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Dave Wilber: Turfgrass Zealot

The Turfhead Mysteries, Part 1.1

  Posted in Turfhead Mysteries 08 June 2010 · 957 views


This next series of Turfgrass Zealot posts is going to be a challenge for me. As much as I really didn't want to become a "blogger in the first place, I REALLY don't want to tackle a series. Especially this series. But I polled some people who I call friends and they put me up to saying I would do this. Of course, they are probably the same "friends who would let me drink SeviMol, just to see me do "The Worm. Yet, though, I still listen.


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Turfheads are a magical breed. They don't think like regular people and they really aren't aliens. But there are things that they do, universally, that often just make no sense. Call it culture. Call it "The Biz". Call it just being a monkey; it just plain happens. And it's not just some regional thing where you can blame the air or the type of grass that gets grown or the existence of a particular Veruca Salt-like gadfly overseeding us all with their ideas on how to grow grass. In my travels, I have seen these things as universal misunderstood truths. Turfhead Mysteries.


I'm going to change a lot of names to protect the innocent and the morons here. I'm also going to give some examples to illustrate points. By no means does that mean I am targeting anyone. I can't do this and water it down to the point that it has no teeth.


Part 1.1

In Which the Turfhead Complains Endlessly About A Bedfellow and Still Sleeps With Them Anyway.

In every geographical area I have ever visited, there is a regional company, distributor or even salesperson that everyone talks about as being the absolute worst at what they do. It's not a now and again thing, it is a constant. I've seen it as a Super, as a Consultant, as an Advisor, as a Sales Rep and even as an expert witness. I've even seen it on vacation. Start a conversation about products and services with a Golf Course Superintendent about who they do business with and you will hear about the company that usually does everything right and the company that always does everything wrong.


The conversation about the company or rep or whomever always getting it right is usually brief and to the point. It's their job. It's what they are supposed to do. End of story.

Posted ImageThe conversation about the distribution version of the Village Idiot is always the long one. It is a yarn spun of the stupid stuff said company or individual does. The story is often spiced with myriad examples of crossing the line of just plain stupidity. Bad service. Obscene prices. Wrong deliveries. General cluelessness. The stories are always flavored with the resulting hassles that occurred, the lost hours and the overall frustration of not getting what you want, when you want it and how you want it.

The story is often filled with all kinds of examples of crossing the line of just plain stupidity. Bad service. Obscene prices. Wrong deliveries. General cluelessness.

When I was growing grass, I thought often that is was just me: I must be too hard on them I must have expectations that are just too grand, much like lots of my members I need to chill. So before you go thinking that I don't know what I'm talking about, let me express my guilt right here. Cuff me. I'm a Turfhead. I've bought from the idiots too, complained about them, fought with them and still thrown the bones.


I may not have the answer to this mystery. I have polled dozens of grass folk and the conversations were often startling, distilling down to things like: "I just feel sorry of the guy, he's such an idiot and I figured that I'd help him out", or "The club has always bought that product line, so I didn't change". Some of the distillations didn't taste good at all, like  "I don't know" or "At least I know what they are all about". Mind boggling.


A lot of Turfheads were pretty honest about some of their thinking. Some were clear that they don't care about the rep's ineptitude or the company's ability to mess up the billing, they just need the product. That's fair. In a lot of places, it often seems like there is always a particular company with a particular exclusive and if you want that exclusive thing, you have to just grin and order.

Others were willing to overlook challenges with bad products, because some stone tablet of theirs had some kind of Agronomic Commandment that said, "Thou Shalt Not Change"

Others were willing to overlook challenges with bad products, because some stone tablet of theirs had some kind of Agronomic Commandment that said, "Thou Shalt Not Change". This is particularly true with consumables like topdressing sand. It doesn't matter how bad the quality of the material gets, it's got to be used. Crazy.


I may not have the answer to this mystery. There probably isn't one, actually. But I wonder if maybe some people would be better off if they looked real hard at these choices and perhaps question themselves on what they are doing. And I always wonder if someone wouldn't be doing Ol Yeller a favor and just pulling the trigger when a relationship can't ever produce fruit.


