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.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Tweet tweet tweet

This week I attended a social media roundtable at Independence Golf Club in Midlothian, VA. Among those in attendance, curious superintendents wanted to learn how to better utilize social media to help them gather relevant information that is floating around the ever-expanding world wide web. The main social media players, as most of you know, are Facebook and Twitter.

In my opinion, Twitter is the most applicable for golf course superintendents. Why? Because you search keywords, post pictures, hashtag a topic, and communicate directly to other tweeters. Most people seem to use Facebook more for family and close friends, while Twitter can be used more for business purposes, although that doesn't mean you can't share personal information there as well. Furthermore, you can tweet out course conditions, cart restrictions, or frost delays to members of your club. And even link that post to Facebook so it will automatically post to your Club's Facebook page.

As far collecting and sharing relevant information to those managing turf in the state of Virginia, David McCall, pathologist at Virginia Tech, suggested they start a hashtag campaign that is #VATurf. This way, everyone interested in sharing information about turf news in Virginia can use that hashtag, and make it easily findable by simply searching that hashtag on Twitter. Likewise, many industry companies and organizations share relevant news and information through Twitter. The beauty in this is how fast you can receive that information right into the palm of your hand. For example, GCSAA, Toro, Jacobsen, Syngenta, USGA, PGA, many professors and other vendors all have Twitter handles that are active daily.

No need to be overwhelmed - you can simply open a twitter account (, create a username (a handle), and start following people to get an idea of what Twitter is all about. Don't even worry about posting until you get a feel for how the whole Twitter world operates. As far as finding people to follow, you can import your contacts into Twitter, and that will give you a starting point.

If you need help getting started, or have questions along the line, feel free to contact me and I will be happy to help you work through the kinks to becoming more connected.

Superintendents and industry reps gather for a Twitter tutorial and roundtable at Independence Golf Club.

Friday, March 28, 2014

The passing of old man winter

This winter has served up quite a platter of brutally cold temperatures, record snow falls and its fair share of stress on golf course superintendents in the region. While I'm sure we're all ready to hear spring birds chirping, smell fresh-cut grass and tackle spring aeration, let's take a minute to reflect on what our good friend the polar vortex brought to the table over the previous five months.

Could cold temperatures mean a cutback in nematode and other insect populations? Opinions vary, from what I've heard. On one hand, you would think a freeze as deep as we experienced this winter would really cut back overwintering populations. On the other hand, some believe the effect isn't so cut and dry. Some people I've spoken with believe there must be a short period of warm temperatures to stimulate biological activity, and then a drastic drop in temperature that knocks out the emerging populations. Well, at least in the Pittsburgh area, both of the given scenarios have occurred. Time will tell, but I'm sure it would be a welcoming development if nematode populations decreased heading in to the season.

Tree pruning and/or removal: This one can go either way. I've talked with a couple of people who had ice storms take down trees they have been wanting to get rid of for years. See, winter isn't so bad! But on the other end of the spectrum, some guys had trees taken out that they absolutely did not want to see go (see Eisenhower tree at Augusta). Either way, hopefully this winter at least you had the opportunity to get outside and catch up on any pruning that needed attention.

We'll also learn more about ice cover and cold tolerance of bermudagrass. While ice cover is not something new to superintendents around here, and literature widely states that ice can be tolerated for as many as 120 days, it still doesn't ease your mind when your greens are sitting under 4 inches of ice. Until we really start to see grass greening up, any winterkill will remain a mystery. With bermudagrass now being utilized as far north as Philadelphia, this winter will be quite a test of endurance for those courses experimenting with the C-4 grass. Again, time will tell.

Regardless of whether you enjoyed the dramatic stormy theatrics of old man winter, or loathed its existence more than ironing your entire wardrobe of golf shirts, let's keep our fingers crossed that this summer will be the best grass-growing season in memory. Here's to warmer temperatures!