Thursday, October 2, 2014

Water and conservation survey launches

Environmental management is a bit of a “buzz word” in our line of work, and for good reason. Within our inner circles of the golf industry, we realize how responsible we are with nutrient and water management, habitat development, Integrated Pest Management (IPM), Best Management Practices (BMPs), and so forth. And while many of our golfing constituents see these practices embraced and employed each time they hit the links, that may not be true of the general public and our legislators.

The point is, perception is reality; but perception isn’t always aligned with reality. We find ourselves in an era where words like sustainability, going green, organic and stewardship are used to describe practices that govern many industries across the board. And while I think many of us embrace our environmental progressiveness, we need to do a better job of communicating it.

That’s why GCSAA is seeking your help in gathering data about our water and conservation practices. Collected data will be compared to information gathered in 2006 and used to gain a picture of water and environmental stewardship in the profession.

Complete the survey online until Nov. 17 »

For more information, please visit the Golf Course Environmental Profile overview. I want to encourage all golf course superintendents (GCSAA members and non-members) to be champions for this effort. Together, we can use this material for the advocacy and betterment of our profession as we communicate the good things happening on our golf courses. And as always, thank you in advance for your commitment.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Golf's popularity growing again?

If you watched the PGA Championship on Sunday, there is no need to explain the thrilling finish golf fans everywhere got to experience as play came down the stretch at Valhalla. With three of the tour's most popular players battling to the end, pressed by expiring daylight, executing nasty-good shots with jaw-dropping drama and excitement, it was simply great golf to watch. You had one of the game's long-time fan favorites and a savvy vet Phil Mickelson, who doesn't know the meaning of conservative golf. You had young, budding star Rickie Fowler, who brings color to the game (literally, check out his outfits) and who had finished top 5 in all three previous majors to that point. And then you had red-hot Rory Mcllroy, fresh off a win at the British Open, oozing with confidence as he stared down tee shots and playing so well that you probably would have spontaneously combusted should you got near him. Yes, we have some stars on the rise, and they can captivate an audience.

Case in point, this PGA Championship was the highest rated in 5 years (source:, since a time when -- you guessed it -- Tiger Woods was battling atop the leaderboard to win yet another major championship. Ironically he didn't, as he wound up losing to the one-hit wonder Y.E. Yang. Granted, I'm a fan of golf and probably would have been following the finish at Valhalla regardless of who was in contention. But that finish, it was one for the books. And while Rory and Rickie may not have quite that polarizing draw that Tiger always brings to the game, I think they come close.

Rickie goes about it with a quiet confidence and bright clothing. But he represents a new generation that isn't afraid to push the style envelope a little bit on the golf course. After all, we need to embrace a new generation of golfers in order to the grow the game. He is one of those players who goes about his business in seemingly all the right ways, with a little bit of flash here and there. It seems like you just can't help but root for the guy. Then you add in the fact that he's 5'9'' and 150 lbs. dripping wet, and it gives little guys hope that they can still hit the long ball even without the 6'2" frame to create that ridiculous leverage through the golf swing. And let's not forget -- he's an American!

Then you have Rory, a humble young Irishman, who may wear his confidence on his sleeve a bit more than Rickie, but probably deservedly so. He already has four major championships to his name, and is showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon. Is the plot thick enough for you yet? Because you could create a narrative of Rickie being cast in Rory's shadow as he tries to start capturing major championships of his own, and maybe even a scenario in which he finally capitalizes and beats Rory down the stretch. It's even more exciting when you add in that they are close in age, with Rory being 25 and Rickie being a year older at 26 -- oh, and the fact that they hail from two different countries.

For all that Tiger vs. Phil used to be, I think this can be just as good. We even have an added narrative of these two facing each other every other year in the Ryder Cup. I don't know about you, but coming off that finish at Valhalla, with these two playing that well, it makes me that much more excited to see what the 2014 Ryder Cup has in store. Coming off a wrenching loss to the Europeans on home soil at Chicago's Medinah Country Club, Rickie leads the U.S. team over to golf's homeland as they look to avenge their defeat at Gleneagles Hotel. Who knows, maybe this is where Rickie counters and leads the U.S. to an upset victory over the Rory-lead Europeans.

So tell me, do you think golf's popularity is on the rise?

Monday, August 4, 2014

What's WOTUS?

WOTUS. What is it? Have you heard of it? Do you know anything about it? If not, then let's learn. It falls under the umbrella of government relations, which isn't typically the top contender for categories that people are chomping at the bit to get involved in. However, government relations in our industry is absolutely, positively, undoubtedly necessary. And in this case, pretty urgent.