One super told me about a rep who broke all the rules so many times that it just got into complete absurdity. He finally walked in on the rep as he was rummaging through the papers on his desk. Even the yelling match that ensued didn't seem to make a difference. The Sales Monkey showed up again, without an appointment and walked right into an employee review session. That was, as they say, the last drop in the bucket. The super called the company HQ, cancelled the club's account and made it perfectly clear that if said rep showed up anywhere on property he would be considered trespassing. Extreme? Maybe. Necessary? Probably. When it gets that bad, it's time to do something. It's time to just say "No".


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One of the most interesting Rain Day/Down Day/ "Safety Meeting" conversations for me is always to hear the follies of companies that just have to be "in the golf business" in some form or another, but don't have a a clue how to sell, service, bill, deliver, produce product or even have a clue what really goes on at a golf facility behind the scenes. They don't learn the lessons and embrace the culture. They don't even try to understand how hard the job can be. And that's a shame.


Yes, the stories are often funny, like the time a superintendent told me about the new local rep who stopped every week to pitch his pitch to the guys at the caddie shack because he "couldn't find the maintenance shop. But what wasn't funny was the same super telling me that to get this guy to go away, he "threw him a bone". Gee. Do you think he'll remember where he got his last bone from? Interesting. You should have seen the look on his face when I swung at the high hanging curveball he threw me. "Did you let your favorite Caddie order?, I said.



Turfhead Mystery 1.2 will deal with an interesting corollary to 1.1:

In Which The Turfhead Becomes Blinded By Beer and Chicken Wings.


The Telegraphic Dynamics of a Successful Summer

  Posted in Agronomy 13 April 2010 · 891 views

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Here is Spring and that means Summer has the throttle twisted in a pre-run burnout and is headed our way. Summer means all kinds of things to turfgrass managers. Long days, different grass types and their needs, kids out of school and their needs, long days, golfers, irrigation issues, long days and of course, long days. For almost all of us, it is make or break time.


Why am I talking about this now? I have seen clearly that successful summer survivors are always months ahead of the game as it comes to preparing. One superintendent who was always way ahead of the curve explained that if he didn't start sending his turf telegrams way before the dog days, then the turf would never get the message. Brilliant. Think about it, when the environmental stress of the Spring is low, you have control of how and what kind of pre-stress conditioning to implement. The need for accuracy isn't as great. It's a great time to experiment a little and see how far you can take things. It's an important time to plan and be real about what your current situation is.


Water. Here is where I have seen more sins committed than almost any area of springtime agronomy. Too much, too soon and too often can put a total top to any kind of pre-stress conditioning for the plant. "Oh, it needs a little bit of water" is a warning sound for trouble to come. Don't give in to the temptation to do this and you'll see that not babying turf in cool weather pays off in spades later. Now, there are always exceptions, but they are rare. I've written about this before, here, if you want to know more.


Nitrogen Fertility. Spring Springs and so do then the Lelys and Vicons like big-mouth tulips anxious to pollinate the world. It's true, after a long and rainy (or snowy) winter we turfheads are always anxious to get our grow on. Yet, so often application timing too early leads to issues. Yes, nutrient management often dictates some growth being needed, but remember, as soil temps are coming up, biological activity is getting on the next train. So for many, that overzealous fert application is soon followed with a cry for help to keep up with the mowing. Easy does it' always works.


Mineral Fertility. On the other side of the coin is the fact that pre-stress conditioning can mean a need to fix or enhance soil nutrients in need of re-stocking. Your energies in getting materials out before summer are totally worth it. Be it Potassium or Calcium (or lots of Calcium for those monks wearing that robe), Phosphorous, Iron (or lots of Iron for the members of the other church) or whatever other corrective treatments, doing it now is never a bad idea.

Who is in your support network? How is your Faith? When is the last time you really laughed? All of these things are important. When we talk about pre-stress conditioning, this has to be an area of critical factor.

Plant Protection. Call me crazy, but I think the days of application of any kind of plant protection "Just Because We Always Do" are long over. Careful consideration of the dollars available, the total program possible, the real stress that you have at your property is necessary. If indeed you battled Anthracnose or other Spring/ Early Summer Disease last year there is no guarantee that things will be the same. A watchful eye? Yes. Proper timing of applications? Of course. Fear, because you might end up like the course down the road did last year? Absurd. Expecting a material to suddenly work when it should have been applied earlier. Just as Dumb. Confused? Seek help. It's all around.


