In my last post I talked about my preparation for a speaking gig to The Mile High Club Managers Chapter. And it created some good discussion and allowed me to enhance my talk, based on the input of my peers and fellow Turfheads. And if you haven't read that post, you probably should to get proper perspective.
I don't always like linear history blogging, but in this case, I think it's worth an update.
I really didn't know what to expect the morning I walked into Cherry Hills CC with my laptop containing a Keynote presentation. It seemed like I was prepared, but I am an over-prepper, so my perspective is a little skewed. As per usual, I'd been up half the night before practicing my brand of pre-game mental yoga, also known as torture. But again, that's my creative process and it's an old friend.
The CMAA group was well prepared. About 60 in attendance. Mark Condon, GM at The Ranch CC is the education chair and he had a great group of speakers lined up. I really liked how he broke up the morning with a well done panel discussion with PGA Pros from Denver CC, Frost Creek CC and Cherry Hills. I don't always like panel discussions, but this one was really great and that had to do do with Mark doing his homework as the MC and asking good questions. It also had to do with great questions coming from the floor.
I was last. Batting clean up after the Golf Pros and Ed Mate from the Colorado Golf Association. I had heard about Ed. But it was great to see him in person. His passion for the game is incredible and him being a former Evans Scholarship winner doesn't hurt. So in the last spot before lunch, the grass guy comes up. And as I hook up my laptop, the familiar feeling of peace after a week of torturing myself preparing for this is a welcome feeling. Again, this feeling is also an old friend and it tells me that there is nothing to do but be Dave Wilber and deliver the goods. A couple of small jokes and other stupid speaker tricks and I feel like I own the room and its time to rock and roll. My Powerpoint and Keynote skills are on point. My visuals are good. The room, like most country club settings is too bright, but I expected that and have visuals that will work. Throttles to the firewall.
Forty-five min later, I was at the end of the presentation. And during the talk and then again at the end, this group had some good questions. I don't remember them all. When I'm in the flow, I don't often have recall. I own cameras and recorders and you would think I would set one or two up and capture the moment, but I just don't think that way. I need to travel with my Tech Monkey.
But I do remember the discussions and questions that were most powerful.
College Graduation Numbers: I fielded several questions based on my comments about not being able to fill the multitude of assistant and second assistant jobs out there. As well as the changing job of equipment technician. It was clear to me that there was much concern in the room that we may not be graduating and training qualified candidates to fill all the positions out there. And one of the Head Pro's in the room was very quick to talk about the fact he has the same issue. Lots of open slots in the Assistant Pro ranks. For me, I always want to be clear that when we are in a shrinking environment of golf courses closing, we cant expect the same number of Superintendent jobs to exist. There's nothing wrong with being an assistant Super. There's nothing wrong with doing that for a long time, perhaps as a career. But for sure, the way we pay our long time support crew is wrong. And everyone in that room understands that.
Is All This New Tech Too Expensive?: I didn't spend long on this. Because to me, calculating ROI is easy. And if we can't do that or cant show returns on investing anything, then we are just getting stuff and doing stuff just because. Which doesn't pay.
Bunkers: There was a lot of head nodding about cost of bunker maintenance and construction and that maybe we have lost the plot as it came to a bunker being a hazard. Ed Mate, a rules expert, was quick on the draw from the floor to refute that calling a bunker a "penalty area" is wrong. It's a bunker.
The Environment: The CMAA Chapter is really excited about working with the Colorado Golf Association in regards to Economic and Environmental Impact of golf. That's good. I think we all want that. And I will be sure that those who need to know hear that Turfgrass side of the golf world has a lot of data and a lot to say in this area.
So, did I deliver an Anthony Bourdain style ass whipping to them? Not really. Thats not me. Well, it can be. But this wasn't the time or the place. However, I'm sure there was some eye opening things that this group heard. I was super happy to hear the PGA Pros being really strong about the fact that while they know they want to get golfers to the game, the idea of keeping them there was much more on their mind. I think one of their stories about the club's most popular event being a Night Golf event was telling in the fact that there is nothing traditional in that, but it was all about the fun. Fun. What a thing. Golf really can be fun.
As far as anything I said that drew the biggest reaction, someone in the audience decided to pontificate a non-question question about the number of courses, golfers and handicaps. He wasn't making any sense when he got to the slope rating part and before Ed Mate could jump in, I simply said that I don't have a handicap. Don't care about having one. Refuse to play stroke play when I play and that match play with my friends is my favorite thing. And I even went on to say that I prefer that to be with Hickory clubs and demand to be walking. Yeah. You can imagine the chuckles that got. But it did get the Pope in the back of the room to be quiet.
Is The Golf dying? No, don't be silly. Is it going to be what it was? No, don't be silly. It's always evolved. Should every 18-hole course that has had any economic trouble turn itself into Top Golf. No. That's absurd. Should we be worried? Hell yes! Falling asleep at the wheel didn't and never will do anyone any good. Should we, as Turfheads be carrying a better message of Econ and Enviro? If you aren't you will definitely be a statistic. Definitely.
But carrying is one thing, living it is even more important.
I'm speaking next week at a CMAA meeting in Denver. I did a CMAA meeting once a few years ago and they did wine tasting, so I figured it might pay to go to this one. I prefer Single Malt. We will see what happens.
In truth, the program is pretty cool. The Mile High CMAA Chapter is looking to get perspective on the evolution of Golf and has invited some notables from the Club Pro, Turfgrass and Colorado Golf in general. So cool. Had to say yes. If you have been reading my Blog or listening to my Podcast for any amount of time, you probably know that I'm neurotic for preparation. In this case, I cant just stand up, pull a club out of the bag and hit a one-iron. I have to work for this one a bit and do some research and the like.
The Evolution of Golf. Certainly, Golf hasn't been immune to evolution. One must only look at the Golf Ball or the Golf Club to see that. And certainly, there has been plenty of change as it comes to the world of architecture. Even if that change is simply to erase the poorly evolved. Then we come to the 2007-2008 crash. Or "adjustment" as the optimists call it. And from that point on, it's been a crazy world of trying to figure out what golf is and who we all are.
To me, we can't escape a list of facts that is here to stay:
50% of everyone now picking up a club is 55 years of age or older.
77.5% of all golfers are male.
74% of players play less than 10 times per year.
68% of all golfers are married.
$2,800 is the average amount that the average player spends per year.
Great Dave. So you are gonna get up in front of a bunch of club management types and tell them what they either already know, can read in NGF stats or are experiencing while they try to figure out how to get this all to change. And guess what? It's not gonna change. It's not. No matter how much Foot Golf or Jump Houses or 13th Hole Concerts or Bluetooth Speakers or GPS Disney Carts come along... The Golf is The Golf.
But the Agronomy? Just like the equipment and the courses themselves, is dynamic. Here's what I see as the coming trends and the things that we are talking about. Will these things change the numbers above? Again, not likely in my mind. But there is an evolution.
Bunkers. Despite the PGA Tour now calling them Penalty Areas, bunkers now represent at least 50% of the conversations that I have as an agronomic advisor. Be it construction, reconstruction, restoration, daily maintenance or tourney prep, they are a grand topic. And a damn expensive one. The expectations are high and the understanding of what "natural" really takes to maintain is low. At least half the golfers at most clubs don't like the sand or the way the sand is prepped. They are money pits. In a recent agronomy report for a client, I talked about the "gift" a traditionalist architect had given the club in the form of "natural bunkers", proving to double the labor dollars required to deal with them. Here's the quote: "the only way not to spend so much money on these bunkers, is not to have these bunkers". One less architect X-mas card will come to me this year.
Robotic Mowing. Like it or not, robots are coming. In form of Turfgrass Roombas or some such. I don't see them as play-toys and I keep saying this. Those that are using the first generation of the things are seeing what the win will be. Sure, they will require a different kind of maintenance, schedule and some human supervision, but there is no question they will be part of the internal landscape.
Precision Applications. Along the same lines, we will certainly see more and more GPS oriented technology for anything that gets applied. And for sure, this will mean the evolution of sensor technology to make sure that only the overpowering invader gets the treatment and the zones doing great do not. I can foresee an IR scanning drone overflying an area, downloading info to a sprayer and that sprayer applying 10% or less of what used to be applied. Same will go for irrigation. Real time data will be commonplace at tremendous savings.