Let's start from the top -- WOTUS stands for Waters Of The US; the definition contained within the Clean Water Act that dictates the parameters of EPA's jurisdiction over public waters (e.g., lakes, streams, oceans and bays). And right now, there are proposed changes to the language contained in WOTUS. Changes that, if implemented, would have significant managerial and fiscal effects on our industry.

In short, the proposed changes are very vague in language and open to interpretation. If the changes are approved, this could mean the EPA has jurisdiction over an area that has flowing water at any point throughout the year. In other words, if you get a 3-inch rain storm and have runoff flowing across 7 fairway, then that land suddenly falls under the jurisdiction of the EPA. So what does that mean? It means costly permits and susceptibility to huge fines -- up to $37,000 per day. We believe that EPA is overstepping its boundaries with these suggested amendments, and we want to stop it. Please visit GCSAA's Government Relations portal and submit a request for your senator to co-sponsor a bill that would stop these proposed changes. Believe me, this is a BIG deal, and GCSAA has done all the leg-work in providing a template request that just requires some information on your behalf. 

GCSAA is very closely tracking this issue, and we have some strong allies who are also lobbying against these erroneous changes. Please do your part and take action on behalf of yourself, your employer, and the rest of our industry. Thank you in advance for your attention to this matter, and please feel free to reach out should you have any questions regarding this issue. 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Leveraging your qualifications

We talk about how educated golf course superintendents are, and it's true. But do we do a good job leveraging qualifications to increase salaries? To gain clout with our members? To create job security? Some probably do, some probably don't. One would be hard pressed to find another industry that invests in continuing education as much as ours does. Although basic agronomic programs will never change; new products, new technology, evolving legislation and ongoing commitment to environmental programs make the job of a superintendent ever changing and always challenging. But you are qualified to do the job, and do it well. So you should be compensated fairly based on your experience and qualifications.

Have you ever heard of GCSAA's compensation and benefits report? If you haven't, you should take a look at it. This report breaks down industrywide compensation trends using various factors such as facility type, facility location and personal education. The report can be a useful tool, and it's not limited to those starting new employment. Why not use these statistics to leverage a raise during your annual review? If money isn't an option, how about leveraging qualifications to improve your benefits package?

To elaborate further, how about leveraging your "Class A" or "CGCS"? An abundance of educational hours are inherent to these distinctions, and those accomplishments should be communicated to your employer. By communicating these achievements, you just may gain their trust more so than ever before. For example, add "Class A Superintendent" to your business card. Add it to your email signature. Perhaps promote it in a board meeting when the opportunity presents itself.

If you do fall into that category of looking for new employment, take advantage of GCSAA's career services page. There you can gain tips for building your resume and cover letter, explore professional and personal profiles and websites, and grow your understanding of how to negotiate with an employer so that both sides come out happy.

I think sometimes in our industry we want to create a great product for the golfers and stay out of the limelight. But when it comes to negotiating and promoting yourself (and your qualifications) to your superiors, it is time to let your star shine a little bit. After all, you deserve it.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Tourney time

In my opinion, tournament preparation is one of the most exciting experiences in our business. Whether it's this year's member-guest invitational or the PGA Championship, nothing is better than dialing-in the golf course and displaying a product you can be proud of. Although tournament prep always starts with early mornings and ends with late evenings, constant adrenaline makes those long days seem like an afterthought.

Being part of such a large event is only part of the satisfaction, however. The camaraderie gained through these week-long working benders always adds to the enjoyment. It's almost a love-hate relationship in some ways. Nobody (at least not me) enjoys waking up at 3 a.m., but everyone is agonizing together. After that first cup of coffee is down the hatch, and the doughnut spread is before you, the excitement of the day ahead overcomes the nerves and wipes out the drowsiness. 

In retrospect, when a team of 40, 60, even a hundred guys are all swarming back to the shop after a successful morning shift, it's such a gratifying feeling. A feeling of accomplishment. A feeling of fluidity. A feeling of teamwork. It's a large group of guys working in remarkable harmony to accomplish a single goal: championship caliber golf. Teamwork is probably one of the main reasons many of us got into this business to begin with. It's funny how much camaraderie is built among a staff in a single golf season, or even a single golf tournament. You meet someone Monday morning, you spend the next seven days with them mowing tees, eating meals and waking up far before the crack of dawn, and all of a sudden you feel like you've known the person for years. Pretty cool.

For these reasons and others, I'm very much looking forward to working the Quicken Loans National at Congressional Country Club next week. I'm excited to get out on the golf course; I'm excited to meet new people; I'm excited to display a product we can be proud of; and I'm excited to develop new friendships. If you have never been involved in a large tournament prep, I encourage you to add it to your list of career goals. Not only do you broaden your network and meet new people, but you get to see how the hosting organization, agronomy and hundreds of workers come together to accomplish one of golf's greatest spectacles. 

