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Dave Wilber: Turfgrass Zealot


Take "The Dark Side" and Shove It

Posted in Ranting, Communication 28 July 2016 · 11,366 views

A recent industry magazine (it doesn't matter who), is talking about sales with the moniker of "The Dark Side". I hate this shitty phrase. And I'm gonna let my anger turn to words here. Ok..it's a rant. I often give good rant. Or so I'm told. So hold on tight. It's E-ticket rant time with Wilber.

 

Before I hung my shingle as an independent consultant in the early 90's, I was a superintendent. Then when the world's finances collapsed in 2007, I took a job for seven years as the Director of Agronomy for an independent turf distributor. They are a small and wonderful company who I didn't always understand but in many ways admire. Now that we are divorced, I think we like each other.

 

What I did, in truth, was sell. Yes, I talked about grass and did "consultations". And we put on some of the best seminars I have ever seen. But everything in a distribution-oriented world is sales. Inside of sales, there is profit, inventory, transportation, agronomy and all kinds of other things to manage. But at the end of the day, it was sales. Sales doesn't have to be crooked. It isn't the old days. At all.

 

I spent seven years trying to buck that system. It made me miserable. And it made the people I worked for less than happy with me (read... miserable) a lot of the time. But I learned a ton. And it was rewarding when dealing with actual "on the ground stuff". I never fully embraced the whole sales thing, in part because I was led to believe, years before, that sales was, in fact, The Dark Side. That was bullshit. It was bad programming and in a lot of ways, that programming came from a relatively old school superintendent, my first.

 

I found out that there were things about being in sales that I and most turfheads just didn't understand. Again, part of this was because as a young superintendent, who had all the answers, I didn't think I needed anyone's help. Or advice. Or... whatever. So my attitude was simple: bring what I order, when I order it, for the price I wanna pay. Simple. I didn't like "appointments". And I hated the gossip, because sometimes it was about me, the youngster who was doing things differently than most others.

 

...part of this was because as a young superintendent, who had all the answers, I didn't think I needed anyone's help. Or advice. Or... whatever. 

 

My days of grass growing was a different time. Communications were different. People were different. The business was different. And quite frankly, shitty sales people could get away with being out there because they were needed differently. They were more about hauling things around. And easy to beat up for prices.

 

But here we are in the modern age. And with this age needs to come the reality that sales in our industry is a tough, technical and demanding gig. In a lot of ways, way more demanding than growing grass. Gasp! What is this blasphemy? Well, what I have to say is that everyone ought to have the experience of doing 30-50,000 miles in a vehicle, talking on the phone six hours a day, and simply running with their hair on fire. They should feel the heartbreak when a super doesn't bother to show up for an appointment, doesn't ever return calls, doesn't even try to understand what building a good relationship could mean to their situation. What actual good service really is. They should understand that good sales people probably work way more hours than most supers when you account for travel, study, bookwork and the like. For me, 20 hour days were common. Common.

 

...everyone ought to have the experience of doing 30-50,000 miles in a vehicle, talking on the phone six hours a day, and simply running with their hair on fire. 

 

Are sales people perfect? Oh, Hell No! I have seen so much dumb stuff done in the name of sales. So much. Lies. Gimmicks, You name it. But guess what, I've seen a much larger list of stupid done by supers. Sorry. That's the truth. And a lot of times some of the sales stupidity does not come from the guys in the field. It's in the corporate offices where bad agribiz gets dreamed up.

 

This whole "Dark Side" thing to me is a cop out, in many ways. One, it lets the idiots off the hook. By being proclaimed part of the dark side, the goober sales person slides by. By being proclaimed a member of the dark side, the well meaning professional is lowered to a level they never exist at.

 

Now, before anyone labels me a hypocrite because I use words like Sweater Folder, Sandwich Maker, Dirt Farmer and the like... please remember that I may have coined terms like Sales Monkey and Sales Rodeo (what trade shows look like to me). There is a time to quote Carl Spackler and have fun. I get that.

 

But this whole "Dark Side" thing isn't cool. At all. It's almost, to me, a slur. A way for supers to exert some kind of power trip. And I don't like it. I don't get it. I think it means ugly. And I hope I never hear it as a descriptive for a whole side of the business that has done and will keep doing great things. And is advancing in really strong steps. Eight years ago, a guy like me would never have been hired by a distributor. Today, there are more than a few handfuls of people with backgrounds that could easily have them being a USGA agronomist, working with the commercial side. Doing great education. Doing research outside the university system, partnering in good ways.

 

Oh, and guess what, Turf Monkey, when you meet with whomever you have to pitch your budget, your equipment replacement plan, your master plan or whatever you are trying to get done... YOU ARE SELLING. If you forget that, then the deal is over before it started.

