Why Does the Industry Lean So Far to the Right?

Mitt Romney will get most superintendents' votes
by By Larry Aylward/Editorial Director

It's safe to assume that most golf course superintendents, as well as others who make the golf course maintenance their profession, will vote for Republican Mitt Romney when they go to the polls on Nov. 6.

Why is that? Why do most superintendents and others who work in the industry prefer red rather than blue?

Matt Shaffer (right), 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.

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.

Weldon Davis, golf course superintendent of the Creek Golf Club in Spartanburg, S.C., 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."

Funny that President Obama is such a golf fan. Can't you see him working in the industry if he was doing something else? Of course, he wouldn't vote Republican, though.

Aylward can be reached at laylward@mooserivermedia.com.