Most grounds managers (including golf course superintendents) understand the important role that trees play in a landscape. Trees supply beautification, shade, pollution mitigation, etc. and on a golf course can add to the challenge of play. Show me a landscape devoid of trees and I will show you a landscape that is not even close to fulfilling its potential. The culture and maintenance of trees is a critical skill for a grounds crew and the amount of money spent on arboriculture emphasizes this importance. However, the life cycle of a tree continues long after it dies, and it can continue to play a significant role during decline, and even when dead in the landscape.
Habitat trees are a reasonable part of a sustainable grounds management plan.
How We View Death in the Landscape
The modern landscape is devoid of dying or dead plants. As soon as any plant begins to decline, or is out and out dead, it is immediately removed from the landscape and replaced ASAP. Nothing dead can be tolerated in our gardens. This exclusion of dead tissue is actually counterproductive to maintaining a healthy ecosystem. By not allowing the life/death cycle to follow its course to fulfillment, we lop off a segment of this cycle even as the benefits of this process are starting to be released.
Decline and Death is Only the Beginning
All living organisms follow an arc as they go through their lives. Decline (senescence, if you will) is a stage that is marked by slower growth, isolated or widespread tissue death, and increased susceptibility to pests and disease. In trees, this decline corresponds with a marked increase of the tree to provide habitat. Nesting increases in newly appearing cavities. Insects begin to feed on wood and leaves that are no longer able to fend them-off (production of defensive compounds is slowed in stressed plants). In turn, birds feed on the insects that are hastening decline further. The truth is, there is far more wildlife and ecosystem benefit living in the cycle of dead trees than living ones.
The importance of dead in a living landscape
Our landscapes are comprised of a multitude of organisms and cycles. Removing, or diminishing the diversity of organisms can damage the ecosystem and disrupt the continuation of cycles supporting our landscapes. The landscape carbon cycle requires dead plant material to return nutrients to the soil for turf and plants to use again. The organisms (micro and macro) that enhance the breakdown of organic material into carbon (and other essential nutrients) also require dead organic matter for survival. If we diminish the quantity of one, we diminish the quantity of the other. For this reason, our insistence on removing anything dead could be detrimental. Pests frequently invade trees that are stressed and declining. This attraction to these trees may draw pests away from other healthier trees, almost acting as trap plants. Regardless, dead plants are essential for any ecosystem.
Wildlife trees support and enhance the ecology of a landscape.
Incorporating Habitat Trees on Campus
Our campus has about 20% crown cover based on iTree Canopy assessment. This means we have many trees to grow and manage. Our tree demographics reflect a tree age span range of 1-100+ years. This is a good thing. But it means that every year trees die. Big dead trees are obvious in the landscape. In Victorian Europe, dead trees were considered beautiful. Dead trees were frequently left in the landscape to accentuate, draw attention, and provide contrast. But I digress. Our grounds crew usually removes these trees promptly, but occasionally the circumstances around the tree allow us to suggest the creation of a habitat tree. However, creating habitat trees is not appropriate in all cases, but can be a vital part of a sustainable grounds management program.
When and How Habitat Trees Make Sense
Habitat tree candidates (dead/dying), especially large trees, can be left untouched (if in wooded setting), or in our case, cut back to form posts or reduced trees. Since our entire campus is exposed to foot or vehicle traffic in some extent, any dead trees must first be mitigated for stability and safety. We do not want dead limbs dropping constantly. As a Certified Arborist, and in consultation with our tree Contractor, we determine if the location, species, stability, existing landscape context, etc. is right for a habitat tree. Next, we will cut the tree back to stable and durable structure that should remain intact for 5-10 years. Because the prime directive of dead trees is decomposition, habitat trees are regularly monitored to assess their safety and to screen for the time when complete removal is justified.
After a thorough assessment, this dead black walnut tree will be trimmed to form a wildlife tree.
Dead/Dying Trees Are Alive
Dead and dying trees ARE actually full of life. Large dead/dying trees especially, provide shelter, food, and even beauty in the landscape. Habitat trees can be used to highlight the science of landscape management, embody ecologic cycles, and demonstrate a sustainable maintenance approach. Managing habitat trees is not about simply leaving a dead tree to save money or time. It is about guiding the landscape by letting nature run its full course, because it pays benefits to our landscapes and organizations.
Wildlife trees can take on many different shapes and sizes.
More information on wildlife snags.
Warning! We’re about to go all Mickey McCord Safety Meeting on you, so pay attention and learn about one of the most dangerous things on your golf course. No, it’s not a chainsaw, the dimpled projectile, nasty, slippery restrooms, hovering mowers or crocodiles.
It’s THE DANGLER.
The Dangler has caused several of those injuries that still reside in my gray matter hard drive, no matter how often I delete them. (That’s saying a lot, because I have witnessed quite a few injuries.)
During my unsuccessful training period as a Special Forces Medic, I saw all kinds of trauma. Before the Army realized I was incapable of medical competence, they ran me through a variety of training, ranging from combat medic to 90 days in an Emergency Room. (There was also that period referred to as “Goat Lab”, but I will not speak of that.) My first night in the ER, the radio popped and crackled, warning us that five Navy Seals were coming in on a Huey, apparently blown up in a demo accident. I handled that poorly, rousting everyone out of bed, merely because I had no idea what to do.
After that, I saw parachute accidents, burns, a couple of gunshot wounds and a battered husband. One night, the ER was inundated with 82nd Airborne types who had been injured while attempting to occupy a local honky-tonk. The indigenous personnel, armed with tire irons, had vigorously resisted and the result was several paratroopers with impressive lacerations. The doctor, nurses and the real medics were busy sewing up tire iron wounds, but were falling behind. The doctor yelled, “Wilson, suture that leg wound!”
It was a hideous gash from just below the knee, extending several inches alongside the shin and terminating in the lower calf region. As I think back on that incident, I shouldn’t have said, “Yes, sir, but I’ve never sewed anybody up before.”
The trooper in question, a rather stout fellow, screamed and tried to escape—the technical military term is “un-ass the area”—but was gleefully restrained by several Military Police intent upon helping me accomplish my mission. I comforted the patient by telling him that I had successfully sewn up several oranges and then I demonstrated my nimble dexterity by fumbling the fish hook shaped needle used to close wounds. By the time I got through, the wound was worse than when I started, but the patient had a very impressive Frankenstein scar that he could make up all sorts of war stories about. On the positive side, the MPs had enjoyed a wonderful evening of wrestling inebriated paratroopers and I had learned the medical field did not need me.
Years later, while coaching high school football, I saw a compound femur fracture. During my bicycle racing phase, I witnessed several broken clavicles. These featured bones sticking out of skin, accompanied by lots of blood and hysterical shrieking. (The paramedics said shrieking unnerved the victim, so I quit that.)
On the golf course, I saw all kinds of chaos: Chainsaw accidents, partial amputations caused by hovering mowers, a hand trapped under an engine when a hoist failed . . . and an old fellow pinned in a bunker by an aerifier from the Jurassic period. (You remember, those exposed crankshaft models?) Since we didn't have cell phone cams in those days, instead of taking his picture, I hastily got the monster off of him.
I’ve seen golf ball impacts produce knots the size of apples, watched lightning explode a tree beside a golfer, who mentally destabilized and provided the afternoon's entertainment by running in circles and howling about Judgement Day. Once a week, I watched Buddy spill enough blood on the shop floor to shoot a chainsaw maniac horror movie. (Tara, Buddy’s bride, warned me not to give him access to sharp objects, but I thought she was kidding.)
But it was THE DANGLER that stands out in my tiny mind. It was '93, when a course marshal--who had ignored my warnings--drove past me dangling his left foot from his golf car. Suddenly, the old fellow was tossed from the cart onto the hard, cold asphalt of the parking lot.
His foot was almost completely ripped off, barely holding on by a single thread of soft tissue; blood pumped out like a broken 3” main. Golfers immediately circled around like vultures, trying to help by yelling things like, “His foot is gone, his foot is gone!”
I radioed for help, put on a tourniquet and treated the old guy for shock. The only thing I could remember from my medic training was to lie about how bad the injury was. “You’re gonna be fine, don’t worry.”
Next, I had to disperse the onlookers, because my patient became distressed when he heard a golfer puking. Fortunately he didn't see the golf pro faint.
