Golf Course Management Magazine – Reposted March 11, 2019 – Seth Jones – Whats your vice? Food? Alcohol? Tobacco? Four superintendents tell how they beat their bad habits, and experts advise how you can, too.

Being a superintendent means dealing with problems: staffing shortages, water restrictions, turf disease. Superintendents discuss these problems with their peers, systematically find a solution, and overcome the problem. It’s simply what a superintendent does.

But what about personal problems, like obesity or alcoholism? How is it possible that a superintendent can let his or her own health slip out of control while obsessing over the health of a plant? It happens every day in this industry.

But superintendents are fighters who love a challenge, and many are fighting back against their bad habits.

“I had had enough.” Following the 2006 GCSAA Strategic Communications committee meeting, Teron Bay left Lawrence, Kan., and headed to the airport. He was not looking forward to the packed flight back to Cincinnati.

If Bay wasn’t looking forward to it, imagine how the traveler seated next to him felt. Bay was 6 feet ½ inches tall and weighed 432 pounds.

“The plane was packed, and I was halfway over into this guy’s seat,” Bay remembers. “I had had enough.”

Bay, the CGCS at The Willows at Kenton County in Independence, Ky., rarely cooked for himself. The last thing he wanted to do after working long, exhausting hours at the golf course was go home and make a mess in the kitchen and spend the time it took to prepare a meal. Bay, single and living alone, allowed a diet of fast food to get the better of him.

“McDonalds and Wendy’s did all my cooking,” Bay says. Now he avoids those places like the plague.

Bay went on a physician-monitored weight loss program at a Cincinnati weight loss clinic. He started the program, which required him to go on an all-liquid diet of six 8-ounce shakes a day, on June 1, 2006. He recently went off the diet, on June 1, 2007.

Craig Weyandt chose a healthy diet and exercise over medication for high blood pressure. Now he runs more than 30 miles every week. Photo courtesy of Craig Weyandt

Jack MacKenzie, CGCS, hid his alcohol consumption from his family and friends until it sent him into treatment and AA. Photo by Tyler MacKenzie

Teron Bay’s weight loss allows him to fit comfortably behind the wheel of his golf course equipment. 

Joel McKnight, CGCS, gave up his 35-year habit chewing tobacco cold turkey. 

In that year, Bay lost 172 pounds, about the same weight as a Jacobsen PGM 22 walking greensmower.

The benefits have been numerous. Bay can walk farther. He doesn’s run out of breath so quickly when digging irrigation lines. His knees feel better. His body doesn’t ache. He sleeps better. He feels sharper mentally.

And it may not seem like a big reward, but for Bay, it is. He can now operate any piece of machinery at The Willows, part of a 54-hole, county owned and operated facility.

“I used to always have a steering wheel shoved in my belly,” says the 12-year GCSAA member.

Even the equipment at the Willows didn’t seem to like what Teron Bay weighed. A steering wheel in the belly was one problem, but an engine that struggled to push along 432 pounds from one green to the next was quite another. Frankly, there were pieces of equipment in the shop that Bay knew he couldn’t get on.

Now, there isn’t a single piece of equipment in the shop that he can’t operate.

“It’s hard to put it into words,” he says, “but now, I almost feel like Superman.” 

Choose a new life
“It boils down to choice,” says Jack MacKenzie, CGCS, now sober for 12 years and four months. “Choose to continue drinking, or choose to become sober and begin a new life.”

That was the decision MacKenzie made.

Before he made that choice, MacKenzie would regularly have one innocent beer with his crew after a hard day’s work at North Oaks (Minn.) Country Club, where MacKenzie has served as superintendent for the last 22 years.

He’d then hop in his truck and head to his next destination. Not home, where a wife and two children waited. Instead, MacKenzie went to one of six liquor stores that he had built into his regular rotation.

The shopping list was always the same: a pint of vodka and a six-pack of beer. MacKenzie would finish the pint of vodka during the drive home, and the six-pack would be partly gone. MacKenzie would then nonchalantly drink the remaining beer or two at home.

His family didn’t realize that the one or two beers at home were actually more like No. 6 or No. 7, along with that pint of vodka.

“I kept it well hidden,” the 26-year GCSAA member recalls.  “I was a classic closet drinker.” 

MacKenzie’s alcoholism was his private burden to bear. He started drinking in high school. By age 35, his alcohol consumption was driving him crazy. Battling irrational behavior and delusions, MacKenzie went to a psychologist. She suggested he go a week without drinking.

A week without drinking … I hadn’t done that since before college, MacKenzie says.

Indeed, a week proved too long.

The psychologist recommended MacKenzie be evaluated by a physician. He followed her orders, and ended up in an out-patient treatment program and attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. That was March of 1995. MacKenzie now privately celebrates the fact that he hasn’t had a drink in more than 12 years.

MacKenzie overcame his habit, and says others in his position can, too.

Superintendents, we all fell out of the same mold, perfectionists who strive to be the best they can be, at work and play, MacKenzie says.  “That in and of itself can be a curse and cure. And I think any superintendent can overcome anything.”