 

...when you meet with whomever you have to pitch your budget, your equipment replacement plan, your master plan or whatever you are trying to get done... YOU ARE SELLING.

 

Lastly, and this is simple math, there aren't as many sales jobs out there as you think. This notion that if a super gets tired of working too many hours, they can "'just go get a sales job" is absurd. It's kind of like saying that if you get tired of keeping greens you can just go get a good spot at a football or baseball stadium. Many of the sales people that you see are where they are because they are damn fine thinkers, really hard workers and have rhino thick skin built from hearing stuff like "The Dark Side" and always being expected to pick up the tab. Some of the sales people that I have met recently are pretty damn elite.

 

I'll end with this. I think right now, I am an "affiliate" member of 3-4 local chapters and the national association. My dues in most cases are higher than other categories. In the case of the national association, I don't have a vote or any real representation at Emerald City. And my "card" won't get me into any tour event or other such things. Nearly weekly, someone wants my money to sponsor something or something else. I can't imagine if I had 10 sales people working for me.

 

It takes a lot of grit to be a part of this so called Dark Side. And a lot of patience. And yet the "business" seems to need this category of animal. What do you say we tone down this "Dark Side" attitude? Maybe the words stick, but the attitude has to go.




The Turfgrass Zealot Project, Ep. #25 with guest Hector Velazquez.

Posted in The Turfgrass Zealot Project, Podcast, Staff 05 July 2016 · 1,215 views

The Turfgrass Zealot Project, Ep. #25 with guest Hector Velazquez.

Join Hector Velazquez and myself as we go deep into the world of Hector and Hector's Shop!

 

Do you know Hector? You should. He's breaking ground in an often forgotten, overlooked and misunderstood world. The world of the golf course equipment fleet is not only huge, it is a place where a ton of money gets spent. And wasted.

 

Hector and I talk about what's what in his world. From his background to his travels as a teacher, his life as an educator and of course his job as a father and husband.

 

I had such a great time with Hector. He's a brother. And a Turfhead. And an important figure in our business. Thanks for listening!

 

To learn more about Hector Velazquez go here.

 

The Turfgrass Zealot Project is sponsored by Klingstone. Proven bunker performance for more than 15 years.

 




The Reality of the US Open Golf Championship Has Nothing To Do With The Reality of Golf

Posted in The Turfgrass Zealot Project, Events, Agronomy 17 June 2016 · 58,702 views

I am never ever ever ever (did I say never ever?) going to take away from the hard work of any golf course superintendent, any staff member or any volunteer for any event. Ever.

 

And this is especially true in 2016 with John Zimmers. I've admired John for years for all kinds of reasons. His commitment to Oakmont is a model of what adapted stewardship in our business needs to be. That is to say, John brings Oakmont exactly what Oakmont needs. And like any upper-end country club job, it is political, it is difficult, it is clueless members with fat wallets, it is connected members with fat wallets. That's the scene. And while many aspire to that level, not as many can actually kick its ass. John has done that. And I am sure there are costs that none of us will ever know or understand to John and his wife, Tracey.

 

There's a lot of focus on the 2016 Open. It is the history and greatness of Oakmont. It is Fox Sports. It is the USGA. It is Pittsburg. It's Holly Sonders' curves. And perhaps most importantly it is post-2015. Because while many disagree on the what's, how's and why's of the 2015 Open at Chamber's Bay, we can certainly agree that there was a lot of negative chatter. A lot of people weighing in while having little or no clue about what they were talking about. Design. Agronomy. Weather. It was in many ways, a public show of tossing monkey shit.

 

So here we come to 2016 and nobody wants to see a repeat shit show. Especially the USGA. Especially Mike Davis. Especially Fox Sports. Nobody wants to have Donald Trump declare it ugly like he did with Pinehurst #2. Nobody wants to see Billy Horschel have a three-year-old hissy fit in HD. 

 

Are you getting the picture here?

 

As I write this on Friday AM, the new star of the show is Thursday Rain. Rendering the "don't talk to me, I'm the hottest chick you have ever seen" Oakmont, a little more friendly "I'm just Jenny from the block" kind of vibe. Of course, this also means that some players are going to have to play 36 holes. Oh well. 

 

But none of this is a reality. None of it. It is what it is. A story. A unique story.

 

Here is some reality. While this is all going on, while the Oakmont Goddess is getting all the adornments, the rest of the golf business must function in sweats and tee shirts. Like it usually does. Yes, Oakmont will be on the flat screens at the course, and the centerfolds will be bathroom reading material. But for thousands and thousands of golf courses, things are what they are and what they will always be. The early summer grind. That's reality.

 

...we can watch the 2016 US Open golf Championship with a degree of reverence for what it is. But I for one will be thinking of the thousands (yes, thousands) of greenkeepers and their staffs who hold down the fort without a raft of volunteers...