The lesson here is, golf cars and utility vehicles are dangerous--and it’s not just The Dangler. Just watch The Youtube and stare in awe as hundreds of imbeciles jump bunkers like Bo Duke, run over each other with golf cars and spin 360s down slick, grassy, wet hills.
The Net says there are 15,000 golf car accidents per year, possibly more, with 10% of them being rollovers. I suspect most of those are not golf related, but The Youtube is heavily weighted toward golf idiots. Most of these numbskulls are unaware of the Law of Skateboard Injury, which states “Just because it heals up and you feel better, doesn’t mean it won’t come back when you’re 40 and hurt like hell forever.”
Golf course veterans all know that golf courses are inherently dangerous, with wild, irregular surfaces lying in ambush just off that path. We know a tractor will roll on a steep hill—isn’t that what those rollbars are for? We expect spray rigs to get hinky with the slightest weight shift . . . we’ve seen machines flip into those bunkers put too close to the green by architects with no superintendent experience. We’ve watched a lake grab a slick-tired triplex, we've ridden a rough unit as it bucks and spins downhill into the trees and calmly observed golfers launch a golf car off a bridge at full speed.
We know how to handle this: Crews need constant reminders to drive in a cautious manner, especially the newer crew members. They all need to be told about The Dangler, even if they think it's a myth.
As for golfers? They won’t listen. They can’t read signs. Golfers think the golf course is a magical theme park where Driving Under the Influence and gravity does not exist. At best, all we can do is repeatedly tell them, “Keep your hands and feet inside the ride at all times.”
A funny thing happened this week. After my most recent bout with intermittent recurring back pain (on and off for the better part of the past 25 years) I finally decided to go for a physiotherapy appointment. I’m really not sure why I hadn’t gone before; ignorance, procrastination, stubbornness... pick anything really. My wife picked stubbornness. My chronic back struggles had become a part of how I defined myself and I guess I just accepted that my back pain was inevitable.
Back trouble for me can be traced back to my days as a curler. I competed at a very high level and despite what you might think about the athletic ability involved in the game, it took a toll. Back issues just became part of the landscape for me and I dealt with it many different ways over the years. It took my youngest daughter Clara’s rehabilitation from a serious knee injury and my oldest daughter Maria’s OCD therapy success to open my eyes to looking at my pain in a new way and taking the necessary steps to address it.
Half way through my first appointment, the physiotherapist paused and asked me a question. “Did you realize how crooked you are?” I looked in the mirror and was stunned. It was something my wife Jill had repeatedly pointed out to me but up until this week I hadn’t really taken an honest look for myself and acknowledged what she was saying.
Apparently through the years when the pain flared my default was to walk like a pretzel to avoid the pain. This I soon learned was exacerbating the problem (as so often happens when we try to skirt around a situation instead of addressing it.) So, step one in my therapy journey was to place my awareness on being crooked and slowly but intentionally correct it.
That simple realization struck me as the funny part. How many times in our lives do we tell ourselves that things are the way they are and not much can ever be done to change it? How often do we pause and take an honest look in the mirror to see the true nature of the problem? Have we ever asked others for help? And most importantly have we had the courage and compassion to look at the issue through a different lens and take those courageous steps towards change?
When we begin to honestly evaluate the stories we live with every day, we soon realize they don’t hold as much water as we once thought. Many of our truths and opinions simply change over time and ideas that were once considered sacred turn out to be rather twisted. So too with unhelpful stories.
The trick with such radical transformation is to approach it with a measure of compassion and a good dose of courage. It can be very difficult to admit that you have not been totally honest with yourself and that has caused you or someone you love to suffer. Learning to accept life’s difficult truths is an important step on the journey of personal growth. Being kind to yourself in the process is critical. Remember that most of us are doing our best with the information we have available to us at any given time. Yet that said, exploring a more open and flexible approach to our own difficulties can lead us to new and more positive solutions to life’s inevitable problems.
So, if there is a particular problem or issue which has been plaguing you for a while, step back and look at it from a completely new angle. Ask for advice from people you trust and more importantly, listen. Let someone else shine a light on the problem and listen to opposing viewpoints. And most importantly, listen to yourself. When we quiet our minds and tune into ourselves, we might be surprised how close at hand a solution may be.
December 1989. Louisville, Colorado (between Boulder and Denver)
Like most supers in Colorado, late November and early December had me playing the guessing game of applying snow mold protection and blowing out the irrigation system. Go too late and there can be absolute hell to pay. Go too early and well, there can be absolute hell to pay. In my situation, it was worse, as I had been growing in a course and we were pushing just as hard to get things up and growing as is possible. So the idea of hardening off into happy grass dormant wonderland was not happening.
I'll back up a bit. I had taken this impossible job where I was handling the finish of construction, grassing and grow in. My staff was 6 people. Yup, that's how we did it back then. A bizarre form of minimalism based on not having any money because the project spent all the money on entrance signs and clubhouse designs. We reverse change-ordered the general contractor and took the job over. Insanity. And I didn't know better. I was 24 years old.
So it's December. And we are way behind. Way way behind. And I think to myself, what else could go wrong? Yeah... a bad thought. But you won't guess what's coming.
We had finished the snow mold sprays. We had blown out most of the irrigation system in a minor snowstorm, with just one small section to go that I wanted to leave on to try to get some last chance water on the last holes we had seeded. It had been cold, but clear and I needed the water.
We had managed to just about make it to some kind of seasonal stopping point. I was re-wiring an irrigation clock and a huge windstorm began. One of those kind of crazy Colorado winds that starts slowly and suddenly builds to "name your dog Toto" kind of intensity. Me and my red slippers, aka Red Wing boots, were hunkered down behind the clock, dirt in my eyes. Cold as the wicked witch's nipples and I thought I heard something. I wasn't about to break from my place of protection. So maybe it was just a flying cow or something.
I'd say the microburst lasted about 5 minutes. It seemed like an hour. It went from windy from a general direction to just outright swirling around me. I looked at some trees that were looking like those silly dancing men that car dealerships put in front of their places to entice you to look again. When it stopped a little I looked up. Happy that a tree didn't fall on me and something in my field of view didn't seem right. At all.
In the distance, an object. A huge one. Right in the middle of a tee box area. My brain took a moment to take in the scene and all at once, my entire system said, "airplane". I was looking at the remains of an airplane. Tail section in the air. Wings crumpled. I froze. Because back in those days there were no cell phones in my pocket to call anyone or start shooting video with and for what I am sure was just a brief moment, I totally froze. And then it occurred to me that I ought to see if anyone was alive. And so I started running. Not really knowing what I would do when I got there.
(This is the part where, in any decent blog post, a picture of a plane crash on the golf course should be. I don't have any pics of any of this. The roll of slides that I took was mishandled somehow and the film was exposed. And I don't feel like putting a pic of another crash is in good taste.)
Being first on the scene isn't always a good thing. It was pretty clear to me that I just ran up on two dead guys. One body was completely decapitated. One had a steering yoke through his chest. My CPR training on a dummy with fake boobs and nice complexion didn't include the chapter on dudes with missing heads and stuff in their chest where you were supposed to be doing "compressions". Clearly it was time to back away. The smell of fuel punctuated this idea.
The resulting circus was crazy. Others had seen the plane go down and had managed to call 911. And so from a back road to the property, the first responders rolled in. The first fire guy that I dealt with was pretty much an asshole telling me to get the hell out of there as he cut a barbed wire fence and motioned for this huge truck to drive right up on a newly seeded area. The truck promptly sunk to its wheel wells. Earning me even more yells from Joe Volunteer Fire Dude. As if I meant for the truck to submarine. (it took two huge tow trucks to free the fire beast, but that's another story)
Another truck took out a sprinkler head and of course it was pressurized. Old Faithful drenched everyone around as the wind played the shot perfect and sent water all over the scene. I ran for a valve key and got that one handled. But not before the whole world was yelling at me.
My afternoon was spent trying to manage traffic from police, fire, news and NTSB people. The National Transportation Safety Board guys ended up being really cool. But I think in the beginning, they were as pissed off as I was at the muddy carnage that the scene had become. A day later when they interviewed me for the their reports, they laughed at me when I described the scene I saw upon first reaching the plane. "This wasn't even a bad one", the investigator said. And I replied something to the effect of only one missing head must be a blessing, or some such.
