuracy, I would advise you to look it up.

So the story goes like this. The book written by Sun Tzu about the art of war called umm… The Art of War turned into a bestseller and probably would’ve been a blockbuster opera too if only America was as civilized as the kingdom of Wu was 2,000 years ago.

Anyway, the emperor of Wu called up Sun Tzu to his court and asked if what he wrote was good.

“Of course it is, Your Majesty” said Sun Tzu.

“All 13 chapters?” asked the emperor (should ‘emperor’ be with a capital ‘E’? Maybe I should capitalise it next time; just to be on the safe side. Don’t want to be struck by lightning or hit by car eh?)

“All 13 chapters are good Your Majesty” replied Sun Tzu.

“Can it be put to a test?”

“Yes Your Majesty”

“Can the subjects of the test be women?”

“Yes Your Majesty”

The Emperor asked that all the women in the palace be brought out to the courtyard. 180 women came out and lined up.

Sun Tzu arranged them into two companies and put the Emperor’s favourite concubines as the leaders of each company.

Sun Tzu addressed the women “I assume you know the difference between left and right, front and back?” The women nodded “Of course we do”

“Everybody facing front” Sun Tzu yelled, parade ground style to the two companies of women in front of him; they all stood at attention. “Now, everybody; right turn!” shouted Sun Tzu. Immediately the ladies burst out laughing.

Sun Tzu calmly said “When the soldiers cannot and do not know how to follow orders; or if the order is not clear; it is the general’s fault”.

So he started to train and drill the ladies on how to face forward correctly, how to turn left and right upon hearing the commands and so on.

Satisfied that the ladies are now properly trained, he barked the command “Everybody: right turn!” and the girls promptly started laughing again.

Sun Tzu said, “if the orders are clear, if the soldiers have been trained properly and yet the soldiers still can’t follow the orders properly, then it is their officers fault”

In saying so, Sun Tzu ordered the leaders of the two companies executed. The Emperor watching from a raised pavilion, upon seeing that two of his favourite concubines about to be beheaded, promptly sent a message down to Sun Tzu saying that he recognises the greatness of the general and the exhibition can now be concluded without anyone losing their heads. To which Sun Tzu replied “Having first received the appointment to be general, there are certain orders of the Emperor that I am unable to accept.”

He then had the two concubines beheaded and made the next two women to be the new leaders of the companies.

Now when orders are given, the ‘soldiers’ are able to turn to the left or right in perfect order; without uttering a sound.

Sun Tzu then sent a message to the Emperor “Your soldiers are ready and properly trained now, Your Majesty and can be put to any test you desire”

To which the Emperor replied “Let our general dismiss our forces and return to camp. We have no wish to come down and inspect the troops”

The reply from Sun Tzu was a classic man-with-balls “The Emperor is only fond of words and cannot translate into action”

Reading this and thinking about how it relates to someone in your workplace is fine, just don’t forget that sometimes it could also be about you too. There are a few classes of people in the story; The Emperor; who talks about wanting to be the best but not wanting to pay the price. The General, who assumes his people know what to do and does not do training. The Concubines; people who thinks that they know what to do but don’t. The Favourite Concubines; those that cannot be told what to do.

Lest this leads to a flurry of finger pointing, I must hasten to add that we should all be careful of who to blame. I mean, how embarrassing would it be if you thought that the problem of the company is everyone and everything or someone or something when the real problem is you?

Posted in Golf club, Golf Course, Golf Course Superintendents | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

This machine is mine.

Posted by mynormas on August 19, 2015

In a recent previous post and even in a magazine article, I wrote that in the month of August, turf machinery be washed extra clean, polished even, and a national flag tied to the machine; not merely as a show of patriotism but more so that the machine operators take a little bit more care for their machine instead of just hosing it down at the end of the day, every day.

Why August? Because coincidentally, the National Day of Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia fall in this month and many of my readers are from this region (WordPress allows me to trace the country of origin of readers).

Yesterday I happened to visit one of those golf courses that did this. The superintendent told me how he picked a Saturday afternoon when most of the machinery were back at the workshop and called for a staff meeting. After the usual briefing, he told them about the programme and gave them time to wash their machines.

One operator, after vigorously washing his machine, found that he could not tie the flagpole to the machines’ roll-over bar because the roof was wider than the bar and there wasn’t any other place to tie the flag. Guess what he did? He dismantled the roof and tied the flag to the roll-over protective structure. He was willing to not have a roof for a month (the superintendent will take the flags back after Malaysia Day on 16th Sept) just for the flag. And he’s not even a Malaysian.

