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Wednesday: Bloody Sunday Tour, Castlerock, and Connla

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.  Connla 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. 

Jon Kiger

Jon Kiger

Tuesday AM: Heading north to Royal Portrush

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.   

Jon Kiger

Jon Kiger

If it's Monday, this must be Baltray...

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.   

Jon Kiger

Jon Kiger

Sunday: Malahide Castle and perfect weather at Portmarnock Golf Club

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. 

Jon Kiger

Jon Kiger

“There’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes.”

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.      

Jon Kiger

Jon Kiger

Welcome to Ireland – Two days of golf at the Island 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.

Jon Kiger

Jon Kiger

And we're off!

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!

Jon Kiger

Jon Kiger

TurfHead Jam Session with Kevin Ross, Session Number 1

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.  

Dave Wilber

Dave Wilber

Retro-ism: An Experiment in Sustainable Golf Ops

After several years of toiling on bentgrass plantations in Hotlanta, enduring ever increasing grooming standards and shrinking HOC on fairways, greens and tees, I decided what I was doing was unsustainable.  That led me to choose a more sustainable path, something I could maintain for the long run, not just a short burst of intense activity. NOTE:  I am using the word “Sustainable” in the sense of an activity that is capable of being sustained, not as a code word for ecological balance.  More like, “I could not sustain a grapefruit diet or an intense exercise program I ordered off late night TV.” 1991:  In what was to become the early phase of Skeletal Golf Theory, I took over a small golf course with the intent of testing a few methods to counteract the trend of increasing maintenance costs and career stress . . . by conducting an experiment.   The parameters of the experiment were simple: First, go back to bermuda greens.  The Ultra Dwarf bermudas were not to appear for several years, but the plan was to use one of the new PGRs, in an attempt to give 328 more WSR Factor.  (Won’t Stop Rolling)  Also, I wanted to test the new “baked dry sand” top dressing, in light but very frequent apps, and use the new Hydroject to reduce core-yanking events.   The plan would use Poa Trivialis as winter overseed, rely heavily on soil testing—and a soil test cryptographer who could actually interpret the test for me.  I also wanted to minimize wetting agents, as I had detected an increase in disease pressure on bent whenever I upped the usage of wetting agents.  (These were probably first gen agents, so stop your howling.) The other aspects of the plan included mass tree removal, installing wildflower and broomsedge areas to reduce rotary mower hours, and keeping the crew Skeletal:  Just me, an assistant, an EM, one crewmember, and a part-timer of the high school specie.  (That last part was worrisome—I was afraid I might get some kid like me.)  Fairways would be mowed wall to wall at 5/8”—with a five-gang—again reducing the amount of area requiring rotary attention.  Tees and everything but greens, would get the five-gang treatment.  Every unnecessary, high-flashed bunker would be inverted and sodded over. There were architectural adjustments, like widening the landing zones and making the course play dryer, in order to allow for more ground game.  Catch mounds were positioned where balls liked to roll into water, and a few holes were lengthened to get the yardage up from 5200 yards to 5600.  (I also practiced speaking like a long dead Scottish architect.)  Finally, I took over the club’s advertising, running ads in the newspaper, with the magic phrase, “$10 Golf!”  That was the weekday walking rate and I knew not a single golfer would walk, but hey, it was advertising.   We got good reviews, a magazine tagged us "a hidden gem" and the course played pretty well.  Rounds went up 400%, making everybody but the pro shop happy.  (They were used to the Floyd’s Barbershop pace, not something akin to the floor of the NYSE.) After six months, the numbers fell off; when I took a few informal, unscientific surveys, I discovered one consistent golfer complaint:  “The course was too short!”  (Not too short on the ground, just in their heads.) They pointed to that 5600 number on the scorecard and implied the course was somehow weak and pitiful, more suited for unskilled hackers, duffers and beginners.  Of course, that’s exactly what these people were, but some delusional idea planted in their soft skulls by TV, told them they needed 7000 yard Championship golf. I lengthened the finishing hole, a weird par 3, into a long par 4, added 600 mythical yards to the scorecard and 5600 yards became 6200.  Before long, things were rolling again.  The moral of the story?  Golfers enjoy playing a short course where they can score, all while thinking they are playing a long, tough course.  Oh, and as to the success of the experiment?  Tif-Eagle came along and made my PGR Bermuda obsolete.  The Skeleton crew concept worked for a while, but the crew size was unsustainable in the long run.  (Golfers still demanded TV conditions for their $20.) The mowing plan worked great, as did the De-Bunkerizing and the Hydroject concept.  However, my plan was not sustainable because I did not allow for unexpected interactions with an abrasive, fairly combative member of the team of owners.  (Clubhouse dweller.) On the bright side, we did manage to kill off a high dollar competitor who built down the road from us and condescendingly assured us they didn’t covet any of our kinds of customers. Years later, when I built a golf course using all the Skeletal Golf Theory techniques—except for a simple irrigation system—the course worked very well.  It was sustainable, at least until ownership decided they didn’t need a golf course superintendent. That’s one theory that's not sustainable.

Randy Wilson

Randy Wilson

The Nudge...

