Dooge, whose first job as a superintendent was at Kaluakoi Golf Club on Molokai in 1977, recently moved into the general manager’s chair at The Dunes at Maui Lani after serving 37 years as a golf course superintendent at numerous courses throughout the islands including Waikapu, Koele, Manele, Sandalwood, Kapalua, Kahili and King Kamehameha.
One of the truly good guys in the golf industry, Dooge twice served as Hawaii GCSA president and has represented the association as chapter delegate since 1996. Along the way, he became the first certified golf course superintendent in Hawaii (1985). He was awarded with the Hawaii GCSA Lifetime Achievement Award in January.
I had the chance to chat with Russ recently about his new role and its challenges, the state of the industry and his perspective on a career that has spanned nearly 40 years.
Your first job as a superintendent was at Kaluakoi Golf Club in 1977. Back then, did you ever see yourself in the role of a general manager?
No, but I did give a lot thought to getting my PGA Class A membership and possibly heading that direction.
What have been the challenges in your first few months in the new position and how has it differed from your past positions as a golf course superintendent?
The biggest challenge has been getting more golfers to play our course. The rates at The Dunes are higher compared to other courses around the area, so we have had to be creative. Additionally, I am learning to put income before spending - and I needed to start wearing long pants and aloha shirts!
We are starting to see a trend with superintendents moving into the general manager’s position. What advice would you have for a superintendent interested in taking that path?
Pay attention in staff and budget meetings and learn about the other departments. In particular, I spent a lot of time around the golf shop and was able to learn more about that side of the business. Do not be afraid to think outside the box in order to attract new customers.
What do you see as the biggest challenge for the modern-day golf course superintendent?
Getting more people introduced to the game of golf, water availability/cost and the environment. In Hawaii, the anti-GMO people are going after pesticide use which makes life difficult.
You have been a past HGCSA president, long-time board member, chapter delegate and GCSAA committee member. How has this service to both HGCSA and GCSAA contributed to your career development?
Meeting people from around the country and making new friends has helped me in understanding the game of golf better and how it works in other parts of the U.S. I have also learned to be a better public speaker over the years, although I still have a long way to go in that area.
You were awarded the 2014 Lifetime Achievement Award by the HGCSA. What does it mean to you to be honored by your peers in the golf maintenance industry?
I have been recognized twice by the HGCSA and to be honored by your peers for something that you love doing is a great accomplishment. I did not start out in this business to gain awards but to make golf courses better and more fun to play. I like to joke that the Lifetime Achievement is the award that is given to the oldest surviving superintendent!
If you could go back and give your 21-year-old self one piece of advice, what would it be?
It would be to listen a lot more and be humble.
On behalf of GCSAA, thank you to Russ for his years of service to the association and the golf industry. We look forward to many more. If you run into Russ at GIS or get a chance to visit Maui, make sure you stop and say hello and catch a little bit of his “Aloha Spirit”. It’s contagious!