Years later, when I got my pilot's license I often thought about the headless and chestless dudes that, according to the NTSB, made a bad decision to fly that day in conditions that their plane couldn't handle. And I vowed to become a student of the weather and the situation I would be flying in. No matter what. What this ultimately did was show me that unless my backyard oil well came in, I couldn't afford to buy the aircraft that would be awesome enough to make me more efficient than Southwest airlines. But I still love everything about aviation.
So when people talk about December Turfhead things, those discussions usually lead to snow mold and irrigation. I tend to remember plane crashes, which I'm glad everyone else doesn't have in their brains.
In this episode of Rockbottum Radio, the usual cast of idiots, oafs and varlets keep interrupting me as I try to pass along my proven techniques to skirt The Matrix and suppress the stress-inducing Noise in our lives. Most are simple, easy to do, and... cheap!
The TurfNet Maestro has proclaimed that this is me pontificating at my finest. Maybe he found that the shoe fit a little bit.
Last week, somebody demised Ludell on the practice tee and police suspicion immediately fell upon the various Alphabets. (They had the strongest motive to see Ludell silenced.)
A huge mob of Ludell's betrothed (all three of them) formed outside the courthouse and demanded justice. Minutes before the Sheriff boarded the Greyhound bus for Kansas, a shocking video surfaced, claiming to show what really happened.
We will show you the footage, but keep in mind, a skillful editor can twist reality . . .
For a large part of the country, we are entering the so-called “off-season” in golf. This means you might actually get some time away from the course. Add to that, now through early January is when many people slow down, work less, and spend more time with family and friends for the holidays. Which is great, but it’s also a prime opportunity to get your career materials up to date.
Once early January comes, you’ll be focusing on plans for the new season, attending seminars and conferences, and Spring will be here before you know it. While it’s easy to just relax and let these next couple months pass by, now is the time to get motivated and get your materials up to date.
I’ve said it before many times to those that know or work with me, you have no idea when your dream opportunity is going to present itself. You have to be ready, today.
To that end, here is a quick checklist to help with getting materials up to date:
Is your resume ready for today's trends?
Obviously, your resume should be up to date with the latest information about your current position. But it should also reflect the latest trends in both what clubs are looking for, and overall technology trends. This means a couple things.
You should really consider how your resume is formatted so that it displays well on mobile devices. The vast majority of hiring people now view your resume the first time from their phones. Proper formatting for phones can be a big “jump off the page” moment for your resume to them. I recently wrote about a solution I have developed for this issue here >
Think about the hundreds of resumes a club may receive for a superintendent position. A wall of bullet points is not the best way to stand out and garner a closer look. Consider more unique layout options, ditch responsibilities bullets for “skills and achievements” sections, and keep the resume shorter than you think it should be... trust me.
I have written about resume techniques quite a bit on this blog. Check earlier posts for details on some of those points.
Do you have a career website that helps?
Let’s face it, the golf course maintenance industry is graded heavily through subjectivity. Every golfer views conditions differently based on their skills, expectations, and price and pride of membership. How you show them your skills is key to their interest in you.
A website for your career allows you to showcase your very best conditions in an environment you can control. It really is a must-have to increase your chances for attaining interviews on a consistent basis. Plus it can be updated easily as your career advances and is even useful as a marketing tool to your current members if tweaked properly.
But be careful, a poorly built website with DIY design can work against you, making your career look less that professional or how you run an operation. Money spent here is a sound investment in your career that will pay off year after year.
Is your portfolio interview-ready?
If you are granted an interview, a huge majority of clubs will then ask you to send them your portfolio, either digitally via a website or PDF, or in print. If you have a website, obviously that is great. A supplemental PDF version of your website serving as a portfolio document is a nice touch though. For one, you can send both your URL and a PDF file they can distribute as the want. Then, you can delivery hard-copies of your portfolio at the interview. It’s a formula that works.
That portfolio file should again be professional looking, and match the look of your resume and website. It shouldn’t be a theme from PowerPoint or Word. It should take the best of the website, and expand your thoughts on agronomics, course presentation, communications, leadership, etc. Things like that, you wouldn’t want displayed for the entire internet to see (read: rip off), so they are great for an offline document like a portfolio.
Is your content hitting the target?
If you have a website and portfolio, you need to ensure that whatever is in them actually gets your career highlighted in the proper way to the target market. Guess what – the target market is golfers, not turf guys. They don’t care to see 30 pictures of the drainage installation process. All they see is dirt. Golfers want to see the results of a project, the conditions/design/setup they will play after the project is complete.
The best content you can use are before and after images. They show exactly the changes in the course and conditions, and how you brought about that transformation. When they are laid out in a professional manner, they are critical to golfers understanding your ability to bring about change, which is honestly a driving force behind a lot of open positions.
After images are fairly easy to obtain, before images are a different story. Very few actually have them. So here’s a good tip: go out today and take pictures of the course. Now you’ll have “before” pictures in case any projects or conditions improvements come along in the near future.
Also be sure that your content is telling the right “side” of the story. Golfers don’t want to hear about drill and fill, graden, tine sizes, etc. You are better served mentioning that you use the latest in agronomic practices to deliver a course that is “insert what you want golfers to think” here. They again want to know the results of the practices and not the process, especially at the initial application. They may ask specifics later on.
There are many subtleties to content strategy; take time to consistently review it for the best angle.
Do you have a network outside of turf?
I don’t want to spend a ton of time on this, as I have written about it twice on this blog - the original idea is here >
Many opportunities for new positions are found not through job boards or superintendent networking. They are found through connections outside your peers. You should have a strong network with golf pros, GMs, chefs, and most importantly, golfers at other clubs. The above link provides some strategies for this goal. Make time now to plan a path to achieve this for next year.
Answering yes to all of these means you are ready for that next great opportunity, today. If not, work to get things updated and ask for help to move things along in a professional manner. People like me are available to become your partner for career success.
Reward your career this holiday season... and it may very well benefit your entire family.
Everyone should read Paul MacCormack's "Afterglow". It's a new direction in dealing with life on turf.
It also proves TurfNet is still the leader in adaptive metaphysical approaches--and just plain leading from the front.
Great minds like Peter McCormick, Dave Wilber and the big names who gathered with Paul MacCormack at the Mindful Leadership and Wellness Retreat have been pushing us in this direction for years.
But way out front, so far ahead that they got a little behind--except for Momma--is Rockbottum CC . . . especially Buddy. Not convinced? Here's an old film that proves we pioneered metaphysical healing in the high pressure career of turf.
We had a feeling that we were on to something. An idea for an event that was so far out of the industry box, there was no packaging left. We sincerely hoped that it would have a lasting impact on the attendees; that the small space created would open a door to new possibilities and a fresh way of approaching what it means to be a Superintendent. We had no idea the impact our first retreat would have.
The beta version of the Mindful Superintendent Leadership and Wellness Retreat has come and gone, but the legacy left behind is just the beginning. Twelve of us gathered in St. Peters, Prince Edward Island to take a mindful pause, introduce some new ideas, and share. The openness and vulnerability shown by the participants was staggering. The turf conversations were inevitable (and amazing) but it was the chats that went deeper, way down into the root zone, which left the most indelible footprint.
Our weekend was loosely defined, but had definite purpose. The absence of a written itinerary left some feeling a bit unstable… but that was intentional. There was a master plan and a ton of organization involved, but there was also enough space built in to allow things to meander. This intentional space created the room for something special to emerge. Intentional spaciousness works like that — it creates the breathing room we require in order to be spontaneous and more receptive to openness and possibility.
The first day was devoted to introducing the practice of mindfulness. We talked about the value solitude, presence, awareness, and the power of pausing on purpose. After a morning of learning and discussions, we took to nature to practice. A two-and-a-half-hour silent hike through the fields, forest, dunes and coastline of nearby Greenwich National Park turned out to be the perfect way to demonstrate the immense power of taking time for silent reflection and solitude.
A 2-1/2 hour silent hike through Greenwich National Park demonstrated the power of solitude.
Some of the most impactful and important parts of the weekend were the natural, organic discussions which occurred. There was purposeful space created to allow them to occur, but the nature of the discussions was left open ended. Our evenings were dedicated to the conversational flow of ideas and the group responded beautifully. Topics like team culture, stress management, anxiety, divorce, and what it means to be a woman in turf yielded wonderful insights. A concept everyone connected with was that as Golf Course Superintendents and more importantly, human beings, we all suffer. At any given time, our level of suffering changes, but we are all in it together. This realization really brought the group together and produced many illuminating conversations.