Every now and again we get a nudge in the right direction. It can be from a loved one, a stranger, or a good friend. They see something special in you or an opportunity in your future that you just haven’t noticed yet. It’s not that you wouldn’t ever see it on your own, it’s just that they are looking at the situation through a different lens.  Over a decade ago my amazing wife Jill told me that one day we would be writing together and that folks like you will be reading about what we had to say. At the time I thought she was foolish, but lo and behold she was right. That vision has led me down so many interesting paths since then, and I couldn’t be more grateful for her prodding.  About a year ago I had a similar experience with a good friend. I was speaking with fellow TurfNet blogger and turf Renaissance man Frank Rossi when he dropped a bombshell of an idea. It involved taking the Mindful Superintendent to a whole different level and encouraged me to begin speaking publicly. He felt that Chris Tritabaugh (Hazeltine National, MN) and I would make a great team and that we should start sharing our stories together. At first I was skeptical, but it turned out to be a great suggestion. Chris and I spoke at last year’s GIS in Texas, and it was a fantastic experience (and if you are interested, we are presenting again in 2019 in San Diego). But it turned out that public speaking was only part of Frank’s grand plan. He was envisioning something far more revolutionary and challenging. Through his travels and accrued wisdom, Frank saw many superintendents and turf professionals who were having a tough time. These greenkeepers were struggling with finding a balance between the demands of the profession and living a fulfilling life beyond the golf course. He felt they needed to hear the message we had to share but this time in a completely different setting. Frank believed we should create an event dedicated to resting, learning, and reimagining what it means to be a golf course superintendent.  Initially I felt quite unsure about his idea, yet within the uncertainty I knew there was enough merit to not cast it aside without giving it a shot. Every time I shared the idea with someone they had the same reaction… surprise, a pause, then total support. With every interaction the idea gained momentum and things began to fall into place. The pieces of the puzzle began to fit and this grand scheme began to slowly turn into a reality. Fast forward to today. In just over two weeks from now, the initial “Mindful Superintendent Leadership & Wellness Retreat” will take place in my home province of Prince Edward Island, Canada (Oct. 4-8). A dozen attendees from across North America will come together to discuss mindfulness, leadership, and what it means to be a superintendent in today’s industry. We will explore themes like simplicity, balance, and creating a sustainable personal framework to take with us moving forward. We will rest, disconnect, reconnect and have a ton of fun in the process.   Chris and I feel incredibly grateful for this unique opportunity and we are looking forward to learning and sharing along with the first group of superintendent attendees. We could not have come this far without the vision and courage of people like Frank Rossi and the support of David Kuypers from Syngenta Canada.  So the next time someone takes you aside and shares an idea that might seem a bit “out there”, just pause and think it over. You never know where it might lead. (The second part and follow up post to this one will be a recap and synopsis of the event. Stay tuned…)
 

Paul MacCormack

Paul MacCormack

Sustainability Tectonics

For any geologists reading this blog, I am not speaking about tectonics from the geology standpoint. I am not going to discuss whether the continents derived from the supercontinent Pangaea, or how plates thrust together to form mountains. For my purposes here, tectonics refers to the widespread impact of something and speaks to the pervasive influence of some factor or affect. Sustainability tectonics (my term) are those inescapable factors that influence an operation or landscape and its ability to achieve sustainability. Note: I am not attempting to define sustainability here. Suffice that we all have a generally similar idea of what it is. If you want more clarification, please peruse some previous TWG blogs. Speaking About Geology I suggest that the main geologic factor influencing sustainability is bedrock. Any grounds professional will attest to the importance of soil towards supporting a healthy and functional landscape. But what makes soil? The bedrock of an area creates the soil we work in. Here in Springfield, MO, our bedrock is Burlington limestone. As a result, our default pH is alkaline. If I want to create a landscape that prefers an acidic environment, I must undertake significant interventions. And those interventions will necessarily be temporary, requiring repeated amendments to be sustainable. It is much easier to take cues from the indigenous flora and plant a landscape that can tolerate higher pH, or plant adapted plants if a nonnative palette is suitable. The limestone for this church on Drury Campus was cut from local bedrock. Climate Springfield, MO. can be a volatile climate. In this respect, we are no different from most places. Our historic extremes are -29F and 113F. However, our average temperatures range from 22F to 90F. Based on these numbers our normal weather is stable, but we can get fluctuations. I tell people that the droughty periods we experience (2012, 2018) and the heat (May 2018 hottest on record) is unusual, but not unheard of. Fortunately, our plants, animals and insects are wonderfully adapted to the Missouri climate. Growing the plants that are adapted to a region doesn’t mean plant it and forget it. Planting with an eye to sustainability means that the plants we grow will require less intervention (resources) based on the prevailing climate of our site. It doesn’t mean that everything will always grow. Nor should we seek to overcome too many impediments to accommodate a landscape. Hydrology The water cycle is yet another monolithic influence on sustainability. Water is one of the essential requirements for plant growth. It is also essential for human life. The aspects of water that are the most challenging to cope with is regularity and scarcity. Regularity means can we obtain water when we need it. Scarcity is asking is there enough water supply to meet all our demands for it. We could start discussing water priority (drinking versus irrigation) but I digress. The main obstacle facing a sustainable water situation is living, or should I say growing, within the natural water budget. Every time an operation uses water that does not fall from the sky or generated on site (springs, catchments, etc.) the goal of sustainability recedes. The sustainable landscape should not receive non-natural water. Succession and Change In nature, every niche is exploited, and change is constant. No matter what condition a landscape is in at a given moment, that landscape is transitioning (growing) something else. Turf must be mowed to maintain it within a narrow tolerance because if eft unmaintained tall fescue will grow to 12 or so inches and then go to seed. Planting beds must be pruned, mulched, weeded and replanted otherwise they become unruly, escape boundaries or change their planting mix. Maintenance all takes place to prevent the landscape from growing into something that is deemed unacceptable. In Springfield, over the course of history, our landscapes were an Oak/Hickory forest dappled by savannah. This matrix of plants and animals is what our ecosystem strives for. If left alone, succession will drive towards this destination despite the disturbed aspect of the urban setting. If left undisturbed, Springfield might revert to savannah like the Union Ridge Conservation Area. Pic credit: nature.mdc.mo.gov Implications Sustainability in the landscape is about aligning what the landscape is, with our maintenance regimes. To the extent that these two objectives differ, is the extent to which we have to invest resources to overcome macro-influences. On a golf course or sports field, the distinct purpose of the field is largely unnatural. Thus, it will be harder to align sustainable operations with the objective of the landscape (many golf courses/sports fields, etc. are successfully pursuing sustainable operations despite the inherent challenge of doing so). On a college campus however, the landscape has more variability in what is expected of it. In this setting the sustainable management of the landscape can be furthered by designing, installing, and maintaining a more natural landscape. The key will be a landscape that pays homage to sustainability tectonics, not persists in opposition to it. Naturalizing plantings unify function and sustainability, but are not suitable to all locations.

