Work Obsession

Sunday, January 23, 2005
This is the first January in the past nine years that I haven’t lived with the PGA Senior Tour’s MasterCard Championship at the Hualalai Golf Club in my world, and not obsess about it.

It’s a fractured fairytale kind of story about how work becomes part of your life and who you become, and then almost defiantly goes on without you.

The tournament will play out its third and final day today, with Arnold Palmer teeing off first about two hours from now, and it will be the first time in nine years that I won’t be there. I won’t be there to experience it, celebrate it, and congratulate the people who for months have worked so hard to stage it. I won’t be there to personally witness the euphoria of the winner, while inside I am so thankful that it is finally over for another year.

Last year, I was there even though I no longer work there: I just couldn’t keep away. Amazingly, this year it snuck up on me and I’d have forgotten about it completely had I not caught some coverage on last night’s ten o’clock news.

To understand why this is amazing to me, you must understand that golf tournaments like this one will single-handedly and selfishly consume the entire resort and everyone who works in it. Well, in some ways it’s not understandable at all, so take it from me, it just happens that way.

I have this strange kinship with golf, for I’ve been around it in my workplace for more than sixteen years now and I’ve never played the game myself. I’ve learned to love the game and revere it in some ways, but only because that’s bound to happen when as a manager, you’re directly responsible for more than 120 employees who have found their working passions directly connected with it. In the interest of seeking more knowledge about it, I’ve succumbed to having my golf pros dragging me to other tournaments, their trade shows, and their award ceremonies. Without playing it myself, I can very competently debate anyone wanting to have that argument that this “gentleman’s game” is not really a sport.

If you know me at all, you know this: I love management. I think of it as an art and as a science, and I have a passion for getting it done with greatness. And a golf tournament, with all that goes into it, may be one of management’s biggest and most complex case studies, the good, the bad, and the ugly. There is so much tradition and so-called “golf etiquette” wrapped up the game, that I’d sometimes reflect about how “leadership” in a golf tournament case study is remarkably absent. The game itself is the leader, and there’s no room left over for human ones.

And believe me, there is a lot of passion in those who work with, in, and around golf, who themselves don’t get to enter tournaments and vie for a piece of those rich purses. They just make it possible for others to do so, on magnificently gorgeous stretches of landscape splendor called golf courses.

Huagolf2_1(Click on the image to see it in a larger window.)

Pictures of golf maintenance crews, prepping the greens, fairways and roughs in the early morning hours before anyone tees off, are pictures of beautiful labors of love, care, precision, skill and talent. There is a poetry of motion that happens when they are raking bunkers, standing doubled over at the waist while their trained eyes consider the health of blades of grass, and even when they are perched atop huge machines that become tame and gentle beasts under their hand.

In the Club Shop, and in the staging areas of the tournament, I would watch the faces of my Mea Ho‘okipa in golf operations and retail, beam with delight in their opportunities to welcome and serve new guests that had come to see the tournament and be part of the crowd, for Hualalai was the “home” they welcomed them into.

Have I painted a sort of picture for you? Because again, knowing all this, and being able to very clearly picture it in my mind, my thoughts today are just so completely awestruck with the simple fact that I’m not there.

This is tournament number 9 for Hualalai, and for the first 7, it consumed my life completely. For months we prepared for the next one. In the weeks leading it up to the tournament we thought of and worked on nothing else. Afterwards, it took more weeks to clean up after it and find new momentum in our “real” business of being a residential resort community.

With tournament number 8, I’d been gone for six months, was passionately self-employed with complete happiness in my brand new Say Leadership Coaching business, just back to work and finding new momentum after my holiday ho‘omaha, and I was still there, still feeling like I simply had to be available for “my” employees – who were no longer really mine.

This year, tournament number 9, I’m not there at all. I’m not needed, I’m probably not missed, and it is honestly okay with me: life goes on and I’m perfectly happy.

I’ll most likely watch the final TV coverage on it later this afternoon because it is good entertainment: I have come to admire the sportsmanship of the game, and I like to watch a 50+ year old player still win on the tour.

I’m writing this, because if you are somehow consumed in your job as I was, consumed in the thoughts that you are needed there for its dynamic events to still happen and still succeed, please remember that the true test to how good a job you do is this one: will it be self-sustaining, and do exceptionally well when you are gone? Will you finally be able to watch it unfold from afar and be okay with that, feeling good about it?

I will openly admit to you that it took me two years. But be happy for me, because I made it, and it does feel good. Yes, they no longer need me, however I don’t need to be there either.

If you are so inclined to watch it, the television coverage today will be on the Golf Channel at 2:00pm this afternoon, Hawaii time. More here. You’ll be able to see where I “used to work.”

Enjoy your Lāpule, your Sunday.