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Rarely do we play a round of golf where we don’t have at least one or two nitpicks about the condition of the course. Sometimes they are not substantive enough to voice to the course superintendent, but other times we might feel the need to bring something to their attention.

The tricky part is, we don’t want to be that nagging player who comes off as rude or ungrateful for the work that the superintendent and their staff does. How, then, should we voice our concerns, questions or feedback?

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To start playing better politics around our courses, we asked a couple superintendents at top clubs for their advice on navigating these tough situations. Paul Dotti is the director of grounds at Arcola Country Club in New Jersey and Jason Meersman is the director of grounds at The Patterson Club in Connecticut. In addition to being agronomy experts, both have years of experience in managing member concerns.

Arcola Country Club

Golf Digest: Paul, if someone is frustrated with the condition of their course or they want to ask a question of their superintendent, what should they do?

Dotti: You can always send something by e-mail. If it’s a private club, you can either go to the super, or you can go to the greens chairman. The greens chairman will get that information to the super if he feels it’s warranted. Sometimes the greens chairman can just squash an issue if he feels like, OK, this is kind of ridiculous what he’s bringing up.

Golf Digest: Yeah, so the greens chairman is kind of a buffer for the super. What about at public courses where there isn’t a greens chairman?

Dotti: At a public course, if you don’t have access to the superintendent, you can always go to the pro shop and bring that up, but I would always say an e-mail written the right way is best. Just say, “Here’s my criticism. Can we try to look at this?” My answer would be, “Yep, we can discuss it at the next greens committee meeting.”

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But, I’ve found that if the superintendent can send out weekly updates on where they are with the golf course, it takes care of some complaints.

Golf Digest: It sounds like you prefer written communication to face-to-face for dealing with these complaints and feedback. Why is that?

Dotti: When it’s written, the superintendent can read it, look at it and say, OK, let me respond to this. On the other hand, when you’re busy and someone comes up in your face and kind of yells at you, then all of a sudden you become defensive. If he words it nicely in an e-mail, you can respond with, “Hey, these is what we’re going to do,” and it keeps the situation at bay. If it starts out hostile, it’s going to finish hostile. I know it’s very impersonal to send an e-mail, but it’s a lot easier to get your point across, and the super can respond accordingly.

Photo: Brendan Moran

Golf Digest: Jason, what are your thoughts on giving feedback or constructive criticism to the superintendent?

Meersman: I agree – don’t say it to the super, try to say it to the grounds chair. Ninety percent of supers didn’t get into the business because they’re good politicians. You confront them, and often they’re going to confront you back. It’s not productive. Supers are really good with excavators and shovels, and often not as good with microphones and pens.

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There was a super at a nearby club last year who almost got hit by a golf ball while he was hand-watering a green. He was a couple of holes ahead of the first group, but one guy in that group hit a shot way right on an adjacent hole. He almost hit the superintendent. The caddie walked over to the super and said sorry. The super threw the ball at him and then put the hose on the caddie. The member went over, started yelling, and they got into a fight.

Like I said, supers are usually not politicians. It doesn’t make them bad people. It’s just not their strong suit.

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