Reflecting the mindset of many Americans with the nation’s two U.S. presidential candidates, several golf course superintendents are dismayed with having the choice of Democrat Hillary Clinton or Republican Donald Trump as the country’s next commander in chief when they go to the polls to vote on Nov. 8.
“I’m going to vote for Trump…I guess,” says Brian Stiehler, a registered Republican and the certified golf course superintendent at Highlands Country Club, a private 18-hole facility in Highlands, North Carolina. “He is the lesser of two evils. Being an American, I can’t not vote.”
Mitchell Wilkerson, the director of golf and grounds maintenance at the 36-hole Moss Creek, a private club in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, says he doesn’t like either candidate but is leaning toward voting for Clinton.
“At least she is experienced enough,” says Wilkerson, noting that he used to be Republican but is now an Independent. “Trump is a loose cannon. I still think it’s a publicity stunt that he’s pulling.”
Matt Doran, the golf course superintendent at The Links of Groveport, an 18-hole municipal course in Groveport, Ohio, is on the fence, noting that he doesn’t trust Clinton but that Trump is too unpredictable.
“Honestly, I don’t know who I’m voting for, or if I’m going to vote for either candidate,” says Doran, noting that he’s more of a Democrat than a Republican.
Also disenchanted with the two nominees is Rick Slattery, the golf course superintendent at Locust Hill Country Club, a private 18-hole course in Rochester, New York, who says he might vote for one of the third candidates: the Green Party’s Jill Stein or the Libertarian Party’s Gary Johnson.
“I don’t like the idea of continuing all of President Obama’s programs under Clinton,” says Slattery, an Independent. “I don’t think Trump is fit for office with some of the things he has said.”
Tim Hiers, the director of agronomy at the Club at Mediterra in Naples, Florida, equates picking a candidate to picking between two doors: one with a 30 percent of a grizzly bear behind it, and one with a 100 percent chance of a grizzly bear behind it.
“While I don’t like the choices, I’m going to take the door with the 30 percent chance of a grizzly bear behind it, which would be Donald Trump,” Hiers says. “He would not have been my candidate, but he is a successful businessman and knows how to negotiate. What I don’t like about him is that he is brass and he talks before he thinks, at times. But I think he will fight for our country.”
According to the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll at press time, Clinton and Trump are the two most unpopular presidential cand-idates in more than 30 years: 56 percent of adults view Clinton unfavorably compared with 63 percent who feel the same about Trump.
While they are concerned about who will be president and how the nation’s next leader could impact the golf course maintenance industry, superintendents also are troubled with the emergence of extreme politics on the right and the left and the impact it could have on the industry and their lives.
Stiehler, an elected public official who holds the title of commissioner in Highlands, North Carolina, is disenchanted with the nation’s two-party system, noting that both parties lean to extremes. Stiehler says the nation needs a presidential candidate who will lean to the middle. He adds that it will take an “outsider” to turn things around.
“I’m not saying that person is Donald Trump, but it’s going to take someone outside of Washington…someone with a business background and someone who isn’t worried about what everybody else thinks,” he notes.
No matter who is elected, Wilkerson is still concerned about gridlock in Washington, D.C.
“It floors me,” says Wilkerson, a past president of the Carolinas Golf Course Superintendents Association, of the situation in Washington. “It just seems like there is no democratic process anymore. …When you see that, you know that it’s broken. When you (are elected) to Congress, you are supposed to figure things out.”
Slattery says the extreme right and left groups “are running the show and pulling us away from the middle.”
Hiers says the mainstream media, from news outlets to radio talk show hosts, is not helping matters because it often leaves pertinent information out of reports.
“People will have a skewed platform to vote from,” he adds.
Superintendents are also concerned about several issues that will impact the election. According to a recent Superintendent magazine survey con-ducted on Twitter, 60 percent of 125 superintendents answered “labor” when asked, “In the upcoming presidential election, what issues are of most concern to you as a golf course superintendent?” Fourteen percent cited “immigration.” The other 26 percent was split between “environment” and “health care.”
Most superintendents answered “labor” for a few reasons, one being they are having problems finding reliable employees to work on their maintenance crews. That includes Stiehler, who says he had a very difficult time filling his staff this year with seasonal laborers who embrace their jobs.
