NAMES | John S. Kruse, Ph.D., and Eric Miltner, Ph.D.
TITLES | Agronomists, Koch Agronomic Services
HOMETOWN | Kruse, Wichita, Kansas; Miltner, Atlanta
WHAT’S A DAY IN THE LIFE FOR YOU IN YOUR JOB?:
Kruse: Just like superintendents, I wear a lot of hats. I might start the day working on a research trial protocol in coordination with a university turfgrass researcher, and then make a presentation or provide training on turfgrass agronomics. I help inform fertilizer label discussions and other regulatory issues. An important part of my time is spent supporting our sales team by producing tech sheets and providing agronomic performance data on our products.
Miltner: It could be a lot of things, from visiting research cooperators and reviewing data to helping our sales, marketing or government relations teams find the information they need. I might be visiting with customers providing technical advice or giving a talk to distributor reps or end users on our technologies. Those are the big ones, but there are a whole bunch of other things I might do. It’s what makes the job fun — the fact that there is always something new or different on any given day.
What should golf course superintendents know about your company that they don’t already know?
Kruse: Koch Agronomic Services (KAS) now provides a complete portfolio of enhanced-efficiency fertilizers, including coated, methylene urea and stabilized nitrogen. Our enhanced efficiency fertilizers are designed to help golf course superintendents save time and money, as well as help protect the environment. KAS is also part of the second largest privately held company in America (Koch Industries), which employs more than 60,000 Americans.
Miltner: KAS’s enhanced-efficiency fertilizers help superintendents get more mileage for their fertilizer dollars. With the acquisition of products and expertise formerly owned by Agrium Advanced Technologies (where I came from), we have a full array of products that help get more nitrogen into the plant, with less lost to the environment. Having all these products under one roof makes it easier for blenders and distributors to get the products that superintendents want.
When you’re gone from the golf industry, how do you want to be remembered?
Kruse: Not for my ability to play golf! I would like to be remembered as the guy that was evaluating the quality of the turfgrass when everyone else was watching the putt. There’s just something in my blood that makes me want to help superintendents make their turfgrass better than it is now.
Miltner: I don’t care about being remembered personally, but I do hope that I bring some science to the table that some people will remember down the road. Turf management is part science, part art and a few other things too, but I think that the scientific foundation has to be there.
If you were born 100 years ago, what would you do for a living?
Kruse: I am a scientist at heart, always wondering why things work or grow the way they do, and what we can do to make it better. It was about 100 years ago that Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch synthesized nitrogen from the atmosphere into fertilizer nitrogen, so I imagine I would be part of that team of agronomists that worked on bringing nitrogen science to growers and turfgrass managers.
Miltner: I’m sure it would have had something to do with science and technology, but it’s hard to say exactly what. Maybe it would have been in the developing auto or aerospace industries.
Who is your hero?
Kruse: The guy that was assigned to be the first golf course superintendent. Here’s a fellow that lived on the frigid coast of Scotland and had to figure out how to grow and maintain turfgrass for a new sport played by noblemen, with little more than a herd of sheep to supply the mowing and the fertilizer.
Miltner: My parents. They instilled in me a love of learning. That may have been what led me to my career, where I’m always asking questions, looking for answers and learning every day.
Best thing about the golf industry?
Kruse: The golf community is a lot like a family. The love of the sport is what binds everyone together. The competition is healthy, and no matter what role people play in the industry, everyone is genuinely striving to improve, to do better.
Miltner: I think there’s a common bond among people who like to work outdoors and derive enjoyment from nature and their surroundings.
Worst thing about the golf industry?
Kruse: For an uncoordinated person like me, the fact that the sport is so difficult to play.
Miltner: The industry is misunderstood, or purposefully misrepresented, by many people. We have a good understanding of the science regarding management impacts on the environment around us. There are many who can’t accept this. They are really missing the point; they should realize that golf courses and other turf areas can be a solution to many of the challenges we face, such as wildlife habitat, open green space and stormwater management in our ever-urbanizing culture.
What golf course can’t you wait to get on and why?
Kruse: Pebble Beach Golf Links. My son recently moved to California and introduced me to the rugged beauty of the West Coast. Pebble Beach is a storied course that faces many of the same agronomic challenges as the original courses in Scotland. I would love to hear how the superintendent and his team tackle the challenges of maintaining world-class turfgrass in that environment.
Miltner: St. Andrews and any of the classic courses of Scotland and the British Isles. That is where it all began. I would love to experience that.
Describe golf course superintendents in one word?
Kruse: Professional (and determined!).
Who would you rather play golf with –– Arnie or Jack? Why?
Kruse: Hard to say. Both were gentlemen. Both were the absolute best. Both helped connect the American public to golf and made it fun. Maybe Arnie. He seems like he might have a little more patience for me out on the course.
Miltner: Very difficult choice. Both are giants of the game with great stories to tell over a round of golf. But if I had to pick only one, maybe Arnie. Gotta love a guy who still likes to get on his tractor.
If you were a superhero, who would you be and why?
Kruse: My kids ask me that every day. Probably Iron Man. I’m a technology guy and like to use technology to solve problems.
Miltner: Rational Man. I would have the power to make people truly consider science and research and make science-based decisions.
What do you like to do away from your job?
Kruse: I like hunting, camping and fishing. I just need more time to do them.
Miltner: A nice walk in the woods helps me get away from it all.
What is your all-time favorite song?
Kruse: “God Bless America.” It may seem corny in this day and age, but I love our country and what we still stand for.
Miltner: “This Must be the Place (Naïve Melody)” by Talking Heads
What’s your favorite movie and why?
Kruse: Probably “Star Wars.” It’s really a classic Western movie with a lot of cool technology. There are good guys and bad guys, heroes and villains. It’s just a great story.
Miltner: My wife and I see a lot of movies, so that is a tough question. One of my favorites is “The Usual Suspects.”
Speaking of movies, who’s your favorite character from “Caddyshack” and why?
Kruse: Judge Smails is probably my favorite character, just because he is the complete caricature of the obnoxious country club member.
Miltner: Al Czervik, because he is a technology guy (remember the putter?) Mostly though, it’s because of one line. He sees a hat in the pro shop and says it is the ugliest thing he ever saw, and then sees Smails wearing it and says, “Oh, it looks good on you though.”