Friday, May 23, 2014

National Golf Day invades DC

WE ARE GOLF. That is the sentiment that echoed throughout Capitol Hill on Wednesday as members of the We Are Golf coalition gathered in support of the game we all love. Included in the day's activities were meetings with congressmen and senators (and/or their staffers), golf exhibits on display in the Canon House building, and media activity that included an appearance by Jack Nicklaus. What a great way to spread the good word about golf's value apart from its intrinsic entertainment advantages.

So what was discussed in our meetings with America's legislators? Well, how about the direct economic impact of golf across the U.S.? It's almost 70 BILLION dollars per year. Or how about the fact that golf employs 2 million American people? Another great example is charitable initiatives. Golf donates more to charity (almost 4 BILLION dollars annually) than the NFL, NHL and MLB combined. Yes, that's right, COMBINED. The list goes on. How about our environmental stewardship and value as community green spaces? Or the value of golf for physical activity - 1,300 calories are burned playing 18 holes, and that's if you take a cart! Do yourself and your industry a favor and commit these stats to memory for the next time you encounter a cynical golf critic.

Specific to GCSAA's agenda during the day's meetings, we spoke to our lawmakers about the proposed language changes to Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS), found within the Clean Water Act. To summarize, the proposed changes are very vague in language and open to interpretation. If the changes are approved, this could mean the EPA has jurisdiction over an area that has flowing water at any point throughout the year. In other words, if you get a 3-inch rain storm, and have runoff flowing across 7 fairway, that then becomes the EPA's jurisdiction. So what does that mean? It means costly permits and susceptibility to huge fines - up to $37,000 per day. We believe the EPA is overstepping its boundaries with these suggested amendments, and we want to stop it. To learn more and request an extension to the comment period for these proposed changes, please visit GCSAA's Government Relations portal. Believe me, this is a BIG deal, and we all need to keep an eye on this issue.

All in all, I would say National Golf Day was a great success. This initiative speaks to advocacy in the highest light, and I believe we can take this model and use it on a state level. Some have already started to do so, and those of us who haven't should be excited to follow their lead. For more about the National Golf Day initiative, the day's activities, or about the We Are Golf Coalition, please check out the website referenced above. For relevant twitter feed, check out #NGD14.

Special thanks to GCSAA's government relations team led by Chava McKeel, who did so much to make this day happen, including setting up dozens of meetings with legislator's offices. Likewise, I'd like to thank my trusty fellas from the Mid-Atlantic GCSA, who manned an extensive turfgrass exhibit throughout the day, complete with different types of sod, irrigation equipment, soil probes and profilers, and even a digital prism to get a close up look at the green-height bentgrass. Lastly, thanks to all the people who made the day possible and all who participated. Afterall, WE ARE GOLF!

Jack Nicklaus addresses the media at National Golf Day.

Shelia Finney of Gaylord Springs Golf Links speaks with a staffer from Representative Marsha Blackburn's office (TN).

JD Dockstader (GCSAA), Matt Shatto (GCSAA) and I prepare for the day's activities on the steps of the Capitol Building. 

Friday, May 16, 2014

Tough questions, educated answers

We work in a wonderful industry that we love for a number of reasons: birds chirping in the early morning, the dawn sun rising through the lifting fog, and the beautiful green landscape that we see as a work of art.

Of course, like any industry, we also have some bummer aspects of our craft that we must face, albeit hopefully not too often. But when we have to face tough questions, particularly those concerning pesticide use, we must be prepared to provide a well-educated, non-defensive, honest answer that can help educate the general public and golfers about what we do on a daily basis. We all need to be responsible for advocating on our industry's behalf, and this is one of those cases.

Recently, an investigative news report was aired on WTAE in Pittsburgh regarding the hazards of pesticides on golf courses. I won't go in to the details of that story, but I want to take the opportunity to discuss how we can handle tough pesticide questions (or accusations) in a professional  manner. An important thing to remember is not to get defensive. Getting defensive in some ways can make you look like you have something to hide. Rather, we should think of this as an opportunity to shed positive light on our industry and the care with which we handle pesticides and environmental management. Likewise, remember to be sympathetic. Emotion is often tied to these topics, and you may find your emotions escalating in your response. Stay calm, and exhibit sympathy. We may not be able to change everyone's mind, but we can share some facts about our industry and pesticides that are proven and backed by science and research.

Please take a look at this document that was developed by GCSAA to ensure that you are prepared for these questions in the future. This may even be a good thing to share with golfers and/or members on your blog, website, newsletter, or through twitter. But always remember - be sympathetic, be sincere, and don't get defensive.