Another Golf Industry Show over. About 12,600 people attended the show Feb. 6 through Feb. 11 at the San Diego Convention Center in – and golf course superintendents will agree – one of the most appealing cities in the United States.
Here are some of the show’s highlights in words and photographs from our time at the show.
The state of the game
Two heads are better than one, as the old saying goes. But how about four heads?
The CEOs of four essential industry organizations – Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GSCAA, Rhett Evans), PGA of America (Pete Bevacqua), National Golf Course Owners Association (NGCOA, Jay Karen) and Club Managers Association of America (CMAA, Jeff Morgan) – participated in an informative, educational and interactive roundtable discussion during the show.
Topics of the discussion, moderated by golf writer and commentator Geoff Shackelford, included sustainability, water conservation, participation, collaboration and the future of the game. The program allowed these industry leaders to share their organizations’ specific insights on all of the challenges mentioned above, and provided them the opportunity to showcase how their organizations are working together to strengthen golf advocacy efforts and communicate with golfers of all ages.
“We’re enthusiastic about where golf is today,” Bevacqua said of the state of the game. “Golf knows it has to be proactive. We learned hard lessons from 2008 to 2010. Golf needs to change with the changing face of America, or we will be left behind.”
Part of that change involves coming up with ways to get younger people to participate in the game, a topic that came up several times during the discussion.
“We should be doing everything we can to make the game fun again,” Evans said.
Morgan, of the CMAA, said this is especially the case at private clubs, where, as he put it, “The cookie cutter model is a fading proposition.”
“We are very focused in bringing the age down at private clubs,” Morgan added. “Also, [we are looking at] how you appeal to the family. We’re focused on membership development. We need to create an environment that’s inviting and family-focused.”
Participation remains a constant concern within the industry, something Karen of the NGCOA spoke about. He said “a key objective is not only bringing people into the game; it’s also imperative [to] keep them involved. Another goal, he said, is to “help golfers understand that brown on a golf course isn’t necessarily bad.”
“How do we get them to understand it’s OK if [a course] is brown?” he added, specifically referring to Chambers Bay, site of last year’s U.S. Open, where brown greens took center stage.
“I actually want to see Tour players playing in tougher conditions more often,” Karen said in regards to the backlash Chambers Bay received from some players, commentators and spectators.
Vittum: Neonics not to blame
Neonicotinoids are fortunate to have Pat Vittum, Ph.D., a professor and researcher at the University of Massachusetts, in their corner. Neonicotinoids have been blamed by environmentalists for causing colony collapse disorder (CCD) in honeybee hives. Vittum, one of the most respected entomologists in the turf industry, said neonicotinoids are not to blame for CCD in the U.S. during a seminar she gave on pesticide stewardship.
Vittum cited the country of Australia as “exhibit A” in proving that neonics are not the problem.
“Australia uses a lot of neonics in production agriculture and in turf, just like we do. And Australia has not had any experiences with colony collapse disorder,” she said.
Vittum also pointed out that Australia does not have varroa mites and tracheal mites, well-known parasites of honeybees in the U.S., that are largely suspected by many for causing CCD here.
“I personally suspect that the mite activity and the general pathogen activity in the bee colonies may be a major part of [what is causing CCD in the U.S.],” she said. “That is the opinion according to Vittum.”
Communication is key
Certified Golf Course Superintendent Tim Hiers and Equipment Manager Mike Koopman gave a presentation titled “Sharpening Your Equipment Manager Partnership,” where they both pointed out the likes and dislikes of equipment managers in a golf course maintenance operation. Hiers, the director of agronomy at Club Mediterra in Naples, Florida, and Koopman, equipment manager at the Old Collier Golf Club in Naples, where Hiers previously was employed, both emphasized the importance of communication to keep an operation running smoothly.
“[Management Consultant] Peter Drucker said that 60 percent of all management problems have to do with poor communication,” Hiers stressed.
“Talk to your equipment manager every day,” Koopman advised. “Sit down with him and have a cup of coffee every morning.”
Hiers also said that superintendents and their crew members should avoid certain pet peeves that can cause equipment managers to throw up their hands.