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

Adjusting Turf Resumes for the Mobile Age

I don’t have to tell any of you that smartphones have changed how we work each day, especially from out on the course. From chem/fert apps like Coverage, to Twitter and labor software, there have been vast improvements to the daily operation because of mobile devices. It doesn’t just stop with our side of the industry. Any hiring person at a club or firm is now extremely likely to view your resume the first time from their phone while on the move. What does that mean? You had better be sure it looks good from a phone. There’s not currently a perfect solution for this without a personal website, but we at Playbooks are currently developing such a platform for resumes for those who don’t want a full website. In the meantime, here are some key tips to at least make your resume a little better for mobile:    Save Your Resume as a PDF I’ve said it before that sending your resume as a Word file is a terrible idea. Computers have different versions of Word and read the formatting differently every time. Margins, tabs, etc. can and will show up wrong, resulting in a resume that looks shoddily put together. This holds true for phones too. A Word file opened from iOS or Android mail apps will reformat the text and the tabs, especially for bulleted files like resumes, resulting in jumbled and hard to read text. Saving the file as a PDF ensures all formatting remains how you intended it. You can do this from most new versions of Word or through an online conversion tool.   No Columns, Big Text, and Watch Your Width Since most people will be looking at their phone screen vertically, you want to avoid things like multiple columns that won’t read well. Columns are great for desktop websites and printed materials but do not translate well to phones. Get rid of them if you have them. Following this thought more, you have to be careful on how wide your resume is. While you can’t format your resume file completely for phones, keeping the content width under 5 inches would be a good compromise. You should also be sure that the font size is plenty big. Anything less than around 11pt is near impossible to read on phones. This leads to the next important tip…   Avoid the Wall of Text Resume The mobile age has made attention spans shorter than ever. Your lengthy resume with dozens of bullet statements that are more like paragraphs just does not translate well anymore when you usually only have seconds for the hiring person to review your resume. Try to keep text at less than 3 lines before a space, 2 lines is better. Keep your bullets to 4 or less for each job you list. In fact, abandoning actual bullet points or hyphens is a good idea as they create formatting issues on phones anyway. Just list them as sentences without an indention or character to begin. Don’t be afraid to use white space to help create separation between sections and jobs. It is well-known in the design world that white space works fantastic. Too much content causes a “glaze-over” effect.   Create Links for Contact Information Since we use phones with fingers and not a mouse, it’s not easy to copy an email or phone number. Make sure that your phone number and email are formatted properly to be one-click actions on phones. This can be done from Word quite easily. Also, be sure to make the contact information available at both the top and bottom of the resume so there isn’t a need to scroll all the way back up on a phone.   Test From Your Phone A final tip is to send your email to yourself and open it on your phone. If you have a hard time reading it, so will the hiring person. Check the contact links as well. Doing all these tips should result in an improved resume for the mobile age, yet not ideal.   A Look at a Better Way As I mentioned at the beginning, there’s not a perfect solution without having a website that is responsive for any device. And even then, you still have to attached your resume as a file to the email when applying. Which means they might bypass the web link to your PDF file that isn’t formatted for phone very well. As part of my service to clients, I have developed a way to create a resume that responds to device size so the resume reformats best for the screen, plus it can be attached as a file, solving both problems we covered and exponentially increasing your odds of a closer look. Here is an example of a fully formatted resume for phones, showing the last bit of content and the contact info, along with an anchor to take them back to the top for easy access. It also shows as a normal width file when opened from desktop. I can do this coding manually for a certain amount of people but it still takes time so there are limits to the service obviously. We are working on creating an automated process for this so anyone can do it themselves from a webapp we create. More on this in the future, but if you are interested in the manual aspect be sure to let me know as hiring season is nearly upon us in the golf industry. Best of luck on your next job opportunity.

Matt Leverich

Matt Leverich

Relationships at work: More important than many realize

In May of 2018, I promised myself that once I started my new, but temporary, life in Denmark, I’d be as good of a friend as I could be to anyone I would meet.  I had no enemies when I started, and I saw no reason to have any by the end of my summer. I lived in the Great Northern greenkeeper employee housing with 14 other greenkeepers. The crew was diverse, from all over:  Ireland, England, Scotland, Lithuania, Australia, Denmark, Poland, Latvia, Jamaica, and Bulgaria. I’m proud to say I have friends from all over the world now. In the turf business, connections are a big key to success, so it’s important to get your name out there and keep in touch with everyone you meet. I did my best to make friends when I was in Scotland, too, working the Scottish Open. I really enjoyed getting to know the crew and the volunteers there, and I’m happy to still be in touch with those I met. I’m happy to be back in the States to see my family and friends, but I’m always going to have my other family on the other side of the world. I’d like to give a big thanks to Great Northern for having me for the summer, Gullane Golf Club for letting me volunteer for the Scottish Open, and everyone else who made my summer so enjoyable.  Below are pictures of friends I made during my travels and a list of my new friends I worked with at Great Northern. John Conway, Hicks Layton, and Billy Teichman L->R Dave Dusch Soren Hansen Blair Shearer and Dave Thomson Me with Jack Darling, riding a roller coaster. Tom Larsen Gordon Moir Line Trier Scott Dunsmuir, Grant Dilasser, John Cunningham, and Jack Smillie John Ungermand Michail Trivonow Liam Nicholson and Kevin West David Angus, Baptiste Traineau, Gary Innes, me, and Ashley Wilkinson Stewart Duff Aidan O’Hara Jack Sredojevic   John Cunningham- Ireland Jack Smillie- England Jack Darling- Scotland Deivydas Gulbinas- Lithuania Justas Poskevicius- Lithuania  Dave Dusch- Australia Tom Larsen- Denmark Jack Sredojevic- Ireland Grant Dilasser- Scotland Peter Sredojevic- Scotland Robert Barnat- Poland Sarunas Gr- Lithuania Scott Dunsmuir- Scotland Benny Christoffersen- Denmark Chrisitan Hainer- Denmark Edijs Ukstins- Latvia Michael Gordon- Jamaica  Michail Trivonow- Bulgaria Anette Bolander- Denmark Christian Bensen- Denmark Dainius Rudys- Lithuania Evaldas Aleksandravicius- Lithuania Danielius Monkevičius- Lithuania Rune Carlsund- Denmark Vadims Arakčejevs- Latvia Line Trier- Denmark Jakob Nielsen- Denmark Kristian Jensen- Denmark Aidan O’Hara- Ireland

