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Cell Phone Policy . . . revisited

A few years back, we examined the pros and cons of crew phone use.  Since things continue to change--with phones now serving as cameras, music players and surveillance devices--we thought you might want to revisit Momma's solution for irresponsible phone use.  But be careful . . . I had an entire high school football team threaten to quit if they couldn't have a "phone break" during practice. Yeah, I know . . . get off my lawn.  

Randy Wilson

Randy Wilson

The Death of a Salesman?

Back to the inbox, as it is the sluice box that keeps on giving little nuggets. This one from the commercial world.  "I'm really confused about this whole selling thing. I figured as an ex-superintendent, I would be treated fairly or at least with some respect. It's got me down and I just don't know what to do. Can you give me any advice" I was fortunate enough to spend 7 years with Sierra Pacific Turf Supply as their Director of Agronomy and handling a sales territory as well. And of course, before and after that, I have been selling myself as a consultant. The Sierra Pacific gig was difficult for me.  It was a lot of hours , enough phone time to cause brain cancer and many days of many miles. And every day, something new came into the mix. Don and Becky Naumann, the owners of SPTS, are amazing people and in hindsight, I didn't tell them that enough. I also got to work with Dean Kinney, an extraordinary sales manager whom I drove completely crazy with my idealistic turfheadism. And a team of 30 other unique and amazing employees. Again, in hindsight, I didn't tell them enough how awesome they were. Even though the best salespeople in our industry are consultative in nature and approach, selling and consulting can be two vastly different things. A client wrote me an email once and told me what a shitty salesman I was, and in the same email told me how excellent I was at solving his problems and advising him. Total truth. But I learned a lot. And I am happy to share what I think might help get and keep a commercial career on track and help with the transition from superintendent to commercial sales. 1. Your past is your past, leave it there. When you were a buyer, you were special. The Prom Date. And you got treated that way. Now you aren't a buyer. And so you won't get the same treatment you did when you were a Super. Let that shit go. You are doing this now, not that. I remember thinking, "Doesn't this person know who I am and what I have done?", as they were telling me how all salespeople are bottom feeders. The answer? No. It was up to me to hang in there, prove my worth and not take it personally. Thick skin. All that. You are here to do this now. Do it. 2. No matter what you do, no matter who you are, no matter what you are selling, there are some people who are not going to buy from you. When you figure out who that is, be nice and let them know that you will be happy to help them when they call you, but that you won't waste their time or yours in the interim. 3. Find your exclusives. Whatever you are repping, Iron, Pipe, Chems, your company should have access to something that no one else has. Or at least a large competitive advantage. Find it. Figure it out. Know it, how to demo it. This is your where you get to shine. If you are spending your time talking about and working with non-exclusive products, you are in big trouble. If the company you work for doesn't have exclusives, you may want to find a way out. You're going to starve. 4. Gross Profit is everything. Good companies are run on profits. They grow because they are profitable. Not because they just flow cash. You may think that you are tossing out big numbers, but if there isn't profit in those numbers, then its a bad move. Case in point. I got all excited about winning a big Ammonium Sulfate bid. Yay me. And the 50 tons of product that we had to handle and warehouse and deliver in batches ended up with us breaking even. Not so awesome. I could have done better with a 5 gallon pail of high quality Kelp Extract. Less gross dollars, but more total gross profit. Think about it. 5. Keep the phone on. Your job  is to sell and service and the phone is your best friend. Keep it on. Answer as much as possible. Be available 24/7. You thought this being accessible thing was bad as a super, it's nothing compared to being a great rep. Nothing. Return the calls, return the texts, return the emails and don't procrastinate. Again, I learned this the hard way. Don't give a customer an excuse to look elsewhere. 6. Break-ups can lead to Make-ups. Client X makes you crazy. Friday and weekend deliveries of stuff that they "think" they may need on Monday. Always asking for freebies. "Forgets" you have an appointment. It's time to let them know that the breakup is happening. And here is the thing: they need you. They feel inferior or are insecure so making you jump over the moon is a rush for them. But when you hump 50 bags of Urea on a Sunday for an application that they "might wanna" make on Monday and that product is sitting there a week later, it's time to have a chat about why you are dating. A salesman much better than any of us once told me, "The takeaway is one of your biggest tools". I agree. You will too when they call you back. And if they don't, good riddance. 7. Miserable people cannot make you a miserable person unless you let them. Eeyore the Super hates everyone and everything. The golfers are all assholes. His boss is a douchebag. Even the vehicle he drives sucks. This vampire will suck the wonderful life out of you if you let him. Be nice. Be quick. Handle the biz. Park down the road and look at pictures of baby animals and shake the stuff off. If you take it with you, you will become that person. 8. Your expense account is not to be abused. Once upon a time, it was customary for the salesperson to always grab the check. But that time is over. If you find yourself always picking up the tab, you are being abused. Plain and simple. There is nothing wrong with rotating the check pick-up or splitting the bill. Nothing. And if you aren't invited anymore, then you know why you were there in the first place. I know some reps who buy their way into opportunities and don't realize that they are spending a lot of money for a lot of maybes. There's nothing wrong with the occasional thank-you, but it can't be the reason you are around. That said, a couple dozen doughnuts or some other yummies dropped in the break room, or cooking some Carne Asada for the crew lunch is a worthy expense. One that I often footed out of my own pocket, and still do. 9. Knowledge is power. Learn. Every day. Be up to speed on everything in your world. Be a geek about it. Full on. With the Google Machine at your fingertips, it can lead you into a level of expert that makes for really good conversations. Along those lines, learn the competition. Know their offerings. This doesn't mean you get to run them down. It just means that you understand what is and what is not. If you are weak in any area, reach out to as many of the technical resources you need to until you are are sure that no one who comes in the door of whatever facility you visit is more up to speed than you. This is the heart of Consultative Selling. It's awesome being a resource, an expert. And it's also awesome when you teach someone how to really use what you offer and they stop asking about prices. 10. Some days just suck. Just like when you were growing grass, some days are glorious. And some days are total horseshit. I spent 4 hours stuck in traffic one day, only to finally get out of that mess and end up in the middle of a roadside fire started by an overheated RV. When my vehicle filled with smoke and everyone was driving the wrong way to run from the blaze, I walked into a Starbucks down the road, covered in ash and sat down and cried. I was determined that no one, on the face of the planet, could have it any worse. Guess what. They do. And guess what else, no one cares about your woes. You must dig deep to be in sales. And if you can't or won't or the magic is gone, do yourself and everyone else a favor and find another gig. 11. Be proud of your work. A while back, I wrote a blog post that was called, "Take the Dark Side and Shove it". You can read it here, about 35,000 other people did.  Along with some net spiders and bots. But what I was saying in that think space holds true today. Being a sales rep in the turfgrass industry is good and amazing work. Hard work. Not for the weak of soul or faint of heart. And if you find yourself in those shoes, be proud. And as I point out in that piece, everyone in every position in our business has to sell, something.  You got this!

Dave Wilber

Dave Wilber

Ireland calling! Will you answer this time?

