Superintendent Magazine - October, 2012

FEATURES

Talkin' Politics

With the national election looming, golf course superintendents sound off on the state of the government and who will get their votes for president.
By Larry Aylward

Like many Americans, golf course superintendents are fed up with the political poppycock going on in Washington, D.C. They've had it up to the bills of their golf caps with the L.A. traffic jam-type gridlock displayed by Republicans and Democrats in Congress when it comes to making important decisions. They've had it with the back and forth bickering of the parties on most anything there is to bicker about. They've had it with politicians who only seem to care about their own futures and that of the party they represent. Which brings us to the presidential election on Nov. 6. Who will superintendents vote for and why?

It's a good bet that most superintendents will vote for Mitt Romney because the golf course maintenance industry is comprised of people who are mostly conservative. (See sidebar on page 24.) But the industry also has its share of Barack Obama supporters.

One thing is certain: Unlike members of Congress, the Republicans and Democrats who make up the golf course maintenance industry can agree that the people in Congress had better learn how to compromise on decisions in order to get things done - or the country, including the golf industry, will be in a whole lot of hurt.

"They have to work together," says Sandy Queen, president of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America. "Until they do that, it's going to be a challenge for everybody."

Playing politics

The Republicans and Democrats in Congress have made national news several times this year for their inability to compromise on important matters.

They fought over whether to extend the debt ceiling and that fight will soon resume. Last time they fought, the stock market sank like a battered boat because of the infighting. So did consumer confidence. Businesses also suffered because of the uncertainty surrounding the matter.

As crazy as it sounds, economic experts don't cite the financial strife in Europe or the growth slowdown in China as the main threats to the U.S. economic recovery - they cite Congress.

For the first time in a long time, the golf industry has had a good year. Golf rounds were up more than 9 percent through July when compared to the same time last year. At the City of Overland Park, Kan., where Queen is the certified golf course superintendent and manager of golf operations, rounds are up substantially for the first time in 10 years.

"We're anticipating a good year next year, but I don't know if we can sustain the level that we're at right now," Queen says.

What happens with the economy in 2013 will have a lot to do with that. And what happens in Congress will have a lot to do with the economy.

Weldon Davis, golf course superintendent of the Creek Golf Club in Spartanburg, S.C., says the problem in Congress is that most members are voting along party lines.

"That's not the way it's supposed to be," says the 55-year-old Davis, who twice ran for the South Carolina House of Representatives, but didn't win. "That's not the way this country was founded."

The only way to get anything constructive done - whether it's with the local school board or Congress - is if you cross party lines to agree, Davis says.

"If you don't, you won't get anything accomplished," he adds.

Jim Husting, the certified golf course superintendent at Woodbridge (Calif.) Golf and Country Club, says one of the parties needs to wake up and reach across lines to prove to Americans that there can be compromise.

"I don't know who it's going to be, but somebody needs to say, 'Let's get to a common ground,' " Husting says. "Somebody has to eat some crow, both Republicans and Democrats, for the good of the country."

Matt Shaffer, director of golf course operations at Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa., is also concerned about what he perceives as Congress' lack of concern for the common people.

"It's the biggest and baddest union in the world," he says.

Too many politicians care only about getting re-elected and keeping their "cushy" jobs, says Shaffer, who believes they would work harder and be less sensitive about re-election if there were term limits.

Rick Slattery, golf course superintendent at Locust Hill Country Club in Pittsford, N.Y., says he feels "unsettled" by Congress' approach to governing.

"More and more it seems like we identify Democrats as liberals and Republicans as conservatives, and we're forgetting about that huge group of people in the middle that are moderates and probably consider themselves independents," says Slattery, who calls himself a "fierce independent."

Husting says the only way anything will get done in the U.S. Capitol is if one party is in power of the Senate, the House and the Presidency.

"But I don't foresee that happening in the near future," he adds.

Husting is surprised that Obama didn't get more done early in his term when Democrats controlled the House and Senate.

"He had his chance," Husting says. "The only thing he got done was the health care bill, and I don't think anybody understands that."

Queen says politicians need to focus less on divisive social issues, such as gay marriage, and more on the real challenges the country faces, such as the struggling economy and the national deficit.

A major issue with the two parties is how to balance the budget and reduce the deficit. Some people believe the Obama administration alone has amassed the current $16 trillion deficit. Not true. The deficit has risen more than $5.4 trillion from its level of $10.6 trillion when Obama took office in 2009.

According to PolitiFact, a reason for the increased debt the past four years is because of decreased federal revenues, which have plummeted because of the struggling economy. Revenues haven't kept pace with federal spending, which includes more money spent on programs such as food stamps, Medicare and Social Security for retiring baby boomers. High unemployment and a continuation of tax cuts have also decreased federal income.

Husting, who turns 60 in November, is worried that Republicans will slash more programs, including Social Security and Medicare, than the Democrats to reduce the deficit. Some economic experts say that too much of a reduction could send the country back into economic recession.

Husting, who plans to retire in five years, says he'll be furious if his Social Security allotment isn't available then.

"I've been paying into it forever, and I'm entitled to it," he says. "It had better be there for me."

Davis, who may know more about politics than others because of the experience he gained when running for office, is convinced the federal government can reduce spending through other means.

"They just don't know how to save money," he adds.

The election

While superintendents agree that a U.S. president can't get much done without Congress' support, they do have their preferred candidates.

Queen says he's voting for Romney because he shares some of the same core beliefs as the Republican candidate. Queen also believes Romney will be more pro business and will impose fewer regulations and taxes on businesses and the people, which will spur the economy.