It’s all about the courses you’ll play… 

The centerpiece of any TurfNet members trip is the group of courses we play. Ireland 2018 will be no exception as we have the opportunity to play eleven courses during our eight days there. All but one are true “links” courses so a definition of “links” is probably in order. “The links” simply refers to a strip of generally undulating, but always sandy terrain linking the sea and the arable farmland around the edges. A links course is one built on this strip of land. There are approximately fifty links courses in Ireland. The following courses are arguably many of Ireland’s best. Royal Portrush Golf Club – Portrush, Northern Ireland – Imagine tuning in to watch The Open Championship next July (the year’s final major…) and being able to follow the pros around using your own scorecard as a guide. That’s exactly what each participant will be able to do as we play the Dunluce course at Royal Portrush. Renovations were underway when we were in Ireland in 2015 and we will now play the exact routing for The 148th Open Championship. Our hosts for the round will be Course Manager Graeme Beatt and Secretary Manager Wilma Erskine. The club was founded in 1888 and also hosted The Open Championship in 1951 – the only other time it was held outside of England or Scotland. We will play it on Tuesday.  Royal Portrush Golf Club, Dunluce Course, site of the 148th Open Championship to be played next year. Here is an overview of the courses in the order in which we will play them. The Island Golf Club – Donabate, County Dublin – Friday  After clearing customs and immigration our coach bus will take us directly to The Island Golf Club for our first round. It’s a short trip to the small village of Corballis. The Island was accessible only by boat until the early 1970s and there is a small plaque commemorating that unique mode of transportation when you’re out on the course. You may already know about course manager Dave Edmondson from his very active social media activities. The club was founded in 1890 and the course is surrounded by the sea on three sides. It includes the tallest dunes you’ll find on the east coast of Ireland. Above, the Island Club at dusk.  Below, wind "sometimes" comes into play. TurfNet Ireland 2011 Portmarnock Links – Portmarnock, County Dublin – Saturday Wake up at the Portmarnock Hotel and Golf Links, have your first “Full Irish” breakfast and you’re ready to head to the first tee of this links course. It can only be described as “precocious” – it seems a lot older than a course opened in 1995. The layout was used for golf by the Jameson family, and the family graveyard is nearby. Our host for the day is veteran golf course superintendent Fintan Brennan. When TurfNet’s 2017 BIGGA delegation visited the course, Fintan and his son Mike showed us some of the work on their 98 course bunkers. Our first tee times are at 8:00 AM so don’t spend too much time in the Jameson Bar the night before.   See this video from our friend author Tom Coyne provides a preview of our stay at Portmarnock Hotel and Golf Links. Our host, Fintan Brennan, shows us how it's done at Portmarnock Links, with the hotel in the distance. Portmarnock Golf Club – Portmarnock, County Dublin – Sunday Sunday takes us to the historic layout of the Portmarnock Golf Club – a favorite on the TurfNet trip. We will be staying in town Saturday night but the drive out is easy and scenic. The club was founded in 1894 and has a rich history of hosting many of the championships in Irish golf. In fact, the 2019 R&A Amateur Championship will take place at Portmarnock – only the second time the event has taken place outside of Great Britain. Our host for the day will be Gary Johnstone – originally from Scotland and a longtime friend of TurfNet.  Fescue and potbunkers abound at Portmarnock Golf Club. County Louth Golf Club – Baltray, County Louth – Monday A drive of less than an hour from our Dublin hotel takes us to County Louth Golf Club, just outside of Drogheda in County Louth. The club was founded in 1892. It is situated adjacent to the River Boyne and you can see how important the river is to the town on our way to the course. Course Manager Wayne Murray reported for duty in November, 2017 so it will be great to see his impact on the course since our last visit three years ago. “Baltray” as it’s known locally - hosted our 2016 TurfNet intern Nate McKinniss for the summer.  Green complex at County Louth/Baltray. The other side of those dunes lies the Irish Sea. Long putt. TurfNet Ireland 2015. Greenore Golf Club – Greenore, County Louth – Monday afternoon A short drive up the road (and very close to the Four Seasons Hotel in Carlingford) lies Greenore Golf Club. The club was founded in 1896 to welcome hotel and railroad guests in the area. A similar welcome has been extended to us for anyone who wishes to continue their golf that day. We’ve been encouraged to “beat the sunset” and play as many holes as we can at this special course. Many of the holes meander around Carlingford Lough and this will also be your only chance to experience a few Irish “heathland” holes on the round.  No need to decide before you arrive if you’d like to play, just grab your clubs off the bus and head to the first tee. We’ll decide if a special format (including everyone just playing their own ball) makes sense. Your round at Greenore will go a long way toward working up an appetite for Carlingford’s famous oysters – harvested literally two blocks from the town. Don’t be surprised if you’re distracted by the view of the Mourne Mountains to the Northeast.  Royal Portrush Golf Club – Portrush, Northern Ireland – Tuesday  See the description at the top of this post.  Castlerock Golf Club – Castlerock, Northern Ireland – Wednesday  After our morning tour of the City of Derry, we will take the short ride up to Castlerock Golf Club. We will play their Mussenden Course, which features several newly renovated holes. The course is fairly flat on the front nine, but changes elevation dramatically on the back. Castlerock has been declared one of Ireland’s “hidden gems” and has arguably one of the best golf club logos around – so plan on stopping by the pro shop for some gifts for the folks back home. Course Manager Charlie Edgar, his Deputy Damien McConway, and General Manager Bert Mackay will be our hosts for the day. After your round you will have two options: retire to the bar or go back out for a quick round on the nine-hole Bann Course.  We will likely set up our round on the Bann as a friendly group event in a special format, but be forewarned you may have a few spectators on the final green... The Mussenden course at Castlerock Golf Club. Ballyliffin Golf Club – Ballyliffin, County Donegal – Thursday Put the £ bills away – we’re headed back to the land of the Euro as we leave Derry and head to County Donegal – one of Ireland’s largest and most beautiful counties. Ballyliffin Golf Club’s Glashedy Links will not only host us but our Irish greenkeeping counterparts as we face off in the tenth playing of Jim Byrne Cup – TurfNet Emerald Challenge. You should be well rested from the mandatory curfew imposed by your Team Captain so we should expect to retain the coveted hurley trophy which we won back in San Antonio. Ballyliffin hosted the 2018 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open, which was won by Scotland’s Russell Knox. Our host for the day is Course Manager Andy Robertson. It will be great to see Andy and all our Irish greenkeeping friends again.  The Emerald Challenge/Jim Byrne Cup competition is all about international camaraderie. Rosapenna Hotel and Golf Resort – Rosapenna, County Donegal – Friday Rosapenna has two stunning golf courses. Our Friday morning round will take place on the Sandy Hills Links. The appeal of Sandy Hills lies in its beautifully balanced routing through the high dunes. You’ll also experience stunning views of Sheephaven Bay. We will have the chance to experience some of the Old Tom Morris Links upon our arrival Thursday afternoon and before our mid-afternoon departure on Friday.  So that’s the lineup – eight full 18-hole rounds and a few shorter tracks for those who want to squeeze some additional fun from their golf trip. All rounds are walking so consider taking a caddy for at least a few of your rounds. Manual pull carts and battery-operated electric trolleys are available to rent at each course. 