Large Area Mowers. Gone are the days of multiple heights of cut and a bevy of labor to produce them. 3 heights of cut. And the one that is the largest area will be once again mowed with larger mowers. Will item number 2 play a part. In some way, yes. And if the happens, the equipment may be smaller as an accommodation. The corollary to this simply mowing less grass to begin with.
Short Courses, Par 3's and Whisky Loops. Time is something we can't print more of. So without a doubt, the conversation about shorter, easier, more fun and quicker places to play is going to continue. You wanna go hang out at the 7600 yard battlezone? Be my guest. I like the 5300 yard opportunity not to hate myself.
Great Grasses. In my opinion we are entering into another golden age of plant breeding and turf types will be more unique, site specific and use specific than ever before. With reams of data now at our fingertips about climate and the ability to model the potential growth based on the smallest details, breeders can meet needs. In really cool ways. One only has to look at the amazing Bents and Ultras that we are using on greens now to see there is real movement in this area.
Lowering of Expectations. How hard is it really, for golfers, members and management to get that when they want lower prices they are going to get less. I actually think that superintendents are doing a much better job of talking about this from a less defensive posture. Is this because the "Country Club for a Day" sales pitch is going away? I'd like to think so. And to be fair, Supers are starting to realize they have been their own worst enemies as it comes to inventing stuff to do to make things reach that "next level". The extra 10% can cost another 30%. That's not ROI. Thats just stupid. I'm quick to point this out when anyone says "Next Level" or some version of it to me. Here's the truth. We all want to drive McLarens. And few can afford it. Enjoy your Toyota. Love it.
Chemicals. I talk about this all the time. One day, there won't be any or there will be very little. And so we will have to rely on point number 6 above. What's driving it. Sadly it's not the environmental factor as much as it is the litigation and liability factor. And quite frankly as a recent student of risk management, I don't blame the insurance folks for backing away from the agri-chem coverage. It's a controllable risk.
9. Virtual Golf. I met a gentleman on a plane recently who was wearing a high end resort logo. He told me his story of logo achievement because I was dumb enough to ask. But his answer was facinating. He plays all his golf at Top Golf and at his friend's basement simulator. And once a year, he and his buddies head for the coast, play as many holes a day as the daylight and their sore feel will allow. Eat and Drink to excess. Tell lies. And head home to the Simulators. Now maybe this does say that golf is changing, but then again, no. It just says that once a year, the dudes have dude times with their el dudarino buddies and that's all they get. Actually, sounds pretty good to me.
10. Brilliance. Buh? It's simple. Turfheads are some of the most resourceful people on the planet. And if you ask most of them to sort out something, make something happen, deal with adversity, they will. Over and over again. So the evolution of golf and golf turf is well rooted in the brilliance and testicular thought fortitude of those growing the grass. I know damn good and well that sitting here today, I can not predict the things that will go on in 33 years, just as I couldn't have predicted this blog 33 years ago when I hit the biz.
So, I have parts of my talk for next week. And I can spend the next six nights torturing myself over getting the visuals right and the roadmap right for a decent presentation and wondering why I say yes to these things. I can focus on not sounding like just another Brad Kline or Pat Jones talk. I can actually be me and say it as I see it. In this moment. It's all one can really do, right?
(PostScript....If you would like to weigh in on the evolutionary path of golf as related to Agronomy, I and many others would love to hear it. Comment below. And remember, no idea is too off the wall)
I don't like "Birthday Parties".
I like going to them for other people, but I don't like them when they are for me. It has always seemed like a waste of time to celebrate my getting older. Kind of like celebrating something that will happen no matter what, like Wind or Grocery Bagging. Not special.
But this year, for my 53rd, I decided to put out a note to a random bunch of people from different walks in my world and tell them where I would be from what time to what time and tell them to come have a beer with me at a craft brew place that I like. My favorite taco truck was going to be there. Come. Buy your own beer, tuck in to some El Pastor. Simple. And If it was just me there, I'd be fine and if a bunch of people came, I'd be fine too. No cake. No cards. No gifts, Just Beers and Friends.
I always wonder what my Turfhead and Non-Turfhead friends will talk about or think of each other. And I try really hard to keep my grass conversations to a limited level when in company with civilians. I think I am better at it than they are, actually because often golf or grass is brought up by interlopers. I'm also really careful around wives and significant others in keeping the Turfhead spench to a desirable level. What person of a person really wants to hear about Cinchbugs, Manganese and Nitrogen? Yeah. Exactly.
On a Sunday afternoon, Living the Dream Brewing was getting busy. And in true Colorado style, dogs, kids, dreads and guitars started to fill the place. So cool. And then, to my surprise, people who actually knew me started to show up and suddenly we had a whole table. I couldn't put away the smile. Enhanced by a nice ESB, the smile grew.
And the conversation? So cool. On one side, wedding plans. On another side, the grafting of plans for another get together. In the middle the comparison of notes between the 1985 PGA Championship and the 2011 Senior Open. The inevitable weather discussion. Broncos. Snow. Skiing. Avalanches. Beer. Tacos. Tacos. Beer and Tacos. Pumpstations. Long Hours.
And Grass. But our grass talks are so much fun. Because they envelop our small business but they contain references from all around the world. At a Brewery in Colorado we can talk about our friends in St Andrews and Abu Dhabi. And Iowa and California. We might even text them or tweet about them. I find it fascinating. And I think the non-turfers do too. But at the same time we all have dogs and kids and houses and food to talk about too.
Why am I writing all this? As usual I have a point! And my point is this: We often make getting together with others too hard and too much work. And as most of us come into the busy seasons, we miss these opportunities. We can't. We humans are built for interaction and for face to face time. And while it may seem like a complete pain in the ass to make a meet up happen. We have to. We do. It can't be optional. And I really think that we can invite the Civilians... the Significant Others and the Non-Turfheads like us. They really do!
I am really glad that I put the word out where I would be having a beer. And again, I wasn't attached to any outcome. I just let everyone know and I went. Simple as that. Had I been alone, I likely would have met someone new, learned something I didn't know. I didn't feel obligated to serve everyone or provide the entertainment or the experience. The experience was in the people around me. And I in them. A few hours of fun and smiles all around. Pretty awesome.
So here is my Craft Beer Wisdom to you... Take a moment as you start into the season and gather some people you like or even ones you don't know and have some simple easy hang time. Invite people from different walks of life. Bring your dogs and your kids and your cats if you so desire. Smile. Tell stories. Laugh. Eat. Be Human.
And thanks for all the birthday wishes! What a wonderful thing.
Let's talk about cutting cups.
During The Players' Championship, I discovered even more how much I love and hate Twitter. A tweet from the PGA Tour showed a close up of the edges of a freshly cut cup being scissor trimmed. And a discussion erupted. I was honestly shocked. Because somehow, the notion of a perfectly prepared cup edge was lumped into the idea of tournament golf taking things too far in the way of conditioning. It was compared to all kinds of things that aren't usually done on the daily.
I was astounded. Actually. And, because I am me, I spoke up. I couldn't hold back. Call it addiction or lack of self-control or the need to be right, I don't care. I really don't.
I had to look back to the 80's when I first learned to cut a cup. Like everyone who has ever dropped a cutter and hovered over it, I wasn't good at first. And I took a huge amount of heat from the entire crew for a few poorly selected spots and a few leaning flags. And I learned to get it right, quickly. And then I learned to obsess over it. Because it was clear to me that the golf course could be absolutely perfect, but if the cup was wrong, if that pin was in the wrong place, if that flag stick was less than perfect, it was a huge black mark. Huge.
When I volunteered at my first legit event, The Colorado Open at Hiwan CC in Evergreen, CO, Super Gary Russell asked me if I wanted to be on the setup detail. The answer was yes, but wisely, Gary grabbed a cup cutter and some tools and we went to a nursery spot to see what my skills were like. Gary immediately coached me on stepping up my game. I learned how to use a stand-board. I was taught how to assure a perfect depth. A certain way to pull the cutter. A set of steps for replacing, repairing and watering the old cup were given. I was taught how to paint the edge and scissor cut the edge. He said I was good, but needed to be way better. And so it was. That system was it. There was no negotiation or deviation. Gospel. The Book of Gary. And I memorized every chapter and verse.