Welcome to the opening post for our 2019 TurfNet Members Trip to Ireland blog. Below you will find the details of the trip along with an explanatory webinar video (below) and a trip brochure. We hope this is the year that you will join us! Departure: Leave US Friday October 4th for Shannon in the Southwest of Ireland. Flights arrive Saturday morning June 5th.  Note: on this date there are primarily three flights from the East Coast to Shannon: AerLingus from New York/JFK and Boston, and United from Newark. All three flights arrive in Shannon in time to meet our coach bus and play the first round of golf. Return : Leave Dublin for the US on Saturday, October 12th. There are a variety of flights from Dublin to the States and most will leave early enough in the day to allow for one or two additional domestic connections to your home town. You are also free to extend your trip on your own for a day or more, but our only group trip to the airport is Saturday morning. Fares: If you fly to Shannon and return from Dublin on the same record you should still receive the best round trip fare for the week away. Ground Transportation: For the third time we will enlist Matthews Coach Hire for our ground transportation needs. More than likely our same driver from 2015 and 2018 – Simon Smyth will be behind the wheel. The bus is larger this year and will be able to easily carry all our luggage as we tour around the country. The Golf: We have seven rounds of golf planned for this trip: Saturday: Spanish Point  – County Clare Sunday: Doonbeg – County Clare Monday: Lahinch – County Clare  Tuesday: Carne Golf Links – County Mayo Wednesday: Donegal Murvagh – County Donegal Thursday: Rosapenna – Old Tom Morris Course – County Donegal Friday: Rosapenna – Sandy Hills Golf Links – County Donegal  Hotels: We have streamlined the hotel offerings and for added comfort and convenience we are staying two nights each in our first three hotels. The one single night is in Malahide at the end of the trip. Saturday/Sunday Oct 5/6: Lahinch Coast Hotel Monday/Tuesday Oct 7/8: Mount Falcon Estate Wednesday/Thursday Oct 9/10: Rosapenna Golf Resort* Friday Oct 11: Grand Hotel Malahide (a short ride to Dublin airport for Saturday departures) *We stayed at Rosapenna for one night in 2018 and found the accommodations, golf, meals, and service to be outstanding so we are staying/playing there two nights this year. Optional Side Trips: We realize that some golfers would like to bring their spouse/a guest and that person may not play golf or if they do play golf may not care to play seven consecutive days. The tour bus is at our disposal for most of the day so once the golfers are dropped off (usually for an early or mid-morning tee time) the bus is free to take the non-golfers to the area historical/cultural sites. While the exact mix and pace are determined when everyone is together, possible side trips include: Bunratty Castle, Cliffs of Moher, The Burren, Galway, and various sites around Donegal and County Mayo. For those participants who want to skip a few rounds of golf, we offer the Tee/Tour package of four rounds of golf spread out through the week: Spanish Point, Lahinch Old, Donegal Murvagh and one round at Rosapenna. If a full week golfer wants to skip a round they are welcome to do so, but no refunds for the cancelled round are given. If you wish to skip a round for which you are scheduled please give Jon Kiger as much notice as possible. What are the intangible reasons to participate in the trip? Here are just a few: Networking with your North American colleagues in a casual, fun setting. It’s not a conference or local meeting so the conversation can head in its own direction for an extended period. The five hour time change does wonders for your concerns about things back at the course. You’re of course encouraged to leave work behind but even if you check in back home from time to time, when we tee off it’s still 3 AM back home so there isn’t a whole lot that they will be reporting to you. Learn about golf from a more traditional perspective. For the most part these links courses have been there for many years or are at least designed in the image of much older courses. Take some ideas on bringing this same somewhat minimalist approach to your course back home. And don’t forget that you will be walking for all your rounds! Caddies. Getting to know the Irish people. We will have our traditional TurfNet Emerald Challenge where we face off against our Irish counterparts (Wednesday at Donegal Murvagh) – with two Irish and two TurfNet participants in each foursome the laughs (aka ‘the craic’) is non-stop. Everyone will also enjoy meeting the Irish people in each town we visit. Their innate hospitality is always on display. The chance to get away and the opportunity to share the week with someone who often sacrifices their time and energy while you pursue your career. Your trip won’t be micro-managed. If you learn about something and want to pursue it for an afternoon you’re
free to do so (provided you let us know your plans.) We do manage the trip for the enjoyment of everyone so if you’re inclined to be “high maintenance” or used to going against the grain, this may not be the trip for you. We’ve had very few problems in 10+ years of trips and we prefer to keep it that way. Our full trip details may be found in the attached flier. Golfer Double Occupancy spots are just $2700 per person, not including airfare.   This trip would not be possible without the support of our trip sponsors Syngenta, IVI Golf/Flexxcape, and Foley. Please let them know you appreciate their participation. ireland_2019.pdf

Jon Kiger

Jon Kiger

Parker Stancil: British Amateur Championship Prep

Preparation for the Amateur Championship began many weeks in advance of tournament week for Portmarnock Golf Club’s greenkeepers. I was fortunate enough to join the team a little over two weeks before the first practice rounds were starting, and we’ve been putting in some hard work. One day’s worth of walkmowing… I’m whooped.   Make sure to wear some sunglasses if you check out the gorgeous par 3, hole 12… you might go blind with all those lasers I laid down! Gary Johnstone, Portmarnock GC’s Links Manager, has been putting in countless hours for months to get the course to peak condition. Gary is one of the hardest working managers I’ve met. There are not many golf course superintendents with the work ethic to spray greens and rake bunkers simultaneously like Gary does. Bravo Mr. Johnstone! I thought this was a neat idea. Weeks before the tournament, we had these little plastic hitting mats scattered around landing areas of fairways to prevent divots. Our team of greenkeepers have been very focused on all the small detail work to look as best as possible for TV. Pulling weeds, edging, and more attention to detail jobs conceive the work superintendents have a hard time finding the desire to do, but these things create the difference between good... and great! I joined a few of the guys in cutting and laying some sod around our new driving range facility, so that it would look spiffy before the amateur players arrived. “Oh shoot! He’s got a camera, act like you’re doing something!” The driving range facility, located right beside our maintenance shop, will be used for practicing in safety of Ireland’s rainy and windy conditions. For most of the tournaments I’ve volunteered for in the states, superintendents prepare by applying growth regulators and fertilizers, dropping height of cuts, and whatnot. However, here at Portmarnock GC, we can’t really increase our green speeds too much. This is due to the course design, location, and weather. With Ireland’s intense wind, we must be careful with our green speeds, because sometimes a putt into the wind can drop a whole 3 feet in speed! The same goes for putting with the wind at your back, an increase of around 3 feet. The Royal and Ancient Golf Club, based in St. Andrews, Scotland, is the ruling authority for The Amateur Championship (like our PGA and USGA). Members of their ruling, championship, and other committees have been monitoring the conditions of Portmarnock GC for months prior to the tournament to ensure perfect conditions. I had the pleasure of speaking with Allister Beggs and Richard Windows from the R&A. These two gentlemen were on the course taking greens data with a stimpmeter, POGO tool, and a klegg hammer. In the photo below, Beggs (left), and Windows (right), had to use those plastic coverings as an anti-wind tunnel when taking stimp measurements so that our crazy wind speeds wouldn’t taint the results. Despite the 4:30-5:00 AM start times, I’m looking forward to this upcoming week of great golf and networking.  Even though we’re up before the rooster’s crow, we’re alright. We’ve got enough coffee on standby to give the whole crew a heart attack. Stay tuned to read more about the tournament next week!

Reinventing myself for a life-long dream...

I am a non-traditional student at Ohio St. University-ATI in Wooster, Ohio. This year, at age 59, I decided to take some time and reinvent myself with a life-long dream of sports turf management. I am originally from Texas where I was a science teacher and football coach. After that, I spent time in Kansas as an assistant principal/athletic director. I moved to Ohio when my wife was hired by OSU.  Since then, I have become interested in all facets of the turfgrass industry. From May 1 through Aug. 10, I have been working at Poaceae Farm, Old Court in County Wicklow, Ireland. Here I help manage research greens, operate various tractors, mowers and implements, help with herbicide and insecticide trials, maintain and aid in the production of sod with current fields in production and establish new fields of production from seeding to harvest. I love to travel, meet new people and experience new cultures and this internship will give me the best of both worlds. In my time here so far, I have honed my skills using a triplex mower on the research greens and I am getting experience driving a Lamborghini tractor. This machine is amazing. It is your typical farm tractor, but it also can limit the PTO to drive mode for safety reasons. The blades on the mower will not turn unless the tractor is moving.  The Lamborghini tractor. During the farm’s recent weed and herbicide trials, I learned precision application chemicals using gas canisters, the importance of proper walking pace,  wind speed and properly cleaning and disposing of unused product. The best practices here parallel to what I have been taught in my classes under Dr. Ed Nangle and Dr. Zane Raudenbush at ATI. These best practices include establishment and fertility rates, the control of weeds and pests and the proper use and maintenance of turfgrass equipment. Operating a Jacobsen AR 250 on one of the production fields. The main difference is the use of chemicals and their availability here in Ireland. Herbicides are typically not used here. Subsequently, Poa annua is trying to take over the research plots. Its unique color is just as obvious here, too.  Dublin is a beautiful city and the people are very down to earth, reminding of the folks back in the Midwest. They are friendly and willing to help when you walk around with a puzzled look on your face or just have a question. The public transportation system here is efficient, and has made trips into Dublin quite easy. The bus ride from the farm is about an hour to the city center. One of the first things I noticed is the buildings are not very tall. I had trouble finding any taller than about 10 stories.  I like beer, and enjoying a Guinness in an Irish pub has been a bucket list item for a while. You don’t have to walk very far to find a pub or a Guinness, so that has been scratch from my bucket list.  Scratch this off the bucket list!

Did The Golf Cart Create The Modern Cupcake Golfer?

Purely apocryphal, but my Bio-RAM can recall a time when golfers weren't so picky and whiny and demanding about things that didn't matter in real life.   Although I have previously fixed the blame on color TV and 50 weekends a year of Las Vegas Showgirl grooming standards, I think I might have isolated the true cause:  The introduction of the portable sofa to what was once a rugged adventure sport. If I rewind back about 50 years, to a time when it was more about playing the game than the current model of riding around in an English country garden/adult theme park without fear of a DUI, it becomes very clear.  All this petulant golf squawking arrived at roughly the same time our cart fleets exploded in size to meet a rapidly swelling demand.  Of course, all the riding around instead of walking caused other things to rapidly swell:  Expectations, budgets, craniums, infrastructure, midsections and eventually . . . asses.   Now, even with a 40 days and 40 nights of rain event, the golfer of today is no longer willing to tolerate "staying on the path" or the "90 degree rule" because they are the customers . . . and they have been conditioned to squeal "Customer Service! Customer Service!" like Gomer yelling "Citizen's Arrest, Citizen's Arrest!".  That's why I have an innovative solution to the "Special, entitled, always whinging Cupcake Golfer of Today".   Watch this short training film to learn the secret.   

From The Vault: The 2nd Film From Rockbottum CC

For your entertainment, we present, from deep in the bowels of the Rockbottum Films vault, our second major production:  "Customer Service". The audio in this historic film is clippy at times, even glitchy, (it was pre-Sennheiser) but we didn't think you would mind.  After all, where else can you watch a GCS push a mean old lady golfer into a deep bunker?   You know you've been tempted to do the same thing.  