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Growth Regulation. I love the many options we have with Growth Regulation these days. Specific, targeted materials and programs that make our efforts to grow grass a whole lot of fun when the growth needs to slow down or the seedhead just has to go. But like anything else, these materials need proper application timing, correct selection and an understanding of what they will and will not do. Again, "just because" can't be the way to approach the use of tools that are amazing in their ability to help us move into summer stress periods. If you are confused"¦ help is out there in many forms. There are no dumb questions.



You. Spring can be a great time for you to look in the mirror. Are you OK? Is your family OK? What health things can you address before the Dog Days come? Where are your priorities? Who is in your support network? How is your Faith? When is the last time you really laughed? All of these things are important. When we talk about pre-stress conditioning, this has to be an area of critical factor.


Preparation for anything is key. Take a moment and map out your world a bit. Look deep and see what the possibilities are for doing things better and different. Don't procrastinate. It won't help you when the heat is really on.


The Sandpaper Washcloth

  Posted in Balance 27 March 2010 · 969 views

(this was published in the Sierra Nevada GCSA Chapter Newsletter this February. In light of some of the current discussions on the TurfNET Forum, I thought it might be good to port over here. Many thanks to Jim Alwine, the Sierra Nevadas superior newsletter editor for asking me to write something for the chapterDW)


Go ahead. Wash up. Just make sure you use that 80 grit sandpaper to get all the dirt off. That's how a lot of us feel, when we talk about finances as it comes to the business of growing grasslike we've been scrubbed by sandpaper to be left with no dirt, or skin.


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In my family, growing up, we didn't talk about money much. My parents were kids of the Great Depression and to them, money wasn't a subject that they wanted to engage in because they had been steeped and tea stained in an era of constant conversation about saving. They were frugal, not in debt and never did anything beyond their means. It was, actually, a pretty simple formula. So now that I find myself in the clutches of the Great Recession (not my term, I read it on Yahoo News), I don't like it. And as I travel and visit with Turfheads, they don't like it either. But, not liking something or being uncomfortable about something is no reason not to talk about it. I wish my parents would have understood this... but that's the Personal Therapy article and I doubt I'll write it for Turfheads alone.


Here's the deal. If all of us are going through something, then it can't be a bad thing to join hands and sing Kumbaya about it. Right? Seriously, there isn't anyone that I come in contact right now that isn't saying something, in some way about the economy and the current economic crisis. It's everywhere. It can't be avoided. And for those of us in the recreation oriented business of Golf, there has been a dramatic impact. Let's not get into Golf's mistakesSupply and Demand. The National Golf Foundation's Storytelling. Revenue Projections Made up by Promotional Monkeys.  That stuff is just the used playdough of the blame game. Let's spend a minute talking about the moment.

If I look at the reality of agriculture and horticultureoutspending hasn't always meant better. My favorite organic strawberries are grown for very little. The best wines, come from poverty grapes.  My favorite golf courses in the USA and the World, spend less per acre than their numbered competition.

Reality of the current moment dictates one thing. That all of us do more with less. Really. That's what it comes down to. And if you look at that through the lapping compound of grinding it down to our level, it means that we are right in the middle of a version of Turfgrass SurvivorOutwit. Outplay and Outlast. This might be a better tactic than the previous strategy of Outspend, Outdo and Outbrag. If I look at the reality of agriculture and horticultureoutspending hasn't always meant better. My favorite organic strawberries are grown for very little. The best wines, come from poverty grapes.  My favorite golf courses in the USA and the World, spend less per acre than their numbered competition. I visited a named and numbered "Top 10" facility once and the volume of the waste I was seeing was so distracting that it was hard for me to really see anything else. So we are fortunate, that growing things, doesn't always stack exactly with the amount of money being spent.


Here's what will happen to true Turfhead Survivors:

  • They will learn to separate "wants" from "needs".
  • They will learn that when a need arises that some non-turfhead doesn't understand, it's time to educate and even use "the S word"... .Sell.
  • They will do cost/benefit analysis on every single thing that they do. Everything.
  • They will learn and understand that Cost is a function of Price versus Value. Paying a low price for something and getting less from that purchase in return means that your cost just went up. And paying a little extra and getting a great result means something may not have cost as much. You can apply this to Labor, Consumables and even... Your Time.
  • Survivors will, have a great product. A super I worked for as a young Turf Turk, always said that not having the basics done was no excuse. "Mow, Mow and Mow some More", was but one of his mantras of not forgetting the basics.
  • Necessity is the mother of invention. Find a way. If the price isn't right, negotiate. If the job needs to be done quicker, find the right tool or person for that speed. If you can't convince the powers that be to spend a little to protect their asset, get some help with your presentation. Be creative.