We also had a good deal of fun. The whole vibe was meant to be relaxing and restful, but there was definitely an element of active fun built in. We played golf (horribly for a bunch of folks who spend most of their time on golf courses) at the nearby Links at Crowbush Cove and had a blast. Our wrap-up meal was a lobster dinner at my parent’s cottage and I’m not sure we could have laughed any more. They say that laughter is good for the soul, and trust me when I say our souls were just fine after that meal.
The last day of the event was dedicated to discussing leadership and culture. Chris Tritabaugh delivered a wonderful seminar that wove together his direct experience with his extensive knowledge. All involved were completely in the moment and the resulting discussions and observations were amazing.
There isn’t enough room left on this page to express the amount of gratitude I feel for making this event a reality. So many people worked so hard to make this possible and I would be remiss if they were not mentioned…
Frank Rossi & Chris Tritabaugh – Thank you both for the many heartfelt conversations which preceded this retreat. The inaugural event would not have been possible without your belief in and support of the idea itself. Your presence in St. Peters was powerful in creating the cohesion for the weekend to play out as it did.
David Kuypers & Syngenta Canada – I cannot say enough about the support we received from David and his group. David was able to see the vision right along with us and then made all things possible with the sponsorship of the event. Our gratitude for Syngenta Canada’s support is immense.
Karen Milligan and her staff at The Inn at St. Peters – For the last event of their season they went out with a bang. Their kind attentiveness to our group and wonderful food and hospitality were second to none. We sincerely hope to be back another year.
Andrew & Brad – These two professionals worked diligently to capture the essence of the event on video. Their patience and creativity were a pleasure to witness. We are really looking forward to the their creation.
My wife Jill, and children Maria, Lucas & Clara – They put up with a great deal most of the time from the likes of me. Thanks to them for giving me the space to make the retreat happen in the midst of a very challenging autumn in our family.
My mom & dad, Ann Marie & Ray – The hosts with the most sent us off beautifully with a lobster dinner at their cottage on Sunday night. It was a very generous, typically Maritime way to cap off an amazing weekend. Also, a big thanks to my father for driving and sacrificing his time to make sure everyone was where they needed to be all weekend long.
My staff at Fox Meadow – Events like this simply cannot happen if you don’t have complete confidence in your team. Thanks so much to Finn, Paula, Sean & Trevor for always going above and beyond to help things run smoothly at Fox Meadow.
Peter McCormick and the team at TurfNet – If Peter hadn’t taken a chance and given me the space to write The Mindful Super blog all those years ago, the idea for this event may never have materialized. The blog was essential in creating a community of readers considering the concept of mindfulness and its application in the lives of superintendents.
To Leasha Schwab, Brad Allen, Eric MacPherson, Sean Tulley, Chris Zugel, Miranda Robinson, Michael Vesely, Pat O’Brien, and Max MacKenzie. Your openness, flexibility and courage to participate in this event were so inspiring. The way this group of strangers came together and shared so much of themselves created a very special bond. Thank you so very much for being the seed for something which hopefully grows into a positive changing force in our industry and in our lives in general.
So where does this event go from here? It’s hard to say really. The momentum is strong and the vision for the future is healthy and vibrant. Stay tuned…
I was working on a piece about how modern country club boards resemble the leadership of Rome in their last days—you know, lounging about in togas, unaware of the reality building outside the wall—when I remembered it was almost Halloween. So, from deep in the Rockbottum vault, a previously unreleased Halloween story:
Way back in ’73, on a cold afternoon in late October, I was splitting a mountain of firewood with Old Roy—not to be confused with just plain Roy, the AM radio preacher—and we sat down to take a break. We had a small fire going, not to keep warm—the axe was doing a good job of that—it was more of a keep you company kind of fire. The previous winter’s ice storm had gifted us with the world’s supply of downed trees and Dad decided that since I was near worthless on the golf course crew, maybe I might be a woodsman.
As we sat by the fire, Old Roy pulled out his prized Sherlock Holmes pipe and stuffed it full of a fragrant tobacco I remember as Borkum Riff, lighted it and leaned back to study the trees just beginning to color. “Boy,” he said through a cloud of smoke that smelled like spilled bourbon, “I reckon you being a night waterman, you seen things out there?”
“Yeah,” I nodded, “but not what I was looking for.”
Old Roy eyed me like I had said something crazy. “What was you looking for?”
“Flying saucers . . . never did see one.”
“I seen stuff,” Old Roy pointed his pipe stem at me, “and not just everday stuff like UFOs and little spacemen.” I sensed a story coming, because Old Roy had an amazing talent for delaying work with long, convoluted tales . . . a skill I was to develop later in life. At this point, I wasn’t really interested in one of his stories about what it was like to work on a golf course back in 1947 or how he toured with several famous bluegrass bands I had never heard of.
“Old Roy, if you’re gonna tell me again how we aerify in the fall to release the evil spirits from the greens, I—“
“Son,” he cut me off, anger in his voice, “you ought not to make fun of stuff you don’t understand.”
“I ain’t makin’ fun, Roy, I seen stuff, too, it just wasn’t worth tellin’.”
“Well, like one night on Little Mountain, I was sitting in my Cushman waiting for the greens to finish watering and I saw something sitting on a tee and the more I stared at it, the more it looked like a little man about two feet tall, and he was watching me. When I turned the Cushman headlight on to look at him—he ran off.”
“Hmm.” Old Roy took a deep puff on his pipe, “you ain’t much good at tellin’ stories, son. See, the Cherokees have a world of stories about the little people that infested these forests back before the white man came and ruined things. Them Appalachian mountains is overrun with little people. Add that to your story.”
I sat in silence, considering if I should pick up that axe again, but it was getting near quitting time, not more than an hour away. “I suppose you can do better?” I used my sarcastic teenage tone, which was about like I talk now.
“Yes, I can,” Old Roy wriggled back against a log and assumed his storytelling posture. “Back in ’63, on a real uppity country club north of Atlanta—it was out the woods back then, but now it’s surrounded by concrete—anyway, the club was having a Halloween party, cause they was always havin’ parties, any excuse to dress up, likker up and dance—“ Old Roy stopped to watch Dad’s truck go by on #17, calculating whether we needed to hop back up and axe some, but the truck turned around and headed back toward the front side. I threw another log on the fire.
“So, the Boss Man had already gone home, he was a real religious greenkeeper and he didn’t hold with celebrating devil stuff, and that left just me and Mickey and Roosevelt there to put everything away and lock up. Mickey was a worthless kid, kinda like you but not as bad, and Roosevelt was about 75 years old and he knew how to work. He had grown up choppin’ cotton and workin’ the fields and he had no intention of givin’ up half a day’s pay over mindless doings like Halloween, so there we was.”
“Where you was?” My attention span back then was not something to be proud of.
“Locking up the barn, don’t you listen? That’s when Dr. Morlin—he was the club president—Dr. Morlin drove up in his Cadillac and gave us a bottle of Jack, with the seal still on it, and said he didn’t feel right about them havin’ a big party up to the clubhouse while we did all the work and went unnoticed. So we thanked him and when he left, we sat down on our picnic table by the fire pit and Mickey went and got some Co-Cola to mix with the Jack, and pretty soon, we was havin’ a fine old time.”
“I hope something happens soon in this story.”
“Well, about halfway through the bottle, Sammy the golf pro comes running up out of the dark, from the direction of the clubhouse, where he shoulda been partying with the rich folk, and he’s completely out of breath and all white-eyed and he grabs our bottle and takes a big chug without even asking.”
“Was he a big drinker?” It was getting interesting.
“Not really, but it pissed Roosevelt off, a golf pro putting his mouth on our bottle and all--but then Sammy says something terrible has happened and he was gonna get the blame.”
“Blame for what?”
“He said he was sitting out on number #1 tee bench with Mary Jane Brokawski—she was a dentist’s wife, real purty gal—and Dr. Morlin came up and accused him of cavorting with at least ten member’s wives, eleven if you count Mary Jane. Then Mary Jane slapped Sammy and ran off crying. Sammy said he didn’t see the problem with romancing lonely women, as Dr. Morlin was also engaged in extra-maritals. But Dr. Morlin said that it was different, cause Sammy was just an employee and right then, an icy cold wind blew over them and suddenly . . . there was a spook standing right there beside them!”