Back at it: Grinding for more credibility

I recently graduated from Horry Georgetown Technical College in Myrtle Beach with an Associates Degree in Golf and Sports Turf Management. I decided I wanted to keep grinding for more credibility, therefore, I will be attending Clemson University to advance my education by majoring in AgMechanization and AgriBusiness.  Me and two of the greatest mentors I could ask for: Charles Granger (left) & Ashley Wilkinson (right)  My original plans for this summer included knocking out a couple tough classes before attending Clemson in the fall of 2019. However, once I was presented with the opportunity to work in Ireland over the summer, I couldn’t turn it down.  After my summer of 2018 at Great Northern Golf Club in Keterminde, Denmark, it is safe to say I can handle the international travel well. Therefore, I have no doubts that this summer will be smooth and enjoyable.  Mama was glad to have me back after my last trip to Denmark!  I flew out of Charleston International Airport (CHS), connected in Boston, then touched down at the Dublin International Airport (DUB).  Me showing off my 2 phones… 1 Irish and 1 American. That makes me seem important, right?  I have accepted the offer for seasonal employment at Portmarnock Golf Club in County Dublin. While working at Portmarnock, I’ll be staying in a bed and breakfast with the Harris family.  My home-away-from-home for this summer. Hopefully I don’t experience the normal Irish weather this summer… give me sun!  I’m excited to start work at Portmarnock GC, because I’m in love with the place already. Links Manager Gary Johnstone invited me to play 9 holes with him on one of my free days before starting work, and the true Irish links-style golf was incredibly fun.  Gary getting ready to bomb one down the fairway. I love the beautiful classic look of the Portmarnock clubhouse.  The wind was gushing between 20-30 mph when we played, so it really took a toll on my game! That didn’t matter to me though, because the views, wildlife, plant life, and everything else on and around the golf course are something special.

When The Critics Won't Quit

Let's go back to my inbox for this post... "I need your help. As you know, it's been a cold, damp spring. The golf course wasn't great for Memorial Day. And as I write this on June 4th, it's just barely starting to come around. The comments I am getting from golfers are really bad. "When are you going to fix this place", is the tone of their gripes. I've talked to everyone, blogged about it, written about it and I'm still getting hammered. Any tips?" This has been more common in the spring of 2019, but nearly every year, I get a bunch of these. In whatever climate. Be it a rough overseed situation, or a slow spring, or a project that has expectations, it happens. And as written above, let's assume that you've done the basics as far as communication goes. One would think that they would get it. But they often just don't pick it up. Here, you have to muscle up and embrace the fact that there is more work to be done. Here's my list: 1. Don't Be defensive. Our relationship to our turfgrass is one of a very personal nature. You know the place. And you know damn good and well that it isn't where it should be. You know it better than they do. So when they come to tell you what you already know, you can't be deflective and it can't openly piss you off. Step closer to that person. Look them in the eye. Keep your hands to your side, don't cross your arms. Or put your hand in front of your mouth. Breathe easy. Let them vent. It can't kill you. It hurts, but it can't kill you. Resist the temptation you are feeling in your gut to grab their fancy new driver and throw it in farther than they can hit it. 2. Speak agreement. It sounds silly, but when you agree with someone, you diffuse their bomb. Even if they are clearly wrong, at least acknowledge that you hear them. Be open. "Yes, Mrs. Fourputt, I understand and I am just as concerned as you are." Simple. 3, Control the moment. Vernon Van Der Wedgeflop III is used to controlling his world. And he'd like to control yours. But you don't have to let him control that moment. "Sir, I'm on my way to check on some of my crew's work, and if I don't get there now, it could be a problem. Can we talk after your round?" Give yourself some time to cool off, after Vern just declared your greens the worst they have ever been. If Mr. Complainiak catches you at the clubhouse, again, control the moment. Invite him to your office for a chat. Have water or coffee ready and let him sit in front of your desk or let him stand in the middle of the chaos and see how much you have going on. The key point is that the hard shove the words you get from someone doesn't need you to react right then. In fact, if you do, you are giving away your power. 4. Invite them to see your world. The habitual complainers usually have zero point zero percent idea what you really do. Invite Yapper Man to join you at 5am for your first loop around the course. If your whole greens or advisory committee doesn't get it, have the next meeting at the shop. Or on the course. Stay out of the board rooms and away from the bar for these conversations. We are famous for telling everyone that our offices are great. So meet them there. Again, on your terms. Educate them in how much you see that they don't or won't. 5. Employ your allies. You have people that you like. You see them on the course and they always have a smile and a wave. Talk to them. Tell them that you appreciate their positive attitude and ask if they can help. "Hey Dr. Kildare, Dr. Tracy just talked to me and he hates the golf course right now. You know that we've had a really hard spring. Would you mind saying a few positive words to him. I think it would be better coming from you than always from me". Bingo. 5.2 Find the Ty Webb. Every course has one. Somewhere. The person that everyone respects and believes and secretly wants to be. It may not be the best golfer or a golfer at all. At one of my jobs, it was the bartender. At some places, it's the locker room attendant. It can be everyone's favorite server in the restaurant. I'm not talking about the Bar Blowhard. Nobody is really listening to them. When you discover who this is, make that person your friend. And feed this person good info. Things you want everyone to know. "We've had a really tough spring, but we have done everything we can do to be ready when better weather comes". Ty Webb will get to say, "Look Herb, you don't like the greens, but our greens are just about to be great; just enjoy playing and practice your putting".  You don't get to say that. He does. 6. Realize there will always be trolls. Some people are relentlessly unhappy. Always. And some people just get a personal woody making other people squirm. This is their sad pathetic life. I think these people are easy to spot. And while I don't believe you can or should blow them off to their face. I do think that you avoid wrestling in the mud with a pig. As the saying goes, you get muddy and the hog has fun. Some of these types are walking soundbite collectors. They are just waiting for you to say something stupid so that they can tell everyone what you just said. So casting your pearls before these swine is bad. Just don't. Be cordial and be on the move. Don't stick to their fly paper. 7. Yes, you have a turf degree. So what? Look, whatever level of education you have in our biz, don't let that make you believe that every conversation has to be a technical discussion on par with the best presentation you have ever heard at a turf conference. Seriously. Talking down to people, especially when they are wanting to be heard, is a disease that so many of us have. I have it. I think it's mostly in remission, but now and then it comes out. If you start with the barrage of turfgrass stats, it's like a firehose hitting a little marigold plant. Destructive. And yet I see people do this all the time, "Well Mrs. Grimski, the daily readings of soil temperature that we take at 2 inches and 4 inches show a median soil temp of forty-one degrees, rising to fifty-four degrees on average at 2 pm. When we combine this with the moisture we are getting and our overall photo-period,  our growth potential is..." Blah Blah Blah Blah is all she just heard. There is a time and a place for tech talk, but not when Mrs. Grimski just wants to know if things will be ok for the Ladies Invitational. I'm dead serious. Great turf people can sound like complete bullshit artists when they go to the big agronomy words. Don't.  8. What's is so? In the world of self-help and psychology a key way not to feel like you are messing up is to examine what is actually true and let that be the truth. Joe Badswing comes up to you and wants to tell you the greens suck. In the history of the world, no greens have ever sucked worse that the abomination that this guy calls his golf swing. His 20 handicap is a lie, just like his footwedge. So when he pops off about the course, you employ the techniques you have learned above. And you walk away. And you forget that Sir Gasbag has ever uttered a word. Same goes with Madam Margo Tomatosalad, who knows for a fact you only mow fairways on Ladies Day. Listen, then apologize for said operator getting in the way of her 90-yard drive and walk away and forget she spoke. No one in the Ladies Club hears her either. If you let the absolute abject BS land on you, and stick to you, you will be doomed to a life of self-loathing at the highest order. 9. Talking points are the deal! Mr and Mrs Beemer stop you on a Saturday AM and have questions about "this project we have been hearing about". They have busy lives. They are mostly good people. They like their course. They don't want to play anywhere else. You have an opportunity here to make fans or foes out of them. First off, you know more about the project than anyone. So the rumors are just that. Second, you have 3-5 things that you want everyone to know. Quick talking points. Give them to them. And if they want to know more, see number 3 and 4 above. In every conversation with customers, especially when you know some gossip is in the air, there is no better way to control the situation than to have a few key things to say that are real, truthful and represent the word of the Horse's Mouth (yours). Don't let these folks get their info from the pro shop or the drink cart. It's gotta be you. That's part of your job. 10. Don't lie. Ever. I have been involved in some really bad stuff when turf professionals decide to take number 7 above a step too far. From a real situation: Superintendent X takes his first weekend off in two months and his rather inexperienced assistant misses three key irrigation cycles and the greens take a hit. Super X is a good person. He's pissed at that employee, but also knows that the buck stops with him. So he makes up a story about a rare disease that they didn't catch. You get where this is going, right? Yeah. Just don't. I'll finish the story by saying he got caught in that lie and it was a really tough set of meetings that allowed him to keep that job. Suffice to say, he took a huge credibility hit. If something you can control goes wrong, admit it. Be on top of it. And don't sugar coat or lie your way through it. Or invent a visit from the agronomy boogie man. Spring of 2019, Summer of 1984, Winter of 2002. On and on. We are agriculturalists. And we are faced with dealing with the weather and all kinds of other out of control variables. But with a little thinking and planning, you can be on top of the court of public opinion. But it takes work, thinking and planning. Like every other aspect of the job. You got this!

