Management Tips for Golf Superintendents from 49ers Coach Bill Walsh
October 28, 2019 4:48 pm Published by Chris Benevides

It is no secret to those in the golf business, that one of the biggest problems for superintendents is labor. This is no small issue since over 50% of maintenance budgets are devoted to labor!

74% have problems attracting and retaining talent.

67% experience extended stretches with unfilled positions.

It can take several years for new employees to become as efficient as experienced staff. This is such a big problem that 49% of superintendents experience PERSONAL burnout. How can the management style of one of the most successful football coaches of all time help superintendents?


Bill Walsh and 49ers

Avid football fans have heard of Bill Walsh and know a bit about his success as the head coach for the San Francisco 49ers.

The numbers speak for themselves.

But did you know that the 49ers went 2–14 in 1979 and were only slightly better in 1980 with a 6–10 record?

Walsh’s focus over the first two seasons was a primary reason for the team’s success over the 10-years he was the coach.

From Worst to First

Taking over the worst team in the league in 1979, was not easy. Walsh knew he had to create a new way of doing things.

When asked “…did you have a timetable for winning the Superbowl?”, Walsh’s answer was simply “No.”

“Things were in such bad shape when I arrived that talk of a Super Bowl championship for San Francisco would have sounded delusional; people would have thought I was crazy”, Walsh wrote in his book “The Score Takes Care of Itself — My Philosophy on Leadership.”

Few could predict that in a few short years the 49ers would be the 1981 Super Bowl Champions.

How did Walsh change things so quickly?

Success Started with the “Standard of Performance”

Walsh held everyone within the 49ers organization to what he referred to as the Standard of Performance which was a way of thinking and acting. Everyone had to be committed, to being first-class in attitude, approach, and action.

He set the tone for the key attitudes he wanted to be demonstrated in the 49ers organization. He taught passion, commitment, and work ethic by sitting down with individuals and by modeling them himself.

He relentlessly coached how individuals should approach each game by choreographing practices minute-by-minute and breaking down individual and group tactics.

This was all done with a system in mind — a system that Walsh perfected over his career and one that has been used successfully since in many situations. With the key attitudes in place, and the right approaches understood, only then could Walsh hold players accountable for their actions. This is what we typically call management.

The right attitudes, approaches, and actions led to a culture of success and outstanding results for the 49ers during Walsh’s tenor.


What does this have to do with Golf Course Superintendents?

Most superintendents I have spoken to have many unfilled positions, inconsistent staff performance and need to do more with less. Labor is their top problem.

As a lifelong student of management and an avid sports fan, it got me thinking…

What could be learned from amazingly successful coaches and applied to the challenges superintendents face daily?

(** Note: this article is the first in a series I will write about learnings from coaches in sports that can be applied to turf management.)

Superintendent as Teacher, Coach, and Manager

Teaching attitude may sound odd to some, but it really isn’t. I think of attitude as specific values that are important to a situation, a goal or turf operation. Some attitudes may change as the situation evolves and others won’t. For example, teaching a new staff member the importance of showing up on time is seldom a lesson you need to keep teaching — either they get it or they will no longer have a job.

Attitudes are the foundation of team performance.

Coaching on approach is required. Superintendents and assistant superintendents can’t be everywhere at once. A faulty approach, or someone taking a shortcut, shows up in quality and cost which are usually measured afterward when it’s often too late.

The right attitude and approach usually lead to the right actions, but not always…

The chance of success is higher when adjustments are made to actions that change the results in real-time. Not after the fact. Sure, planned actions are key to start, but adjustments are just as important. Think about half-time adjustments that coaches make after seeing the other team play.

Superintendents start the day with a plan, their job board. They then make real-time adjustments based upon task progress, staff actions and other factors like weather, soil conditions or play on the golf course. This is not easy and is currently done by communicating over radios, text messages and driving around the property.

Implementing a system like Walsh’s Standard of Performance will require new tools, techniques and rich data sets. The system will result in better team performance.

The Score Takes Care of Itself

The 49ers under Bill Walsh achieved amazing results.

3x Super Bowl Championships

6x Divisional Titles

3x NFL Championship Titles

3x Coach of the Year

What could implementing the standard of performance do for your turf operation?

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