The Artistry of Being a Marshal

Marshall DillonI’ve been swinging at golf balls for more than sixty years (although I’m barely into my late forties). There was a period in my life when I played seven days a week. I’ve since cut it back to three or four times a week. I estimate that in all, I’ve played on the order of 3,500 rounds of golf. With that said, you can trust me when I say I’ve seen a course “ranger” or two. I think I’ve earned the right to comment on the good, the bad, and the ugly.

I will refer to them as “rangers” or “marshals” synonymously in this piece. I also suggest that either term is a pejorative in that it implies they have the role of an overbearing “cop” or enforcer which of course, they are, but why raise the hackles of the customer unnecessarily? Golf course operators would serve themselves well to give them titles that convey a warm, fuzzy, beneficent function. Consider “Player Assistant”. Think about it. The “marshal” is the enforcer trying to “catch you” doing something wrong and punishing you for any transgressions. A “Player Assistant” loves you and is there to “assist” you, to give you love and administer an occasional hug following an errant tee shot. He only entreats you to pick up the pace a bit because he loves you and wants to help you avoid the stress of having the group behind continue to shout obscenities at your group.

Ranger Joe Baldo
Joe Baldo was one of the greats

There have been good ones, bad ones, mediocre ones, great ones and abysmally miserable excuses for course rangers. As a general rule, the friendlier and happier the man, the better marshal he makes.  Who that played Camelback Golf Club in recent years can ever forget the ever present smile on the face of one of the great ones, Joe Baldo. He was a giant of a man who always did the job a marshal is (in theory) hired to do. Yet when he asked someone to play a bit faster, he did it with a grin that just made you want to move along if for no other reason than to help him out and be his friend.

Literally without exception, the great marshals have been friendly and happy ones. They know how to smile.

Another attribute of the great ones is the ability to make you believe they give a damn about you. Undoubtedly, some of them do care because they’re just the kind of people that actually do care about others. And no doubt, others really would rather see me fall in the pond and drown, but they’ve got me convinced they care. If they really don’t care … I don’t care. If they’ve got me convinced, that’s all that matters. I’m far more anxious to cooperate and help someone who I believe cares about me.

Great marshals empathize. They care about other people. (Even if they don’t!)

Good quality marshals flock together. By that, I don’t mean they necessary spend all their spare time socializing. But I do mean you tend to find them at the same golf courses. Clearly, this suggests that golf course management has a lot to do with the level of service you get from your marshals. After all, if the marshal hopes to keep his job, he will try and perform at or above the minimum level expected by the management.

Ranger Tom
Tom always gets it done

Course marshals at some of our area courses perform better than others. At Camelback, expectations are higher than at most other area courses. As a result, we have some of the best in the business. You know who they are and I suspect they do too. At other nearby courses, expectations run a little lower. Once while engaged in particularly miserable round of golf that was stretching beyond the five hour mark at Silverado Golf Club, the ranger did everything humanly possible to avoid contact with any disgruntled golfers. If the Unabomber had gone to such extremes to avoid detection that the Silverado ranger had pursued, the Unabomber would still be at large. Recently at McCormick Ranch Golf Course, one ranger was backed into a corner from which he couldn’t escape. He actually had to speak with the golfers in two groups backed up on a single tee box. He was in a situation from which he had no exit. However, rather than “confront” the source of the problems, he put on a Two Act theatrical performance with a litany of every possible excuse under the blazing sun as to why he couldn’t get the fivesome (which he admitted was not allowed on the course) in front to hasten its performance.

Good marshals go to the source of problems rather than hide in the bushes attempting to avoid them.

At courses known for good marshal management, hiring and training, you’ll find they work to actually solve problems. For example, at Camelback where marshals tend to perform with a higher level of professionalism, they’re proactive. At times, I’ve seen them actually try and gently “train” inexperienced golfers on how to quicken their pace. In more extreme cases, our marshals may actually stay with a group for a hole or two to provide assistance. When they do it with a smile and a caring attitude, the golfers being watched get the message and may actually appreciate the help. If they don’t, oh well. They can spend some time reading the “Etiquette” section of the USGA Rules of Golf.