For 2019, Greenkeepers Three!

Our Greenkeeping, The Next Generation student-authored blog debuted in 2012 as a way for our first intern to share his new experiences on and off the course while spending a summer in Ireland. It has been written by a variety of students from many different schools and regions of the country. The blog has also sparked increased interest in spending the summer overseas working in turf as the access to courses willing to host turf students has increased. It is in this environment that we are pleased to announce that the 2019 edition of this popular blog will feature three students blogging about their experiences overseas. Each is from a different background and has a different experience lined up for the summer.       We are delighted that Clemson-bound Parker Stancil is back for another summer with TurfNet. His solo blog last year from Great Northern in Denmark won both “Best Blog” and “Best in Show” at the Turf & Ornamental Communicators 2019 awards contest in Charlotte. Parker wasted no time after graduating from Horry Georgetown Technical College in getting over to his assignment at historic Portmarnock Golf Club outside of Dublin, Ireland. In a few weeks the club will host The Amateur Championship so he will be key to helping keep the course “tournament ready” for this R&A event. Longtime friend of TurfNet Gary Johnstone is the Links Manager at Portmarnock and we thank him for hosting Parker this summer.  Portmarnock Golf Club is a frequent and enjoyable stop on our Member Trips to Ireland, as well as being Parker Stancil's home-away-from-home this summer. Across a smaller pond – the Irish Sea – is Scott Powers, a recent graduate of the University of Guelph turf program. Scott is spending the season at the Royal Automobile Club outside of London. Host course manager Lee Strutt describes Scott as a super intern with a great work ethic and very respectful of the club. We would expect nothing less from a member of the Team TurfNet hockey team (though Lee confessed to not knowing of this existing link to TurfNet). No stranger to TurfNet even while at the Univ of Guelph, Scott Powers (above left) has played two years for Team TurfNet in the Golf Course Hockey Challenge. Scott is interning at the Royal Automobile Club Woodcote Park golf courses (below) in Epsom, Surrey, England. Back in Ireland, David Payne represents perhaps the most non-traditional intern to represent TurfNet. At age 59 he is enrolled in the turf program at The Ohio State University ATI in Wooster. He decided on the career change after many years teaching and coaching and a family move to Ohio. He will be operating (and repairing) equipment, assisting with research trials, and reporting on primarily sportsturf-related research going on at Poaceae Farm in Old Court, County Wicklow.  David Payne operating a Jacobsen AR 250 on one of the production fields at Poaceae Farm in Ireland. We look forward to the contributions of these fine individuals and acknowledge the sponsors of the blog Tru-Turf and STEC Equipment.  Stay tuned to TurfNet for updates from our overseas team! 

Jon Kiger

Jon Kiger

Fred & The Anti-Stress

It’s June.  Most of the tv addled golfers have forgotten April, thanks to a severely damaged attention span, one of the gifts of the modern technocracy.  But the stress merely continues to build through June and then the heat of July.  Some areas will suffer from freight-train rain, while others endure a seemingly endless hot, dry bubble of desert air.   Add in a few members just back from a member-guest with all sorts of ideas they picked up in an entirely different budget climate--or my favorite, the member on a campaign to bring in “new blood”.  Stress rises when your spousal unit announces the kids don’t recognize you anymore and have grown weary of the excessive hours and vacations in the winter.  Especially vacations shortened because some of the time off has to be sacrificed on the altar of The Big Show.  There is only one way to combat this stress and it’s not beer. It’s fitness.  Our topic today is fitness for the GCS and the rest of the turf industry professionals.  The GCS comes first in this subject as they often get more than their share of the stress, but there is plenty to go around.  Now I know there are folks who say there is much more stress in other fields, like law enforcement, medicine and the military, but some of those areas have a built in stress relief factor, like great big bursts of adrenaline, flash-bangs, helicopters and running and jumping.   Turf does not have adrenal bursts—unless you count unannounced, unsanctioned visits by consultants with a column of former assistants in tow, all looking for a GCS job. So let’s toughen up and prepare to deal with stress in a healthy manner, rather than beer, likker or Big Pharma.  Your brain can generate it’s own Big Pharma and it’s unlikely to kill you, destabilize your family or impart that hilarious side effect where you wake up in the middle of the night and discover you’re robbing a grocery store.  Let’s talk fitness and training.  *Note:  The following pseudo-science comes straight from Sgt. Rock Bottum and his years of training in multiple sports, both as an athlete and a coach.  (Sgt. Rock’s credentials will be revealed in a later article.)  When choosing a sport or activity for stress relief there are several factors to consider.  An important factor is Sustainability.  I know you’ve heard that word before, but in this context, it’s easy to define:  It means a sport or training activity that you can keep going over the long term.  While the 90 day wonder-workout may provide a great “jump-start” into a training lifestyle, it can come with injuries and that day when you realize you just don’t want to go “do it” anymore. Next, it is important to select a sport you like and train for an event, a race, a contest, or just an adventure.  This “adventure” could entail hiking a section of a long trail or maybe an epic ski trip.   Often, we choose a sport, get comfortable with it, progress to the level of obsession and then burn out like a sparkler sizzling at both ends.  It’s important to consider more than one obsession, in case of injury or mental fatigue from the level of dedication required. Endorphins are critical.  Endorphins are opiates produced by your brain after around 30 minutes of activity where your heart rate is elevated.  The resultant “high” from an endorphin kick has the ability to blow out the stress of the day and make you forget whatever it was you were worried about.  Some sports, like cycling, running, swimming and others of the aerobic type, come with huge doses of endorphin blasts to the brain.  You must be careful with these brain opiates. My brother Mike, a former Army Ranger, was given to huge endorphin surges, after long road bike rides and his wife took advantage of the situation.  Mike once woke up, after a fearsome bike ride of 60 miles, to find himself shopping for shoes with Teresa, and holding not only her purse, but those of other spousal units who recognized Mike’s condition.  (Goofy smile, relaxed demeanor and unfocused eyes.) Load bearing vs non-load bearing sports.  Load bearing activities would include running, hiking, weight lifting and the like.  Non-load bearing would mean cycling, swimming, rowing and things where you aren’t supporting your own weight.  This is critical, especially as you age.  Why?  Because of bone density.  With brittle bones, you can become like the old folks who fall down and break hips and femurs.  A few years back, there was a medical study on the bone density of Tour de France riders.  Samples taken before and after the race revealed a massive loss of bone density, in some cases almost a 50% loss.  This does not happen with long distance runners, although they have their own difficulties, usually due to overuse injuries. Aerobic (which is some foreign language that means “with oxygen” and Anaerobic, “without oxygen”) are two important factors.  Aerobic could mean an activity like slow jogging, cycling at a speed where you can still talk, or rowing for an hour at a pace where your heart isn’t trying to explode out of your chest.  Anaerobic is high heart rate, short term burst activity like sprinting or high rep lifting with no breaks.  Sometimes referred to as “interval” training, this type of work can be very beneficial, if carefully mixed with aerobic training and common sense.  (I had none of that last one.)  Check with your doctor before you go anaerobic, or if you’re like most of us since the unaffordable care act, make sure your affairs are in order. Here at The Rock, we have always used a seasonal approach, changing sports as the weather changes.  Blending walking with cycling and hiking and running and gym time--when it’s really hot or doing that endless monsoon thing--has worked for us.  You can also walk the course in the morning before the crew gets out, combining the walk with your morning scout.  Wear a daypack and walk fast if you want some endorphins, because normal walking, while healthy, will not endow you with much in the brain opiate area. If you run the course, stay off the hard surfaces, as the pounding from that activity—unless you are a nearly perfect mid or forefoot striker—can lead to ankle, knee and back pain.  Running your turf is  great training and less impact than trail running.  It’s possible to ride your mountain bike on the paths early, without seeing golfers, but don’t take your skinny-tired road bike out there on the cart path unless you're in the mood to grow some new skin. Which sport or training activity is right for you, the high tech GCS?  I don’t know, try several and find out which one rings your bell.  I’ll be showing you some training methods as the 100 days go by.  Here’s one featuring Fred Gehrisch, CGCS, a regular cast member of Rockbottum CC, and an avid martial artist.  Fred trains at Your Time Fitness in Clayton, Georgia and allowed us to film his Anti-Stress Method. Fred trains solo for an hour and then teaches a fun, lighthearted but tough kick-boxing class.  We slipped in during a holiday period, when the class numbers are usually down, and shot this film on GCS Anti-Stress.  

Put a Little Love in It...