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Would I choose a different economic climate? Sure. But would I miss the opportunity to learn, grow, invest and be stronger at the end of this? Never. The sandpaper hurts, but man, do I feel clean. And the skin will eventually grow back. And we will all be in better shape for it.


Laying Down That First Water: Please Do Not!

  Posted in Irrigation, Water 22 March 2010 · 1,430 views

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I'm gonna keep this short. Don't. That's right. Don't. Keep this word and all of its negative connotations in your head. When you are all excited, sitting at the central controller, ready to hit whatever form of on switch you have, remember my wordDon't.


One of the biggest mistakes I see springtime turfgrass managers make is watering too much, too early. Here we are, spring springing all around us and it just seems like the thing to do, water a little bit. Just a little because it just feels better. I don't know if it is a rite of passage, a trial of some sort or some kind of application of Tin Foil Mentality that says you'll never get a dry spot if you water early. If I thought it was just some kind of occasional thing, I wouldn't write about it, but it is almost universal. In fact, just to make it seem right, I did it too. I remember. That one windy spring day in Denver, where things started to turn a bit and after harassing my pump station, irrigation tech, computer setup and all the rest, we watered. Looking back, I can't figure out why. As it turns out, a couple of isolation valves were closed and a couple holes didn't get water for a few more days and guess what? That's right. They didn't die.


Are there exceptions? Yes. They are rare. Emerging Bermuda needs not to dry out as it gets going. I think most Bermuda Jockeys know this on some level. And one of things that USGA greens appreciate is a decent early season flush. That's more to do with air in the rootzone.


As Spring springs, plant energies go into full swing. As does soil biological activity. Cool nights and warm days are just that. And in many parts of the country, some kind of rainfall is around the corner. It's a great time to let roots go looking for water. It's a great time not to impede natural evaporative cooling. It's a great time to condition the plant that it is going to have to toughen up. Pre-Stress Conditioning is one of those highly overlooked things that great Turfheads do well.

For many places, Irrigation Water Quality is a challenge and so being in a hurry to add more salt to your soils just lacks common sense. There again, Don't becomes the operative word.

To prove this point, I had one of my more irrigation trigger-happy friends purchase a soil moisture meter. He was astounded at the degree of change from morning to afternoon. Yet even more astounded at how much moisture was back after the overnight rise in relative humidity (the ratio of the amount of water vapor in the air at a specific temperature to the maximum amount that the air could hold at that temperature, expressed as a percentage). So at dawn, when the rH is at it's highest, there was plenty of soil moisture and he didn't have to add a drop of water. ET? Sure. It's a factor, but when ET's are low, it isn't always the best idea to just trickle out some water.


Posted ImageFor many places, Irrigation Water Quality is a challenge and so being in a hurry to add more salt to your soils just lacks common sense. There again, Don't becomes the operative word.


So just a tip. When you think you want to water this spring. Think. Think hard. Don't just make an easy choice. But at the same time, when it is time, it is time and that's part of the Art of what we do. Everyone knows you have sprinklers under there. Don't rush to use them.

On Getting Well: Something I Know Nothing About

  Posted in Health 12 March 2010 · 1,115 views

Posted ImageOne hit on the inhaler. Nothing. Second hit. Nothing. I can't catch my breath, can't stop coughing. I feel my knees getting weak. Mouth open. Hit number three. Nothing. This is it. I'm gonna freaking be the only human monkey capable of being stupid enough to die at the medical clinic. Thinking. I really don't want to do this in public.


I duck into the mens restroom. Stall is open. Grab a big hunk of wall. Hit number four on the Albuterol. And I finally sort of get a breath. One more. Then another. I stumble/shuffle out of the building, looking, I'm sure, like a large unshowered coughing spitting Sasquach. In my car and all I can think to do is drive the 10 min. home and never ever visit a medical facility again. It didn't seem so bad, going in for a chest Xray and 15 min. later, it seemed like I wasn't going to make it home. Ever.

Couldn't sleep Friday night because I coughed the cough of the Howling Monkey. Didn't sleep much Saturday night because the Howler was joined by his relative the Wheezer.