The new and improved MacKenzie looks back at his old self and relishes the person he is today over the person he was. He no longer has to lie about his drinking, to others or to himself. He lost 57 pounds. He doesn’t have to worry about hangovers anymore. He thinks he has better working relationships with his staff now. He feels great, physically and spiritually.

“I suppose I replaced drinking with introspective thought,” MacKenzie says.  “I was trying to catch up on the things I missed out on. When you start compulsively drinking, you stop growing emotionally. I had a lot of growing to do.” 

“You have to want to.”

Growing up in a rural setting, chewing tobacco was just what the cool kids seemed to do. And Joel McKnight, CGCS and a 22-year GCSAA member, wanted to be one of the cool kids.

So at age 13, McKnight started chewing tobacco. It was a habit he held onto for 35 years, until he quit for good three years ago.

Learning to live without the rush of tobacco was not a pleasant time for McKnight or for the people around him.

“With my personality anyway, I turned into an absolute ogre,” McKnight says. “I can look back and wonder how people could stand me and the foul mood! Looking back, it was unbelievable.” 

McKnight was between jobs, having been laid off from Club Corp., when he decided to give up chewing tobacco. He admits that it was a tough time to try to kick his habit, but a necessary time, as the price of two bags of chew every week was something he needed to cut out of his budget. He didn’t use the nicotine patch or gum, but quit cold turkey.

“I decided the cost was ridiculous, especially for something that was bad for you,” McKnight recalls.

The benefits of giving up his 35-year habit have been immense. He’s already seen improvement in his dental checkups and his teeth and gums are no longer deteriorating. He’s had fewer problems with ulcers, something he never believed could be attributed to chewing in the first place, but now knows better. His health in general has improved, including a lot fewer headaches. He doesn’t feel the need to hide that bag of tobacco anymore, or to sneak out of a meeting for a quick fix, which has made him a better business person.

McKnight’s wife and two sons made his transition to a tobacco-free lifestyle much more bearable, he says.

“I chose to quit at one of the most stressful times in my life. I was in-between jobs,” says McKnight, who is now the park operations manager for the city of Lancaster, Texas. “You have to decide you want to and I’m so glad I made that decision.”

McKnight says the key for him was that he really wanted to quit and he had support.

“You have to have the support of the people around you. They have to understand that clearing out your system makes you grouchy,” McKnight says.  “You have to want to, you can’t just say you want to.” 

Make sure you can have fun. Craig Weyandt was sitting on his bathroom floor in the middle of the night, and he didn’t know why.

He had gotten up to let the dog out and go to the bathroom. So why was he on the floor now? Confused, Weyandt went back to bed and shoved the incident to the back of his mind.

A year later, the same thing happened again waking up on the bathroom floor, not sure why or how long he had been there.

This time Weyandt went to the doctor to investigate. It turns out Weyandt was simply blacking out. He underwent a slew of tests, cardiac ultrasound, EKG, CAT scan, but they found nothing. But doctors did tell him he had high blood pressure, which may have accounted for his fainting spells. Their prescription was simple blood pressure medication.

“I’ve heard that once you’re on blood pressure medicine, you never stop,” says Weyandt, the Class A superintendent at the Moorings Club in Vero Beach, Fla., and a 17-year member of GCSAA.  “I never want to be on pills for the rest of my life. It’ll probably happen, someday, but I want to postpone it as long as possible.” 

He decided he’d take his own approach to dealing with high blood pressure.

Weyandt told the doctor to hold off on prescribing the pills. He wanted to see if he could lower his blood pressure on his own, with exercise and a better diet. His doctor was happy to put away his notepad.  Weyandt gave up his poor diet of fast food and processed breakfast sandwiches. And he took up running, serious running. Weyandt puts 30 to 35 miles on his shoes every week.

Now, the blood pressure problem has disappeared. In fact, it’s almost the opposite. Weyandt’s resting heart rate has dropped to 35 beats per minute. A normal resting heart rate is between 60 and 80 beats per minute. Weyandt’s running regimen has him in such good shape that his heart borders on beating too slow now.

But his running has made him a more productive person. These days, he’s like the Energizer Bunny of turf.

“On Monday, I worked all day. When I got off, I played in an employee golf tournament,” Weyandt explains.  “After that, we had dinner. Then I went home and mowed the yard. That’s  a full day.  I wouldn’t have been able to do that before.” 

Weyandt says that for him, the exercise has been addictive. He’s lost 10 pounds, two pants sizes, and competed in multiple marathons. Now he’s eyeing triathlons.

“Make sure (you replace your bad habits with) something you can have fun with,” Weyandt suggests. “Unfortunately, I’m in an area without racquetball courts. Otherwise, I’d play until my arms fell off. It’s a game I love; the exercise is secondary.” 

Teron Bay poses in front of the soft drink vending machine in his shop on June 1, 2006 (right), and June 1, 2007, when he completed his liquid diet. Photos courtesy of Teron Bay

The power to change

Superintendents deal with challenges everyday, from an irrigation head that keeps getting stuck to a greens committee that won’t allow a positive change. Dealing with challenges is a specialty of the superintendent.

