Billed as “the largest education event in the industry,” the Golf Industry Show touches upon all the elements of golf course management, ranging from agronomics, to communications, the environment, leadership and business management. Education occurs in the formal classroom seminar format as well as panel discussions, large general sessions and small trade show presentations. 

The weather is spectacular and dozens of golf courses are just minutes away.

So what are hundreds of people who make their living working outside as members of the golf industry doing cooped up for hours in a convention center meeting room listening to speakers, reading manuals and taking exams?

It’s the allure of knowledge and learning that draws golf industry professionals from around the world to the Golf Industry Show. And despite the proliferation of online education and video conferencing, few believe the in-person experience will go away any time soon, if at all.”

“Online education has been important for superintendents,” says Boca Rio Golf Club’s Bob Randquist, CGCS. “But I just don’t see the physical meeting format declining. We are a collaborative group and thrive on the interaction and sharing of ideas.”

The Golf Industry Show education conference offers a diverse menu in virtually every aspect, including subject matter, format, instructor background, length of session and setting. It is this variety – and necessity to stay abreast of the latest in golf course management – that makes education the top draw at the GIS. This year, the event will be held Feb. 4-9 at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida.

“Education has always been important to superintendents,” says Northmoor Golf Club’s Tommy Witt, CGCS. “Our association was founded to conduct education and share information. I’ve always said that for superintendents, continuing education is not optional, it is a necessity.”

golf industry show 2017As the GIS approaches, Superintendent took the opportunity to talk with a handful of veteran instructors to learn more about them and the subjects they teach.

Tommy Witt, CGCS – Northmoor Golf Club, Illinois

Tommy Witt had an epiphany some 30 years ago when he as the superintendent was invited to his first annual membership meeting. As he looked over the documentation, he noticed various revenue items listed under centers for which he was responsible. It was the genesis of his first course he taught for GCSAA – “The Golf Course Superintendent as a Profit Center.”

“I’m sitting there reviewing the first annual financial report that I had ever been privy to as a golf course superintendent. More than a few paramount details caught my attention and the impact that as the golf course superintendent I played a huge role in revenue generation and contribution to the success of my club. Initiation fees, guest fees, monthly dues, cart fees, etc., combined for millions of dollars in revenue that related directly to golf,” Witt says. “The light came on. I thought that this was something all superintendents could use to their advantage and value in the eyes of their employers.”

While Witt is not teaching that particular course at the GIS this year, he is teaching three management-related topics: 1.) Strategies for the Effective Superintendent – Writing the Annual Review and Successful Negotiating Tactics; 2.) Beyond Average; 3.) Evaluating Career Options. He has taught the first course with Bruce Williams, CGCS, for more than 10 years, while the other two are new this year. While Witt sees good attendance for his courses, he wistfully wishes more superintendents would invest in this type of education.

“There was next to nothing being taught regarding management when I was starting my career,” Witt says. “But today the superintendent has to know and be able to do more than just grow grass. They are in key leadership positions, personnel managers, finance managers, department heads and so on. They need to be well-rounded. If I had to do it all over again, I would take more of those classes.

“Superintendents tend to gravitate to the agronomic courses. They are important, but I think those that take classes in leadership, relationship building, financial management, etc., are just a few of the nonagronomic skill sets that we need to expose ourselves to in order to meet the wide-ranging expectations of our employers.”

Mike Richardson, Ph.D., University of Arkansas

An instructor at the Golf Industry Show since 2008, Mike Richardson appreciates the change of pace the setting provides.

“In the classroom, you are dealing with students who are taking education on a daily basis,” Richardson says. “You get some who might check out from time to time, or those who are there because they have to have the class to graduate. They aren’t always engaged. That’s understandable – they’re kids. But at the GIS, you have people who want to be there and want to learn. I have found that refreshing.”

Richardson got his start by submitting a proposal to teach. He, along with fellow Razorback Doug Karcher, Ph.D., will teach the eight-hour “Gadget and Gizmos — How to Best Use Measurement Technology” class for the eighth year. His two-hour “Fundamentals of Foliar Fertilization” is in its fifth year. Ironically, the course focusing on technology is more challenging for Richardson and Karcher because of technology.