He took off the roof so he can tie the flag.

He took off the roof so he can tie the flag.

The superintendent told the bunker-rake machine operator that he need not worry about his machine because it was too small and too old to clean up. The staff member protested, not only did he wash his machine extra clean, he took some paint and painted all the metal parts of the machine – dozer blade included, black. The superintendent gave him a flag which he proudly displayed on his machine. And he’s not even a Malaysian.

He painted the metal parts black so that he can be allowed to put the flag.

He painted the metal parts black so that he can be allowed to put the flag.

The point is not about the flag but the effect that the programme had on the workers: they owned the machines. Suddenly it is ‘my’ machine and I want my machine to be the cleanest it can be because I want to put on a flag. Follow up this with a training on how to look after the machine and I’m sure the machine will last a little bit longer with less maintenance stress as compared to a machine that did not ‘belong’ to anybody. I mean, “who washes a rented car”?

I got that quote from a book I read about 25 years ago titled ‘In Search of Excellence’ written by – if I am not mistaken – Tom Peters. An example he gave was the ground crew chief of a squadron of jet fighters that had the best maintained planes compared to other squadrons. The crew chief’s secret was, instead of a crew looking after the right wing, another one looked after the left wing, one looking after the cockpit and so on, he gave them all each a plane to look after. One crew, one plane. “How did that work in creating excellence?” he was asked. His answer was that because each one of them now ‘owns’ a plane, they had a greater sense of pride and responsibility to that particular plane of theirs. “After all” he said “who washes a rented car?” I might be paraphrasing because hey, it has been about 25 years ago but I believe the gist is there.

I also believe the credit should also go to the crew chief for his innovativeness and in this context, the superintendent for his role in firing up the workers. I mean, if he had sat in his office and gave the flags to the supervisor who would give the flags to the mechanic who then gave the flags to the operators; the effect would not be the same. So what worked? Maybe it was his speech, maybe it was the look in his eyes, maybe it was because he helped wash a few machines, maybe he held a big stick, maybe he promised them a reward or maybe it was already a culture in that place, whatever it was, it got the result that he wanted. It was actually more than I imagined, I can tell you that.

Its still not too late for Malaysians, at least, because the flags can remain on the machines till 16th September which is Malaysia Day. The cheapest flags I found was at Mr. DIY (biar kami rugi asal anda puas hati) at RM2.50 each. Or we can try and do something else. Or we can try finding one excuse or another to not do anything and complain about everything. It is a choice. Up to us.

Posted in Golf Course | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Biggest Office

Posted by mynormas on June 3, 2015

This picture? The

This picture? The “Golf Course Superintendent” sign? Totally not photoshopped or tricked out in any way.
To be fair, the super has moved to new facilities; thanks to new management and they went on be one of the top clubs in Malaysia.

Reading or writing by squinting through one eye is a bummer; I’ve had to go through a minor operation on one eye due to cataract yet I really felt the need to say something about this issue. This past week I’ve had four discussions about Malaysian golf course conditions  (I know thats what you go through in a day but bear with me) and all of it relates to the man in charge, commonly called as the golf course superintendent. In Malaysia, they are also referred to as the golf course manager, supervisor, director or assistant superintendent but the fact remains, they are in charge. I divide them into a few categories:

  1. Superintendents who don’t know what to do
  2. Superintendents who won’t do
  3. Superintendents who can’t do
  4. Superintendents who’s knowledgeable, can and will do.
  5. The corrupt.

It has been said that the golf course superintendent (or whatever the designation) has the biggest office in a golf club; anything between 120 to 300 acres. He, other than the club manager, should be the highest paid person in the club. Such privileges do not come easy; on his shoulder rest the reputation and prestige of the club and he is responsible for the highest expense department, not to mention taking care of the item with the highest construction cost; the golf course.

Right about now I can hear the cliché already; “it is a team effort”. Of course it is, but the team would have to be led by someone that needs to know agronomy, plant pathology, soil science, entomology, agriculture engineering, hydrology, not to mention golf rules and even golf itself. No? Then how is he (or she) to know about plant health, fertility, insects, drainage, machinery, irrigation and how to set up the golf course?