Robert Bjork, Ph.D., chair of the psychology department at UCLA, says that’s why all these men succeeded, because they were experienced and willing to take on their challenges.

“Some people can embrace these challenges, and that makes their problems interesting,”  Bjork says.  “Then, it’s an upbeat challenge in their life and not a helpless challenge.” 

Sports psychologist John F. Murray, Ph.D., says a person with confidence also is more likely to overcome his or her bad habits.

“Confidence is a huge part; it’s easy to get discouraged,” Murray says. “A lot of people don’t think they have control over their mental skills. But they have the power to change.” 

“The only serious mistake you can make is to give up on your ability to change,” says James Prochaska, Ph.D., professor of clinical health psychology at the University of Rhode Island, as well as the author of “Changing for Good: A Revolutionary Six-Stage Method for Overcoming Bad Habits and Moving Your Life Positively Forward.” 

Prochaska, who has been in the psychology field since 1969, created his six stages in the 1980s while studying ordinary people who were trying to quit smoking.

Six stages for making change

People who are not planning to take action, even if it’s only because they lack awareness, are members of Prochaska’s first stage, “pre-contemplation.” “One of the things that can help them the most is to become aware of the benefits of breaking their bad habit,” Prochaska says.

For example, most couch potatoes can think of only five or six benefits to becoming active. Prochaska has identified 60 benefits to losing weight, a better mood, more self-esteem and a better sex life, just to name a few.

People who are thinking of making a change in the next six months are in the second stage, “contemplation.”

“They weigh the pros and cons equally, and are ambivalent. When in doubt, they don’t act,” Prochaska says.  “The majority of Americans don’t exercise. The No. 1 barrier is time. Only five or six benefits aren’t as motivating as 60. Sixty benefits just to exercising … that’s a bargain.” 

People ready to take action are in the “preparation” stage. They have a plan to join a health club or try Weight Watchers. Their biggest obstacle is the question, “When am I going to fail”?

“We tell them, the more prepared they are, the more likely they are to succeed, Prochaska says.  “Do some work before you try to take on the habit. One way to do that is to find multiple reasons for succeeding. For example, walk one week for your weight, the next week for your heart and the next week for better sleep.

“One reason I work out is for my grandkids, so I can keep up.” 

The busiest stage is “action.”  In this stage, Prochaska asks people to make a concerted effort to kick their bad habits for a full six months.  “Think of beating this habit as life-saving surgery,” Prochaska says.  “If you had life-saving surgery, wouldn’t you give yourself six months to recover? And wouldn’t you take the time to look for support?” 

The next stage is when a person is actively beating his habit and working to make sure he doesn’t relapse. Prochaska calls this “maintenance.”  The hardest part of holding off the bad habit is when distresses come along, whether that is anger, boredom, stress, etc.

“We try to give them something to counter their distress,” Prochaska says. “Maybe talking for men, that’s harder. Exercise, even relaxation, can counter distress. Frankly, I very much use golf in some regards, to counter distress.”

Some people may spend the rest of their lives in the maintenance stage, which is acceptable if the bad habit is beaten. But ideally, a person will advance to the sixth and final stage of beating a bad habit, “termination.” In this stage, a person has the confidence, whether angry, bored, etc., to not return to the bottle, or smoking, or whatever the habit was.

Some make it, some don’t  Those who make it are conditioned, like a person who automatically puts on a seat belt every time he gets into a car.

Prochaska believes people can overcome any bad habit if they follow his steps and seek out the support they need along the way. Lastly, he wants people to know that during this time of breaking a bad habit, they will most likely suffer a relapse.

“I want to encourage people not to think of that relapse as a failure,” Prochaska says. “Rather, think of it as a learning experience about what did you do right, what did you do wrong, so that next time you can succeed.” 

Success stories
MacKenzie says he knew he could fix his drinking problem because he was determined and motivated.

“It’s fairly empowering when you realize, “Yup, I have a problem,” MacKenzie says.  “If you deny it, that’s when you stumble. The step you have to take is doing something. You have to tell yourself, “I have a problem and I’ve got to do something about it.” My life has changed so dramatically. 

Bay also understands the dramatic changes.

“I had been on diets before, but I never really followed through with them,” Bay recalls. “I’d get bored and I’d start going back to my old ways. For me, there was a switch thrown in my head – bam! This is what you have to do. “

Even though he is off the liquid diet, Bay still watches very carefully what he eats. He still has one of the diet milkshakes every morning because he likes them and they’re convenient. On the day he spoke to GCM, he ate grilled tilapia, green beans and broccoli for dinner. Not bad for a guy who used to regularly eat almost 6,000 calories a day.

“People I don’t see very often absolutely dont recognize me anymore,” Bay says with a chuckle. “This college kid worked for me for three years and we literally bumped shoulders in the pro shop and he didnt recognize me. But then he heard my voice and he looked at me and said, “Teron? You’ve lost a lot of weight! And that makes me feel so good.”

Dr. John F. Murray is a sports psychologist and clinical psychologist providing sports psychology and counseling services based in North Palm Beach, Florida.