From that point on, hole locations on my watch were done with the extreme care of that technique, combined with my obsession for Greenkeeping. It meant that some employees, despite trying hard, just couldn't get it. And when it was event or tourney time at my places, no big deal. We already did that level. Didn't matter if it was 9-hole Ladies Tuesday or US Open Qualifying, our cups and pin positions were immaculate. From my low budget muni first Super job to the climb up to the Private world, all done the same with huge expectations. In 2003, noted Agronomist and Friend Jon Scott gave a group of staff and volunteers a lesson in cup cutting at a Champion's Tour event I was helping with. And even then, I learned something. And at the same time, I recognized the careful perfection and artistry that had been his lesson to all involved. He was quick to say the The Tour expected it, but that EVERY GOLFER DESERVED IT.
As a consultant, often Supers and I were out early with the setup guys and when I saw it going wrong, I always made a point to talk about the importance of perfection. Or at least striving to get it as good as possible, with no low cups replaced, etc.
Ryan Moy and Jake Ryan at The Ryder Cup, Hazeltine National GC
If you have read my stuff at all, you know that I like to live in the real world and that I know what we see on TV on the weekends is not that. I also like competition. I like the spectacle of setting up for any competition. So it creates duality in me. Isn't The Golf a daily competition? Sure, the cameras are here, the circus tents are up, pull out the stops. And when there is no show in town, do your best to be at a raised bar for the day's partaking of a sporting event. Look, I get that things like walk mowing fairways and push rotary mowing roughs and stuff like that happens. I get it. I get that the army of volunteers (read: Free Labor) makes it possible to do this stuff for an event situation. I also get that when you have a limited staff and limited resources, these things not only look inaccessible, they border on the absurd.
However, for me, and this is for me.... No matter how tough it was. No matter how much labor trouble we were in, we still had perfectly cut cups. And yes, that included scissor trimming and usually painting. I did the math and the extra time to get it right and to make it special was minimal dollars and max return on investment. So, while I understand my colleagues and friends giving their opinions on that little video, I couldn't get with the idea that perfection on a cut cup wasn't a good thing.
One day, when I'm just a little older. (and that day isn't far away), my hope is that some young Super will allow me the honor of setting up his or her golf course a few days a week. And when I'm 70, I guarantee you, I will have those scissors in my hands, finishing that hole to the best of my ability of my shaking hands and worn out knees because every golfer deserves to know what a sacred cup means to their game.
Let’s talk Agronomic Bravery
brave /brāv/ adjective 1. ready to face and endure danger or pain; showing courage. "a brave soldier"
synonyms: courageous, plucky, fearless, valiant, valorous, intrepid, heroic, lionhearted, manful, macho, bold, daring, daredevil, adventurous, audacious, death-or-glory.
verb 1. endure or face (unpleasant conditions or behavior) without showing fear. "we had to brave the full heat of the sun"
synonyms: endure, put up with, bear, withstand, weather, suffer, sustain, go through;
When you look at the root definitions of “brave”, it quickly can show that being brave somehow intersects with life choices that are in some way dangerous. Makes sense. It’s that kind of word. It connotes you being in some danger and it also signifies keeping others from harm’s way.
I had a coaching call (I really despise the that phrase, but it is a part of what I do) with a newer client last week. And as Super X laid out plans for the their upcoming season, it all sounded technically sound and I found myself wondering why I was reacting to it in a less than positive way. Aren’t sound, solid, technical well drafted plans supposed to sound good? I guess. But I also know that sometimes a fighter has a plan, until they get hit hard enough to send them to the canvas because they didn’t think about getting really hit.
So I quickly steered the conversation into a “what if” type line of thinking. Something along the lines of, “What if that first aerification event gets rained out?” and “Explain to me your strategy for record heat” and “Where’s your head as far as the janky pump station you have”. As I continued along this line of tough questions, Super X started to lose his cool.
“Dave, I can’t plan for every bad thing that is possibly going to happen”, said Super X. True. For the most part, we can’t begin to predict all the things that can and will go wrong. I agree.
“What if I told you that you lack bravery?”, I said in an abrupt manner. Long silence. Long. Dalai Lama long. And I could hear the anger boiling up.
“Look”, I said, “what you just laid out for me is good. It’s textbook solid. And I’m not impressed. At your level, at your degree of happening that you have to make, I don’t see anything more than you just waiting for… next year”. That did it. A string of expletives blasted thru the phone at me. It was as if I had called his dog a goat. How could I be so wrong?
What’s the point here? My job as an agronomic advisor isn’t just to shake my head yes to cool ideas and usage of the latest and greatest discoveries in Turfgrass History. Quite the opposite is often true. What I am tasked with is getting supers to look at their situation and find the death traps. Find the scary places. Seek out the spots that they really don’t want to shine the lights on.
Let’s go back to Super X. This facility is very irrigation dependent. They have not a lot of storage. They have questionable water supply issues in both quantity and quality. They have older control systems and a pumping station that is headed for it’s last years. It’s a seven figure conversation, starting with the number 2 or maybe even a 3. Yeah. Serious. Super X is super comfortable talking with me about Fertility and Fungicide rotations and all that. He’s got that in the bag. But not a mention of the whole irrigation picture as part of his plan. Sure, he mentioned it in our first session, right along with mentioning that the shop lift was old and that he needs a new set of dew whips.
“Dave, it’s going to be years before they even want to start talking about this. We just finished spending money on trees and bunkers. They are tapped out,” was the story. And I agree. The addition of bunkers of the finest variety and a tree plan with the finest GPS mapping was outstanding. And now it’s time to keep going. And this is the point where I mention I might have fixed that irrigation system before doing the bunkers, but what good is my second guessing, really. Thus ensued the back and forth about how Super X doesn’t love his Golf and Grounds Committee meetings and how the whole thing is hard for him. Yeah, bro. The business is hard.
I am a veteran of 100’s of committee meetings. And I can tell you that at any level, it’s a minefield. With potential to make or break careers in several wrong spoken sentences or misplaced emotions. And I get that we Turfheads love to spout GDD and ET and BMP and all the other cool letter combos. To technically over-wow our audience can be a disease. I get it. I’m a recovering over-explainer. But sometimes, the Brave thing to do is to kick in your own teeth a bit and prepare to deliver some hard news. in very straightforward language. The back of the house, the unseen, is part of their asset too.
Now, there are ways to do this. Being prepared is key. Being completely versed in the subject is key. Being fully aware of the potential questions and who will be asking them is key. But make no mistake, you are a Steward of their property. An expert. And to be one, you have to have all the data. All the info. And MOST IMPORTANT... you can’t hide from the tougher issues.
So now Super X and I are having a legit agronomy discussion. He’s done being mad at me. He’s seeing the light of what happens if the troubles he is used to go on too long. We are talking about the full evaluation of what is in place and making very strong assessment of not only remaining life span but efficiency right now. It’s time to get brave and collect some data. Do some pump testing, do some in-field auditing, dig some holes and look at some old valves that may have failed. It’s time to look at power cost and consumption data. It’s time to consider alternative water sources. It’s time to be brave.
There’s one last point. The very best superintendents that I have ever seen are so good at getting people to follow them into battle. So the tactic here, is to look deep at the data and instead of reporting to everyone about the sky falling, the move is to get a few small squads together and show them the info. To find who is listening and who wants to pick up a weapon or two and join in the fight. And it is also time to help the faint hearted get up to speed and get comfortable. So that they will also support the mission.
Marching orders set. Plan to make a plan in place. Experts' phone numbers at the ready, now Super X can be agronomically brave. He can look hard at his situation and put together a plan that includes not hitting the floor in bewilderment. WHEN the punches come. And they will come.
I’ll write about this more in some future case studies. But I thought it might illustrate for you that our business has a level of competence in planning that includes putting your whole heart and soul into the win.
Let's take another post-GIS question. This provoked some thought.
Who are your Turfgrass Heroes?
I think the person asking me this was thinking that I would list off a bunch of people that everyone knows thru social media and what not. And well, their may be some recognizable names, there are also some that I know you don't know. I can't name them all here and if you didn't make the list and you know me well, it's not a slight. It's being economical. And it's recognizing people in my world who I have had contact with.
Mike Kosak. The first superintendent that I ever worked for. Still to this day one of the greatest people that I know. He's been like family since I first met him at my high school in 1981. That's 38 years ago, right about this week when he took a chance hiring a cowboy kid who didn't know the difference between a green and a tee. If you'd like to know more about Mike, I did a a podcast episode with him, here. Mike is just one of those people that make our business great.
Me, with Mike Kosak.
The long line of supers and others that he has produced and influenced is distinguished and he'd never say he had anything to do with it. He did. In a major way. You know what's crazy? In his retirement years, he spends his winters in warm climates changing cups. One of the best supers, GM's, Owners and Mentors and he is perfectly happy doing course set up wherever he and his wife decide to park their RV for the winter. So cool.
