Have you ever punched the numbers on your telephone slowly because you really didn’t want to talk to the person on the other end of the line – but you know you had to make the call?
Such was the case when I dialed up Jon Lobenstine, director of agronomy for Montgomery County (Maryland) Golf Courses in suburban Washington, D.C., when I was the senior communications director for the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA).
I was well aware my timing couldn’t have been worse. Winter was giving way to spring, the extra summer help was still in school, and golfers were antsy to get on the course.
My mission was to secure a few superintendents to participate in National Golf Day in mid-April in Washington. Their job would be to man a display in the Rayburn Office Building on Capitol Hill, sharing with others the measures they take to ensure golf courses don’t negatively impact the environment. I made my call with the anticipated feeling of rejection, feeling much like I did in high school asking the cute girl in English class to prom.
Not only was the timing terrible, but the job wasn’t all that glamourous. While other superintendents were meeting with congressmen and their staffs in posh offices, Lobenstine and his mates would be standing all day while a steady stream of lawmakers, staff and other bureaucrats made their way to the various displays.
They were competing for their attention against swing simulators, a mini putting green, the Ryder Cup trophy and an appearance from Corey Pavin. Who would want to talk about grass?
My angst quickly subsided when Lobenstine’s response matched that of a child who had just been told his family was going to Disney World. Not only did he immediately say “yes,” but he began constructing elements of the display over the phone with me. I began to think we would need the whole Washington Mall to stage what he had in mind.
My call to Lobenstine was made just over five years ago. Last month, along with fellow members of the Mid-Atlantic Association of Golf Course Superintendents (MAAGCS), Lobenstine participated in his fifth National Golf Day. While the chapter rotates representatives among its board, Lobenstine’s experience and understanding of the lay of the land resulted in him being named a “permanent” representative of the Rayburn lobby brigade. (NOTE: The group had to awaken by 3:30 a.m. to go to a staging yard to pass through security and have their vehicle checked. Their IDs had to be submitted weeks before to gain clearance.)
“It’s important that superintendents have a voice,” Lobenstine says. “You can’t get much closer to the action than Washington, D.C., so our chapter jumped at the opportunity. We have always had members involved in government relations. I guess I have been a part of the lobby exhibit every year because I know the security guards to get us a good parking spot and access with our materials.”
Lobenstine and his band of advocators have attacked the task at hand with passion and creativity. What was a small, one-table display in year one has expanded to multiple tables packed with grass seed, grass plugs, irrigation heads, bunker sand, tools (soil probes, prisms, cup cutters, moisture sensors, etc.), videos, posters, handouts and more. To say there is a bit of curiosity would be an understatement.
“The first year we were tucked away in the room, and we were overshadowed by other aspects such as the hitting bays and the Ryder Cup trophy,” Lobenstine says. “But since then we have a better location, and we have added to our display. We get a lot of questions. The people have no idea what we do to protect the environment. It’s good to be able to tell our story. I would say 99 percent of our conversations are positive.”
One of the primary responsibilities of any association is to advocate for its members. That’s why the GCSAA executes government and public relations programs. But the truth of the matter is the success of the initiatives lie in the engagement of and execution by members.
With members like Jon Lobenstine and his fellow MAAGCS members, success has more than a fighting chance.