Jon Kiger

Jon Kiger

The Noise . . . And How To Stop It

Some of us live our lives bathed in noise, against a soundtrack of frenzied, dissonant pandemonium—and not just the kind measured in decibels. The noise ranges from sub-audible frequencies that we can feel, like jet engines, helicopters and car stereos thumping below 20Hz, all the way to ultra-high radio frequencies we need to “connect” with each other. The young are naturally attracted to noise. It’s exciting — the opposite of boring — it’s where things are happening. As a young person, I was lured toward the wall of sound pumping out of the PA at rock concerts, guitars and bass cranked to 11. The young are enticed by loud cars, the rolling thunder of motorcycles, and the roar of the crowd. I was addicted to the crash of football helmets against plastic armor. The military can take noise to another level. When the doors of a C-130 opened in flight and the cabin filled with the fearsome howling of massive engines, it was impossible not to hop about yelling like an animal about to be released from a cage. Even an ordinary day of training could involve a wild hallucinogenic trip of running, jumping and crawling amidst gunfire, explosions, helicopters, disembodied voices screaming over radios and low-flying jets. Then one day, it’s too much. I returned to the quiet life on the golf ranch, but The Noise had gotten there ahead of me. Somebody — probably that noisy box full of flashing lights in the living room — had raised the bar while I was gone.  Instead of simple external noise, like mowers and chainsaws, now I had internal noise, too. (Shrill voices in my head, urging me to do more and more.)  The Noise didn’t just rent space inside my head, it evicted the other tenants. I sought relief in exercise endorphins and the drug-free release they provided, but I couldn’t just go for a pleasant run or ride my bike around the neighborhood, nooooo... I had to race. I had to “go for it” and “just do it”, as commanded by the aforementioned box in the living room. I took something as fun and relaxing as riding a bike and turned it into an expensive, time-eating obsession. The Noise just got louder. By the late 80s, bentgrass and no rain in the Deep South heat required long hours with no time off,  just to stay employed. Guilt from minimal family time added to the static interference in my head. I wasn’t training hard enough to win bike races and I was lazy in the gym, so I bought a Sony Walkman and attached even more noise to my head. You know, for motivation? I pushed to rebuild bad holes and bad golf courses and eventually pushed to build an entire golf course, all while working at another one. I pushed the crews. I pushed the family. I pushed myself... and The Noise got ever louder. It was like the Twilight Zone episode where the cranky old boss keeps screaming, “Push, Push, Push!” No matter how much course conditions improved, the golfers grew more demanding; they even suggested I had lost “the fire” and — perhaps a younger superintendent was required. The “Cure” first showed itself in my work habits, but I couldn’t hear it. At the Skeletal Golf level, the GCS minimizes the admin work and pitches in with the crew to operate equipment. But I gave the sit-down, riding jobs to the crew and assigned myself tasks like digging up irrigation leaks. The crew was puzzled. One afternoon, while I was wrestling a shovel in a blowout, the fairway guy parked beside me and said, “Boss, how about you mow fairways, let me do that. Manual labor is the crew’s job. Why are you doing it?” “Because,” I answered, “it’s quiet.  I don’t want to hear machines anymore.” I made changes, telling Buddy that talk radio was banned from the shop, he could only play classical music. I spent my lunch period walking in the forest beside the course. Instead of riding the crew about working every minute of the day, I instituted “Frisbee Time” for the last 15 minutes of the day. Just as The Noise was abating, upper management summoned me to an Inquisition, whereupon a poor unfortunate golfer spewed forth his lamentations, describing the agony of being deprived of deep rough. (Not a good idea on a swamp golf course.) They sided with him. I was ordered to provide deep rough. My eyes bugged out, my skin turned a glowing magenta and the veins in my temples pounded like conga drums at a Ricky Ricardo concert. I wanted to turn over some tables, maybe fling a golfer out a window, but a long dormant synapse in my brain fired, and suddenly, I was watching short clips of films from my childhood in my brain theater. I saw myself hiking in the Alps, in a forest of Christmas trees, wandering along with a rucksack stuffed with C-Rations and a sterno stove. A sense of peace flowed over me as I recalled long hikes in the Sierras or the mountains of Tennessee. Even the long ruck marches in the Army seemed more peaceful than my current situation. I remembered how lacing up boots, shouldering a ruck and hitting a trail was always my best escape. I left the building, calm and relaxed, and headed back toward the course. I was thinking about going for a hike instead of devising a new mowing pattern, when I remembered the words of Sergeant O’Neal, a Special Ops legend: “Boots & Ruck can take you places no four wheel drive can go and solve some problems along the way.” From that day on, golf stress had little effect on me. When The Noise showed up, I simply went into Boots & Ruck therapy and wandered off into the forest. (Sometimes, I even took my radio with me, in case Buddy lost his mind.) The quiet of the forest suppressed The Noise. I eventually moved into the mountains where the forest is close, the quiet is strong and The Noise is weak.If you’ve had enough of The Noise, instead of worshipping that box in the living room or that computer in your hand, try Boots & Ruck. It doesn't take much. https://www.rockbottumfilms.com/

Randy Wilson

Randy Wilson

Early morning inspiration...

