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Club life: The Course Super report

Interview with Course Superintendent

What are you currently working on?
I’m working on a report for the Course Committee. 

How’s that going for you?
To be honest, it’s talking me ages to write. It’s due in by tomorrow night. We have a meeting next week.

Ok then – I’ll be quick.  But why is it taking so long?  What’s in it?
I’m not the world greatest writer but basically I summarise everything that we’ve been doing on the course for the last month; repairs to tees, steps, bunker restoration plus details on insecticide, fertiliser and herbicide use, disease, staff leave, you name it, it goes in.  I include photos where possible.

Oh, and in the report I’ve put in a request for greens coring in October.

Why do you put all this in? 
I don’t like getting ambushed with issues in the meeting so the more I can put in the report, the more I feel prepared.

Hmm. Does your GM ask for all this information, particularly usage levels of chemicals and fertiliser you’ve used?
No.  If he wants to know anything he just asks.  I see him most days.  But there are some on the Course Committee who want it.  I’m not sure how they judge the information.

What does the Course Committee Charter say about your reporting for the Course Committee?
Let me just check…. (2 mins pass).  It doesn’t.

Then why are you spending so many hours reporting on all this? 
Well, as I said earlier, I don’t like being ambushed on things.  It’s better to be up front and it’s a chance to show them all the things we get done and the issues we deal with.

… and it takes a day or two out of your month.  What are the board’s policies in relation to the course?  What outcomes, or ends, does the board have written into policy? 
We have a number of policies related to; greens, tees fairways, roughs, speeds, firmness, heights, tee rotations, etc. that sort of thing.

Why don’t you just report against these?
I can do this, but the report won’t be very long.

Perhaps it doesn’t need to be.  You also request to core the greens?
Yes – it’s always a contentious issue as some argue against it each time. But if the greens need them, and they tend to need them twice a year, I have to seek approval and argue my case.

Is there a policy on this?
No. 

Then perhaps it’s in your domain to just do it, particularly if it’s a “means” to their board’s “ends” policy on green firmness and speed.
You’re probably right.  I might just inform the committee that is what’s planned and hope there’s no argument. We always minimise disruption and we plan ahead by not having any significant events for a fortnight or so afterwards.

Good governance would suggest the course sub-committee would be more of an advisory committee than a board sub-committee, because the course maintenance is an operational area of the club.  Any monitoring that goes on should be against board policy.  Any reporting that goes on should be against board policy.   
That makes sense but what about committee members questioning me on the various aspects of my staff and where I allocate their time, complaints about this and that, watering rates, fertiliser, disease, etc.?

The purpose of sub-committees is to help the board do its work.  It’s not to help staff do its work. Sure, a Course Committee may help the board devise course policy but I can imagine it’s less about this and more about being an operational committee. 

This is where there can be confusion and unclear accountability.  Also, too much attention gets diverted from the board activities to operations.  Who is on the Course Committee?
It’s five board members and one co-opted member plus the GM and myself.

My case in point.  A lot of board energy taken up in operations.  Sure, the course is important, but good governance would suggest it’s not the work of the board.   Board’s sub-committees typically things like audit, risk, governance and in golf clubs, membership.
But we’d still need some form of Course Committee, Match Committee and House & Social Committee.

Yes- these are more useful as “advisory” committees.

A new way to look at it, in a governance context, is that management may benefit from some advisory committees.  It should be the GM/CEO who should determine what, if any, advisory committees are needed.  Board members may be asked to serve on advisory committees to provide their experience or expertise but, as the committee’s focus is operational, and as it’s advisory, the board member is a volunteer assisting.  The thing about advice is that staff benefit from inputs from members but accountability stays with staff and they have no obligation to accept any particular piece of advice.

This is all very different from a typical Course Committee conducted by board members.
I think I might have to have a lie down.

The question is, if a large proportion of the board are tied up in operational committees, do they have enough time to spend on the true board activities?
Well, I’d better get back to my report.  I think I’m going to align it with board policy.  And I might have a chat to our GM about all this.

Good luck.  Oh, one last thing.  The board can determine the extent to which it delegates.  If it wants to have operational sub committees it can but it should try and set clear policy so staff can do its job, the board can monitor in a clear way and the board leaves plenty of time for board work.

The key thing is to have role clarity so that accountabilities are clear.  Policies are the mechanism for this.  Governance education strongly encourages boards to be disciplined enough to move on from an operational focus.

There are so many requirements on boards to do board work these days.

You can learn more at http://www.golf.org.au/clubsupport and click the “Governance Fundamentals” tab.

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