“What mechanics don’t like is you addressing the symptom rather than the problem,” Hiers said. “For example, diverting money into parts for aging equipment. You don’t put new wine into old wineskins. What mechanics like is better and newer equipment, something they can exercise preventive maintenance with. We have a tendency sometimes to not address the real issue, and we throw money after bad problems.”
Holy insect control, Batman
At the Victoria National Golf Club in Newburgh, Indiana, Assistant Golf Course Superintendent Seth English found a new way to combat insects: bat boxes. Victoria National sits on 960 acres, of which about 400 comprise the golf course. There are plenty of wooded areas and water on and around the Tom Fazio design. The hot and humid weather in the summer brings out the insects, including many mosquitoes, who feast on golfers.
But English had an idea last year to combat the insects: build five bat boxes in-house and post them strategically around the golf course.
“A single brown bat can consume up to 1,000 mosquito-sized insects an hour,” English said.
He also estimates that the bats in each bat box will consume 180 million insects a year – a total of 900 million insects a year.
Taking out turf
When James Alwine arrived at Bernardo Heights Country Club three years ago to become the golf course superintendent, he took notice of his annual water budget: a mere $500,000.
“That’s enough to motivate anybody to take out a little grass and save a little bit of water,” Alwine said at the beginning of his presentation, “Undertaking a Turf Reduction Project: A Case Study at Bernardo Heights.”
So Alwine oversaw a plan to remove 35 acres of turf and replace it with mulch and 16,000 plants on the drought-stricken course.
“We also wanted to bring more color to the course,” he said. “It was wall-to-wall turf.”
The project took five months to complete and cost $2.9 million. But the club’s members didn’t foot the bill; the city’s metropolitan water district picked up the tab as part of a turf buyback program to conserve water.
“We took full advantage of it,” Alwine said.
One thing that didn’t come with the turf reduction program was a reduction in golf course maintenance. A few of the club’s members figured less turf to maintain would mean fewer employees to maintain it, which would equate to the club saving some maintenance dollars. Not so, Alwine said. For instance, the non-turf areas, which are now inhabited by plants, must be constantly maintained for weeds.
“I have a guy out there spraying all the time,” Alwine said.
Winter injury and height of cut
During a presentation titled, “My Turf Is Stressed and So Am I,” Adam Moeller, a United States Golf Association agronomist for the Northeast Region, addressed the impact of mowing heights on winter injury of bentgrass putting greens.
“Mowing heights can exasperate winter injury and allow for more of a chance for winter injury,” he said. “If we slightly raise our mowing heights throughout September, October and November, that will help minimize the potential for winter injury.”
Moeller realizes that golfers desire fast and smooth greens the entire season, but fast and smooth greens aren’t worth the headaches that winter injury can cause.
“Starting in mid-October, slowly raise your cutting heights and use other variables to increase speed like rolling and topdressing,” he explained. “I would suggest a .140- or .150-inch height of cut.”
By gosh, he even looks like Old Tom
There isn’t much that multibillionaire Herb Kohler Jr. hasn’t accomplished in 77 years on this planet. Aside from the global manufacturing company that bears his name, Kohler is a designer, inventor, philanthropist and mega-successful business developer.
He’s also an icon in the game of golf and has been contributing to the sport in various ways for decades. He recently added another honor to his seemingly never-ending list of accomplishments: the GCSAA’s highest honor, the Old Tom Morris Award, which has been presented annually by the association since 1983 to an individual who has helped mold the welfare of the game of golf in a manner and style exemplified by Old Tom Morris – a four-time British Open winner and the longtime superintendent at St. Andrews in Scotland until his death in 1908.
“I’m honored and I sincerely thank the GCSAA for this award,” said Kohler, whose doppelganger could be Old Tom. “I’m delighted and I’ve always been grateful to golf course superintendents. Old Tom was a great man…an entrepreneur, an influence in the creation of the Open Championship, a designer of golf balls and clubs and some of the best courses in the world.
“He was the first official keeper of the greens.”
During the ceremony, Kohler said his inspiration to build a golf course was “thanks to a suggestion box submission at the American Club Resort.” Kohler hired famed architect Pete Dye to build four courses at two championship venues – Blackwolf Run in Kohler, Wisconsin, and Whistling Straits in Haven, Wisconsin. In 2004, Kohler bought the Old Course Hotel Golf Resort and Spa in St. Andrews.