News, views, highlights, lowlights … and bidding goodbye to two industry legends.

What the heck happened? How did we get here? Weren’t we just at the Golf Industry Show in January? Don’t look now, but another year has gone by. The golf course maintenance industry made its share of news, some reported here in our annual year in review.

The Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA) was hoping the 2013 Golf Industry Show in San Diego would attract numbers similar to those reached by the very successful 2012 show in Las Vegas – nearly 15,000 attendees and roughly 177,000 square feet of exhibit space – to build on the newfound momentum the industry had experienced the previous year. The GCSAA came close. Attendance for this year’s show was 13,192, and exhibiting companies covered 172,900 square feet of exhibition space. Despite the slight decline, GCSAA President Pat Finlen was satisfied with the final numbers.

“I think [the show] has bottomed out and is starting to come back up,” Finlen said. “I’m hopeful for the show because it still offers a vital service to our members.”

Up next is a very important Golf Industry Show in Orlando, which usually draws a good crowd. The show’s success could say a lot about the state of the golf course maintenance industry.

Closing time … still

More golf courses will close this year than open. It will be the ninth straight year that this has occurred. Early this year, we asked superintendents: Are golf course closings good or bad for the industry? Seventy-nine percent of superintendents answered, “This is good because the golf industry is overbuilt and needs a correction.” Twenty-one percent answered, “This is bad because it shows the golf industry is in bad shape.”

About 4,000 golf courses opened between 1990 and 2005 – one of every four facilities that exist today – and many of those openings created a supply and demand imbalance, says Joe Nathan, senior vice president for the National Golf Foundation (NGF).

Giving back

Golf rounds spiked more than 6 percent in 2012, mainly because of the wonderful early spring weather throughout the country. The spike was a good sign for a healing industry, nevertheless. Even though the weather was good, golfers were opening their wallets – a good sign.

So expectations were high that rounds would again increase in 2013, not 6 percent, but maybe at least 2 or 3 percent. Alas, rounds are down, more than 4 percent, where they will probably stay for the year.

What happened? Talk about giving back almost everything that was gained.

Ironman

With gunfire ringing in the air less than a mile away, Golf Course Superintendent Clem Wolfrom went about his duties watering the parched bentgrass and Poa annua putting greens and fairways at the Detroit Golf Club.

It was a hot July night in 1967. The gunfire was the result of the ensuing Detroit race riot, one of the deadliest and most destructive riots in U.S. history. The riot began not far from the inner-city Detroit Golf Club and lasted five days.

Wolfrom, who was stranded at the club for a few days because of the violence, was in his fifth season there. He took care of the turf – despite the bullets flying nearby.

“It was scary, but I had to keep the Poa annua alive because it was hotter than hell,” Wolfrom says. “I knew what the result would be if I didn’t – the riot would be over, but my grass would be dead, and then I would be in trouble. I think any superintendent would’ve done the same thing.”

Well, not just any superintendent, but a committed and resolute superintendent like Wolfrom would have. Maybe that’s why Wolfrom lasted as long as he did at the Detroit Golf Club, which features two classic Donald Ross designs.

On March 15, Wolfrom retired from the club after exactly 51 years as its golf course superintendent. He began there on March 16, 1962. It may be the longest tenure of a superintendent at a private club.

The 79-year-old Wolfrom worked an astonishing 57 years as a superintendent, having spent six years previously as superintendent of the Dearborn (Mich.) Country Club.

“He’s an icon in the business,” says Kevin Welp, the man who succeeds Wolfrom at the Detroit Golf Club, which opened in 1906.

Shut your mouth!

It seems that there were turf problems at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, N.C., site of the PGA Tour’s Wells Fargo Championship in May.

Nine days before the tournament, the eighth and 10th greens were resodded. Both had been rebuilt since last year.

You might be thinking, “Yikes, what’s funny about dead turf on greens?”

Nothing.

It turns out, though, that PGA Tour player Johnson Wagner is a Quail Hollow member, and this is where it gets good.

“It went from a perfectly sodded green three weeks ago, which I thought was unbelievable, to being dead,” Wagner reported from the front lines, according to Golfweek.

Wagner, the article informed us, knows what caused the turf to turn. He blamed it on too much topdressing.

Huh?

What did they put down at Quail Hollow, molten lava?

Andy Pazder, the PGA Tour’s chief of operations, rightfully felt compelled to respond, and it was his slap of Wagner that made us smile.

“There were a number of factors involved which contributed to the decline in the conditions of the 10th green, but over-topdressing was not one of them,” he said.

What’s worse than a know-it-all member who knows nothing about turf sticking his nose into the agronomy side of his club’s operations? Answer: A know-it-all member who knows nothing about turf and is a member in good standing of the PGA Tour so that his griping doesn’t just occur in the grillroom, but also in the press room.

Magnificent Merion

It was a tad more than an hour into the opening round of the 113th U.S. Open on Thursday, June 13, and Merion Golf Club’s name was already mud in many people’s eyes.