“We used to be able to unveil several new tools each year,” Richardson said. “Now, because of Twitter, everyone is sharing information. There aren’t many secrets anymore. It keeps us on our toes to keep the content fresh or add something about a device that very few people know. The ability to communicate and share through social media has been a big benefit to the profession.”

Cale Bigelow, Ph.D., Purdue University

The biggest change in Cale Bigelow’s 13 years of teaching at the Golf Industry Show is the inclusion of economics in the discussion. The focus on sustainability – people, planet and profit – is now a key element of his curriculum. He joins Dan Dinelli, CGCS at North Shore Country Club, in teaching “Conventional vs. Natural Organic Fairway Management Programs: Efficacy, Economics and Value,” and is in his third year of teaching “Promoting Soil Health to Enhance Turf Growth and Quality.”

“These people are businessmen,” Bigelow says.  “They have customers to please and budgets to manage. We cannot limit ourselves as to what it means to grow healthy turf and that relationship with the environment. We need to explore costs and if customers will spend money for our product.”

Bigelow and Richardson see the value in teaching at the Golf Industry Show as a mutually beneficial experience for them. Not only do they see it as an opportunity to give back to the profession and GCSAA, but it also fuels their work, in part.

“You get a diversity of students in terms of course type and geography,” Bigelow says. “So, you get some wide-ranging discussions. Sometimes I find the inspiration to conduct research or develop a class from the attendees. If they ask me something I don’t know or think would make a good seminar, I go back and study it. Some of the best ideas come from teaching superintendents.  They have problems and need help finding a solution for them.”

Bob Randquist, CGCS – Boca Rio Golf Club, Boca Raton, Fla.

Bob Randquist has seen big changes in golf course management in his nearly 50 years of working on golf courses. Right at the top – or at least near the top – is bunker management. The big influencer, he says, is changing golfer perceptions. No longer is it acceptable to have bunkers play as a hazard. Now, the expectation is that bunker conditions should rival those found on other structures. It is a key focus in Randquist’s seminar: “Hazardous Duty: Basic Bunker Maintenance.”

“I track my labor hours,” Randquist says. “It used to be I spent 10 percent on bunkers. Today that number is 22 to 24 percent. The golfers see what the pros get week in and week out on television, and they want it, even though it is not realistic.”

Randquist has taught the half-day seminar for more than 10 years and draws upon his own experience at public and private courses, as the host of professional events and the input of his peers around the country. They talk about such issues as the quality of sand, drainage, liners and access. But the most popular feature is a role-playing exercise where he has attendees divide themselves into green committees and elect a chair.

“We do some role-playing and I’ll facilitate the conversation with questions that need to be discussed,” Randquist said. “What I am trying to get them to do is communicate and come to a consensus. That is really what superintendents want. They want clear direction on the expectations. Superintendents need to be good communicators as well as to the implications of high expectations.”

Beth Guertal, Ph.D., Auburn University

Auburn University’s Beth Guertal loves teaching superintendents because she is learning with them.

“I probably get more out of the sessions than they do,” Guertal chuckles. “I think a lot of us (teachers) feel that way. We’ll get a question for which there is no answer, so we go back and begin a research project to find the answer.”

Guertal will teach three different classes: a long-standing favorite on fertilizer development and technology, a soil fertility seminar for the second year and a panel moderator on research. Like Bigelow and Richardson, she sees a different student at the Golf Industry Show than in her university position. She says there is less inhibition when it comes to asking questions or having discussions, unlike those in college who Guertal says are reticent to engage in discussion.

An instructor at GIS since 2001, she says the basics of her classes don’t necessarily change, but the content is influenced by the presence of new products and a greater examination of the environmental impact. She also believes she teaches with less emphasis on theory and more on problem-solving.

“These people are on the front lines,” Guertal says. “They are going back to their courses and either have or will soon have challenges to meet. I take the approach that I want them going home with something they can use immediately. I want it to be directly applicable to their work.”

Read more: Guide to the Golf Industry Show 2017