I love my job. I don’t love it the way I love my wife and kids, or even my dog, nor do I love it all the time, but on a whole, I love it. Being able to say this puts me in a significant minority in the workplace. A 2017 Gallup poll found that 70% of workers in the U.S. hate their job (hate may have a spectrum of intensity, but I am splitting hairs). There are many strategies we all know to combat job-hate, and any job-hating individual must shoulder some responsibility, yet job-hate continues. Love is an antidote to job-hate. I can’t say if love makes the job, or vice-versa. I can say unequivocally that putting some love into your job produces some great side-effects. Your Community Will See It
Our jobs in the green industry are all inherently visible and bring us into contact with people (customers/clients) regularly. This means all of us frequently have the chance to share love with the people who are influencers to our success (or failure). Regardless of the specific circumstances, most normal people prefer to be served by people who share their happiness in that service. One can get service which is acceptable, but when you receive something extra in that service, it impacts you. You remember, and value, the interaction a little more. If the little extra is authentic rather than merely duty, than even more so. Exhibiting honest enthusiasm in performing our jobs is felt by those we work for, and that is a valuable contribution. Putting passion into your work is a marketable contribution and will be recognized by your community Your Team Can Feel It
Many organizations state that passion is usually an indicator of a top-flight team. I believe this is true. Having an enthusiasm for your work can help provide the drive necessary for achievement. If someone doesn’t have that excitement about their profession, then what? Even if someone isn’t in their dream job, love can help them find the motivation to excel. If most team members feel some sort of love in their work, it becomes infectious. Our crew exhibits love by sharing camaraderie and a sense of accomplishment with their coworkers when performing the task at hand. This team energy frequently becomes a feedback loop. Success brings success and even though setbacks break our momentum, it becomes easier the next time to restart a positive cycle. When your crew works with love, they are eager to share it with coworkers and the community Love Is Infinite
Our jobs are both physically and mentally demanding. Trying to perform consistently without love leaves me depleted and defeated. My moods get dark and nothing is easy. The truth however is that these moods are fleeting because they require a lot of (negative) energy to keep them going. The simple truth we all recognize is that no one wants to be around an unhappy person. Fortunately, love is infinite. Think about it. No one gets tired of being happy. When things are going well, conversations are easier, people forgive minor issues, and team members willingly help others carry the load. None of this work requires momentous action, long winded speeches, or threats of punishment. Workers work because it makes them feel good, a lot. Plants Sense the Energy
To this point, nothing in this blog is likely new to you. But here is where you may think I’ve left planet Earth. The plants (and yes, turfgrass is a plant) at your site will feel the energy and respond in kind. Plants can communicate in many ways. Some stressed trees release chemicals that signal insects to attack them rather than healthy trees. Some plants can communicate via roots. I believe that the plants at my campus pick up on our crews love and enthusiasm and grow just a little nicer for it. Our crew always knows when one of us is in a bad mood, so maybe plants can sense moods too. Bad energy comes off and can’t be disguised. If one’s mood is good, the plants get bathed in it. And a plant love-bathing is a happy healthy plant. (For further discussion please read… https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2013/12/23/the-intelligent-plant) This Blue Fescue never drew attention until this year. It was divided last fall. Coincidence, sound horticulture, or the love of a Groundskeeper? Get Love into YOUR job. NOW.
Performing your job with love is worth it. The benefit to your spirit, performance, and satisfaction will far outweigh the cost of doing it. As a matter of fact, the energy required to perform your work with love actually doesn’t feel a burden at all. It flows naturally from a well spring within. Be mindful though that love in a workplace setting should be a two-way transaction. Your organization must return love within an equitable ratio. This ratio will fluctuate in that sometimes either will be giving more. Putting love into your work must be authentic also. I’ve never seen anyone be able to pretend to like their work for very long. And not being able to put some modicum of spirit into your efforts will eventually cause frustration or resentment. So, do yourself a favor, and find some way to put a little love into your work. Your team's loving work will create positive energy for your organization. But flowers never hurt too.

Turf Health Is Secondary To Your Health

Working for a big urban muni in the Deep South with monthly floods and a constantly changing command structure had a negative effect on my health.  While the chain of command at a high dollar private course can often be a pressurized environment, the sudden and bizarre reversals of policy on the municipal facility I inhabited regularly produced staff meetings worthy of a Polanski film.  At one point, I was stripped of my authority to issue cart path only edicts, as that power belonged in the hands of the pro, someone who understood “revenue”.  It didn’t last long, however, due to lots of photographic documentation of his decisions.  There were other blood pressure spikes.  Like when I scrimped to save $50k in my budget and it was given to Recreation for referee uniforms.  Referees!  Or when personnel admin types took over employee selection and sent me potential Manson family members, or when the purchasing department substituted pitchforks for bunker rakes.  (Better price.) My own personal turning point arrived in 1992.    I had been summoned to a gathering of non-elected bureaucratic “experts” to help solve a problem with our two munis:  Consistently poor greens.  (By poor, they meant “dead” for long periods.)  This was due to pushup greens on red clay with no drainage--surface or otherwise--heavy play, fairway bermuda coerced into putting surface duty and enough trees to shoot a Tarzan movie.  As a political imbecile, I stupidly suggested my standard fix:  Buy some chainsaws and do a quick greens rebuild, adding that I had performed this miracle on my last three courses.  The various and sundry desk pilots and bean counters snorted at me, while chanting magic budget incantations.  Then the great and powerful golf pro mounted his throne and said, “Yes, we must rebuild the greens to bentgrass, as the poor simpleton alludes to, but we shall only rebuild one green per year to avoid loss of revenue.”  (Bureaucrats enjoy striking fear in one another with that ‘loss of revenue’ phrase.) I protested, on the grounds that it would take 18 years to convert to modern, competitive putting surfaces.  Some of the bureaucrats sided with the golf pro, because, well, “he’s a golf professional, he understands these things”.    A few in the meeting—those with actual job experience—sided with me and this triggered an outburst somewhat akin to a bunch of primates in the upper levels of triple canopy jungle engaged in a territorial dispute.  There was lots of shrieking and howling and pounding of chests and the flinging of objectionable materials, very much like the last two elections.  I will reluctantly admit to being one of the more enthusiastic participants, going full-on howler monkey.  (Never drink a double-shot espresso prior to a meeting.)   That night, I experienced some sort of irregular fibrillation, where my heart would stop for what seemed like several seconds.  This event tends to wake you up, kind of like a zombie reaching up out of the grave, with all of the grunts, gasps and wide-eyed facial contortions one would expect.   I soon found myself hooked up to an EKG, an ultrasound and some device called a Holter that I had to wear for 24 hours.  Then I met with three cardiologists.  The first two were more interested in golf than my heart and after another howler monkey outburst, I was handed over to a heart specialist from Belgium. She was very tuned in to my situation—because she actually listened to my answers—and quickly determined that job stress was my problem.  I had triggered this malady by severely cutting back on my formerly neurotic exercise routine, in a failed attempt to be more responsible.  I thought I could be more grownup and maybe even a better golf course fixer.  She further explained that with our very recent birth of a child and the resultant increase in stress associated with no sleep, an angry wife and worries about the future, I was a borderline raging stress maniac about to burst. I was given a prescription that said get my lazy butt back on the bike and ride hard until the stress has been vaporized.  I was confused.  “But Doc, I gave up Walter Mitty training to be career responsible!  What about my fibberlatin’ and my atrials and such?  How long will I have to train like this?” She answered in that superior Euro accent, “Until they find you dead on the side of the road . . . which will be a long time from now, unless you keep stressing at work.  Keep doing what you’re doing now and you’ll be dead before your son enters elementary school.” I reveal this deeply personal story in order to help those of you entangled in job and family stress.  Over the next few weeks, I will tell you the secrets of fitness and health I accumulated down through the years.  Although I’m not a formally trained expert, I am still here. A couple of short films on the topic are on the way, so stay tuned to Here At The Rock.

Dear Writer, You Can Write!