Walter Woods. You've probably heard my story of my first meeting with Walter in St Andrews, Scotland. Wherein I was puking my guts out right next to the 18th green at The Old Course 10 min before because I was so nervous about meeting him. I hung on his every word. Every one of them. And still do more than 20 years later. Walter's time as Links Manager at St Andrews was a pivot point in keeping with minimalism. He could have taken links golf away from where it should be and he didn't. Modernizing with a strong touch and developing great people around him. He's not one to give out compliments easy. I had to earn those words.
Walter Woods, and me.
Ross Kurcab. The fifth episode of The Turfgrass Zealot Project featured Ross Kurcab. Ross did 30 years with The Denver Broncos, masterfully managing first the practice facilities and then later the Broncos adsorbed Mile High Stadium. Ross handled it well. Really well. And he's got the Super Bowl rings to prove it. I always admired his spirit and his dedication and his ability to make a really tough job look really easy. Now I admire his dedication to helping others in the Sports Turf world succeed. Amazing.
Dave Hensley. Now the GM at Ballyneal, the famed Tom Doak masterpiece in Eastern Colorado, Dave is that guy that I just want to be. While Ballyneal was started on a dream, the construction and grow in were some nightmarish days. It was Dave's first superintendent's gig and he absolutely killed it. But I knew I was in the presence of greatness when, on opening day, he teed it up with Ben Crenshaw, Bill Coore and Tom Doak as his playing partners and never even broke a sweat and didn't shoot 110. I'm not sure I could have hit the ball out of my shadow in that situation. Oh, did I mention Dave probably hadn't slept for three days prior to this? Yeah. Hero.
Kevin Hicks. If anyone had a tougher day in and day out situation than Kevin Hicks during his time at Coeur D'Alene Golf Resort then I don't know who that would be. Tough owner. Floating Green. Insane expectations. Night Maintenance. And that's just the hit list. For 15 years. And before that, Kevin paid his dues, turning around Hillcrest CC and working his way through Arizona and starting in Minnesota and Colorado, all at high demand jobs. What I love about Kevin is his natural chill. It may be affecting him on the inside, but not on the outside. Now as part of the team with Earthworks, he is sure to make a huge impact for Joel Simmons and Company. Oh and his son Michael? Same degree of chill as he will likely be a professional baseball player. Kevin is the tall one in the photo.
Me with Kevin Hicks, Mickey McCord and Thomas Bastis.
Thomas Bastis. Standing next to Mr. Hicks, is Thomas Bastis (and next to me, that's Mickey McCord of McCord Golf Safety). If you don't know this name, shame on you. Learn Google. Now an agronomist with the PGA Tour, Bastis is killing it. And that's no surprise. I've watched him pull the rabbit out of his hat so many times that I now know it's not magic, it's just how it works. His ability to ask me mind numbing questions for hours and fill in the blanks with logic and more Vulcan Science than Spock ever dreamed of would have me staggering to my car, driving to the hotel and curling up in the fetal position having been mind melded to the max. And while I was whimpering he was probably getting in a 12 mile run, just because. You can't imagine.
(Disclaimer. I thought this would be a very easy blog post. Pick a few turfheads that I know and love. Write in Wilber Style. Spread the love. Done. The truth is that this has been agonizing to the point of loss of two nights sleep. For sure, I am missing some people. And so instead of making myself even more crazy, There will have to me more installments of this. Many more.)
Ballyneal Golf and Hunt Club, Hole #7
My inbox has been blessed with some really good questions in the weeks since #GIS19. I like this one:
At first pass, I scoffed. Please. Me? Never. And then I considered the source of the question and the context of the conversation. Let's start with context. Because that word, in its wide range, can mean so many things. The author of the question was speaking to me about agronomy. Then to the point of source, we are talking about a Superintendent who has always been a deep thinking thought leader. So I decided that I'd look a little deeper at the whole subject.
In the early 90's my youthful excitement to apply ideas, along with my need to get noticed for those ideas, led me to seek out the emerging culture of eco-agricultural thinkers. This meant taking in writings of authors from Acres, USA Press. It led me to attend local and state anything that had to do with environment friendly agriculture. I got close with the growers and grazers who were using the same water sources as I was. I created a "community compost operation" and lastly, went almost entirely pesticide and salt fertilizer free. Inside of all of this were some pretty amazing people. Wide ranging. From generational Fruit, Wine Grape and Cannabis growers to Beef, Pork and Dairy producers to cool old ladies who just wanted to grow some strawberries to a wide range of specialty producers of just about anything that would grow. I'm a third generation agriculturist myself so in a way, there were as much my people as Turfheads. If not maybe more.
What I didn't grasp at the time is that I was the interloper, because I wasn't producing a "market crop". "It's Golf", they would say, "it doesn't produce anything other than recreation". And quite frankly most of that crowd didn't really get or participate in the sport. I had all the lines that we all say about Turfgrass being a major contributor, and they listened, nodded and held their same beliefs. But I was bound and determined that I was "producing" a "sustainable" product. And my ability to speak a bunch of different agriculture languages made this a fun sell for me. I was trying to be more "organic" more "sustainable" more "eco" so I could be looked at as a participant and not just a tourist.
What I learned was that my passion and my situation was unique and that really, if you want to, you can figure out a way to program a quality turfgrass management program with just about as much or as little input as you want. Really. And I learned that the best growers, producers, agriculturalists were the ones who relentlessly studied, observed, collected data and applied strong logic, while leaving behind the hype.
Lets get back to the original question, "Have you given up on the idea of Sustainability?". The answer is a distinct and strong, "No". I haven't given up on the idea of chemical free management. I lived it as a Super. I live it now as a consultant. I am always looking at ways to reduce inputs of any kind and increase the quality of the product. In some climates, working hard to fool. nature means doing this in some un-natural ways. And yes, that could lead to a use of a pesticide of some sort, or a chemical that overcomes a barrier to producing a playing surface. I'm not as naive as I once was. But in the same way, I am more dogmatic about how to look at the infinite number of choices we now have in our techno powerful world.
My old friend Tom Mead and I were talking about a project years ago. Mead, who was working for Tom Doak at the time and had been a Super himself and I hit it off straight away because we were of a "sustainable" mindset. Meaning we were always looking for ways not to apply chemistry first. This particular conversation has to do with grassing choices. We both knew there were two roads. One road was the higher road. It would fall more to what the "general handbook" would say. It would require some chemical enhancement and it would be understandable to 90% of Turfheads everywhere. The lower road was the road less traveled. It would require more creativity and observation. It may mean a lot of different as less frequently used inputs in the beginning, developing a bank account that would pay interest for a lifetime of less input. Both ways, under capable hands, would produce a playing surface. Both could be talked about at the bar at the end of the day by golfers who don't know any better and be declared a win.
So, what tips the ship? Which wind requires which sail? Or is it lots of fuel and big horsepower engines? That, in and of itself is the eternal and unanswerable question. And to me right there, is why Sustainability, while sailing into and out of storms, fog, doldrums and fair weather is never going by the wayside. Because, clearly, show me an agricultural professional, captaining any kind of ship, who stops looking for the best way to be the operator, master and commander of every tool at their disposal and I will show you a crash of Titanic proportions. Nothing piled against the rocks is any longer sustainability material. What constitutes a ship wreck in the golf world? To me it's the sad sign of golf courses going away. Hitting the rocks for various reasons, but gone none the less.
But if the ship is in the water, making waves, seeking cool ports and using its crew and every board foot of its waterline, it is, indeed Sustainable. Give up on Sustainable? Never. Our precious turfgrass demands it and further requires we don't label it and box it in so that we can claim technique over results.
It has been ten or maybe even twelve years since I have been a GCSAA member. Yesterday, that changed.
As a student, assistant and superintendent, membership to the national association made sense to me. And for 15 years of independent consultant status, I paid the dues with not a lot of joy. And one day, after a very disappointing conversation with a GCSAA board member, I decided that there wasn't a benefit to me by belonging. It was, in effect, a silent protest. And a financial decision to take the money my business had budgeted for Dues and make sure that I was a member of several local chapters. And as a way of showing even more local support, I served on two boards as an affiliate (non-superintendent) member. Several terms. Worked hard. Won several awards. Took education seriously. Every year, I would consider national membership and just didn't see why.
