Quality Golf Founder Tony Taylor (pictured left) is a turf manager who made the leap to the Asian golf market 20-plus years ago. In the first of a two-part feature originally published in GCM, Bangkok-based Taylor shares lessons in perseverance and management learned through a different lens.
In the early 1990s, I was working as the superintendent at The Links at Spruce Creek in Summerfield, Florida. One day, the photo on the cover of GCM caught my eye. It was a scene from the golf course construction boom in Asia.
I learned from the article that there was a golf development upswing happening in most of Southeast Asia. In Thailand, there were more than 80 golf courses being built or in the planning stages within a roughly 200-mile radius of Bangkok, a city of over five million people.
This fact piqued my interest. I wondered: “Who’s going to take care of all these courses?” Little did I know that I’d soon be smack in the middle of the action.
I’d started my career as a golf course superintendent in northern Florida after graduating from Lake City Community College (now called Florida Gateway College). I did a stint in Texas for ClubCorp, and eventually settled in west-central Florida as a superintendent at Innisbrook Resort where, from 1982 to 1985, I honed my skills in high-quality golf course maintenance.
In 1992, a friend of mine who worked at a neighbouring course was offered a position for the grow-in and maintenance set-up of a course in Thailand. He turned it down because he had a young family, but he recommended me for the job, as I had recently completed a construction and grow-in project in Florida. After some research, discussions with my mentors and thinking back to that GCM article, I decided to take the plunge. I signed a six-month contract to work on Barrington Golf Club in Kanchanaburi, Thailand.
Some 26 years later, I am still in Thailand. I have also worked in Singapore, Vietnam, Cambodia, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Hong Kong, India and Japan. In those years and those countries, I was able to see many things through a new lens, including what it takes to be an effective, successful golf course superintendent.
This know-how – which was often hard-won – can be put into practice by superintendents working in any part of the world. The following six lessons are those that have guided and best served me in my career.
1. Keep your eyes on the mountain
In the early years, there were no amenities for foreigners in Thailand, as tourism wasn’t yet popular in the more remote areas of the country. My accommodations were in an 800-year-old village. No fancy hotels, just the locals and myself. The only food available was from giant cooking pots in the local huts, where everyone ate together. The chilli tossed into the frying pans made me cough and my eyes water. The food was so spicy I could hardly get through breakfast or lunch.
On more than one occasion, I found myself in a jungle hospital all night with food poisoning. Staffing the project was a challenge, too, with at least half the labour force hit with malaria at one point or another. I woke up each morning dreading what I might have to face – food I could hardly eat, dengue fever, cobras, a bit of homesickness. Those first weeks were almost unbearable.
Then one day, while on a mountain overlooking holes I had just grassed, I found myself smiling, envisioning the course’s beauty and the enjoyment it would bring once we finished it. I couldn’t wait. That was probably the first real smile and sense of joy I’d felt since arriving in Thailand. I realised then that I had allowed myself to get mired in the challenges and, in turn, had ignored that I was getting to do what I love and what I’m good at, and that my actions can produce amazing results. I had lost sight of the mountain and was seeing only the jungle.
As a golf course superintendent, if you are not working from a place of passion, any challenge – even a small one – becomes a stop. A lesson I learned early on in Asia is that if you really love what you do and can keep your eye on the mountain, you can overcome any setback. I was able to persevere following sicknesses and in the face of many other obstacles by looking outward toward my goals and purpose. Redirecting my attention this way – rather than letting the chaos of the ‘jungle’ dominate my thoughts – allowed me to stay the course.
*Tony Taylor, CGCS, has been Executive Director of Quality Golf in Thailand since 1994, and is the senior superintendent at Panorama Golf Club in Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand. A 28-year GCSAA member, Taylor has been the senior consultant superintendent for more than 20 televised golf tournaments in Southeast Asia, India and Japan. In the course of his 26 years in the region, Taylor placed 18 superintendents around Asia. Taylor grew up on a golf course, starting as a caddie in Pittsburgh. He graduated from Lake City Community College with a degree in golf course operations in 1977.
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