I am fortunate to be able to spend a few months each year on a small island in the lower Bay of Fundy in eastern Canada. (Some would say I'm "lucky", but luck has nothing to do with it.) Our home is almost at the northern tip of this 9 mile x 3 mile island, which narrows down to a 50 yard-wide peninsula topped by the Head Harbour Lightstation, a scenic lighthouse with 270 degree views of the surrounding bays. The lighthouse is a popular destination for tourists, lighthouse aficionados (of which there are many), and my dogs.  Dawn arrives early here, somewhere around 4:15 AM. That's Eastern daylight time, which we choose to stay on rather than move the clock ahead an hour to the proper Atlantic time in which we actually live. We can see the Eastern time zone in Eastport, Maine, across the bay, so it's no big deal either way... but always a minor source of confusion and calculation when arranging dinner times with neighbors or whale-watch boat reservations. "Island time or American time?" In any case, whether it's 4:15 or 5:15 AM, our dogs start to stir when the sky begins to brighten. They all sleep in our bedroom on their own beds, so even though we take their "jingles" (collars with noisy tags) off before we go to bed, I still hear them when they start to rustle. Usually because I've been awake for a while anyway. So our morning drill is for me to get up, turn on the coffee pot that's been readied the evening prior, put their jingles back on and let them outside. Once proper ablutions have been performed, they run back to the house for their breakfast, bowls also filled the night before. I pour a cup of coffee and wander over to my laptop on the dining table, which looks out over the early morning skies. I start to go through my email to the raucous symphony of jingles against bowls, at least for the 15 seconds it takes for two of the three (those with all or some Golden Retriever genes) to suck down their food. The sun will soon burn off the sea fog. After about half an hour, they've had enough waiting around and start to congregate around me. One rubs against my legs, another sits and stares, the third whines. Time to go for our walk. While it would be easy to consider this an annoyance — and I do, occasionally if the weather is foul — I actually appreciate it as a nudge to get outdoors and enjoy the wonders of that early morning walk to the lighthouse. And this epitomizes the old saying of "it's a journey, not a destination". The lighthouse at the end of the island is only a quarter-mile away, but often takes us fifteen minutes or more to get there. Between stopping to sniff (both them and me, at different things), squatting or lifting a leg (them, not me), we take our time. It's not a race. Head Harbour Lightstation, our morning (and often more) destination... I try to take my cue from Paul Mac and be mindful, fully present, immersed in observation on these walks. If you allow it, a multitude of sights, sounds and smells presents themselves. It rained all day yesterday so there was a lingering humidity in the air this morning. This tends to intensify the fragrances of spruce, balsam, moss, salt water, rockweed, Rosa rugosa or Rosa virginiana... which occasionally amalgamate into what we call "the Smell", a unique, almost intoxicating combination fragrance that's unique and indigenous to the coast of Maine and the Maritimes. if one pays attention, pockets of specific fragrances become apparent. My wife's favorite (even though she's still sound asleep in bed) is the smell of balsam fir (Abies balsamea), which can almost make you dizzy as you walk through it, or stop to enjoy and breathe deeply, through the nose. I wish I could embed a scratch-n-sniff patch here.  I have counted as many as eight different predominant fragrances on our way to the lighthouse.  But you'll miss them if your mind is elsewhere. This particular morning, the sun was just a tad above the horizon and an intense orange in color, casting a long, equally intense reflection on the water. This is fleeting, as within a matter of minutes the color can fade as the sun rises higher, or can disappear altogether if there are striations of clouds in the sky. We walk right toward it, but it still begs a pause in our journey. Which brings me to the sounds, the third component of this sensory extravaganza. A series of "we-eeps" in the trees alerted me to a group of eight or ten goldfinches flitting about. My favorite bird song here is "Oh-sweet-Canada-Canada-Canada" of the white-throated sparrow, a bird which I hear frequently but have never seen. They are always in the treetops somewhere. Then there's the ding-dong of the ubiquitous black-capped chickadee. Down the road a ways comes the caw-caw-caw of a group of large crows. A croak from the tidal flats to the left alerts me to a blue heron, standing in wait for his next meal to swim by. The impatient shrieks of a juvenile bald eagle — one of two born back in April in the nest up in one of the black spruces that we pass — is echoed by the staccato cry of one of his parents, probably saying, "You're big enough to start getting your own breakfast". They are usually perched at the very top of one of the spruces. I've often wondered how a 20-lb bird can do that. Defying gravity, from my "office" window last year. Intermingled with all this are the familiar calls of the herring gulls, the honk-honk of (what I think is) the black-backed gull, and the occasional osprey mimicking a bald eagle. A lone mourning dove perched quietly on an overhead wire this morning, and a solitary cormorant paddled in the water. Many mornings this summer I've heard finback whales spouting, sometimes very close by. It's particularly eerie when it's foggy. You can hear 'em but you can't see 'em. Either way it's pretty cool. If the wind is blowing from the west and it's close to low tide, I can often hear the wailing of seals (gray and harbor) from the colony on the north end of a small out-island just offshore. Then there are the wildflowers, adding visual and aromatic texture to the roadsides. The lupines are done by this time of year, but swards of fireweed (often mistaken for purple loosestrife by those who just give them a quick glance) provide masses of color. Indian  paintbrush, black knapweed (with a flower similar to Canada thistle and favored by monarch butterflies), ox-eye daisies, Angelica, wild asters, and the low-growing bunchberry (in the dogwood family, believe it or not) are either obvious or require some looking, but they're there, often adorning or framing a lowly guardrail along the road. Above, the opportunistic fireweed, the provincial flower of the Yukon. Below, ox-eye daisies and Rosa virginiana along the roadside. Those seeking McDonalds, amusement parks or miniature golf may say there's nothing happening on this little island, just the other side of the easternmost town in the continental US. But I disagree. There's plenty going on if you stop and observe. In some ways, though, the real beauty of such a place isn't what it is or has, but what it isn't or has not. By the way, we do have a nice 9-hole Geoff Cornish-designed golf course on the island, part of the provincial park. Most golf course superintendents hop in the golf car or utility vehicle for their morning ride to inspect the course, for the sake of expediency. Some prefer to walk, however. I believe Chris Tritabaugh at Hazeltine walks his morning rounds. It surely takes longer, but my bet is that the quality of observation is greatly enhanced. In our own ways, we're all fortunate. Not lucky... but fortunate.