Some great questions flow through my various inboxes and DM's. I'd like to share a recent one that was really from the heart. "I just had my Annual Review with my GM. And his biggest issue with me is communication. Especially my written communications. I feel judged harshly. I have never been a very good writer. Can you give my any tips to help? It's sad that the golf course is good, but he has this problem with me." My Answer: This is SO COMMON. It really is.  Relax. I'm going to give you some support and some tips and some encouragement. It's my belief that everyone can improve their writing. You may not become Hemingway. That's OK. You don't need to be. Writing is a muscle that needs some workout. Typically when people are struggling with their writing, all it takes is some focus and some drills and things get better, quickly. 1. Read. I know. I get it. I'm writing this in early May and time usually isn't in surplus. But to become a better writer, you need to be a reader. Read. But here is the catch. Read aloud. Buh? Yes. And this will come full circle in a moment. But the start of this boot camp is to read aloud, every day. Even if it's just a few paragraphs. Get used to hearing how others use words, with your ears. I have a favorite book that I tell people to read aloud. It's a collection of essays from Jack Kerouac. He is, by far, my favorite writer. And more importantly, he is a supreme communicator of his thoughts. Often good writing in the world of the turfgrass professional is about putting thoughts and experiences into words. Kerouac was the master. His book, Lonesome Traveler, is a collection of essays about his experiences traveling. And in particular, the essay titled, Alone on a Mountaintop, is perfection.  Read aloud from this and you will understand what it means to have a "voice" with your writing. Here is the key thing... Reading authors like Kerouac can show you that even the most simple subjects can be talked about clearly and with passion.  2. Write Every Day. I sit down every day and I write something. Anything. I use my words and a document or talk to myself about something. Most of it never sees the light of day. Sometimes, it's a twitter post. Other times, it's what I write here. Mostly, it's email, keeping up with whatever is going on with work and it still counts. Write something every day. 3. Read What You Write Aloud. Here's where it gets good and where the change can come. Read your writing out loud. Do it. Do this so it sounds like you. If it doesn't sound like you talk, then fix it. You have a physical voice. Now you are  connecting your physical voice to your writing. This is an amazingly powerful way to get communication up to speed, quickly. So very often, people who struggle with their written words, are very good talkers.  I once had a client who I was helping with their resume and cover letter read their cover letter to me over the phone. And when they finished, I asked the question, "did that sound like you". And the answer was a resounding no. There it is. That's the disconnect. In time, you will start to see that your voices in writing and speaking will line up and this is the way to do it. 4. Forget Outlines. Very few great writers can successfully use outlines and translate that robotic form into great communications. Make notes, sure. Or maybe even a list of key words or ideas that you want to get across. But stop with formal outlines as they were taught in school. It's a waste of time and detracts from the flow of words. 5. Get Some Grammar Software. Currently I use Grammerly. It works as a plug-in for my Chrome browser and I can turn it on and off and set how deep it reads my stuff. It's my editor on the desktop. The first benefit is spelling. We all need help with spelling and its not a bad thing. World class writers are notorious bad spellers and bad typists. And in my experience I need just a notch above the standard spell check. The grammar part of this is really helpful in developing that muscle. It will tell you when your sentences are too long or your word usage is out of whack. And you don't have to do what it says. But the suggestions and the learning that come with it are spot on. 6. Slow Down. It's 3pm. The green committee meeting is at 5 pm, you are in the office and trying to make sense of tomorrow's work schedule and coach an assistant about a spray tank mix and, and, and and.... a recipe for a badly written green committee report is in the works. Don't do this. Same goes with that email that you just need to get to your boss because he wants info and you sit down and hammer out a POS. Don't. Slow down. Get ahead of this. Just as in every other part of your operation. Write the first draft of your committee report a few days before. Let it marinate. Come back to it. Fix it. Example, some of my blog posts that have gotten the most views were written on my iphone on the side of the road. And they just came together. This one, however, needed some care and feeding and I left it alone for a week and came back to it. Now it makes sense and hopefully, the re-write is on point. Yes, often there are hard deadlines, but that means that you have to practice some time management and give yourself time to slow down. 7. Relax And Be Real. Bad business writing is often so completely complicated that it becomes constipated and in turn loses its humanity. We all need to be more formal in our too relaxed society, but formality can't lose reality. Words are idea vehicles. And they are very real. And when they stop being real, they lose their idea potential and communication ends. Here's an example: I asked an assistant of mine to write up an employee discipline issue. He handed me a paper that tried to read like some kind of weird police report. It was awkward and while filled with facts, it lacked any way to understand what really happened. So, we had a lesson in being real. I asked my assistant super what the biggest thing that went wrong actually was. The answer was that the employee had been late for two weekend shifts. Ok. Write that. Then I asked when it happened. Then I asked what the employee said about the situation. Then I asked what our policy is on being late. Then the question was, what did he think we should do as corrective action. Simple. Take those answers and write it. The end result wasn't a mess of too many words. It was reality and it was to the point.  8. Be Brave. Good words mean that one must be courageous. When I write, I am thinking all the time of using my best ideas. It's kind of like going to the butcher shop and finding out what the best cut of meat is for sale. I need to be brave enough to use my words to make my point. If I am pissed off, I have to carry that emotion. If I don't care, then it can be communicated. It's OK to show emotion in writing. It's OK to use language that doesn't leave the reader with any doubt as to where you stand on an issue. You can and should put people to a decision when they read your words. If you are always going for everyone to agree with every word, sorry, that's weak sauce.  Here's an example: Anthony Bourdain. How did a cook, who didn't have much career fame, author best selling books and before his passing, become one of TV's most watched travel, food and  world politics expert? He was completely brave with his words. He didn't shy away from saying his truth.  Same goes with golf course architect Tom Doak. Tom wrote his original Confidential Guide as a 40-page copy machine guide to what he saw was right and what was wrong in the golf courses he went to see in his studies. It was raw. And it was spellbound in it's courage of speaking his truth. A super once sent me his justification for a new maintenance facility. And I read it and called him and said that if his current shop was this good, I can't imagine them building him a new one. He blew his lid, falling into a tirade of that an utter garbage dump his shop had become. He even used those words. And I told him that he just wrote the lead paragraph to his new report version. "Our Current Maintenance Facility is an Unsafe Garbage Dump" ended up being the lead line to version number two of his report and the problem was recognized and solved. Words are powerful in their use. And they are powerless when you don't use them. The older I get and the longer I am involved in our business, I am more and more certain that communication is the key skill that everyone needs and is lacking in. As I have taught workshops on this for Turfgrass Professionals, I see that somehow this skill has been pushed aside and yet, those same people wonder why they are often misunderstood. I think working out these muscles can lead to some of the best and most productive times in a career. I think that left to atrophy, not being able to write, leads to so many dark paths and places.  Some of you reading this have heard me say that I suffer from a condition called Dyslexia which is a general term for disorders that involve difficulty in learning to read or interpret words, letters, and other symbols, but that do not affect general intelligence. I wasn't formally diagnosed with this until I was 19 years old. And until then, I just kind of got by. Some days, words and numbers made sense to my brain. Some days, they did not. When tired, angry, depressed or sick, the condition is worse. And I can't control when it comes and goes. Makes for some interesting times, like recently, I couldn't read the documents I was signing for a car purchase. A very good teacher helped me become a writer, by helping me apply the points I shared above, even though, I told her over and over again that my handicap would keep me from being any good. I do fine. More than fine, considering. Am I Kerouac or Bourdain? No. I have to work at it really hard. So If I can. you can too. And If you'd like help...reach out. 

Hero’s Journey...

Like many of you I sat transfixed as Tiger Woods made his way to his unprecedented fifth Masters title. It was hard not to be swept away by the culmination of this archetypal hero’s journey and cheer him down the 18th fairway. It was great to see him don the green jacket once more, but more importantly it was really nice to see him happy. It wasn’t until after a recent conversation with my dear friend (a former Assistant Superintendent of mine) Robert McGregor a few days later, that the arc of Tiger’s journey took on deeper meaning. Robert is in the very raw stages of dealing with a major health scare. A few weeks ago, he was admitted to the intensive care unit with incredibly high blood pressure. The doctors and nurses were astounded that his heart didn’t stop or that he didn’t suffer a stroke. Fortunately, they managed to get things under control and allow his body to return to some semblance of normalcy. Robert emerged from the hospital shaken, but with a new lease on life. You see, like Tiger Woods, Robert had fallen into a series of choices that lead him to his present situation. There isn’t a time in any of our lives where we haven’t done the same. Commit ourselves far too much to our jobs, load too much on our plates, inadvertently ignore our friends and families, and generally make life far too difficult for ourselves and those we love. Now Robert’s choices were a lot less “over the top” than our friend, Mr. Woods, but they still had a detrimental effect on his health and his life in general. Most of us have made similar choices to Robert, and maybe even to some of Tiger’s, all the while not realizing the cumulative effect our daily decisions make on our lives until something happens to shake us up. As we spoke, Robert and I both reflected on the “bubble effect.” It's that nagging feeling we all get from time to time when being a Greenkeeper overwhelms us. It starts innocently enough; the pressures of the gig start to add up (Robert managed two separate properties), we don’t sleep enough, we make some questionable food choices, taking care of our physical health is last on the list, and our home life begins to suffer. We get stuck in this bubble and think that the only reasonable choice is to just keep doing much of the same. We manage to limp through the end of the summer and then collapse into the off season. Then we rest up and simply start the process over again, without changing a thing. Once in a while we can get away with a tough season, but when this scenario becomes the norm… the outcome is inevitable. A physical, emotional, and/or relationship crisis occurs. I’m sure that it wasn’t much different for Tiger. Living in a far more publicly visible bubble, it would have been much easier to succumb to his questionable lifestyle choices. The pain of his body failing, the immense pressures of competing, and rigors of celebrity would have easily led him down the road of unfortunate decisions and compound problems.  But life has a way of calling in the tab when it's due. We can continue down the path of suffering and poor choices for a spell, but the universe usually has a way of telling us (not so subtly) that it's time for change. At these times, something stops us in our tracks and renders us completely powerless. Applying compassionate, non-judgmental awareness at this crucial point can give us the space to check ourselves and make the all-important decision; do we continue with the same path? Or begin to fashion a new way of approaching our lives? It can be really, really difficult starting out to make the necessary changes. After all, we have spent a great deal of time numbing our pain and suffering, and our default habits can take on seemingly supernatural powers of their own. It takes an unbelievable combination of compassion and courage to look in the mirror and begin to make friends again with the very person that got us in this mess.  It's not even close to being easy but is always a far better option than continuing to make our lives far more difficult than they need to be. Tiger and Robert’s paths to reclaim well-being are obviously different in the details, but the journey is strikingly similar. Both deal with the themes of self-forgiveness, non- judgment, and deep acceptance. Nowhere are these ideas more critically applied than within ourselves. Dealing with the whims and hypocrisy of others is tough enough but navigating our own mental minefield can be torturous. A constant refrain of letting go and staying present to your current reality is crucial.  It's also crucial to have the love and support of those who really matter to us. Vulnerability is a virtue that is easily covered over in many our lives, but critical life events have a way of stripping us down and leaving us barren. Finding ourselves in this state can be very destabilizing, but if we can find the strength to lean on those who matter, we can slowly find our way again.  By the end of our conversation Robert and I both found ourselves inspired by the fact that Tiger managed to turn things around and the thought that his journey is one that any of us can choose to undertake. Maybe Robert won’t be putting on a green jacket anytime soon, but the changes he will implement in his life will be no less monumental. He has the support of his family and friends, and most of all the courage to accept what life has presented. There will be stumbles, more than a couple missed cuts and even times when all will appear lost. But as long as he can stay true to the notion that self care is the most important thing, it won’t matter what color his jacket is.   Thanks so much for reading. 