On Thursday, last week, I returned from the 2019 GIS and promptly wrote a couple notes to GCSAA staff members about how to go about becoming member number 013641 again. It was easy. David Phipps, GCSAA Field Staff Northwest sent me a note, a form and some instructions. Shelia Finney got involved. On Monday, world came from Anthony Rittof at the Emerald City that not only was I quickly reinstated, but was allowed to rejoin as a Class A member. Didn't expect that. At all. And no, I've been to The Masters, so that wasn't a driving factor.
I don't care to go into the past too much. Lets just say, that as a young superintendent, I was very outspoken as a voting delegate and committee member. Especially as it came to the emerging technology and online interaction areas, where I felt that GCSAA was severely short sighted. For a time, I really wanted to be on the board and then, sand kicked in my face, I didn't. And I'll leave it at that. I spent decades being sour. Probably not helpful.
Let's look at the current and the future. The Positive. And sure, I get that I would be a member for 34 years had I not taken the sabbatical.
Currently, I see the GCSAA as strong and getting stronger. Doing really good things with Chapter Relations and identity. I don't care much about politics, but I guess you can say that we are well represented in the golf world. I mentioned field staff. When this idea first bloomed, my first interaction with someone who filled this job made no sense. But since then, my interactions with the likes of David Phipps and Jeff Jensen have been outstanding. I have watched this program bloom at the hands of Steve Randall and his staff. Working and Winning.
I have good friends and industry contacts on the board in leadership positions. Darren Davis, whom I met years ago and recognized as a real talent. Good old friend Kevin Breen. Eternal good guy Rafael Barajas. The esteemed T.A Barker. And the list goes on and on. Great people. Giving a lot of time and attention to help.
Meeting Jeff Whitmire, CGCS for the first time at the TurfNet Beer and Pretzels Gala.
Help. A key word that I see any association needs to embrace. Maybe a better word is Service. Being in Service to members. Being there to help everyone grow. That to me is the mark of a great association. Otherwise, you just have a big old Moose Lodge. Look, if our profession doesn't get help from as many sources as possible, we run the risk of always being the second class citizens. No one really wants to hear that they need that help, but from my 30,000 foot view, golf is still in trouble.
As I walked around the convention center in San Diego, what I saw were some very happy members. People getting educated. People networking. People involved in trade in a good way. I saw moves to help with inclusion (I'm not gonna talk about Cheerleaders, there are strong women in our association who can do that). I saw buyers on the trade show floor doing business. And I saw leaders and contributors being recognized and awarded. Not just for the sake of mutual admiration.
So, I am proudly, once again, GCSAA Member 013641. And it makes me very very happy to offer up my credit card number to pay for that privilege.
I am 128% confident that you do not know that name. So, stop right now and hit this link. Do not read on until you have. Period. As soon as your eyes dry, I appreciate you reading on.
As many thousands of us prepare to roll into San Diego for the 2019 GIS, there is one thing that is very clear to me...Golf Does Great Things. Of that, there is not a question in my mind. Lets take the video you just watched and do a little deconstruction. Amy, gifted with Down Syndrome is 19 years old. She was recently awarded a scholarship to play golf at Paradise Valley Community College in Arizona. And I will bet Marking Foam to Stale Break Room Donuts that the day she was born, her parents didn't see that one coming. Nor could they imagine that their daughter would walk up to the 16th Hole at TPC Scottsdale and make a 3 in front of several thousand people. For the record, I would have been happy to make an 8. And the video, as I write this, is going semi-viral.
In digging a little further, it looks like Amy got a chance to learn the sport by going to a kids camp sponsored by Arizona Special Olympics. She played at her high school. And she loves it. And she's won several other awards along her path to teeing it up with Gary Woodland at the Waste Management Phoenix Open.
And that's just one story. One.
Golf changed my life. I wrote about one such realization when on a trip to Mexico to chill and do Yoga, I happened to end up on a booze cruise with a group of Mexican Caddies. In that moment, I sat and thought how really interesting life was and how Golf has helped. Pretty cool. My list of accomplishments, world place visits and the like is mostly tied to my association with the game and with Turfgrass. And I am totally sure that when I was born, my parents would not have guessed that one. I often get blank stares from non-turf, non-golf initiates to me when I tell them that I have played golf on seven continents and consulted with Turfgrass on six of them in over 70 countries. Yeah. I'm a kid from a small town in the Colorado mountains. And when I shoveled my first scoop of topdressing sand, I had no idea.
Last week, my twitter feed was filled with "new ideas" from the PGA Show. And clearly, you can see over the last few years, that side of the industry is trying all kinds of things to grow the game, keep fun in the game, etc. When I spoke up about some of the crazy ideas I read, a few Turfheads told me that there is nothing wrong with looking for change. And I agree. Totally. But at the same time, the traditions, sportsmanship, ecology and overall greatness of the sport, need not be forgotten. Or gimmicked up. In truth, they need to be embraced and celebrated. Because when the combo is right, what we get is changed lives. Simple.
I am really excited about the 2019 GIS. For many reasons. At the same time, it's hard for me. I'm not great in crowds. Too many hours without hearing protection make it hard to hear sometimes. My knees don't love the walking. And I seem to never be able to see all I want to see and meet all who I want to meet. But the good outweighs the bad. Big time. The whole thing is intensely personal for me. As I see people I have known for years, we get to talk about our lives. Our changed lives. Our directly impacted and made better lives. Golf can do this. Often in ways that no one expects. So for me, the personal stories of success and challenge and even failure or real and vivid and alive. What a thing!!! Seriously. I don't think that I even have the words to express what an impact this all has on the depths of my soul.
Pictured with me are some great friends. The two in the back are Kevin Hicks and Thomas Bastis. Both of whom I met early in all our careers and both whom have risen to relative Turfhead Stardom. Thomas now with the PGA Tour and Kevin a proud member of the Earthworks agronomy team. The gent next to me in Mickey McCord of McCord Golf Safety. An influencer, no doubt.
This pic was taken at a conference we all ended up at and the best moment for me is right here. Brothers. Compadres. Friends. Acquaintances. Whatever the word. You are looking at 4 dudes who have been changed by the game. By the business. By every decision we all made in our relative paths to our goals. That's incredible.
Whatever climate or place in the world you are working. Whatever you are doing or not doing. Whatever your dreams and hopes are, lest you not forget that Golf changes lives.
What a thing. What an incredible and enormous thing. A sport "chasing a silly white ball" is that big and has the potential to be so much bigger.
You are going to see all kinds of "Tips and Tricks" for doing the Golf Industry Show. Most of them all the same. Because, hey... its a trade show. And in one form or another, all trade shows follow a certain pattern. You wanna read about having a plan, getting there early, drinking lots of water, fine. It's out there. I have a different take on things. And herein, you are gonna get some info that you probably won't see anywhere else, in the more PC world of doing the GIS.
1. Leave Your Clothes and Stuff at Home. Over packing is a sin. Don't be a sinner. You don't need 12 shirts, 12 pairs of pants, 12 sets of boxer and 6 pairs of shoes. No. Resist the temptation to take your whole wardrobe. 2 decent outfits. 2 casual outfits. 3 sets of undies. 2 pairs of shoes and a minimal toilet kit. I can travel for a month with this setup. So you can do a week. What does this mean? Yup, you'll have to do some laundry on the road. It will cost a few bucks, but even the lower end hotels can get this done for you. Bag check fees are steep. Laundry service is cheap. Rule: Take half the stuff you think you need and you will be just fine. Yes, this means that you may be seen in the same windshirt or blue blazer twice. Big deal.
2. Shoes. It's a trade show. Bring your best most comfortable shoes. Fashion isn't important when you feet hurt so bad that you can't walk on day two. That new pair of running shoes that are supposed to be bomb for walking? Give them a good shakedown at the local mall before you put them in your bag. Ladies, heels? Nah. Forget it. Unless you are one of the 1 percent who can do that kind of thing. We all have lots of fun with shoes, its cool seeing what everyone wears. My Yeezys and my Chucks will be in my bag. My FootJoys? No joy. My Cole Hahn wingtips? Nope. Be a little outrageous. It's fun.
3. The Weather. San Diego can be all kinds of things. So even though I told you not to bring too much stuff, understand that the Southern California coast can be rainy this time of year and it can be really nice. Prepare yourself for both. Even though no one wants to see your white legs, some shorts are a good idea for evenings. And so is a jacket.