Merion Golf Club, known for its wicker basket flagsticks, proved a challenging site for the U.S. Open.

Several inches of rain during the week leading up to the tournament and another near half-inch during the morning of the first round would surely transform Merion’s East Course into a Louisiana swamp, or so people thought. It was assumed that for the rest of the tournament the best golfers in the world would beat up on little (6,996 yards), old (born in 1912) and weak-kneed (soft) Merion while golf fans slogged through the boggy course with warm beers in hand.

“You’re not going to see a firm U.S. Open this year,” 1997 U.S. Open winner Ernie Els declared after the final practice round. “I don’t care if they get helicopters flying over the fairways, it’s not going to dry up.”

PGA player Luke Donald said all the rain would surely make the course play easier, which he said would be a shame because it would detract from the normally gut-wrenching and grinding U.S. Open conditions that players have come to lose sleep over.

Well, Els and Donald underestimated magnificent Merion. She beat the starch out of their fancy golf shirts. Nobody finished over par, and Justin Rose’s 1-over par was good enough for the title.

It wasn’t just the undulating greens that had players agog. There was the hellish fine fescue rough.

“I’ve been here for five years, and we’ve been preparing the course to make sure she holds up against the best golfers in the world,” said Arron McCurdy, the then-superintendent of Merion’s East Course.

She sure did. Merion was Hulk Hogan in his heyday. Many players couldn’t escape Merion’s tenacious headlock.

Take that, Tiger

In August, the world’s No. 1 ranked player, Tiger Woods, floundered on Oak Hill Country Club’s East Course, where he was 4-over par for the PGA Championship and lost the event by 14 strokes to Jason Dufner. Woods, who finished tied for 40th place, went home without a major title in 2013.

Interestingly, Woods made more news in regard to Oak Hill a few weeks before the tournament when he criticized Oak Hill’s greens after a practice round.

Tiger Woods, shooting a commercial for the United States Golf Association, took a few shots at the Oak Hill Country Club maintenance staff.

“The greens are spotty, and it’ll be interesting to see what they do because they were running under 9 on the Stimp,” Woods told http://espn.com. “They don’t have much thatch to them, so it’ll be interesting to see what they do for the tournament and how much they’re able to speed them up with kind of a lack of grass.”

It sounded to us like Woods was calling out the Oak Hill maintenance team, led by Jeff Corcoran, and questioning their ability to maintain turf. If anything, Woods unnecessarily embarrassed Corcoran and his staff with his statements.

Turns out that Corcoran and his crew stopped triple cutting and double rolling the greens in preparation for the tournament because the weather had turned hot, humid and wet – a recipe for turf disease. Corcoran didn’t want to push the greens and jeopardize them for the tournament. He did this knowing that players were coming in for practice rounds, but never figured anybody would complain about the green speed during a practice round.

Woods, of course, knows nothing about agronomics when compared to a superintendent of Corcoran’s stature. That’s why we were happy that Corcoran got in the last word regarding the matter – and deservedly so.

“The last time I checked, Stanford University [where Woods went to college but didn’t graduate] didn’t have a turf program,” Corcoran said. “If Tiger lets me hit his second shot into 18 on Sunday [during a major championship], then I’ll let him manage the greens two weeks prior to the championship.”

R.I.P. Dr. Duich, Dr. Watson

In October, the industry lost two of its greatest minds ever – Joe Duich and James Watson.

Duich, Ph.D., the famed longtime professor of turfgrass science at Penn State University, died at 85. He joined the Penn State agronomy department faculty in 1955. He taught thousands of students, many who went on to become golf course superintendents. Duich developed Penn State’s two-year technical program in golf turf management into an internationally recognized program.

Duich may be best known for breeding several groundbreaking turfgrass cultivars, including Penncross, Penneagle, Pennlinks, and the Penn A and G series of creeping bentgrasses. Penncross, which debuted in 1955, is still the top-selling bentgrass in the world.

“Dr. Duich was much more than my most meaningful professional mentor; he was a trusted friend,” said Darren Davis, the certified golf course superintendent at the Olde Florida Golf Club in Naples, Fla., who had Duich as a teacher. “Over the years, Dr. Duich taught me countless valuable lessons, not all of which were agronomic in nature. … Dr. Duich was my confidante, my teacher and my friend. I will miss him more than words can explain.”

Watson, Ph.D., who died in October at 93, joined The Toro Co. in 1952 as director of agronomy.

Before joining the turfgrass industry, Watson served in the U.S. Air Force in World War II as a bombardier on a B-17, flying 14 missions over Germany. He was severely injured in one of the missions and worried for his life. Watson spent 15 months in a hospital.

During his 46 years with Toro, Watson pioneered important turf and water management research around the globe. Many of the world’s leading golf courses, parks and sports facilities frequently sought Watson’s advice and counsel whenever they faced difficult turf challenges.

So it’s on to 2014. Here’s to you having a Happy New Year.

Here’s what impressed us in 2014!