A Career Told Through Mowing...

If any TurfNet reader were asked what is the most important aspect of your job, I imagine there would be a wide variety of responses. This variety would stand to reason because although TurfNet followers gravitate towards Golf Course Management, they actually represent a variety of green industry segments. I am a Groundskeeper for a university which is different than a golf course superintendent, which is different again from a landscape contractor (I won’t even get into irrigation people who are different altogether). But, one thing that unites us all to some extent is grass mowing. As a hopeful blogger some years back, I submitted the following blog (in somewhat different form) as a test run. In a wise move, TurfNet Guru Peter McCormick said it wasn’t quite what he was looking for and asked for a different submittal to introduce myself to readers. I complied, and this particular article was relegated to the dustbin for a while. I have returned to it time and again usually trying to prove to my crew my vast knowledge on the subject (joking!). I’m not kidding, though, when I say I am serious about mowing. I believe cutting greens to be the pinnacle of mowing (apologies to my sports field brethren) yet I am very proud of all my experience. So, see if any of these experiences evoke a memory of your own, and of course, happy mowing. First Mower That Made Me Feel Like I Wasn’t Mowing a Yard: Yazoo 26” Big Wheel mower circa 1988, built by Yazoo Manufacturing of Jackson, Mississippi. First mower I used as a part-time Groundsman at George Mason University. Bigger than a 21” and was self-propelled by a friction gear against the pneumatic large tires. Boy, I felt cool. First Mower That Made Me Feel Like A Professional: John Deere 52” Commercial Walk behind, belt drive, circa 1989, pistol grips, squeeze to turn. I had moved up to a mower with THREE blades! Man could that thing cut some grass. Such an old mower it didn’t even have operator presence control handles on the grips. I’d love to get one to restore. Just imagine the custom paint job I’d put on it. Favorite Mower of All Time: John Deere 755 w/60-inch belly deck, circa 1990. Again, I felt like a professional. ZTRs weren’t even on the scene. When I left GMU for my first supervisory job at Alexandria Hospital, a 755 was my first purchase. Nice mow quality and very productive if mowing big areas (straight lines only). Deck took about 20-30 minutes on/off to add a range of implements to tractor. What a beauty! Most Impressive Mower (Pros Only!) Toro Groundsmaster 3500-D Sidewinder, circa 2004. Surely anyone who has driven a Sidewinder can speak to what a joy it is to mow with. Quality cut even with rotary blades, great traction, the sliding front decks, smooth diesel power and of course the unbelievable comfort. When I say pros only, there are lots of homeowners now that have experience with fairly nice ZTRs, but only professional turf people know about the Sidewinder. On the Job Today…
Now in my job at Drury University we have a John Deere ZTR and a Grasshopper ZTR, both with 60” decks. We mow 35 acres a week, but have lots of smaller areas and obstacles, so the smaller deck is really nice. Both of these were someone else’s choice though. If I had to pick on my own I would definitely go Exmark or Scag. I think you can’t beat them for durability and quality for ZTRs in utility turf. But as my boss says, what are the best mowers you currently have? Given some of the mowers I have used in the past, these two are wonderful. Some of the runners-up from my career have to be given their due: Best Cut Quality with a Walk Behind: 
Toro 52” with floating deck. The suction on the deck had great lift and the floating configuration managed uneven areas beautifully. I have not seen this quality (close, but no cigar) in any other configuration. However I never really liked the “T” handle steering on my particular mower. Definitely prefer pistol grip. Looks Good Even Sitting Still:
Any Scag Tiger, especially 72”. With Brickman Group in Nashville, we used these to cut 4MM sq. ft. of turf every week. Power, spectacular engineering, production. Be sure you can handle a mower before you use one of these. Not for the faint of heart. If you want to mow for real. Got Leaves on the Course:
Toro Groundsmaster 4000. I had to mow rough that had several inches of leaves. This mower ate them up and mulched as good as anything I’ve ever used. Being able to lift decks independently allowed impressive maneuverability. Mow over an area two times and it looks more like spring than fall. Mowing at a Whole Different Level:
Greens mowing. Enough said. No matter the specific mower, walk behind or triplex, mowing greens is in a class by its own. Seeing your diamond pattern when double cutting, headlights on for an early start, correcting a banana pass, and of course the teardrop turn without stopping the drive mechanism. Nothing else in mowing can compare. A good greens mowing by the best crew member is something to see and requires unique talent. The Hall of Fame of the mowing world. Mower Manufacturers Used:
Billy Goat, Bobcat, Bolens, Bunton, Dynamow, Exmark, Grasshopper, Gravely, Honda, Hustler, Jacobsen, John Deere, Kubota, Lawn Boy, MTD, Scag, Snapper, Toro, Yazoo. Some I liked, some I hated. Same can be said of cut quality. I imagine there are some others I can’t remember. What Is Your History?
I know better than to think this history is unique. I’d love to hear some of the stories from our valued readers. What was your favorite mower? What stories do you have to share? Please respond and share some of your recollections. Thanks, JF.

The Evolution... Follow Up

In my last post I talked about my preparation for a speaking gig to The Mile High Club Managers Chapter. And it created some good discussion and allowed me to enhance my talk, based on the input of my peers and fellow Turfheads. And if you haven't read that post, you probably should to get proper perspective. I don't always like linear history blogging, but in this case, I think it's worth an update. I really didn't know what to expect the morning I walked into Cherry Hills CC with my laptop containing a Keynote presentation. It seemed like I was prepared, but I am an over-prepper, so my perspective is a little skewed. As per usual, I'd been up half the night before practicing my brand of pre-game mental yoga, also known as torture. But again, that's my creative process and it's an old friend. The CMAA group was well prepared. About 60 in attendance. Mark Condon, GM at The Ranch CC is the education chair and he had a great group of speakers lined up. I really liked how he broke up the morning with a well done panel discussion with PGA Pros from Denver CC, Frost Creek CC and Cherry Hills. I don't always like panel discussions, but this one was really great and that had to do do with Mark doing his homework as the MC and asking good questions. It also had to do with great questions coming from the floor. I was last. Batting clean up after the Golf Pros and Ed Mate from the Colorado Golf Association. I had heard about Ed. But it was great to see him in person. His passion for the game is incredible and him being a former Evans Scholarship winner doesn't hurt. So in the last spot before lunch, the grass guy comes up. And as I hook up my laptop, the familiar feeling of peace after a week of torturing myself preparing for this is a welcome feeling. Again, this feeling is also an old friend and it tells me that there is nothing to do but be Dave Wilber and deliver the goods. A couple of small jokes and other stupid speaker tricks and I feel like I own the room and its time to rock and roll. My Powerpoint and Keynote skills are on point. My visuals are good. The room, like most country club settings is too bright, but I expected that and have visuals that will work. Throttles to the firewall.  Forty-five min later, I was at the end of the presentation. And during the talk and then again at the end, this group had some good questions. I don't remember them all. When I'm in the flow, I don't often have recall. I own cameras and recorders and you would think I would set one or two up and capture the moment, but I just don't think that way. I need to travel with my Tech Monkey. But I do remember the discussions and questions that were most powerful. College Graduation Numbers: I fielded several questions based on my comments about not being able to fill the multitude of assistant and second assistant jobs out there. As well as the changing job of equipment technician. It was clear to me that there was much concern in the room that we may not be graduating and training qualified candidates to fill all the positions out there. And one of the Head Pro's in the room was very quick to talk about the fact he has the same issue. Lots of open slots in the Assistant Pro ranks. For me, I always want to be clear that when we are in a shrinking environment of golf courses closing, we cant expect the same number of Superintendent jobs to exist. There's nothing wrong with being an assistant Super. There's nothing wrong with doing that for a long time, perhaps as a career. But for sure, the way we pay our long time support crew is wrong. And everyone in that room understands that. Is All This New Tech Too Expensive?: I didn't spend long on this. Because to me, calculating ROI is easy. And if we can't do that or cant show returns on investing anything, then we are just getting stuff and doing stuff just because. Which doesn't pay. Bunkers: There was a lot of head nodding about cost of bunker maintenance and construction and that maybe we have lost the plot as it came to a bunker being a hazard. Ed Mate, a rules expert, was quick on the draw from the floor to refute that calling a bunker a "penalty area" is wrong. It's a bunker. The Environment: The CMAA Chapter is really excited about working with the Colorado Golf Association in regards to Economic and Environmental Impact of golf. That's good. I think we all want that. And I will be sure that those who need to know hear that Turfgrass side of the golf world has a lot of data and a lot to say in this area. So, did I deliver an Anthony Bourdain style ass whipping to them? Not really. Thats not me. Well, it can be. But this wasn't the time or the place. However, I'm sure there was some eye opening things that this group heard. I was super happy to hear the PGA Pros being really strong about the fact that while they know they want to get golfers to the game, the idea of keeping them there was much more on their mind. I think one of their stories about the club's most popular event being a Night Golf event was telling in the fact that there is nothing traditional in that, but it was all about the fun. Fun. What a thing. Golf really can be fun. As far as anything I said that drew the biggest reaction, someone in the audience decided to pontificate a non-question question about the number of courses, golfers and handicaps. He wasn't making any sense when he got to the slope rating part and before Ed Mate could jump in, I simply said that I don't have a handicap. Don't care about having one. Refuse to play stroke play when I play and that match play with my friends is my favorite thing. And I even went on to say that I prefer that to be with Hickory clubs and demand to be walking.  Yeah. You can imagine the chuckles that got. But it did get the Pope in the back of the room to be quiet.  Is The Golf dying? No, don't be silly. Is it going to be what it was? No, don't be silly. It's always evolved. Should every 18-hole course that has had any economic trouble turn itself into Top Golf. No. That's absurd. Should we be worried? Hell yes! Falling asleep at the wheel didn't and never will do anyone any good. Should we, as Turfheads be carrying a better message of Econ and Enviro? If you aren't you will definitely be a statistic. Definitely. But carrying is one thing, living it is even more important.  

