I’ve sat here trying to figure out how to write this piece for about a week. Honestly, it became much easier to write this piece after the most recent events that happened to me yesterday. If you think working in the golf industry as a Pro Shop Attendant or similar is glamourous, think again. It isn’t.
When word came on May 16th, 2020 that golf was allowed to be played once again in Ontario, you’d think that everyone that plays golf would feel “warm and fuzzy” inside. That there’d be a feeling of relief and a sense of happiness because, we as a collective population of golfers would be able to get back to playing the game or working in the industry that we love so much. While this may be true for some, it simply isn’t or hasn’t been for others.
I have no doubt in my mind that when the decision was made to open golf courses, the decision was made on the heels of pressure and lobbying by the NGCOA of Canada (National Golf Course Owners Association of Canada). Like it or not, I’ve said it here before, that re-opening golf courses was more for the shareholders and the “bottom line” of such businesses. After all, golf is an industry and a business first and foremost. To suggest that it was “for the love of the game” would be naïve. The NGCOA devised a set of protocols to open up golf courses with protecting players and staff in mind. This involved everything from modified cups (my course has a sloppy piece of 2″ PVC in the hole where I have touched the pin in my limited action on the course), the sanitizing of carts and frequently touched surfaces, protocols like staying in the parking lot until 20 minutes before your tee time, proper (ample) signage indicating all of the protocols like maintaining physical distancing and more.
In my opinion, the opening of my course was rushed and ill-advised. My golf course located in the Hamilton, Ontario area is operated by a large golf holdings company. They operate over 30 golf courses coast to coast within Canada. Our opening went down exactly how I said it would within these very pages. We’d wake up one morning and receive a phone call stating “We’re open” and that we’d open in mid-May.
Consequently, we opened on the 18th of May. While there was some signage, it wasn’t nearly enough. The signage would arrive the following Friday. There was no staff orientation to get everyone on the same page. That’s developed into a problem in itself and as far as Pro Shop employees went, the lack of protection for us was not in place. This was a detail that I had noticed right away walking into the clubhouse for the first time this year. There was no plexiglass or clear plastic barricade protecting us from golfers coming in to pay and this fact alone, made me very apprehensive. At least there was no less than 7 bottles of hand sanitizer between the entry door, arrows directing foot traffic, and we were using a dedicated entry and exit door. Or at least trying to.
In an article leading up to the eventuality of opening for the season, I requested the golfing public to be nice to the staff. This is going to be a wild ride for us full of bumps and growing pains until we got it figured out.
For the most part, golfers have been okay with the protocols, especially daily greens fee players. Members on the other hand, are and have been a totally different story. Not all, but enough of them. Getting them to employ and adhere to the “new normal” I could compare to trying to break in a “wild stallion” right from the prairies. The number of times that I’ve had to direct and re-direct members was nauseating. I understand though, that, old habits die hard but you also have to have the ability to adapt in life.
During one shift, I witnessed numerous infractions of protocols just in the brief time that I’d walk out from my post and get some air on the barren patio. I personally witnessed handshakes, “bro hugs” on the 18th green, received reports of the pins being removed, and then there was the “coup de gras”. One of our members, a guy who thinks that he runs the golf course, entered the clubhouse at the turn to buy some beverages. Instead of waiting his turn like everyone else, he took it upon himself to “bull” past people waiting in line to pay for their respective rounds of golf. He actually made contact with two of them. I watched, incredulously, as he got his requested beverages and followed the GM over to our usual Pro Shop to pay. Remember the dedicated entrance and exit? Throw that idea aside. He walked out the entrance door past more customers. This meant that he actually walked past those in line face to face wearing no mask. I was livid and explained my malcontent to my GM.
The amount of verbal abuse that I’ve received and endured in the less than two weeks that we’ve been open, have been more than my entire time working in the golf industry, combined. Our carts are $30 per rider if you’re a single rider. If you’re from the same household or arrive in the same vehicle together it costs $20 per rider. While there has been a little grumbling over our rates from public players (they either pay it or decide to walk) the response from the members (not all) has been appalling. On multiple occasions every shift except for two of them, I’ve been verbally abused. You see, we have a “Cart Discount Program” and by definition, it gives those that purchase it ($210 plus tax) the ability to get a cart for half of the going rate. Last year, the rate was $9.50 for 18 holes per rider. A price that hadn’t changed for at least 8 years. This year the rate started at $12.43. Less than half of the $30. Consequently, the ensuing swearing and verbal abuse was tough to bear. Then, all of the sudden, without notice the rate changed… Again. It was now $15 per rider a rate which we delayed until the weekend had come and gone. Two rate increases within a week and a bit. After this announcement, the abuse really ramped up. If you know that the rate is going to be $30, why in the world would you not set the price at $15 in the first place?