Good marshals are problem solvers.

After talking about some of those things that make the marshals great, let’s talk about a couple of things that relegate them to the scrap heap of marshal hell. Some marshals

Rick Issac
Ranger Rick gets it done with a smile

have mastered the art of camouflage. They have learned how to hide in plain sight. How often have you heard someone in the home stretch of a five hour round say, “I haven’t seen a marshal all day”? There are some who have become so expert at conflict avoidance that they have become completely invisible.

Another way for the marshal to endear himself to the customer and to reduce his chances of cooperation to near zero levels is to act like the boss hog in a Southern speed trap. A smile goes a mile, but a bossy grimace goes even further, just not in the right direction. The marshal isn’t a cop. He’s not a drill sergeant or a Marine D.I. If I want someone to be a sour, bossy-assed, thug, I’ll call my ex-wife; I don’t need it from the marshal.

The Best Way for a Marshal to Piss-Off the Entire World!

But … If a marshall truly wants to annoy the hell out of anyone and everyone, there’s always one surefire way to do it. Here’s the trick. Take the case where there’s a slow group in front of you. You discover they’re being held up by a slow group in from of them who in turn, are held up by another slow group. As it becomes apparent the entire course is backed up, you realize the marshal doesn’t have a lot of options short of shooting every fourth golfer to set an example. You just accept the fact that you’re round isn’t going to finish in less than four hours. You adjust your mindset, slow your pace and try to put a smile on your face. You might even have time to engage in a friendly chat with the marshal himself.

However, if you’re waiting five minutes between every shot because of the glacial pace of play of the group in front of you and you notice there’s no one in front of them. They’re three full holes behind the next group. Your frustrations are inflamed when the group stops at the drink cart for five minutes to freshen their libation reserves. They’re now four holes behind the next group. You see the marshal and wave him over. You explain the situation and point out that the waits are getting untenable.

Here it comes. Brace yourself! “They’re on pace”, says the marshal. You grip your club so tightly that your grip crumbles while you actively contemplate the question of whether or not murder is a capital offense.

“They’re on pace” is the single most ludicrous statement that a marshal can make.

Yes, the management needs to define some measure of a reasonable round length. However, that is an estimate subject to course conditions, setup, weather, golfer load, etc. It is NOT the law by which all rounds are deemed good or bad, fast or slow, acceptable or not acceptable. Assume, for example, that the marshal has been “taught” that a four and a half hour round is not unreasonable. This doesn’t mean a four hour and twenty five minute round is fast; it means it’s almost unreasonable.

If ten foursomes are all playing on a four hour pace and the next group is a full two holes behind, but on a four hour and twenty minute pace, that IS NOT acceptable. No one can justify their pace by saying “They’re on pace”. They ARE NOT. The acceptable pace of play for that given day was clearly defined by the ten foursomes that all finished in four hours. If the marshal tries to justify a two hole gap by saying, “They’re on pace”, that marshal should be bound and tortured on the spot until he confesses his sins.

If the “on pace” argument is valid, then I should be allowed to play seventeen holes at my customary three hour and forty five minute pace, hit my tee shot on #18, saunter to my ball, spread a blanket out on the fairway and have a forty five minute picnic while groups stack up on the tee box. I’m “on pace”. Please pass the mustard.

If there is more than one full hole open in front of a group, those golfers ARE NOT ON PACE. Please, please, don’t try and sell the outrageously insane argument that they’re on pace. Use anything else. Say they’re in a time warp. Say the open holes are actually being played by invisible aliens. Say they’re playing slowly because they’re sweeping the field of landmines. Say anything, but don’t say, “They’re on pace.”

A good marshal or even a mediocre marshal or even a crappy marshal will never ever try to justify slow play with the phrase “They’re on pace.”

Author: h. Alton Jones

writer/scientist/adventurer

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