“If you don’t have a reliable staff, you can’t ever move forward,” Stiehler says.
Doran also has had problems finding reliable employees. “It has been hard to fill open positions,” he says, noting his labor budget is under for the year.
But what concerns Doran more is a potential increase in the minimum wage by state or federal law, which could severely impact his and other golf courses’ maintenance budgets. Several states have passed laws increasing the minimum wage: New York raised the minimum to $15 per hour in increments over the next several years.
“It’s just outlandish to me to think that we can raise the minimum wage and have small businesses, including some golf courses, survive,” Doran says.
Doran recently had discussions with his superiors about raising the course’s minimum wage from $8.13 to $9.50 or $10 to attract much-needed employees to his staff. But then he learned from some of his peers in the area that they increased minimum wage to $10 and still were having problems filling their staffs.
Slattery once was more concerned about environmental regulations in New York, but lately his worries have change to labor issues, including the nation’s new overtime rule, as well as that state’s increase in minimum wage.
The overtime rule goes into effect Dec. 1. Today, only employees who earn less than $23,660 are eligible for time-and-a-half pay after putting in more than 40 hours a week. But come Dec. 1, that threshold will rise to those earning up to $47,476.
Because of the new overtime rule, some staff members on Slattery’s crew may be reduced to hourly wages instead of a salary to decrease the club’s costs. The boost in minimum wage could lead to a smaller golf course maintenance crew in coming years.
“It scares me,” Slattery says.
According to the Pew Research Center, 58 percent of Americans favor increasing the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $15. Eighty-two percent of Clinton supporters favor raising the minimum wage to $15, while 76 percent of Trump supporters oppose it.
“New York is a very liberal state,” Slattery says. “If there’s any indication of where our country is going to go, I think a microcosm would be looking at New York state.”
Regarding immigration, Stiehler has no problems with Trump’s views on the topic.
“I don’t support illegal immigration, and I won’t hire (illegal immigrants),” says Stiehler, who serves as the government relations chairman on the Carolinas Golf Course Superintendent Association’s board of governors.
“Trump just wants immigrants here legally. I can’t say I disagree.”
Trump says he wants to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border to keep out illegal immigrants. But Wilkerson says a wall separating the U.S. from Mexico won’t stop illegal immigrants from coming into the country.
“It doesn’t take a wall, it takes a better system,” Wilkerson adds, noting he favors deporting immigrants who are here illegally.
Hiers is concerned with the number of immigrants coming to the country illegally because he believes America won’t be able to sustain them all in the future.
“I don’t blame people for wanting to come here,” Hiers says. “But a life boat can only hold so many people.”
Doran isn’t exactly sure where he stands on immigration. While he feels immigrants deserve a chance to work and succeed in the U.S., they need to be here legally and pay taxes, he adds.
For years, golf courses have employed legal and illegal im-migrants. But with states beefing up patrol and legislation to keep out illegals, golf courses have noticed a shortage of immigrant workers. In the golf industry’s case, the notion that immigrants are taking all the jobs in golf course maintenance is debatable.
“These people are not coming here and taking our jobs,” Stiehler says. “They are doing jobs that no American wants to do.”
As far as the environment, superintendents are less concerned about future regulations no matter who gets elected or what Congress might pass into law.
“I don’t see anything on the radar that is a huge red flag,” Stiehler says.
Matters of Concern
In the upcoming presidential election, what issues are of most concern to golf course superintendents?
- 60% – Labor
- 14% – Immigration
- 13% – Environment
- 13% – Healthcare
*Based on 125 responses from a Twitter poll conducted in September
Chemical companies have helped quell environmental con-cerns by developing safer and softer chemistries with more half-life, Wilkerson says
“We’re not getting as much environmental public pushback as we used to,” he adds.
Slattery, whose course is a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary, says the industry has done environmentally.
“In recent years, we are one of the few industries that has taken a proactive approach to reducing inputs,” he adds.
Superintendents are concerned about the Environmental Pro-tection Agency’s and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Water of the United States (WOTUS) rule, which is under the Clean Water Act. In a nutshell, WOTUS changes what surface waters will come under federal regulation versus state regulation, which could impact golf course maintenance as well as golf course design and construction.
“The clarity of the rule could make things more difficult for us in the future,” Doran says.