Last night, I had an issue with a member that I’ve given several lessons to and given some latitude towards. He can be best-described as “difficult” member. He showed up over an hour early for his tee time. Below is an excerpt from the note that I sent to my GM.
..I explained to him that he was really early and that he had to return to the parking lot and that we had to adhere to the 20-minute rule. He flew off of the handle and went on that he was able to get the cart on Saturday and return to the parking lot (it was me and then it was 30-minutes early) he also explained that he was going to go over to the range etc and I explained to him that all of the practice facilities were closed as the signage clearly states. I am proud to say that I was calm and composed when I talked to him in an attempt to deescalate him. However, inwardly, it was a much different story. I had tingling in the left side of my face, pressure in the left rear quadrant of my head, numbness in the left arm, and at times afterward, I had issues with my speech. All very reminiscent of September 2018.I had a second issue right after from another member about the cart rates.
For all of the flak that I’m taking, I really don’t hold my GM responsible even though I felt he dropped the ball when it came to the lack of protection for the staff. He’s a good guy and I thought of him as a friend and I really did enjoy working for him. I like to think that when I was the Director of Golf at another golf course, the employees shared the same sentiments about me.
Seriously though, if I had to point my finger at anyone, I totally blame our corporate head office for all of this. It’s not them facing the adversity as they sit in their proverbial “Ivory Towers”. I would love to see anybody from corporate, handle what I and so many others are facing. Our servers are actually relieved that they haven’t been pressed into duty other than working the door. They’ve told me “I can’t or couldn’t do what you’re doing.” Well, Sarah and Leah, I’m not sure that I can go much longer either.
In this time, I have been sworn at repeatedly and had my ethics and integrity questioned. The latter happening after explaining to Franciscus that I totally understood where he was coming from regarding the cart rates. I was empathetic and sympathetic to his concerns. He told me “You don’t (expletive) understand and you don’t (expletive) get it”. Here’s a newsflash and this isn’t for just you Franciscus. To all of those that have “lit” me or others up. We don’t set the (expletive) prices nor do I or we generate any income from it. We’re just pawns behind a (expletive) counter trying to earn a paycheque, while trying to make you happy by providing a service.
Then there’s the Marshals and Starters. Many of them think that they’re paying a membership fee at the course. For one 6 to 7 hour shift they get golf privileges. On top of that, they also receive a golf cart (a $30 value). The funny thing is that they are the first ones to whine and complain. On one day this year with a long line-up out the door a Starter wanted to pay $7 for a handicap system that has nothing to do with the Pro Shop. He just stood there blocking the washrooms and blocking those from entering to pay. I asked him what he wanted, and he explained to me that he wanted to pay for the handicapping. I asked him “Keith, can you do it tomorrow or the next time that you come in?” he responded “No, I have to do it today” he didn’t have to and that led to a heated exchange where he informed me “I’ve waited in line for 20 (expletive) minutes. I tried explaining to him that we had bigger issues at the moment. People were trying to pay and our point of sale machines weren’t working. I was trying to get the POS terminals back up and running, while registering people to play manually. Writing down names, what they were paying for, and hoping that they’d come back. I paid for him out of my pocket that night before I left.
Furthermore, the Starters and Marshals tend to be the first ones to break protocol. Regarding the 20-Minute Rule, on Monday one said “What difference does it make?” when he arrived at the course early for his tee time. Ernesto, if you aren’t going to abide by the rules, then you should be the first one to find your way out. How can you enforce the rules if you don’t abide by them yourself? Last year, you and another Marshal cut in front of people, placing yourselves on the 5th tee in front of me and a bogged down tee sheet. Your partner, Tony 9a Starter), then unceremoniously hit a drive up towards the Par 3 9th hole to “warm-up” There were golfers on #8 green. I’m still in awe that I witnessed that. Believe me, you shouldn’t be working in any capacity at the golf course. If I were GM, I’d unceremoniously turf your ass and would have done so last year. Now you’re giving your fellow Starters a difficult time when they’re trying to uphold the COVID-19 protocols? Shame on you. So yeah, of course, I chewed you out on Monday afternoon after you ignored Doug with your cavalier attitude.