4. Tijuana. Don't. Just don't. Unless you really know what you are doing across the border, a trip into Mexico isn't worth it. If you absolutely have to, do some research and get up to speed on the latest scams. AND DO NOT take the rental car there. Likely you aren't insured and the insurance you can buy at the border isn't designed for cars that you don't actually own.
5. Just Say No. In the weeks leading up to the event, you are going to be inundated with people asking you to meet them, do things, come to things, etc. Guess what? You can't do it all. You just can't. I laugh hard at the people who have themselves scheduled down to the minute. All it takes is two "old friends" to bump into you and that whole thing is out the window. Think hard about the things and people that you want to spend time with. And then, honor those commitments. Saying a polite No is so much better than just not showing.There are 22 bazillion turfheads at this thing. They all want to see you. You can't do it all.
6. Uber Up, Pup. San Diego has not great taxi cabs and really good Uber and Lyft Service. Get both apps. Use them. It's by far the best way to get around. Think twice about a rental car. Parking is a hassle and can be expensive. Never use Uber before? There's a YouYube video for that somewhere.
7. Pay Your Own Way. Scenario... Five Turfheads sit down for a sandwich and a few beers. Tell the server right away that everyone needs their own checks. Don't wait until it's time to go to figure out the bill. Everyone is on some kind of expense deal and you don't want to be the one who is the nice person at the moment and then has to explain to the GM why you picked up the check for the gang from the clubs richer than yours. At the same time, don't be a douche and stick others with the bill. A class free move. Please understand your commercial friends are not the ATM. They probably have constraints on what they can spend, so finding the salesperson to pick up the bill may sound like a foxy move, but it is just plain skeezy. And the worst? Crashing a party you don't belong at. Yeah, I get it. You don't care for organic fertilizers, until you hear that the organic fertilizer people are buying free chicken wings and sushi and you show up to see whats up. Classless.
8. Get Smart. There are so many opportunities to see great speakers at this event. Don't miss them. Seriously. One of the things I hate the most is missing great talks. Show up early to get a seat and realize that its really hard to get as much knowledge in one place at one time. If you don't do yourself the honor of hearing some great talks, then what the hell are you doing there in the first place.
9. Too Much of A Good Time is a Bad Thing. Look, I get it. There are plenty of opportunities to be social at this event. Plenty. But if you think you are going to drink all the craft beer in San Diego, you are being stupid. Don't. Enjoy. Be happy. Get up the next morning early and see number 6 above. Once upon a time it was ok to show everyone that you were at the Golf Show to have the biggest hang over. Those days are over. Long ago.
10. Don't Be Shy. See someone you recognize or want to meet? See a nametag with a place on it that you either know about or want to know about? Say something! Introduce yourself. I think one of the best things in the whole wide world is meeting a Turfhead. Making some small talk about grass. Learning something about them. Want to hang with the same old people that you see at home all the time? That's cool for a moment. But why not meet some new friends? Make some impressions. Put some new email addresses in the smartphone. Do it.
11. Beer and Pretzels. If you miss out on the TurfNet gathering, then there is no excuse for you. Be there. Meet me. Meet Kevin Ross... and Hector and Kiger and Reitman and Paul and all of us. And find out that we just wanna try to learn about you. Get a selfie. Have a moment to talk a story or two. I'm spending about a grand of my own cash just to be there, because it's so important to me to embrace the TurfNet Culture and see my friends. (if you don't know where and when, check the TurfNet Forum or your email...it's an invite only thing.)
12. The Most Essential Piece of Gear? A battery pack and a charger cord. Seriously. Get on Amazon right now and get yourself a 10,000 mAh aux battery pack. It will be priceless. And a while you are at it, one or two new charger cords. Pack them in your man or woman purse. You'll thank me for this. You will.
That's it. That's the list. I will see you in San Diego. Well, Actually, I probably won't. But then again, who knows!!!
There has been a ton of talk lately about Mental Health. That's good. While I am not being on the overused phrase "Creating Awareness", I also know that most people will never get or understand the topic. They should count their blessings.
I have never been shy about writing and speaking about myself. A certain lack of filter, perhaps. Sometimes, a cry for help. Sadly, a need for attention, in hard moments. Often, a simple therapeutic technique to talk about the hardest things. But mostly I just don't get not being real. I lost a blog sponsor because I did too much "Wilber about Wilber" and I am still gobsmacked about why that was an issue at all. That one may never resolve in my mind. I think a lot of Turfheads are realizing that without their Mental Health, their Agronomy means nothing at all.
Fashion has become to speak about job stress and mental health. A lot of opinions about this area started to show up. One such opinion (the source doesn't matter) seemed really off to me, so I reached out to that person. As it turns out, they themselves have never experienced any Depression or Anxiety, but they were more than willing to talk about it to "create content". Oh, OK. So we had a very strong conversation...and my bottom line was that maybe they should stick to talking about something they actually had a clue about. This person had none. The "don't worry, be happy" method doesn't work, but they believed that it just might.
I fought my depression battle for years in silent screaming. I was a true performer. I could rise to the occasion of a work day or an event and seem just fine. But the Black Dog attacked when I was alone, drawing blood, but leaving no visible marks. And that was my life from my early 20's until just before I turned 40. It worked. I managed it. And then I had my first episode of chronic pain. In my case, it was a knee injury caused by playing Paintball with some people lots younger than me. I came home from that day with golf ball sized welts all over me, and a badly messed up knee. However, just as I had managed the pain between my ears in silence, I also tried that with my busted wheel. A botched surgery and I endured even more. And on. And on. That was the start of me reaching what is called in clinical settings my distress management profile maximum. Simply, I ran out of tools and my body chemistry had taken over.
I have really good hindsight. We all do. And so it is easy to see now where I could have asked for help. Could have stopped trying to grind it out. Could have stopped faking it to make it. Another term I despise. What I also know now is that depression will never really leave me. It's around. It hangs out and waits until my triggers get pulled. And the Black Dog bites. Hard. But now, I let it happen. I realize what I did or did not do and I manage the situation. I have a tool set all stocked. My particular set of tools is unique. It works for me. It won't work for anyone else. Maybe parts of it might. But my own tank mix is my own. So it does no good for me to tell you the steps. To tell you when I use what for what. It's doubtful it would even make sense.
Through the discovery of my depression first aid kit, I intersected with a lot of different ideas and people. But for sure, without a doubt, the ones that helped the most and offered the best ideas were the ones who were there themselves. That was a key. You can't know the attack of the grizzly bear, until you have been bitten by one yourself and until you have learned to pet the bear and teach it tricks. Until you have stood in the river and fished with it, you can't know how to peacefully coexist with it. Some of my "helpers" were well studied, and that gave them much insight. But they lacked the scars themselves. And I learned to tell. Kind of like when we realize that someone giving us grass growing advice has only really ever mowed their own lawn at their home. They don't know the first thing about the preparation of a high quality sport playing surface.
So...why write all this. Simple. I'm telling you that if any of the talk about depression, anxiety, mental health, suicide or anything along those lines has resonated with you then you owe it to yourself to find qualified counsel. To seek help. To be honest with yourself and your loved ones about your silent screams. And to realize that the beginning of your awareness is also the beginning of a journey. You will stumble. You will fall. You will create affirmations. People who you think should understand you won't understand you. You will have amazing days where you could never imagine anything was ever wrong. And you will have darkness so dark that you won't think the sun will rise ever again.
How do I know? I've been there. I am there. And I am glad to be vulnerable and share so that you can realize that if you or someone you know is faced with this, there are answers.
(If you are feeling like suicide is the only way out, please Call 1-800-273-8255, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline. Help is there 24/7. How do I know? I've been there!)
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.
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.
Armen Suny and host Dave Wilber turn their thinking amps up to 11 and have a session. And you are invited!
From sand-based greens to robotic mowers. From chaining old rollers near golf shops to perfect biology. And more. When Armen and Dave sit and jam, anything can and usually does happen.
Enjoy this episode as a way to get motivated as the Spring of 2018 is upon us!!
The Turfgrass Zealot Project is only on TurfNet.com. And ANYONE can listen!
A great friend of TurfNet, Jerry Coldiron, needs to be remembered as the wonderful, amazing man that he was.
Peter McCormick, founder and Maestro of TurfNet, chats with me about the passing of a great friend and Turfhead. To so many, Jerry was a light of positive influence... and his untimely and unexpected passing will leave a huge hole in the industry.
We speak candidly about what relationships mean and how the relationships that last are formed and maintained. And we tell some good stories about a good guy.
If you didn't know Jerry, you will know him. And if you knew Jerry, you will know him better.