 

Why am I writing all of this? Because I live and work in a business where most of those that are charged with conditioning courses will never see or experience a US Open. Never. They won't. And yet, it is more than likely that someone in their world will talk to them this week about Oakmont. "Did you see that.....", will be the start of many sentences.

 

Last year, those sentences ended with discussions about how much better "our course" is than the one on TV. Misguided observations, fueled by Brandel Chamblee's agronomy and Ian Poulter's yapping about Brittish conditions. It was easy to navigate. The legions of turfheads could say that in some way, they were better.

 

But not this time. Oakmont is near perfect. I started getting the texts and the tweets and the PMs on the weekend. The place is mind-blowing good. Some who really know saying it is the best-conditioned thing that they have ever seen. The volunteers and staff kicking ass. The greens lightning fast on Monday. The press arriving in the trumpets of the USGA saying "see, we know what green grass is". 

 

Tournament golf is tough. It is a minefield. And it represents so many things that I don't think golf should be. Yet, there must be championships. Because, in its very heart, golf is a competition. With yourself, with the course, with the climate, and with others. So in that sense, it should be OK. But we have made the upper levels into a paranoid, set of worries. I mean, heaven forbid something is wrong. And yet, we challenge nature and it always wins. Always. 

 

So in the end, my point here, is that we can watch the 2016 US Open Golf Championship with a degree of reverence for what it is. But I for one will be thinking of the thousands (yes, thousands) of greenkeepers and their staffs who hold down the fort without a raft of volunteers. Without basically unlimited resources. Without press tents full of people who have been primed to tell their stories.

 

But with reality. A reality of their weekend situations or tournaments, which, in their own experience, are just as important as this weekend's TV show. Today, as I write this, there are Superintendents who are challenged to do their pre-weekend prep with next to nothing. Who got the same 3 inches (or more) of rain that Oakmont just got and have five people to fix the bunkers. Not 105. Five. With resources that are so limited that they don't even like to think about how thin they are. With staff members that they are afraid of losing because the local McDonald's pays more than they can pay for labor. They will be out in the dark tomorrow morning, with no lights. No TV cameras around. No YouTube videos posted of their barely running mowers on the green.

 

Plain and simple in your face reality.

 

The Crew at Picatinny Arsenal GC

Perhaps if you are not in the business of greenkeeping and you are reading this, you might understand that what you see on the TV this weekend, has absolutely nothing to do with the reality of golf. What golf should be. What golf can be. 

 

I think that's a good thing. Because I still happen to think that golf is good. And it is good for everybody. And I want everyone to play. That's my reality.

 

Sadly, Oakmont is not. And again, that should take nothing away from superintendent John Zimmers and his insanely amazing efforts with his turfhead army. While you say a quiet thank you to John Zimmers as you watch this weekend, maybe think of John Doe Greenkeeper... who's 5 guys fixed just as many bunkers, mowed just as much grass and took just as much pride in their work. Bravo.




The Turfgrass Zealot Project, Ep. 24: On Being An Excellent Assistant or Intern

Posted in The Turfgrass Zealot Project, Podcast, Staff 09 June 2016 · 878 views

By request!! An update on one of my most popular blog posts, on being an Excellent Assistant or Intern.

 

One of the most popular blog posts I have ever done in podcast form. Kind of cool. Third kind of cool, actually. Take a few min to listen to this just in case you need a refresher. Works for Young Turfies or for those responsible for them. Being an excellent Assistant or Intern isn't always just about agronomy. It comes down to character and working with the team around you.

 

Because one day, being a leader will mean understanding these principles. 

 

The Turfgrass Zealot Project is sponsored by Klingstone. Proven bunker performance for over 15 years.

 




The Turfgrass Zealot Project Ep. 23 with Kevin Hicks and Jon Kiger

Posted in The Turfgrass Zealot Project, Podcast, Friends 12 May 2016 · 901 views

Episode 23 of The TZP brings us chats with Kevin Hicks, GCS at The Coeur D'Alene Golf Resort... and TurfNet's Jon Kiger taking about TurfNet's participation in The Irish Open at The K Club. 

 

Kevin Hicks is such a good guy. I reached out to him on the off chance that he could do a short interview and he stepped right up the the plate. He's a great guy, an old friend and a proud father. We get to know a little more about him and talk about my adventure into the bowels of the famous Floating Green.

 

Jon Kiger joins me to talk about TurfNet's involvement in The Irish Open. Jon is leading a group of folks to volunteer for Course Manager, Gerry Byrne. And you can hear Jon talk about how this all came to be and how you can follow the whole thing on TurfNet.

 

The Turfgrass Zealot Project is brought to you by Klingstone. Proven Bunker Performance for over 15 years.

 








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