"Historically, there has been less emphasis on increased regulations with a Republican administration, which is a good thing for the golf industry," Queen adds.

As GCSAA president, Queen says he and the association have spent ample time on potential EPA regulations that are already technically covered by existing regulations.

"I would expect that to [change] under a Republican administration," he adds.

Another reason Queen is voting for Romney is because he believes that Romney is a proven businessman who can get the sputtering economy in gear.

But Husting begs to differ.

"Like Romney can run the whole economy - give me a break," Husting says. "Anybody who comes in and says he can solve our problems in four years is highly mistaken. [The economy is] too big for anybody to handle."

Husting believes that U.S. presidents get too much credit when the economy is strong and too much blame when the economy is weak.

"I don't think they have the knowledge or power to do anything with the economy," he adds. "The economy moves on its own."

The economy has improved under Obama's tenure, albeit minimally in several quarters. But it's not in recession anymore, and Obama's stimulus programs may have something to do with that.

"At least we had growth under Obama," Husting says.

Husting plans to vote for Obama, but he says there's a huge asterisk that goes with his vote.

"This is the first year in my life that I really feel that my vote won't matter," he says. "And that is sad. I just don't think the Democrats or the Republicans have the answer."

Shaffer is voting for Romney because he's "painfully honest" and a solid businessman with strong morals.

"He's not exceptionally charismatic, but that's not a bad thing because [the election] is becoming like a beauty contest," he adds.

Shaffer calls Obama a "professional politician" with no leadership skills, and he blames the president for being divisive.

"If I had done as bad a job at Merion as he has done as the president of the United States, I can assure you that I'd no longer be in the business," Shaffer says.

Davis says Romney wasn't his first choice for the Republican nomination, but he is voting for him. He also thinks Romney's business background will help get the economy back on track.

Regarding Obama's controversial health care plan, Davis says a lot of golf courses could go out of business if they have to pay insurance costs for their employees.

"The government needs to ease up on the restrictions it has placed on small businesses," he adds.

Davis is concerned about the golf industry if Obama is re-elected.

"I think everybody will have less expendable income, so there will be less expendable income to play golf," he adds.

Slattery is voting for Obama, who he calls the lesser of two evils. That said, he thinks Obama deserves a second chance. When Obama took over in 2009, he inherited a country in an economic mess, courtesy of the Republicans, Slattery says.

Slattery says Romney and his running mate, Paul Ryan, scare him. He's worried they will cut the budget so much to reduce the deficit that the economy could go back into a recession.

Even though he's for Romney, Queen says he'll support whoever is elected.

"I just ask that our country unites together regardless of who's elected to take on the real challenges that we have," he says.

What's your take on the election? Send Aylward an email at laylward@mooserivermedia.com.

Why Does the Industry Lean Right?

Most golf course superintendents prefer red rather than blue? But why do most superintendents vote as Republicans?

Matt Shaffer, director of golf course operations at Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa., says a reason that superintendents lean right is because of ongoing regulations issued by the Environmental Protection Agency. It's no secret that the turfgrass industry is often at odds with the EPA, which can be viewed as a liberal arm of the federal government, depending on who's running it.

"Democrats are more environmentally sensitive," Shaffer says. "I don't think that's a bad thing until they start taking the chemistries away."

Large corporations that spend a lot of money on golf is another reason the industry leans to the right, Shaffer adds.

"The Republicans have a more favorable outlook on big business than the Democrats do," he adds.

Rick Slattery, golf course superintendent at Locust Hill Country Club in Pittsford, N.Y., says the industry is more Republican because of its collective fear of environmental regulations. Republicans believe government should be hands off when it comes to many environmental regulations. Slattery says there should be a middle ground.

"Regulations are required, but they can't be smothering," he adds. "That's the fine line that we have to find."

Slattery says he's in favor of reducing inputs and for golf courses to be more environmentally aware. But he's not in favor of the EPA taking away certain tools of the trade, as in pesticides that he believes superintendents use wisely and safely.

"That's when I think we have to draw the line in our industry," Slattery says.

But Slattery says that environmental changes have happened slow enough for superintendents to adapt.

Superintendents lean to the right because they believe in hard work and don't feel like they deserve entitlements, says Weldon Davis, golf course superintendent of the Creek Golf Club in Spartanburg, S.C.

Sandy Queen, the president of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America, says the reason is simply because the industry has more conservatives.

"Look at the way we are when a new pesticide comes out," Queen says. "We don't spray it wall to wall. We test it in a particular area."

Jim Husting, the certified golf course superintendent of the Woodbridge (Calif.) Golf and Country Club, points to the irony that environmentalists are usually liberal, and that superintendents are environmentalists.

Shaffer believes many liberals don't trust the golf industry from an environmental standpoint because the industry is an easy target with what liberals perceive as high-profile country clubs and their well-to-do members.

Davis believes environmentalists like to pick on golf because golf still has the stigma that it's a rich man's game. Instead, Davis says more Democrats need to look at the economic impact that golf has on society, including the number of jobs the sport has created.

"They don't look at the whole picture," he says.

Queen, the certified golf course superintendent and manager of golf operations at the City of Overland Park, Kan., says environmentalists look to pounce on any golf course environmental woe they hear about, as few as they may be. He believes most superintendents are environmentalists.

"I've always considered myself an environmentalist," Queen says, noting that he wouldn't do anything to harm the land comprising the course and the people who play it.

Queen would welcome any environmentalist who opposes golf to join him on the course for four days to "show them what we do, why we do it, and the science that we use."

- Larry Aylward