Please note: A tribute site is under development at http://jerrycoldironembracelife.us. The fund set up in Jerry's memory (while a foundation is being established) can be found at https://givehope.com/Jerry-Coldiron-Embrace-Life. Please consider a donation'
I don't do many speaking gigs.
That seems weird for a guy who loves and eats and drinks communication. It's not that I'm afraid of public speaking. That fear went away long ago. It's not that I don't love the actual events. I marvel at the quality of the education that is presented to Turfheads and how good the interactions can be.
What makes me take on just a few of these every year and be very picky about who I am speaking to has to do with the mental side of preparing for these very important events. You see, I have been to so many bad talks and bad presentations, that next to being a fried in oil, my biggest fear is being awful. Yes, awful comes in many levels, but still...If you suck, you suck. If you don't deliver, well, no one has the pizza.
Next week, I am speaking to the Intermountain GCSA, the Utah and surrounding area group. Longtime TurfNet member and star interviewee of one of my podcasts, Justin Woodland invited me and well, he's just not the kind of guy that you turn down. And he also told me that my fellow TurfNet contributor Hector Velasquez was going to be part of the show. Can't-miss a moment with Hector. Have called Woody a friend for some time and have never met him in person. Wendover, Nevada is close to places I go. Just couldn't find a reason to say no.
Yes, awful comes in many levels, but still...If you suck, you suck. If you don't deliver, well, no one has the pizza.
Over the last several weeks, I've been obsessing about the two, 2-hour talks I have to give. One is on Communications and one is about Carbon Fertilization and if you know me, you know that I can sit and talk endlessly on these subjects. They are my favorite. My passion. My je ne sais quoi (that's, "certain special something" to you non-French speakers out there). I can bore the paint right off the wall with my brain melting database of human blather on these subjects. I have hard drives full of pictures, charts, graphs, studies, monkeys, soil tests and all the related stupid speaker gear that is used to make sumo-sized powerpoint presentations and numb minds with visuals and stories.
But that's not what I wanna do. And that's not what people need. I don't think that endless sets of digitally enhanced presentations with all the cool and unique transitions are the deal. Think about it. As Winter approaches, you will go to many seminars to keep up with our ever changing world. And there will be 1000's of slides squashed into hard drives to drive these points home. Data. Chart. Graph. Cool Pic. Cooler pic of next level technique..... yawn.
So I try to bring something different. Yes. I am a slave to Powerpoint and KeyNote. They help me create a roadmap, not because I get lost, but because I tend to love side trips, often in the opposite direction.
Next week, I am speaking to the Intermountain GCSA, the Utah and surrounding area group. Longtime TurfNet member and
star interviewee of one of my podcasts, Justin Woodland invited me and well, he's just not the kind of guy that you turn down.
But I demand interaction. I often make people work together in dyads or triads or some kind of small group. I often throw out problem-solving sessions that are designed to make people think, not just about the topic at hand, but how they present and interact with that topic.
And I like to read the room. Demographics. Job Titles. Part of the Country. Hangover. After a big lunch. Etc. All this comes into play.
I paid a lot of money a few years back to attend a seminar called "World's Greatest Speaker Training". The seminar leaders were: Brendon Burchard, online marketing and seminar guru; Bo Eason, Ex NFL Player and star of an award-winning one-man play; Roger Love, THE Vocal Coach to the stars. I took it all in and you know what the big takeaway was? Simple. Know and interact with your audience in ways they have never been known or interacted with. Yeah. Simple. And so complicated. Four days of pushing my limits by watching real professionals push theirs. Hmmmmm. Interesting. I was riveted because they were pushing hard.
So today, a few days away from the event, I am in Agony. I am sorting through all the notes and materials that I have to make sure that I create a roadmap that helps me deliver. I feel the responsibility and the weight of making sure I'm prepped and ready, down to having the right socks on.
And I am feeling Joy. What a cool thing and a cool opportunity to come and share. I'm not the end all oracle of knowledge. But the real joy will be seeing people finding their own way through the info with a little guidance.
And let me ask you this, when you go and see me speak or anyone else, would you remember that the speaking gig is a pretty tough gig? If there is tech difficulty or the occasional stage fright or something else, would you be kind? If there is a question and answer opportunity, ask questions. Follow that person's social media after their talk and see what comes up. Remember they traveled a distance to get there and will go yet another to get home.
I don't do many speaking gigs. And I thought I would let you see why.
Why is The Open Championship of Golf required watching, listening and study for Turfheads?
Do you know that The Open was once an event set aside for greenkeepers, clubmakers and caddies? What are the key features of Royal Birkdale, host of the 146th year that this event has been played? How does the weather and the grasses play into who will win and who will lose?
This is my impassioned opinion about the Soul Surfing that is links golf. And why events played on The Links are so special. Because in order to understand the game's past and present, you have to have some Open Championship intelligence.
No guests. Just me and the guy working on my front door banging away! You asked for it! 100% Wilber.
The Turfgrass Zealot Project is only on TurfNet Radio..
You don't know Justin Woodland. Ok, maybe you do. But you probably don't. And guess what? You need to know him. Here is your chance.
Justin is one of those people that I think should be required meeting if you are going to understand the reality of the business of golf and of Greenkeeping itself. He's got the "It" factor that I look for and yet, will probably never see what so many think is "the spotlight". Justin is doing it his way. And he's now got a fire to help others learn. A grass roots mentality. Please pardon the pun.
I've been saving this interview for just the right time. This is it.
The Turfgrass Zealot Project is only on TurfNet Radio.
Innovation. It's one of the great and wonderful words in our business. I get to chat with Kevin Hicks, superintendent at Coeur d'Alene Golf Club about thinking ahead.
How's your strategy for looking at new ways to do the same old, same old? Or does it get old at all?
A great interview with one of the most forward thinking supers in our business. And we get to talk about all kinds of everything that always leads back to talking grass.
If I have a man crush, it may be with Thomas Bastis of the California Golf Club of San Francisco. That may not be much of a secret, but it's true.
Thomas and I had a chance to record a cool interview talking about education and giving back as a Superintendent. It's a wonderful concept that doesn't always work.
This podcast represents my return from a brief sabbatical to get reenergized and to get through some personal challenges as well.
I'm excited to have Thomas be my first guest for the restart.
The Turfgrass Zealot Project is only on TurfNet.com
Join me as I interview Kevin Ross, CGCS, about the state of the "superintendent job" and his upcoming retirement from the golf course.
We talk about everything. Especially his upcoming job change. And his time at The Ryder Cup. And much much more.
I love Kevin. He's one of my favorite people and favorite Turfheads. Anywhere.
So I am humbled and honored to have him join us!
About this time of year, every year, I get some similar communications. They may be different in content, but the context is simple. Sometime, during the course of the season, someone did someone wrong. Be it a GM throwing a super under the bus, a super trashing an assistant, a sales rep repeating something that was said in confidence, etc. You get the picture.
I studied this a while back when I didn't understand why bad stuff kept happening to good people. And vice versa. It made things make a lot more sense. Maybe it will help you. As these are, indeed, confusing times for many.
And when asked about these things, my wise old agronomy guy spirit is replaced with the wise old guru spirit and I often talk about Karma. It's easy to explain bad things away with that word. A lot of people do that. I however, have a deeper understanding and have wanted to write about it. By the way, Wise Old Agronomist and Guru are not roles I seek. It just kind of happens. And I'm often too humble to admit how often.
Now, I realize that the word Karma can bring along some religious baggage. Try, for a moment, not to see this as an eastern religion concept. It's an old Sanskrit word, but the implications are used in nearly every humanist and theological circle. I promise, I'm not trying to convert you from whatever your belief is. But for sure, I see the same actions no matter the credo involved. I studied this a while back when I didn't understand why bad stuff kept happening to good people and to me. And vice versa. It made things make a lot more sense. Maybe it will help you. As these are, indeed, confusing times for many.
The 12 Laws of Karma
1. The Great Law. Whatever we put into anything, (the universe, to use hippie speak), will come back to us.
2. The Law of Creation. Things do not happen by themselves; we need to make them happen.
3. The Law of Humility. One must accept something in order to change it.
4. The Law of Growth. When we change ourselves, Our lives follow suit and change too.
5. The Law of Responsibility. We must take responsibility for what is in our lives.
6. The Law of Connection. The past, the present and the future are all connected.
7. The Law of Focus. It is impossible to think of two or more different things at the very same time.
8. The Law of Giving and Hospitality. Are we welcoming others by matching our behaviors to our thoughts and actions?
9. The Law of Here and Now. One can not be alive in the present if they are always looking backward.
10. The Law of Change. History repeats itself until we learn from it and change our path.
11. The Law of Patience and Reward. The most valuable things require persistence in thoughts and actions.
12. The Law of Significance. Rewards are a direct result of the energy and effort we put into seeking.
OK. I get it. Kind of lofty stuff. But if you read that list a few times, how many of your life troubles or hassles could be better explained by one or more of those laws.