For weeks, I've been fighting what I call the post-GIS Flu. You know, the one you get because you've shaken hands and shared air with a zillion of your Turfhead friends. What seemed like a little cold turned into a bit more and then a day of not feeling so good turns into many. Not really sick enough to miss any work. But not feeling good. I've talked to people saying they have been sick since Christmas, so I must not be so bad. I really should have gone home on Friday night, but just one more thing to do and Saturday, the day to do it. I was going downhill fast on Friday, but thought that a good meal and a beer and some sleep would put me right with the world. Couldn't sleep Friday night because I coughed the cough of the Howling Monkey. Didn't sleep much Saturday night because the Howler was joined by his relative the Wheezer. And by Sunday, I was in trouble. A trip to the Urgent Care, and it took the Doctor all of 2.2 seconds with the stethoscope on my back to declare that I had Pneumonia to go along with my 102 degree temperature. Great. An Xray confirms and I'm sent home with an antibiotic and some instructions. I'm pretty sick, so I'm not listening. But I did hear Dr. Sunday tell me that if my fever didn't go down by Monday night, to call my regular Doc.


Bet you can't guess what didn't happenthat's right. Drug didn't work. Fever still high(103-104) and so, as our story began, I found my self in deep trouble on Tuesday after taking myself in for a second Xray. I'm sure, had I not had the inhaler, that far worse would have happened. Far worse. Results of the second Xray, far worse and a new big gun antibiotic was prescribed. Why the medical drama? What in the world does that have to do with Zealotry or Turfheadism. Some of you know the answer. Everything. Because it has to do with life.


Posted ImageLike many of you, I don't know when to quit. I love what I do so much that in many ways, on most days, it consumes me. Know what I'm talking about? The alarm goes off at 4 something and off and running we TurfHeads go, only to put our heads down at 8 or 9 or 10 and get up and do it againAmen. What happens in between is often a blur and often based on dragging hose and putting out fires and attending the meetings and doing the job and worry about other's needs. I've never been one of those people that do Balance. I do Immersion. I do Challenge. I do Squeaky Wheel Oiling. I don't do Balance. At least that's not something I think I am any good at.


This last little episode for me was a bit more than a wake up call. I've had a few health things knock me about over the last few years, but this was different. It was painful, more so than other things I've dealt with. It was sudden. It made me very afraid. And it seemed out of my control. Those things are enough. As I type this, I'm still weak. Still coughing. The antibiotic has the fever in check, but I'm still fighting. It was hard to make the calls and write the emails and tell everyone that I wouldn't be talking on the phone, wouldn't be working. I handled a few things, but mostly, I put it all off. My vision, still pretty blurry has kept me from writing much more than Twitter updates and Facebook quips. It's far from over and as much as I'm not good at letting go, I have to. In a couple weeks, I'd like to turn 44.

Might be true, but I beg you to take another look. From my vantage point, I see way more Turfheads who don't get it, than who do. Way way way more.

All of this down time has had me looking at some key areas of life. And health, one of those things that has never really been in balance for me, has got to come into a clearer focus. Now, I'll bet Daconil to Doughnuts that a few of you are reading this and in one way or another, you can relate. And I'll bet a few more of you are reading it and saying, That's not me or I'm tougher than that, I'm not fat like he is or whatever. Might be true, but I beg you to take another look. From my vantage point, I see way more Turfheads who don't get it, than who do. Way way way more. And maybe your challenge isn't exactly like mine, but I'll bet there's something. Sacrifice is fine. We all have to do it. But somehow, there has to be a way to return to center.


I was looking around the Web and found a little checklist (Dr. Oz, I think) and it's going to be my starting place:

  • Eat Only The Good Stuff (and you know what good is)
  • Walk Every Day 30-45 min. at minimum (when I feel like it, doesn't count)
  • See The Doctor and Follow Preventative Healthcare (meaning see the Doctor when I'm not in need of rescue)
  • Relax and Cope With Stress (spiritual and emotional wellbeing doesn't come last)

Now, for me, these 4 steps represent a clear path. I can do this. But only if I hold myself accountable. I don't need or want anyone else managing this for me, nagging at me or making me feel like I've failed because I didn't do what they did. It has to be me, for me. Something I'm not good at, so the steps are simple. They have to be.

The best six doctors anywhere
And no one can deny it
Are sunshine, water, rest, and air
Exercise and diet.
These six will gladly you attend
If only you are willing
Your mind they'll ease
Your will they'll mend
And charge you not a shilling.
~Old English Nursery Rhyme

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