Chasin’ the Shore

the shore, the shore… forever more   the shore is where I’m bound  ‘cause it’s the closest place to feeling free… that I’ve ever found   those troubles great will have to wait… right now I’m doing fine   in a place that is no place at all   and a moment out of time    “Chasin’ the shore” by Island author David Weale  No matter where you call home, there are special landscapes where the lines between the everyday and “out there” blur a little bit. Whether it’s the mountains, deep in a forest, or resting on a windblown plain we all have our spaces. I am blessed to live on an island. It’s not a very big island, so the shore is never far from where I am, and for me, that’s a good thing because when the weight of life becomes too much, the shore has a way of cleansing me and helping to restore perspective.  A long walk on a secluded beach centers me in a way few things can. Add in an abandoned wharf, perfect for a long sit, and it is just the thing to reset the mind. The edge of somewhere has a way of setting things right by reminding you that the only certainty in life is change.   We live in a world that holds dear to things staying the same. We wistfully hearken back to the way things were, pining after the “simpler times”.  But comfort and simplicity never arise from holding on to the past, or even tumbling headlong into the future. That treasure only reveals itself when you realize that all you have to do is just be where you are. In time all things will change, including the golf courses we spend our days toiling away on to provide a fun palette for people to play the game of golf. But make no mistake, the places we spend so much of our lives tending  will eventually return to whence they came. They began as wild nature and to wild nature they someday will return. The knowledge of this doesn’t negate the effort we put into them at all. It is just helpful at times to take the big picture approach to life. Every piece of art that has ever been created, shared with the world, and touched someone will inevitably return to nothing. That includes each of us as well. This past month our greenkeeping family in Atlantic Canada lost a dear friend. Long time TurfNetter, Nathan MacKay (Glasgow Hills Golf Course, New Glasgow, PEI) passed away suddenly. Nathan was 37 years old and left behind his wife Vicki and their three young children. Nathan’s death was a tough one to process, and everyone who knew him wanted to figure out a reason for his untimely passing. But in the end there simply was no reason.   Appreciating difficult facts of life such as the death of a dear friend doesn’t make the grieving process any easier. Grief has a way of forcing you to pause where you are, whether you want to or not. You can push it away, try to ignore it or even pretend it’s not as bad as you think... but it will get your attention one way or another. For me, the weekend after Nathan’s passing was a hard one. I was both exhausted and devastated. I could have chosen many different unhelpful ways of coping but chose to venture to the north shore of our little island and let the grief wash over me. As I sat on a long abandoned wharf and felt the waves erode the sand under my feet, the grief for my lost friend held court. Sitting with my sadness and seeing it wash in just like the tide beneath me was powerfully freeing. Being present with my own feelings seemed like the right thing to do after so many days of everything feeling so wrong. In doing so I honoured the truth of my friend’s death and the truth of my own confusion and pain at his passing. Honouring truth isn’t always easy but it is always important. I encourage you to take a moment or two this week to pause and appreciate the ever-changing dance of life as it presents itself to you. Even if things are difficult for you right now, take a moment to be grateful for everything you are blessed with. The truth is that all things will eventually change and pass away. Seek out that quiet place which allows you to connect with something deep inside yourself. You needn’t travel far to return to your own sense of personal peace.

Before closing out the summer... Copenhagen!

Before my time at Great Northern ran too short, I decided to take a little day trip to Copenhagen City, the capital of Denmark. I dragged my buddy, Jack Darling, to Copenhagen so he could see the city as well… and he had a car, so I saved money by not buying a train ticket! To get to Copenhagen, we had to cross the Storebælt Bridge, also known as the Great Belt Fixed Link Bridge. This 6,790-meter-long bridge connects the two islands Zealand and Funen (the island Great Northern is on). It opened in 1998 after a costly price of 21 billion Krone (~3.5 billion USD), and you’re charged 240 Krone (~38 USD) to cross the bridge each way! Headed toward Copenhagen. Don’t be nervous to visit Copenhagen, because no matter where you’re from, chances are you’ll have an embassy to visit if needed! Copenhagen holds embassies for 74 different foreign countries. The Swedish Embassy, one of many within the city. Photo taken out the car window. We drove into the north side of Copenhagen to see the Little Mermaid Statue, based on the story written by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen. It was built in 1913. Sitting at the water’s edge, the Little Mermaid attracts thousands of tourists each day. On the way to the most famous palace, we walked past the Christiansborg Palace. This is home to the offices of Danish Parliament, Supreme Court, and the Prime Minister. Construction began in 1733. A view from the front courtyard. Then we made it to the big Amalienborg Palace, which is a home for the Danish Royal family. Its split into 4 different classic-style palaces around a courtyard. Each of the 4 palaces is named after a previous King. This was built in 1760.  In the courtyard, you can find the Royal Life Guards. They patrol the palace grounds day and night. Super serious. Copenhagen has tons of statues to pay tribute to deceased historical/political figures. This is King Christian the 10th. He was King from 1912 to 1947.  Many statues of different previous Kings stand on blocks all around the city. Close to the Christian X statue, you can find “Nyhavn” (pronounced New-Hown), which means New Harbor. This waterfront district of Copenhagen was established in the 17th-century. The oldest house in Nyhavn was built in 1681. Looking good in my TurfNet hat, probably the first one ever in Copenhagen! Make sure to plan your trips with lots of detail and preparation… you may end up lost like old Spidey here! Our final destination was Tivoli Gardens, the 2nd oldest functional amusement park in the world and gardens that opened in 1843. On average, Tivoli Gardens receives over 4 million visitors per year.  There’s several different roller coasters and tons of booths with carnival-style games and cuisines from many foreign countries.  The “Daemon” towered over us as we first walked in. There are a few different dropping towers, swinging rides, and more all over the park. I managed to convince Jack to try the Demon coaster with me, and it was great!  Going up the Demon! Although it may be scary to some, the views from the top of the Demon are great.   Jack and I enjoying a simple cheeseburger in Tivoli Gardens. Thank goodness we ate after the Demon! Copenhagen was a blast, however, Jack and I could only visit for a few hours on a Sunday. Personally, I’d suggest visiting Copenhagen over an entire weekend, so you can really experience the city and appreciate the crazy new and old architecture up and down every block… and also spend a full day at Tivoli Gardens of course! I want to visit Copenhagen again, and I’m sure Jack would agree with me on that!