“What kinda spook?” I was in BS detecting mode, after all, it was a Halloween costume party.
“An old gray woman, taller than Sammy, and really thin--lean as a lizard. She was wearing gray rags that flapped in the wind—no color to her at all—and she reached out and touched Dr. Morlin with a bony hand . . . and he fell stone dead right there. Sammy like to had a heart attack and ran down number one and he could hear her behind him, rags flappin’ in the wind. He thought he was gonna die and then he saw our fire and came straight to us--when he got close, he couldn’t hear her anymore.”
“Pretty good story. So Sammy killed Dr. Morlin?”
“Naw,” muttered Old Roy, “cause we was sittin’ there lookin’ at Sammy like he was a axe murderer or somethin’, and Abe--that was Roosevelt’s redbone hound--Abe starts growlin’ out toward the fairway, the hair on his back standin' up. We couldn’t see nothin’, but Abe decided he had had enough and he took off runnin' toward the highway, bawling like he was on the scent of a rabbit. That's when a cold wind hit us, blew my hat off and Roosevelt says, “I've had enough, too” and he lights out for home.
“Standing right there about ten feet away was the same old woman Sammy said killed Dr. Morlin. She was eight foot tall and her skin was stretched thin over her bony face, especially when she grinned real big—had lots of teeth—and then she reached out with her hand that seemed to me to be more bone than skin and Mickey yelped like somethin’ had bit him and ran right through the fire to get away and that’s when I fell over the picnic table. Sammy started hollerin’ like he had a siren in his throat and he ran back out on the golf course. When I managed to get back up, I was alone and the fire had blown out . . . but Sammy was still out there somewhere screamin’ in the dark.”
Old Roy knocked his pipe on a log and pointed toward Dad’s truck coming toward us, so we grabbed our axes and went back to splitting wood . . . at least until Dad drove on by. Old Roy dropped his axe and sat back down. “Next morning, Roosevelt found Doc Morlin right where Sammy said, and the Sheriff came and talked to us, but we didn’t say nothing about the spook, so the Sheriff allowed as how it was either a heart attack from drinking or his wife got tired of his runnin’ around and that was the end of it.”
“But what happened to Sammy?”
“Never heard from again,” Old Roy muttered. “But you know how golf pros are . . . he’s probably out there right now, givin’ golf lessons to other folk’s wives—only I expect it’s really hot there.”
Recently our crew got together for what is a regular but somewhat infrequent occurrence. We came together to discuss how we might improve our operation, and foster an atmosphere where the crew can freely speak their minds. As I am sure most Grounds Managers can attest to, the crew loves to talk and express their ideas. Groundskeepers are rarely shrinking violets with their opinions. What is difficult is not getting them to talk, but channeling that talk first into positive contribution, and then into concrete/measurable plan of action. What I do know beyond a doubt is that for all the ideas we come up with, the ones that are most likely to stick are the ones the crew come up with themselves.
It’s About Having a Voice
I have yet to meet a person in groundskeeping that is hesitant to share their opinion. However, this does not mean that all the talk we hear or participate in is always beneficial. Beyond the daily chatter, important talk sometimes reaches a point where the crew needs to share their voice to gain some beneficial result. It goes without saying, but is also worth repeating, that talk can’t initiate change without getting to the ears of someone who can influence the situation. Having a voice means providing feedback and viewpoints to decision makers in your organization. Don’t let good discussions end at the crew level. However, it is vital to remember that in some capacity we are all decision makers, and that we must all share our thoughts.
Inviting the crew to regular campus meetings makes them feel included, thereby more likely to speak out.
No One Has a Voice if No One Listens
On the surface, this seems obvious. Listening (more accurately hearing) is the essential step necessary to create a voice. “If a tree falls in the forest, does anyone hear it?” truly does apply here. When my crew expresses thoughts on any subject affecting them, it is imperative to understand what they are really getting at. It may be exactly what they say, or there may be some other message wrapped up in it. When I listen to hear (more accurately understand), I share in giving my crew a voice. We cannot stop here though. The crew must listen and give you a voice. Managers must be sure that the crews voice be heard, and understood, by our bosses too. Our bosses play a significant role in creating the world Grounds Crews work in and pushing the words of the crew up the chain of command adds to their voice.
More Than Venting
Talking with the crew is about much more than just giving them a safe space to blow off steam. Yes, letting team members get thoughts off their chests is valuable, but effective team communication provides more. If it sounds like a crew is just complaining, who wants to listen to that? Grousing and griping gets the organization nowhere because it isn’t meant to build up or generate useful discussion. Far too often, complaining is just negative noise, and sometimes is intended to hurt or create negative outcomes. I heard a good phrase the other day, “complaining with a purpose”. Making the team aware of undesirable circumstances to shine light on them thereby promoting analysis of these conditions is very useful. The negativity of complaining can become a habit and should be discouraged.
Presentation style speaking is good for sharing information, but not for fostering dialogue.
Change Requires Speaking Out
All too often team members are dissatisfied with something that is occurring in their job but feel they are powerless to do anything about it. This sense of resignation may be an understandable conclusion based on the organization. On the other hand, feeling powerless may be more about the individuals own predisposition. Making improvements rarely happens without energized and willing participants. Change for changes sake is not smart, but perpetually doing things the same is not always smart either. When I talk with my crew, I am always impressed with the good ideas that they share. Even their bad ideas (there is usually a few of those too) reflect an energy and intention of trying to improve our work process and atmosphere. Creating an environment where ideas can be shared openly without fear of negative consequences is essential to a high functioning grounds operation.
Keep Talking It Out
I define myself as a “long-talker”. This means I can take a seemingly long time to say something. My reason is I have a crystal-clear image of what is in my head, and it is challenging to use just a few words to be sure to convey my thought accurately to another. Fortunately, not all conversations require deep thoughts of great importance. We are all familiar with tailgate meetings comprising just a few sentences to refresh awareness on a topic. Listening to new voices is also a good way to generate conversation. Regardless of how you structure your talks, keep talking to the crew. It will pay off, and all of you will appreciate the conversation.
If this is how your crew responds to your meetings, it's time to try a new approach.
Friday morning, we woke up at the Rosapenna Golf Resort in County Donegal and the golfers had a short walk to their golf pavilion. We were playing the Sandy Hills course which was designed by Pat Ruddy. The resort also boasts a course laid out by Old Tom Morris but it was booked for a Golfing Union of Ireland competition.
The weather was fairly brisk as seventeen golfers took to the tee for our 8:20 start time. Once the golfers were dispatched on the course, many of the non-golfers had a leisurely breakfast and made the short walk into the village of Rosapenna.
On the first tee at Sandy Hills.
Scott Schukraft and Mike Cook gear up for their last round of the trip.
The Sandy Hills course at Rosapenna Golf Resort could qualify for one of the nicest golf courses you've never heard of...
Here more than some, it pays to hit it straight.
As the tide was out, we were able to walk along the beach. Once in the village, we walked up some steps along the rocks, found a local coffee shop and the McNutt Tweed Shop - a specialty woolen store. The items in the store were unique to this region and certainly could not be found in the myriad of stores back in Dublin. The operation is so small and intimate that one of the lead designers was working the till that day.
The non-golfers took the beach walk to the village.... and were greeted by a friendly sheep along the way.
McNutt Tweed Shop in Donegal.
A light rain started as we were leaving the store, so we opted to walk through the village to return to Rosapenna Resort. After the golf, we enjoyed soup and sandwiches in the café above the golf pavilion. We had time for one final group shot around the iconic statue of Old Tom Morris.
Simon had been dispatched back to the Matthews home base as he was to be redeployed as a driver on Monday and needed a three-day break from behind the wheel. Our driver for the drive back to Dublin was none other than Paddy Matthews himself, founder of the company. We loaded the bus as usual and settled in for the 4+ hour ride to Portmarnock Links Hotel. Once in Portmarnock, the evening was spent packing up for the next morning's drive to the airport and reminiscing on our outstanding and remarkable week together.
Final loud-out at Dublin Airport.
A few couples (the Crowthers, Galls, and John Brauer and Lisa Donovan) opted to stay in Dublin another evening, but the rest of us took the bus to the airport to catch a series of flights home. We caught one last amazing Irish sunrise on our way to the airport, and it symbolized the beauty of this country that we had experienced for the entire week.