Cliché alert: “It’s not rocket science”, “it’s just growing grass”, anyone can do it bla bla bla. For these managers/owners, I say good luck in managing your clubs but actually, these are the minority. The majority of clubs know that maintaining a golf course takes a knowledgable person with skills. Here’s the tricky part, many clubs know that and want to hire them, but most clubs do not seem to recognise or respect what they already have and I mean this as recognition to both sides of the argument: some superintendents are lacking in knowledge but are still retained, some superintendents are in their comfort zone (and still retained) and some superintendents know what to do but do not get the support and respect they deserve. Of course, there are some who are knowledgable and are supported.

I’d love to comment about the superintendents who are lacking in knowledge but I won’t. Sometimes I can’t help but pity them; for the most part they were thrown into the deep end because of their good work in a previous position or loyalty (or they can’t find jobs elsewhere) and really don’t know what to do except repeating what their predecessor have done or what they think what their predecessor have done and what the suppliers advise. Somehow I can’t find in my heart to blame these people, they were examples of the Peter Principle: people who were promoted and promoted until they reach the level of their incompetence. To these clubs, there is hope because these people in general have good attitudes and are hardworking (hence the promotions), so send them to seminars, courses or pay for them to attend classes (I had a club willing to pay for my Diploma in Accountancy which was of no use to them at all!) or send them to a neighbouring club once a week or month to learn from the superintendent there; or pay the superintendent to come over to teach – just make sure you know the superintendent’s background too.

I’ve also met superintendents who are – on paper – knowledgeable but have voluntarily capped their limits at a certain level. They would not do more than that level, never mind the condition of the golf course. There are of course, justifications and reasons for it: no budget, interference, not enough workers, the weather, poor construction bla bla bla. Have a chat with them and you realise that it is easier to play the victim’s role in a blame game. You get told the idea that this is a hopeless situation even if you know of other clubs who faced similiar circumstances yet are in better condition. This also means that the golf course’s potential is also capped at that level and would not rise any time soon. To the clubs that hired these superintendents; tough luck. No seminar I know will change your golf course. No consultant or adviser too, unless the reports are discussed with the bosses; then maybe there is a chance. I’ve seen that happen, then again, I’ve also seen where the report was discussed with the boss; and the little that was done was to cover the bigger things that was supposed to be done but not, and after listening to the old story of “why it can’t be done”, the bosses gave up (thats part of the problem anyway) and things go back to what it was. To these clubs: good luck. Some superintendents in this category have been … wait: no… a MAJORITY of these superintendents have been in the same club for a very very long time.

What? You don’t know what I’m talking about, but yet your heart rate is increasing, temperature rising and you are upset? That, sonny, means you DO know what I am talking about; you’re just in denial. Okay fine, there are some superintendents who are in one place for too long with their golf course is in good condition. Happy? I’m talking about other clubs where the condition is poor and it is always someone else’s fault. But now that we’re at it, how about taking your club up another notch? Perhaps the weeds on the fairways? The greenspeed? No you can’t? Because of (insert excuse here) right? I rest my case.

The third category of superintendents is the one I pity most. He (or she, I know of one lady super) can usually get a job elsewhere but to him (or her) this job is a challenge to his/her ability and they just want to give it a try. These superintendents are usually  young or relatively new at the club and usually are up against a culture or a bureaucracy that has dug in, fortified and willing to fight to not change. Buying a fungicide that the superintendent needs to apply by the end of the week will take three weeks to process because it has to be justified, three quotations have to be searched and that one form needs to have three (or five!) signatures from three or five levels up and those people are usually not at their desks because of course they are in charge of other projects too. Or the superintendent is regarded as an outsider, an alien, an aberration even. Or a club that can only make decision after a committee meets which is usually at the end of the month… maybe three. Then there are clubs with real issues, for example; a non-responsive workforce – for want of a better description – they have the numbers but they can only work certain hours and at certain limits, never mind clubs with a small work force. Or a club that really tie their superintendents down with a very low budget. Just in case you think I am contradicting myself with superintendents in the second category, be advised that superintendents in this here third category, are still putting up a good show despite their restrictions.

Clubs with these two challenges (1. the non-performing superintendent as well as workforce – because it permeates into the department’s work culture, I promise you – and 2. the club with plodding bureaucracy or work culture – because it permeates into the club’s work culture, I promise you) are good candidates for the golf course maintenance contractor. No kidding. Hire one company to maintain your golf course and you will rid yourself of non-performers and plodders; and consign your golf course to forever be average. What? You think these companies were set up to serve golfdom and golferkind while turning your golf club into the best? No, they were set up to make a profit, so they think fast on their feet and are super-efficient for their own good but it will translate into comparatively better golf courses for you, at least for the first year and the final year of the contract. After which you are ‘doomed’ to appoint a contractor again because you don’t have the know-how and lets face it, you don’t know what went on the past five years anyway.