Speaking of income. I’m making $.50 above minimum wage. Heck, the amount of work that I’m doing for such a “King’s Ransom” is as follows. Not only am I checking golfers in and making tee times, but I’m also taking in league application fees, filling out league applications, signing up members or adding plans to memberships, taking food orders, serving food, serving beer, and taking flak for a company that I know doesn’t give a “Flying Rat’s Ass” about me or others under their employ.
As a result of the stress and abuse in the less than two weeks that we’ve been open here’s what it’s done to me. I’ve experienced Angina on three separate occasions where I had to use my Nitro-Spray and suffered a TIA (Trans Ischemic Attack) just last night. So I ask this. At which point is enough… enough?
The times have changed. Just be happy that we’re allowed to be in each other’s company again.
Until The Next Tee!!
You sound very discouraged and I would be as well! I cannot tell you what to do because only you can determine if your work situation is worth the aggravation. I hope that things improve for you now that enough education of COVID-19 protocols has been distributed, so the patrons should start to accept the new normal at golf courses. As for the actions of some of the members and marshals, that is not acceptable in my books. Sounds like a GM challenge to me. I wish you well trying to crack that nut.
Thanks for the response.
Discouraged isn’t even the word for it. Honestly, it gutted me and broke me.
Well, I hope for the sake of those who remain at the course, or those who follow me that all of those issues get resolved. The culture there is poor and it does stem from the proverbial inmates running the asylum.
In the end, I determined that the aggravation was not worth my health. I resigned on the 30th.
Alex, it takes a strong person of character to stand up to what they believe. All the best in the next stages of your journey!
It’s not only golf. I work in banking and the amount of inconsiderate and irate customers demanding, swearing and having zero patience has increased ten fold from last year. I have multiple clients that are near harassing me for answers after I calmly explain that I am waiting on the answers myself and will contact them as soon as I know. I often feel the same as you, thinking I am just a small town guy behind a small town desk, not a corporate big wig in the Toronto towers. Why do I get all the yelling? Covid times have changed our society for the worse.
Thanks so much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to read and respond to my article. You aren’t wrong, COVID-19 has brought an entirely new ugliness out of people. The ugliness that was always there but now has risen to the surface amongst so many. You refer to your clients, and the lack of patience. Everyone says it’s the “millennial” attitude where “I want it now” but you can see it spread across all generations. Cheers!
I can relate to your story, more than you think. I worked for a major golf corporation for 8yrs. Went through 3 Boses and by the time the third one came along, a core group of members basically took over the course, thinking that they could do anything they wanted at anytime of the day. And you’re absolutely right, it starts with high above in corporate, who will never know what’s going on there, because they won’t ever show up. Then your Director, who just turns a blind eye to things and then blames you and your staff for the problems. It’s a toxic environment, if you don’t have the right people working in the right spots, and they haven’t had that for about 5yrs now. It had turned me away from something I loved doing, and that’s not how it’s supposed to be. Enjoyed two years out of the business, and just playing golf how it should be, enjoying it with family and friends and having fun. I miss it and hopefully next year get back into it, in the right fit for me.
Thanks for writing this. People don’t understand what happens behind the scenes, to make their courses run the way they do, and what you have wrote happens more often then I’d like to say.
I apologize for not responding to your message sooner. Thank you for taking the time to read the article, and thanks even more for the support.
What you’re describing sounds way too familiar, to the point of being eerie. To this point, in the article I mentioned the Member who took it upon himself to cut through people while bumping into some in the process to get beer at the turn. When I confronted my boss about it he said “He’s a part of that group, if I confront him I’m worried about getting stabbed in the back (he made the gesture)”.
You’re darn right, it starts with corporate. In retrospect (I resigned from the position) they were the reason and the flashpoint for what happened. Conversely, though, I think that there were one or two things that my GM could have done. For corporate to do what they did regarding the carts was gross. Since my resignation, I’ve inquired about the cost of carts. My former employer IMO was guilty of what they were accused of. Price-gouging.
I hated writing the letter and resigning. God, it was all that I could do to hit the send button. But, I can tell you this, I’m better for it. Cheers!!