On Thursday we checked out of the Bishops Gate Hotel in Derry and boarded our bus to Ballyliffin in County Donegal, back in the "South" of Ireland. On the docket for the day was a face off against the Irish superintendents on Ballyliffin's Old Course as part of the 10th playing of the TurfNet Emerald Challenge/Jim Byrne Cup.
The Old Course at Ballyliffin Golf Club.
The Irish brought 16 of their best golfers and our group had a total of 20 players in the event. It was determined that since four TurfNet players had to play together two would play representing Ireland to even out the teams. After a coin flip, it was determined that Matt and Cheryl Crowther would play representing Ireland. That was only fitting given Cheryl's Irish heritage which includes relatives from County Clare.
Paul Rauker, JJ Young (formerly of Tralee), Ken Flisek, and Fintan Brennan from Portmarnock Links ready to face off in the TurfNet Emerald Challenge
Ray Brennan and Trevor Dargan from Ireland with Tripp Trotter and Jorge Croda
We started out with cold winds but the weather eventually warmed and calmed down a bit. Andy Robertson and his crew had the course in great shape, just as it was during the 2018 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open in July. Scoring for the event was based on the Stableford system. Ireland eked out a win by a score of 207 points to 199.
The winning Irish team (yes that’s Matt and Cheryl Crowther with them - Irish for the day!)
All players in the 10th TurfNet Emerald Challenge Jim Byrne Cup after the round at Ballyliffin.
JJ Young is the recently retired head greenkeeper from Tralee Golf Course in County Kerry... the first course we played on our first trip to Ireland in 2009. JJ had arranged for an additional trophy in honor of the event being named for Jim Byrne. This trophy was made out of thousands years old bogwood and was a fitting tribute to a special man.
JJ Young explains the making of the special trophy in honor of Jim Byrne, long considered the father of professional greenkeeping in Ireland.
Ballyliffin Golf Club was a great host for the TurfNet Emerald Challenge/Jim Byrne Cup
The non-golfers were able to tour the nearby Doagh Famine Village and Malin Head - the northernmost point in Ireland, before picking us up for the ride to Rosapenna.
Non-golfers visited Malin Head - the Northern-most point in Ireland - Simon our driver for the day on far right.
View from Malin Head - Ireland’s northernmost point.
During World War II, the white rocks at Malin Head alerted German pilots that they were over neutral Ireland.
Famine era thatched roof home.
Breathtaking scenery for the non-golfers that day.
Learning about poitin (illegal malted barley pot still whiskey) on the Doagh Famine Village Tour
After approximately an hour and a half on the bus, we arrived at the Rosapenna Hotel and Golf Resort – also in Donegal and our home for the evening. We had a delicious meal in the hotel restaurant, courtesy of Paul Raucker and Foley United. An excellent piano player provided post dinner entertainment.
Josh Webber and Jake Coldiron on the bus.
The Rosapenna Hotel and Golf Links in Co.Donegal.
We had a fairly tame and early evening in anticipation of our final round of golf the next day at the resort’s Sandy Hills Course.
Wednesday morning found us waking up in Northern Ireland for the first time on our trip. We were greeted outside the hotel at 8:00AM by Paul Doherty of Bogside History Tours. From our location just inside the Derry City Walls, Paul began our personalized tour of Derry. We learned the history of Derry as a walled city dating back to the 1600s and walked on top of the wall. We then proceeded to the Bogside area of Derry, the location of the infamous Bloody Sunday on January 30, 1972.
Paul Doherty of Bogside History Tours speaks to the group on top of Derry’s famous wall.
Paul has specific ties to that event as his father, Patrick Doherty, was one of the 13 killed on that day. Paul admitted that other tours in the area take a milder, more politically-correct approach to their tours, but he and his family feel strongly that their perspective be told directly. Our tour with Paul ended at the Museum of Free Derry. On display was the belt of Paul's father, which had a notch from the bullet that ultimately killed him.
Inside the Museum of Free Derry we saw the belt Patrick Doherty (our tour guide’s father) was wearing when he was killed on Bloody Sunday. The notch is from the bullet as it went through his back.
After the tour we made a quick stop at the Bishop's Gate Hotel to pick up our golf gear, then got on the road for the 40 minute drive to play Castlerock Golf Club’s recently renovated Mussenden Links Course.
Our home for two nights in Derry: the recently renovated Bishop's Gate Hotel.
Portrait hanging in the lobby of the Bishop’s Gate Hotel. We knew we would like it there!
Castlerock Golf Club - founded in 1901 - was actually one of the newest courses we played. Castlerock recently completed a six hole (mostly greens) renovation and it was evident that these new holes were an improvement to the course. Early on about 80% of the work was done by outside contractors, but as the project came to completion more of the work fell to the existing staff of nine.
Kevin Collins, Mike Cook, Matt Crowther, and Scott Schukraft on the first tee at Castlerock’s Mussenden Course
The weather at Castlerock was great, except for a few light sprinkles. Course Manager Charlie Edgar visited with us out on the course. Matt Crowther's caddy had left all of his cold weather and rain gear back at the clubhouse, so Matt loaned him his TurfNet vest for the three or four holes when the weather was less than perfect.
Castlerock Course Manager Charlie Edgar greets Matt Crowther, Mike Cook and Scott Schukraft out on the Mussenden Course.
John Gall, Tripp Trotter and Jake Coldiron with Charlie Edgar out on the course.
Fashion faux pas! Charlie took issue with Kevin Frank’s hat from a rival course so he loaned him his for the photo!
The weather turned cool so Matt Crowther’s caddy donned Matt’s TurfNet vest for extra warmth - looking good!
After golf and a quick round of drinks in the club bar, we were back on the bus to Derry and rejoined those who had opted to spend the day relaxing, shopping, or touring there.
Our dinner was sponsored by John Brauer and IVI Sandtrapper and started with drinks at the historic River Inn - the oldest pub in Derry, established in 1684.
The traditional Irish band Connla was a last minute addition to the TurfNet trip this year as they had arranged a short tour of Northern Ireland when their original plans to play farther afield fell through. They had just returned from a 12 week tour of the US. Lead singer Ciara McGafferty greeted the group and said “It’s funny – we can’t wait to get back to America and youse can’t wait to come to Ireland!”
Connla entertained us during dinner, sponsored by John Brauer of IVI Sandtrapper.
The group of five entertained us as we sat down for dinner, took a short break while we completed our main course, and finished off the evening with some rousing tunes, including performing Eric Clapton's Layla as an encore.
Cheryl and Matt Crowther get reacquainted with Paul Starrett - Connla’s guitar player
Connla lead singer Ciara McCafferty and dinner host John Brauer
Two members of the band live in the Bogside neighborhood and were literally a five-minute walk from the venue. After signing a few CDs and chatting with our group, Connla headed home and we headed back to the hotel to rest up for our departure the next morning and our participation in the 10th TurfNet Emerald Challenge/Jim Byrne Cup at Ballyliffin.
We had a 6 AM departure from Carlingford, and the Four Seasons Hotel prepared an excellent continental breakfast for us. Soon our bus was loaded and on its way north to Royal Portrush Golf Club, host course for the 148th Open Championship in July, 2019. The drive took approximately two and a half hours, which allowed people to catch up on sleep or enjoy the view as we entered Northern Ireland.
As we arrived in Portrush, the weather turned against us with high winds and rain. We unloaded our rain gear and prepared to play the course which had been renovated since our visit in 2015.
Ken Flisek found his Pacific Dunes rain hat (from an earlier TurfNet trip) helpful at Royal Portrush
We were joined in the clubhouse by Graeme Beatt, course manager at Royal Portrush, who explained some of the changes that we would see since our last visit. He also mentioned some of the many infrastructure changes as the course prepares to host The Open Championship in July.
Wally Gresham on the tee at Royal Portrush as Kevin Frank, Jake Coldiron and Josh Webber look on.
John and Maureen Gall with Mark Hoban, at Royal Portrush.
Ken Flisek, Tripp Trotter and Jorge Croda.
Jorge Croda gets ready to give it a ride.
An "unidentified golfer" takes an Interesting approach to his bunker shot.
The weather eventually turned better with sunny skies but still a noticeable breeze. All players commented how thrilled they were to play the course that will serve as next year's final major of the season.