Here's an example. Evil GM or Club President or other person(s) of such loft rises to power and becomes a hassle. You survive. And the following year, another uprising. It's at this point, where you may want take a look at some Karmic Law and see if you are inviting this in, learning from the event, changing your path or simply giving it too much weight. Perhaps, one of the things that just happens, is that someone in power just always becomes an ass. And you, unless you leave the position or the place will have to understand this is how it works. And that in the end, you put your positive energy out there and you survive the ass uprising.
And so, the hard question is based on The Great Law. What did you put in, and what is now coming back at you. Perhaps with harder lessons every time.
Another. No matter what, your assistant, mechanic, or whoever just doesn't get it. So you finish the season in frustration, get them out the door and the same thing happens the following year. Could it be that the universe is trying to tell you that until you change your hire process or your training process that nothing is going to change? Back around the mountain you go.
One more. You are a great super. Everyone would love to have your job. But marriage number 3 is on the rocks, your kids have grown up and don't know you and life isn't so fab. And so, the hard question is based on The Great Law. What did you put in, and what is now coming back at you? Perhaps with harder lessons every time. Do you think maybe change might help?
But marriage number 3 is on the rocks, your kids have grown up and don't know you and life isn't so fab...
Yeah. It's some heavy shit. Because Karma doesn't absolve us from responsibility. Instead, it makes for interesting dissection of what and who we are. And notice in each example, we are not looking at the faults of others. We are looking at ourselves. And that's the toughest thing to do. Often.
Here's a personal example from my process in this. For many years, I carried quite a big chip on my shoulder because my unique perspective and often outspoken views were not as accepted by the "agronomic establishment" as I wanted them to be. I watched other more politically correct turfheads rise in the scene and I knew that i was just better than they were, smarter, more creative, etc. I was often very pissed off when I would see something like a seminar lineup or event where I would have been a natural contributor. Silly. I know. wasted energy. But it was affecting me in a big way. It was trashing my focus. And I counted my actual accomplishments (like a pretty awesome gig at TurfNet) as lesser than they really are.
So I did some examination. Some really good mentors encouraged this, by the way. I wanted nothing to do with "growth" this way. And what have I learned? Simple. One, some of the things I believed were simply not so. A story made up. Simple as that. And two, that I often got in my own way with a focus set backward, instead of forward. Both of these things, indeed, kept me from putting good stuff out in the universe. Like I hope this is. Like every word I write or speak, now done with more intention as to who I am, and who I see in front of me.
I thought I'd share some spiritual wisdom for some of you who may be wondering, why?.
I don't love large tournament golf.
I don't. It is a degree of unreality that I've been outspoken about for years. Except for The Ryder Cup. If all the other events vanished, I'd be ok. But take away the greatness of The Ryder Cup and you'd hear me cry "Foul". Loudly. To me, there simply is no better competition in our world. Keep reading. I'll make you a convert.
1. Stroke Play Sucks. When I think back to the roots of golf, I just don't see two guys going out and having a wee nip at the end talking about how many strokes it took to win or lose. I think it was more simple than that. in my mind's eye, the score was settled hole by hole. Be it 5, 18 or 33 holes played, one did better than the other. A match. Match play rocks.
My favorite round of golf ever was at The Old Course at St. Andrews. Playing against my good friend and great Super, Jim Ferrin. Jim is a great golfer. I mostly suck. So we played a match. And the resulting afternoon in wind, sun, rain and joyful celebration of great shots and the agony of defeat of missed putts was awesome. And as we walked onto the 17th tee, thanks to me getting it together for the last three holes, we were even. Had it been stroke play, I would have drug my ass through a back nine of agony. Instead, I had a chance to beat him like a drum. To scrap hard. A poor drive on 18 ruined that chance. But still, what a moment. That's match play.
Had it been stroke play, I would have drug my ass through a back nine of agony. Instead, I had a chance to beat him like a drum...
2. America vs. Europe. I love this so much. It's a match-up for the ages. It's always been this way The Colonials vs. The Homeland or some such. Yes, there are other continents, but there is something to the whole "where it began" versus "where it caught fire thing".
3. The Venues. Brookline, Medina, Celtic Manor, The K Club, Lindrick, The Belfry... and now Hazeltine. The site selections are a list of wonderful and unique. Not typical. Not types. Interesting venues with history and wonder. Look at this year, Hazeltine's 524-yard par 4. So cool. The Cup is always played somewhere cool. Somewhere unique.
4. Chris Tritabaugh. Yes, I know, he won't be at every event. But in 2016, it's the year of the Trit. And for me, this makes it even more exciting, because I have watched this guy for a long time and labeled him as special. I remember when I got the news that he got the job at Hazeltine National. I simply said to myself, my favorite event will have a favorite super. And of course, Chris has handled this thing really well. Really, really well. And he's done it with his own style, beard, quirks (he walks everywhere) and agronomy. I'm gonna go out on a limb and say that his name is going to be mentioned with so many of the innovative greats of greenkeeping. Yup, Woods, Crockford and Tritabaugh will be mentioned in my list of great thinkers.
Chris has handled this thing really well. Really, really well. And he's done it with his own style, beard, quirks (he walks everywhere) and agronomy....
5. Energy. Sure, tournament goers and viewers are able to root for their faves. And they do. And that's cool. But nothing is as cool as the spirit of rooting for a match play team. Even the Olympic Games fell short here. They didn't create the atmosphere of what goes on with the Ryder Cup. Yes, this causes some folks to get a little out of hand. Going far beyond the occasional yelling of the "Babba Booey". And every year, the statement is issued for fans to respect the history of the game. Well, that sorta works. But really, it's an atmosphere of fun and a spirit of everyone having a good time in a game that doesn't always have that.
6. The Level of Emotion in the Players. I'm pretty well aware of the pressure that comes onto professional golfers. Certainly, there are hundreds of great players that were gutted by the pressure of playing their first mini-tour events and ran home to work at Golfsmith or to give lessons to the 9-hole ladies' club champion. So often, tour players just have to keep emotion bottled up. But the truth is, match play at the level of Ryder Cup can bring even the most robotic of players out of their shell. I'll bet we even see the Davis Love version 3 Robot blink away some tears. He will. Watch close.
7. The "Next Time" Factor. One team will win and one will lose. And both of them have next time to look forward to. You get it, right? Like there will be plans made, analysis done, opinions given and all that sort of thing that will allow a plan to be set forth to not lose again or to win again. That's cool. It sends people into greatness.
Now, as I write this, I am enduring the absurdity of Johnny Miller comments about bluegrass and perhaps the worst commercial I have ever seen with Davis Love, version 3. That's ok. I love it. I absolutely love it. And can I encourage you to love it too? Can I encourage you, next time you play golf, to play a match? Can I implore you to make that match a regular thing so you can plan the next time? Can I ask you to get a bit zany and have some fun with golf? Do it. You won't regret it. At all.
I got a chance to chat with Hazeltine National's Golf Course Superintendent Chris Tritabaugh about Ryder Cup preparations.
Chris was kind enough to give some time for a conversation about his last preparations for the 2016 Ryder Cup. A special guy and a special episode and a special event.
The Turfgrass Zealot Project is brought to you by Klingstone, proven bunker performance for over 15 years.
Ike Stephens is a legend. His YouTube videos about trucking and the trucking lifestyle are known as some of the most unique on the internet.
Join me as I get to know Ike. You may not think of Ike as a "turfhead", but the more he speaks, the more you realize that trucking and turfgrass management have a lot in common. And in a day and age where long hours and hard work aren't always understood, both trucking and turfgrass management share a certain knowledge. And that knowledge is about getting the job done and having fun doing it.
Ike shares his creative side in making videos, loving music and getting truckers together for social events.
Don't miss one of the more unique guests we have ever had on the TZP. You may never know, Ike could be one of the next reality TV stars!
The Turfgrass Zealot Project is sponsored by Klingstone. Proven Bunker Performance for over 15 Years.