Someone is upset reading this is it? Lets be realistic, to look for the ‘right’ contractor, you are going to call for a tender exercise which will primarily focus on the cheapest tender after which you will negotiate again until the guy with the cheapest price hurt his knee begging you to stop: so of course lah the contractor will work his a$$ off to beautify your golf course without cutting any corners. Right? Unless – dare I say it? Oh heck, there are some people who will thank me – the contracting company is orang putih/gwailo/angmoh; then we will be the one on our knees begging. And the golf course will be better than average while some of us wonder why the expats do a better job than locals. No, not really about skin colour or just about the budget too. Find out why in the next category of superintendents.

I would be remiss in my ranting to not talk about the fourth category of lucky superintendents and their clubs. The superintendent who knows what to do or if they don’t; they find out, they are willing to do what it takes and they are allowed to do what it takes as they see fit. They are working for clubs who say things like “What? You need a new RM180K fairway mower? We don’t have the budget now but can we talk about it and see if we can postpone or perhaps look for a reconditioned mower or repair what you have now?” Or “So you need to hollow-tine the greens next month eh? Let me talk to the tournament organiser and see how he feels or if he wants to postpone or if he is willing to continue if you use smaller tines/do half of the greens”. In the world of management it is called ‘discussion’.

Did you notice that the two top clubs in Malaysia routinely get their superintendents on stage during award presentation ceremonies? Even if its held overseas? You think that’s because of gratitude to the superintendents’ efforts? No, that’s the mark of the attitude of the clubs to the superintendents’ office. It started long before that walk up the stage. It causes the walk. Not the budget. Not the machinery. Not the skin colour.  Its the attitude. The respect. The clubs respected the superintendents work, decision and opinion.

Ya, ya, ya… here comes the cliche: “Respect has to be earned”. Kinda hard to sympathise or empathise with some clubs (I hesitate to use the pronoun ‘you’ here, because there are some who will take this personally) who insist on hiring the cheapest person they can, to maintain the most expensive department they have. Respect your superintendent and see the difference. If there’s no difference, then perhaps, change the superintendent (sounds harsh? It has to work both ways fellas).

This article is too long already. Is anybody still reading? Very few now I bet. So it is time to introduce the fifth category of superintendents; the ones that people know but talk about only in whispered circles. The almost-unmentionables; the Mr. 10 percent. The what-do-I-get-in-return guy. The corrupt (oh, you think that’s too harsh? Lets see if I can find another term… urm… nope).

You think every one else does it? No, you are a minority. You think because your boss/purchaser/storekeeper does it, it is ok for you to do it? No; two wrongs do not make a right. You think because your salary is lower than market rate then it is ok for you? No. It ruins your reputation to go look for another job that can pay you higher than market rate. You think because the golf course looks good you can do it? No you can’t, because it IS your job to make the golf course looks good. You think nobody knows? Wrong, the industry is small (in Malaysia) and people talk. Ok, they whisper. Behind your back.

Stop. You are ruining not only your reputation but the other superintendents’ too. You will be indebted, nay trapped, to one or two particular suppliers and you will find it hard to change because… easy money is addictive or after a while your hand in the other guy’s pocket so often that you get used to it and he becomes your twin; hard to tell where he ends and you start. Your office is his office. There’s also guilt, fear and conscience. Then the golf course stagnates because your pool of resources and ideas has shrunk to one or two companies. No doubt they’re good and the golf course is good, but it won’t get any better.

So, to improve the golf course conditions in Malaysia; to the superintendents, let’s pull up our socks, raise our game, stay clean, increase our skills, share our knowledge or find another job. To the clubs themselves, treat the superintendents as a professional, respect his position, give him authority: if you can’t, send him for training or a makeover, or find a new one. Otherwise we have to continue as if nothing is our fault and like everything else that goes wrong… blame the government.


I wrote this opinion based on my observations in Malaysia. It should not be used without evidence to point fingers to any single person, club or group or organisation in particular. Hopefully it provokes thought, if not action. Get angry if you want but do something productive we must. 

Anonymous comments will not see the light of day on this site; I won’t even read it.

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