Matt Crowther's Twitter collage of his day with wife Cheryl at Royal Portrush.
As the golfers played Royal Portrush, Simon-our-driver took the non-golfers up the road to Giant's Causeway, a series of hexagonal stones formed millions of years ago. On the way back to Royal Portrush the group stopped at Dunluce Castle. The visit to Dunluce Castle brought the story full circle as the group could see some of the stones were quarried from nearby Giant's Causeway.
Coastal walk in Antrim
Wendy Dahl, Sharon Flisek and Linda Croda at Giant’s Causeway
Wendy Dahl, Dennis Gresham and Linda Croda on the Antrim coast
Holy Pot o' Gold! What would a trip to Ireland be without a rainbow?
After golf we headed south to the city of Derry. Everyone met in the hotel lobby and made the short walk to Derry’s Guild Hall. While there we took a tour of the historic building and its many stained-glass windows. Our guide explained the many uses of the building and even allowed us into the council chamber.
The historic city of Derry in Northern Ireland.
The group touring Guild Hall in Derry.
Another Matt Crowther Twitter collage, of Guild Hall in Derry.
After the tour, we were greeted by Councillor Gus Hastings in the Mayor's Parlor. In addition to welcoming us to the city with refreshments, he explained some of the many issues facing the city of Derry and the Council. Councillor Hastings Is Chair of Governance and Strategic Planning. This was a fitting introduction to Northern Ireland politics.
Councillor Gus Hastings and our group in the Mayor's Parlor
Power trip! Jorge Croda takes a spin in the Mayor's robes (with permission, of course).
After our visit at the Guild Hall, the group split up into smaller groups for a light meal or some evening refreshments.
On tap for Wednesday was a walking tour of Derry, a visit to the Museum of Free Derry, and golf at Castlerock Golf Club in nearby Castlerock.
After two fun nights in the city of Dublin we checked out of the Grand Canal Hotel. Simon-our-driver worked his usual magic in repacking the bus, and we were on our way to County Meath. We made a quick stop at the Bru Na Boinne Visitors Center, where four of our golfing group (Wally Gresham, John Brauer, Lisa Proctor and Jorge Croda) were able to tour the Knowth Megalithic site before joining us at our next golf course.
The Bru Na Boinne Visitors Center includes burial mounds in Knowth and Newgrange that predate the pyramids. Very little is known about the communities that built them. Earlier this summer during Ireland's sustained drought, outlines of a few additional structures/henges became visible in aerial drone photos.
The group at Knowth as part of the Knowth/Newgrange Tour: (L-R) Dennis Gresham, Wally Gresham, Wendy Dahl, Linda Croda, John & Patty Brauer, Lisa Donovan, Sharon Flisek, and John Brauer
After making sure this part of the group was all set, Simon took the golfers down the short drive to County Louth Golf Club, also known as Baltray. We had another great day weather-wise on tap. Baltray was founded in 1892 and is an outstanding piece of land for a links-style golf course, with several holes bordering the Irish Sea. Our participants enjoyed not only the history but the friendly reception we received at Baltray during our round.
Baltray had the Irish, American and Canadian flags flying today in honor of our group!
"Irish Crystal" weather for our day at County Louth Golf Club, aka Baltray.
The view of the Irish Sea from Baltray.
Baltray's resident fox.
Kevin Frank, Wally Gresham and Paul Rauker at Baltray.
No "carts" in Ireland, only buggies. Fescue, anyone?
Josh Webber, not as far from his home (Exeter, England) as most of us.
The non-golfers went on to The Battle of the Boyne Visitors Center and Historic Site, which helped bring Irish history full circle as 11 members of the Talbot family, owners of Malahide Castle which we toured on Sunday, died at the battle.
At about four o'clock, Simon picked up the golfers and we were all headed to the fishing village of Carlingford. Since we were playing golf in Northern Ireland on Tuesday, we stopped into the Dundalk Bureau de Change so that people could secure Pounds Sterling, which were necessary to pay the caddies at Royal Portrush.
After a quick spin through Dundalk, we continued on to Carlingford where we checked into the outstanding Four Seasons Hotel. The Four Seasons was an ideal location and also delivered excellent service. It was a short walk into town and most of the group ended up at PJ O'Hare's.
The very modern Four Seasons Hotel, not exactly what one might expect in the medieval fishing village of Carlingford (below).
Above, Matt and Cheryl Crowther with John and Maureen Gall at PJ O'Hare's. Below, Jorge and Linda Croda.
Tuesday morning's departure was 6 AM to allow plenty of time to arrive at Royal Portrush so it was a relatively tame and early evening there.
After an enjoyable evening Saturday night, the group woke up to sunshine and a full Irish breakfast in the Grand Canal Hotel. We had an early departure at 8:30 to visit Malahide Castle, which has been occupied by the Talbot family for over 800 years.
The entire group prior to our tour of Malahide Castle.
We arrived shortly before the first tour and enjoyed visiting the Botanical Gardens on site. The greenhouse included many species of butterflies and we were again reminded of the importance of pollinators.
Wendy Dahl observes butterflies in the greenhouse at Malahide Castle
Malahide Castle is just a short walk from the center of town and the guided tour was an outstanding explanation of the many aspects of castle life over the centuries.
We boarded the bus for Portmarnock Golf Club at 10:45 and arrived 10 minutes later at this historic club. Portmarnock will host the British Amateur Championship in June of 2019. The weather was perfect with sunshine and a light breeze.
Mark Hoban tees off with the Portmarnock Golf Club clubhouse in the distance.
Jake Coldiron and Josh Webber with Kevin Collins of Ocean Organics.
Wally Gresham, Tripp Trotter, Jorge Croda and Mark Hoban. Hope they didn't forget their beer!
The Portmarnock links lie right along the Irish Sea. Plenty of fescue to get you in trouble.
John Brauer (IVI Golf), Lisa Donovan and John's father, also John.
Just a few pot bunkers for interest...
The Irish Times published a nice article on Portmarnock Links Manager Gary Johnstone and his environmental efforts just a couple days after we played there.
While the golfers enjoyed four hours on the links, Simon took the non-golfers on an excursion to Skerries Mills, where they learned about the history of milling grain there for over 400 years.
Sharon Flisek, Linda Croda, Maureen Gall and Wendy Dahl at Skerries Mill.
On the way back to Portmarnock, they took the coastal route along the Irish Sea, stopping at Howth for a walk through this historic fishing village and a bit of ice cream. The golf group was picked up at Portmarnock after golf and we all returned to the Grand Canal Hotel to prepare for our evening function.
Our evening function included a short meal at The Jar sponsored by Mike Cook of The Care of Trees. The Jar had a limited menu of pizza and chicken wings, but it was excellent food, surroundings and service. Most importantly it was a short walk to our next function.
Nice welcome at The Jar, where the group enjoyed a casual dinner.
After dinner, we went to the DC Club, a five minute walk away. The DC Club has been in existence since 1883 and I was the first American to join when they asked me three years ago.
We set up PutterBall on the stage and in addition to traditional PutterBall, several members of the group started an alternate version called Speed PutterBall.
Putterball on stage at the DC Club.
It was a fitting and fun end to a perfect day in Ireland.
Saturday, Portmarnock, Co.Dublin, IE -- “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes.” That was Josh Webber’s admonishment to the group as rain set in for the morning round at Portmarnock Hotel and Golf Links.
Nine hearty souls braved the elements to play the course Bernhard Langer designed in 1996. The course and the hotel span the grounds of the former Jameson estate, and three or four original holes have been incorporated into the current design.
Portmarnock Hotel and Golf Links, part of the original Jameson estate.
"No bad weather" for Paul Rauker, Ken Flisek, Josh Webber and Jake Coldiron.
The rest of the group opted for a morning tour of Dublin and would meet up with us later in the afternoon. My local contact, Liam Gregg, picked up the group at 9:00 and went directly to Trinity College to see the exhibit on The Book of Kells. The site of Trinity College has been a seat of learning for over a thousand years, dating through Trinity's founding over 500 years ago and a monastery before that.
Those who decided to tour Dublin on Saturday morning, here at Trinity College.
The balance of the group took advantage of the hotel's many amenities by getting massages, enjoying a leisurely breakfast, or otherwise relaxing.
