I had the honor of hanging out with about 15 golf course superintendents for a few days at the recent Smarter Ways to Grow Tour sponsored by Agrium Advanced Techologies Direct Solutions and held in Fort Collins and Loveland, Colo., late last month.
Yes, the program included seminars on various product technologies, such as "The Role of Enhanced Efficiency Fertilizers in Nutrient Management," which were well received. But a major portion of the three-day event focused on superintendents' challenges and needs in a difficult and evolving golf economy.
David Helt, sales manager for AAT Direct Solutions, moderated a forum among the superintendents that focused on various topics, including growing the game, increasing revenue, weather and the use of brand versus generic products. Wrapping up the discussion, Helt asked superintendents what their No. 1 challenge would be in 2013. There were plenty of diverse answers.
"For me, it's staying competitive in what I would call an arms race in the Philadelphia area," said Brendan Byrne, superintendent of Llanerch Country Club in Haverton, Pa., a suburb of Philadelphia.
Jim Lynagh (pictured at the right), superintendent of the Meadowlands Country Club in Blue Bell, Pa., noted a few challenges. At the top of his list was meeting golfer expectations for stellar conditions under strict budgetary constraints. At the beginning of the year, Lynagh was told that his maintenance budget would remain the same from the previous year but that he should come in under budget.
Lynagh is also concerned about finding good labor. He says he's heavily dependent on the H-2B Visa program, but he's not sure from year to year how many foreign seasonal employees he can get from the program. There's also the issue of retaining members and attracting new ones at the private club.
For Nick Janovich, superintendent at Oglebay Resort in Wheeling, W.Va., the issue is also finding good workers. Janovich is in competition with the area's oil and gas industries, which pay much more than his budget allows for laborers.
"I just can't compete," Janovich said.
David Dickson, superintendent of the Allegheny Country Club in Sewickley, Pa., is concerned that he won't be able to give his crew members pay raises money is tight. He's worried that some of them will leave.
Mike Giuffre, director of golf course maintenance at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md., said his biggest challenge is figuring out what constitutes fast and firm putting greens, especially when that request comes from several members.
"How fast is too fast?" Giuffre asked. "What is the acceptable range of firmness?"
Brett Bentley, the superintendent of Pikewood National Golf Club in Morgantown, W.Va., says he expects a few continued agronomic challenges, mainly from bacterial wilt and nematodes, which have become a problem in the area. Bentley also wants to do his part to land the club in the top-100 rankings.
"That's my owner's goal, and that's what we're pushing for next year," Bentley added.
As superintendent of Merion Golf Club's East Course, Arron McCurdy already has a course in the top 100, and it's way up the list. But McCurdy has a few things weighing on his mind next year. They're not challenges as much as they are hopes. McCurdy is hoping for good growing conditions leading up to the 2013 U.S. Open in June, which Merion is hosting. Of course, he's also hoping for a great tournament.