Dave Wilber

Dave Wilber

Sustainability Reluctance 

I believe wholeheartedly in sustainable landscaping. Despite the definition of sustainable landscaping being subject to many interpretations, for me it simply rests on several key premises. Does the management of the landscape seek to decrease resource consumption? Will the landscape continue to grow as we (the organization) need if we decrease intervention? Lastly, does the particular iteration of grounds management meet the long-term goals/needs of the parent entity? If these questions are answered positively, I am at a loss as to why a person or organization would not want to pursue sustainable landscaping. In an effort to see this issue from another perspective, I would like to put forth some reasons I believe cause sustainability reluctance. Sustainable Landscapes are Messy
This may be the biggest misconception about sustainable landscapes. Most people will equate sustainable with wild and this is not always so. Sustainable landscapes need not be rambling plantings run amok. I suggest this misconception arises due to a confusion of objectives. Often when seeking to restore or support an ecosystem, gardeners will utilize native plants which co-exist well within a given ecosystem. In these habitat and organism-focused applications, “wild” plants provide shelter, food, and ecosystem services when left to grow “naturally”. Many restorative plantings are sustainable when left alone, but not all sustainable landscapes need be maintained in this manner. Landscapes exhibiting traditional design/maintenance attributes can be sustainable as long as they seek to meet the aforementioned criteria. Sustainable Landscapes can adhere to traditional design and are not necessarily "wild". Sustainable Landscapes are for Eco-Crazies
Evaluation of anything new or different frequently results in assumptions and stereotyping. A conclusion is reached about an idea before it is even given a hearing of objective evaluation. This can be the case with sustainable landscaping. People may conjure up images of long hair, Birkenstock wearing grounds people sabotaging mowers and growing corn in the front yard. This isn’t the case. Nor is it accurate to think that all the landscape will look like tallgrass prairie, or if a tree falls, it will be left lay to decompose to enrich the spirit of the earth. Sustainable landscaping is a management philosophy that draws on the same organizational and operational imperatives as any other landscaping. Funny I rarely (never?) hear people question the underlying assumptions about the dominant unsustainable landscaping methods. Some sustainable landscapes follow the stereotype, but may still accomplish organizational goals. Sustainable Landscape Changes Everything
If an organization chooses to pursue sustainable landscaping, it should be the overarching principle determining grounds management, but not necessarily in a prescriptive manner. Sustainability is about seeking to diminish resources consumption (time, money, materials, etc.) but this aspiration will not result in identical results for every organization. Consider chemical use in the landscape. One organization may seek to diminish chemical use as a way to contain costs, and market an environmentally conscious landscape approach. Another may choose to continue utilizing chemical interventions but explore ways to decrease frequency. A third may need to hold the line on current chemical use, knowing there is not organizational support for a changed approach, but seek to slowly introduce alternative groundcovers/designs that will not need chemical intervention. Being appropriate in how and where you pursue or initiate a more sustainable approach sustains progress. Everything need not change to demonstrate a commitment to sustainability. Sustainable Landscaping Doesn’t Matter to Our Organization
If you have, or are an organization, sustainable landscaping should matter to you. Sustainable landscapes contribute many benefits more than just a pretty, environmentally focused campus. Consider these questions when evaluating sustainability. Do I want my organization to sustain? Do I want my assets/resources to sustain? Do I want my position/livelihood to sustain? Do I want my company’s reputation to sustain? Likely, the answer to all of these questions is a resounding yes. Sustainable landscaping has a positive effect on all facets of an organization. In addition, taking a cue from natural ecosystems, a sustainable Grounds Manager balances the individual needs against the collective, always understating that the success of the whole is paramount. Sustainability Is the Way of the Future
Rarely does sustainability reluctance debate on the science and vocational merits of sustainable landscaping. Prejudices and stereotypes come to the fore when naysayer’s pushback against a sustainable landscape. This does our organization’s a great disservice. Evaluation of the value of landscaping should weigh the positives it brings to its parent, and at what ROI. This is a harsh truth, but a good grounds operation does not flinch from close inspection. Delivering expectations while staying within resource limits is the bottom line premise of sustainability. Drawing a straight line between these two aspects requires accurately defining, and agreement of, what constitutes a sustainable landscape. Sustainable landscaping can be adapted to any application and is greatly beneficial when it is. Truly sustainable landscapes blend organizational goals and landscaping while also seeking to decrease resource consumption.

Hornswoggled by a Big Shot Hollywood Golf Film Producer

Last week, we loaded our gear and then fought through the horrible Atlanta traffic to shoot a short film with Mark Hoban of Rivermont CC.  It was the usual debacle, with us wandering around lost in Doolooth and Akworth.  At one point, we entered “The Buford Triangle”, a place where road names change instantly and people vanish.  Relying on business signs as landmarks is impossible, because they are written in other languages than whatever it is we speak.  Never trust those fantasy maps on The Google. Anyway, we managed to arrive on time—because we always allow an extra four hours to navigate the nether world of North Atlanta—and Hoban was nowhere in sight.  After some quick detective work, we determined that Mark was being filmed, interviewed and podcasted by Erik Anders Lang, a famous Hollywood producer of golf films on The Youtube. Mark ignored Momma’s texts, so she grabbed her frying pan and went up to the clubhouse to teach somebody something.  But Mark was prepared, having posted Berkeley, his vicious German Shepherd guard dog, at the entrance.  (Momma won’t whack a golf course dog.)  After an hour of waiting in the hot sun, knowing every minute we delayed meant the possibility of being trapped in the most dreaded rush hour on the planet . . . we left.  We weren’t angry, just terrified of the giant four-hour parking lot. It all turned out positive, even if we got cheated out of a shoot.  Erik Anders Lang cranks out highly entertaining golf travel films, from the viewpoint of the next wave.  (A refreshing change from us cranky old coffin dodgers of golf.)  Erik is that golfer we have been trying to recruit for years.  He took up the game late, is highly enthusiastic and has a contagiously positive attitude toward golf.  Erik is one of the reasons I recently dragged out my clubs again.  Another key point is when EAL visited Rivermont, he spent time with the Golf Course Superintendent.  This is a great thing. I’m stoked.  (That is the right word, isn’t it?) Go to The Youtube and check out “Adventures in Golf” on the Skratch channel.  Erik and a sidekick visit a golf course, play it on camera and have the kind of fun we all used to have . . .  before we got our hineys so twisted up in building, fixing, growing-in and maintaining golf courses.  Erik will gleefully play a scruffy muni as well as an old classic, all while making a short film that delivers a strong subliminal argument for what the game needs, not what the Alphabets need.   And that brings to mind a recent Dave Wilber column, “Golf Isn’t Dying, It’s Evolving”, a very timely analysis of the future.  He touches on several vital areas, like “Lowering Golfer Expectations” and “The Return of The Big Mower”, along with “Just 3 Cuts”. *   *Note:  Every time I bring up these subjects, I am assaulted by those accusing me of “Nostalgia”, so I am grateful Dave hit it with such force.  I would also remind those flinging digital road-apples at me of this:  “Negative nostalgia is the rewriting of our past to be miserable and broken, because it creates continuity with our present.” Wilber’s message is the kind of thinking that will help the game in the future, considerably more than complex programs designed to “Grow” golf, as if it were some kind of stock market index dependent upon perpetual growth.  We all know how to dial back expensive conditioning, but the question is:  How do we get golfers on board?  Lowering golfer expectations would have environmental, legal and economic benefits, but we should expect powerful resistance.   Returning the average course to the dialed back conditioning of the 1970s—when the money people first targeted golf for a big boom—runs  contrary to what the Great Poobahs of Ever-Increasing Grooming Standards are preaching.  They won’t give up power without a knock ‘em down and drag ‘em out saloon fight.   One way to get golfers on board would be through the new wave of golf filmmakers, like Erik Anders Lang and Adventures in Golf.  Maybe the next wave of golfers will listen, unlike so many of the current coffin dodgers spoiled rotten by too many 5-Star hotels, gourmet meals and luxury golf carts.  Golf was once, and perhaps will be again, an adventure.   Oh, and since I don’t have a new film this week, due to . . . logistics and technical difficulties, here’s an old film that syncs up with Dave Wilber’s message.  
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