Next-Gen Range Maintenance

It’s safe to say that majority of golf courses around the world have a driving range on property, and this is responsibility for the greenkeeping staff and proshop staff to maintain. It’s very common for the clubhouse/proshop workers to collect the range balls to be reused and allow the greenkeepers to maintain the turf on the range. Here at Great Northern Golf Club, we have a high-tech GPS-based robotic system that can do both! I met up with our club Head Pro, Søren Hansen, to take a look at the part of the system that sits inside our driving-range/proshop facility.  Søren checking out a few range balls. Søren joined the European tour in 1997 and proceeded to win 3 events. He was included in the top 50 professional golfers in the Official World Golf Rankings and was labeled as the best Danish Golfer in 2007… and he’s our Head Pro! I’m very glad to have met Søren, he’s an awesome guy. Thanks for showing me the system! Søren has lots of work to do including giving lessons, proshop business, and more, so he and the other workers don’t have too much time to spare to pick range balls. Therefore, the ball collection system is a perfect fit for Great Northern. Several companies were contracted to put together the mowing and range ball collection system using robots, underground piping, and vacuum systems to handle the aggravating job of driving a cart up and down the range and getting smacked with range balls hit by golfers! The interior portion of the system includes the vacuum, a pump for the vacuum, a collection tray for hand-picked balls, the computer system, and the big steel container that feeds the balls to pipes to be dispersed to the outside ball machines. The inside portion of the system. The tray for loading hand-picked balls. Here is where the balls can be split between the two separate dispensers for the customers. Inside one of the dispensers. The balls are brought up by the flaps of the conveyor system. BelRobotics makes the Bigmow and Ballpicker electric-powered robots that are programmed to mow the rough of the range and collect the balls to be dumped into the designated collection pits. These robots have a width of a meter and can really get the job done! A Bigmow putting in some work. The Ballpicker and Bigmow from Belrobotics.   At these pits, the collection robots can empty their loads of around 250 balls and grab a quick charge to keep moving throughout the day. The mowing robots aren't programmed to go to a collection pit, therefore they have their own charging stations off to the side of the pit. Buried around the perimeter of our 5-acre driving range, lies a cable 30cm under the surface so the robots can sense where they are needed to mow or collect. Our driving range. Even though the robots aren’t too big, with a couple working at a time, they can cover the 5 acres in a little over 24 hours. 5 acres is a lot of ground to cover for a tiny robot, however, the robot can cover the whole area on one full charge. If your driving range aggravates you with the ball picking and extra mowing, take a look at going high-tech!  Another big thanks to my co-worker, Jack Darling, for helping explain the system to me.  

European Cuisine

First things first. I am an awful cook. I belong on the opposite side of Gordon Ramsey and Paula Deen on the spectrum of the culinary arts.  Upon leaving the U.S.A., I realized that my easy days of running to a McDonalds or Chick Fil A for a meal were coming to an end. Within the first couple of weeks, I struggled to feed myself, because I never learned how to cook. I had gotten so spoiled with fast-food and my parents feeding me. I’m embarrassed to say, I may have only used a stove top a couple dozen times before coming to Denmark. But I had to start to feed my raging American appetite.  Over the past 3 months of traveling around, I’ve run across many different cultures. A very important component to cultures are the different foods within.  I live in a house with greenkeepers that come from many different countries. Scotland, Ireland, England, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Latvia, and Poland are all homes to the dozen or more greenkeepers living in the housing complex. Therefore, I get a little experience from several different countries every single day.  Lithuanian, Scottish, Irish, English, and American all in one picture! During my trip to Scotland, my friends, Grant, Jack and Scott, who grew up there insisted I try a few of their favorite foods and drinks.  Of course I had to try the hot tea with milk. The most requested items from the guys were Haggis and Black Pudding. When I say Black Pudding, many people may think of a gooey delicious snack, however, it’s actually a “blood sausage” made from pork blood, pork fat, oatmeal, and a few more small ingredients. I will say that I am not a fan of either of the two. Black pudding is usually paired with this sweet “brown sauce” Haggis is another style of “pudding”, but doesn’t come in a sausage form. It’s made from Sheep’s Pluck, which can contain the heart, lungs, liver, and other organs that are normally disposed of.  The Scottish people enjoy these traditional foods, because a long time ago before meats were easily available, the Scots would try to use as much of an animal for food as possible to avoid wasting meat.  Along with Scotland, majority of the United Kingdom is pretty crazy over fish and chips. This usually consists of fried cod and French fries.  Yum! My Bulgarian house-mate Michail introduced me to Bulgarian cuisine. He made “Musaka”, which consists of mince meat, tomatoes, onions, Bulgarian spices, eggs, yogurt and potatoes.  In the process of cooking. Ready to eat! Thanks Michail! I thought to myself that since I’m trying foods from different cultures, I should introduce my friends to a typical American meal.  A cheeseburger and French fries would’ve been too stereotypical. After the Europeans joked around with me about drinking Coca Cola (typical American), I decided to make my family’s staple Coca Cola Chicken.  The simple recipe of Coca Cola, ketchup, honey, and chicken had a few of the guys foaming at the mouth!  English Jack, Irish Jack, and Irish John chowing down on a taste of America. I’m a pretty picky eater, but I enjoyed broadening my horizons in the culinary world. Not everything you try will satisfy your taste, but you’ll never know if you like it without giving it a go.
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