Saturday also marked the inaugural round of PutterBall. The hotel provided a meeting room where we set up this fun putter game. The object of putter ball is to sink balls in all six holes before your opponent's team. It has been described as “beer pong for golf.” John Brauer, Lisa Donovan, Matt and Cheryl Crowther, Mike Cook, Kevin Collins, and I spent a few hours competing. Fortunately, the meeting room was not far from the hotel's Jameson Bar, which was happy to deliver libations for the round.
Cheryl Crowther tries her had at PutterBall - the perfect rainy day game!
When the golfers arrived back at the hotel, they changed clothes, had a bite to eat, and we loaded up all the luggage, and golf clubs on the Matthews Coach bus. This is where Simon's expertise is especially handy. Fitting all that gear into the hold of the bus is like working a giant jigsaw puzzle.
We decided to keep up with the Jameson theme by attending the Jameson Experience with a special tour that included a cask tasting in their Maturation Room. This visit was hosted by Doug Middleton and Kevin Collins of Ocean Organics. The city of Dublin was bustling, and the Jameson Experience was no exception. We had pre booked a 2:30 tour, and had a lovely young Irish woman taking us through the primary exhibit.
Kevin Collins of Ocean Organics, our host for the the Jameson Experience portion of the trip, with portraits of John and Margaret Jameson
The Jameson Experience is a fully guided tour, and explains not only the history of the company, but the processes behind making the world's most famous Irish whiskey. The tour was updated in 2016 to reflect the more interactive/multimedia effects that people expect today. In addition to the standard tour, Ocean Organics provided the opportunity for most of the visitors to attend a cask presentation in the Maturation Room. Our second guide explained the process of how the whiskeys were matured in former bourbon and sherry barrels.
The TurfNet group in the Maturation Room.
The special Cask Room portion of the Jameson Experience tour.
The Cask Room was limited to 20 participants so Cheryl Crowther (behind Matt) and four others opted to stay on the outside, looking in.
Paul Rauker filling his own special bottle of Jameson Black Barrel.
Paul Rauker and Wendy Dahl enjoy a taste of his new whiskey.
After a taste of the cask strength whiskey, and a group photo, we all headed to the bar to receive our “daily grog.” The daily grog represents the whiskey that workers would receive at the beginning and end of each day. The group also managed to spend a fair amount of time and money in the Jameson Gift Shop.
Ken and Sharon Flisek are a couple after my own heart... or ears. They popped in to the nearby Cobblestone for a traditional Irish music session.
After a short ride to the Grand Canal Hotel we unpacked, relaxed, and got used to our new home for the next two days. A handful of visitors attended mass at St. Patrick's church in nearby Ringsend, while seven of us attended an international football match between Ireland and Denmark. The match ended in a thrilling zero to zero tie.
The Aviva stadium hosted Saturday night’s soccer match between Ireland and Denmark
The Grand Canal area is home to many high tech companies, including Google and Facebook. It is a neighborhood in transition as these companies, and their workers move in. The added excitement of having nearly 60, 000 soccer fans pass in front of the hotel made the evening especially memorable. While some may have gone out on the town, many retired early in anticipation of our next round Sunday at historic Portmarnock Golf Club.
Donabate/Portmarnock, Co.Dublin, IE -- The advance crew (Wally and Dennis Gresham, Mark Hoban, Jake Coldiron and myself) arrived in Dublin Thursday morning. With rain forecasted for the full group's first round at the Island Golf Club on Friday morning, Wally, Mark and Jake decided to shake off the jet lag and head out a day early for an afternoon round. The weather improved to sunny skies and a great introduction for them to Irish links golf.
Mark Hoban, Wally Gresham and Jake Coldiron snuck in an early round at the Island Golf Club.
The skies cleared. Here's Jake Coldiron on his way to shooting a 76.
Some of the towering natural dunes at the Island.
One of the many revetted bunkers at the Island.
On Friday morning our Matthews coach arrived at the airport to greet the rest of the trip participants and loaded all the golf clubs and luggage for our week’s trip. Simon Smyth – our driver from the 2015 trip - is with us again for the week. Thirteen golfers played in rainy weather but enjoyed the round very much.
Jorge Croda and Matt and Cheryl Crowther make a return trip to The Island Golf Club Friday morning
Having played The Island Golf Club on Thursday, Mark, Wally, Dennis and Jake opted to do some sightseeing in Dublin on Friday morning, starting with St. Patrick's Cathedral.
St. Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin, above and below.
After golf on Friday, a quick bus ride took us from The Island to Portmarnock Hotel and Golf Links, where we settled in for a nice dinner sponsored by longtime trip sponsor Syngenta. The meal was in The Snug – a new venue adjacent to the golf shop at the hotel.
Mike Cook, Dennis & Wally Gresham and Jake Coldiron at Friday’s dinner.
Syngenta’s Tripp Trotter welcomes the group to Ireland.
Jake Coldiron reunites with Josh Webber and visits with John Brauer in the Portmarnock Hotel. Josh arrived late Friday night from Exeter in the UK.
The menu from our opening dinner Friday night at Portmarnock Hotel and Golf Links.
In this episode of Rockbottum Radio -- rated IM for Immature Audiences Only -- the Pro shop gets raided by the Empire's Praetorian Guard, Willy visits with Buddy at the Turf Care shop, and Momma takes the gang to the feed store, leaving Old Booferd in charge of the golf course... and Momma's good Scotch.
Presented by VinylGuard Golf.
On a trip like this, getting there is half the fun – NOT!
As the person in charge of the trip I feel it’s necessary to get to our destination a day early just to be there despite any contingencies along the way. With three other participants coming from Atlanta we thought it would be fun to travel together and have an extra day in Ireland.
Superintendent of the Year Finalist Mark Hoban, Wally Gresham (@wallygresham, Bulk Aggregate Golf), his dad Dennis and I all booked JetBlue flights that connected in Boston to Dublin. We built in a five hour layover as a hedge against the usual mechanical and weather-related delays.
David "Wally" Gresham and his dad, Dennis, ready to embark on their first long trip together.
Our JetBlue flight left Atlanta around noon and we had five hours before the Dublin flight left. Boston’s Logan airport is on Boston Harbor and there are a number of water taxi services to get you quickly between the airport and the city.
Boston-bound on a Boston Harbor water taxi from Logan Airport.
Superintendent of the Year finalist Mark Hoban with Dennis and Wally Gresham on the water taxi.
We took a meandering tour of the harbor and ended up at Rowes Wharf Harbor where we could store our carry-on bags and do a little sightseeing. A quick Uber ride later and we were at the Old North Church. While there wasn’t time to venture inside, we were in awe of this historic place in American history. The setting sun provided some outstanding photos.
Old North Church, of Paul Revere's "one if by land..." fame.
Less than a block away we explored Copp’s Hill Burying Ground – a cemetery that dates to the mid-1600s. A few pizzas from Benevento’s (recommended by the water taxi company) and we were back on our way to the water taxi and the airport.
A beautiful evening for a return trip across Boston Harbor to Logan Airport. (Mark Hoban photo)
We all admitted that a chance to stretch our legs while breathing the sea air and a proper sit down meal outside of the confines of the airport was a great way to spend the layover.
Aer Lingus flight 138 from Boston to Dublin Wednesday night.
We are not the only ones to arrive on the Ireland trip early. Jake Coldiron (@jcold16), son of our late friend Jerry, hastily arranged an early departure from his home in the Tampa area due to the arrival of Hurricane Michael. We look forward to catching up with him in the Dublin airport.
The early weather reports for Friday’s arrival don’t portend well for our first round of golf at The Island Golf Club. A storm named Callum is on the way and threatens a Code Orange weather warning.
It’s said that pubs are “the official sunscreen of Ireland”. I suppose they can serve as umbrellas, too!
A Last Wave Millennial gives a quick analysis of modern golf and answers The Big Question.
You know, the one that upper management and golf writers and green chairs and turf school brass and association bigwigs ask every night, after dessert and before cigars and brandy?
Join Kevin Ross of On Course Turf and me for a Jam Session like no other!
Call it experimental or explorational or just plan fun. Kevin and I sit down for a session. And no topic is off limits. With more than 60 years of combined experience in direct hands on agronomy life, there is bound to be some wisdom. And good chops to hear.
This session includes riffs around Tiger Woods, Anxiety and Depression, Clipping Volume and more.
The mics and recorders are on. You get to enjoy The Jam.