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My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys, Volume 1

Dave Wilber

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Ross Kurcab.

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.

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Dave Hensley

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.

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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.)

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Ballyneal Golf and Hunt Club, Hole #7


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Wow, this gets me thinking, Dave, and I'm glad no one has ever asked me that question.  I am going to list one and only one for public consumption, because many people will be surprised and some will even look away.  Keep in mind that like you, I have so many Turf Heroes that I would be also losing sleep over who I did not mention.  I would much rather tell them in person before they move on to the other world, and I regret I have not for those that have.  Nevertheless, my choice is Jack W. Nicklaus.  No one ever challenged me more professionally or gave me the opportunities to learn golf, turf, and how they relate to each other than Jack.  It goes without saying that he is a hero for what he has and still is doing for the game of golf, his charities, and his family.  I want to say that he is also a Turf Hero for me.  And yes, I have to tell him that one day before he is gone.

ThePeninsulaOpening2009_093.thumb.JPG.12e70792227a9e73e5d8e26eb9a9648d.JPG

Photo by Jim Mandeville

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1 hour ago, Jonathon Scott said:

Wow, this gets me thinking, Dave, and I'm glad no one has ever asked me that question.  I am going to list one and only one for public consumption, because many people will be surprised and some will even look away.  Keep in mind that like you, I have so many Turf Heroes that I would be also losing sleep over who I did not mention.  I would much rather tell them in person before they move on to the other world, and I regret I have not for those that have.  Nevertheless, my choice is Jack W. Nicklaus.  No one ever challenged me more professionally or gave me the opportunities to learn golf, turf, and how they relate to each other than Jack.  It goes without saying that he is a hero for what he has and still is doing for the game of golf, his charities, and his family.  I want to say that he is also a Turf Hero for me.  And yes, I have to tell him that one day before he is gone.

ThePeninsulaOpening2009_093.thumb.JPG.12e70792227a9e73e5d8e26eb9a9648d.JPG

Photo by Jim Mandeville

Lol...its funny you are one of the people that I lost sleep over. Without question, you are on the list and will show up in an installment. But man, that's quite a picture. And no slight against JN, but he is a Non-Turfhead. Albeit honorary. Thank you, sir.

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6 minutes ago, Dave Wilber said:

Lol...its funny you are one of the people that I lost sleep over. Without question, you are on the list and will show up in an installment. But man, that's quite a picture. And no slight against JN, but he is a Non-Turfhead. Albeit honorary. Thank you, sir.

I will take honorary and I am sure Jack would, too.  Jack would surprise you with his turf knowledge, Dave.  He did me many times while I worked for him.  Right out of the blue he would throw a turf variety at me or challenge me to explain why I felt this particular tree would cause the green to fail and another not - when he already knew the answer.  Jack was always testing, debating, and wanting to learn.  He had four different turf varieties on the grounds at his house so he could evaluate them for himself for future courses.  He understood water movement, air circulation, light, and drainage much better than people gave him credit for.  He had an insatiable curiosity and loved to talk turf with me and at times, his friends.  I always had to be on my "game" when we debated, or just fess up and say "I don't know."  He knew the next time we talked, I would know, and I did.  I don't claim to know what constitutes a true Turfhead.  You bestowed that honor on me many years ago, and I am proud to be a member of that group of professionals.  To me, Jack would qualify, but then I have an inside track that I'm extremely fortunate to have experienced.  But, Jack is only one of my heroes.  Be sure that you are on my list as well.  Now, don't make me name the rest as I will surely lose sleep over it.

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2 hours ago, Jonathon Scott said:

I will take honorary and I am sure Jack would, too.  Jack would surprise you with his turf knowledge, Dave.  He did me many times while I worked for him.  Right out of the blue he would throw a turf variety at me or challenge me to explain why I felt this particular tree would cause the green to fail and another not - when he already knew the answer.  Jack was always testing, debating, and wanting to learn.  He had four different turf varieties on the grounds at his house so he could evaluate them for himself for future courses.  He understood water movement, air circulation, light, and drainage much better than people gave him credit for.  He had an insatiable curiosity and loved to talk turf with me and at times, his friends.  I always had to be on my "game" when we debated, or just fess up and say "I don't know."  He knew the next time we talked, I would know, and I did.  I don't claim to know what constitutes a true Turfhead.  You bestowed that honor on me many years ago, and I am proud to be a member of that group of professionals.  To me, Jack would qualify, but then I have an inside track that I'm extremely fortunate to have experienced.  But, Jack is only one of my heroes.  Be sure that you are on my list as well.  Now, don't make me name the rest as I will surely lose sleep over it.

I was standing with Ed Miller one day at Pebble Beach when Jack started questioning him on Agronomy and grass types.  So I agree.

That word, Turfhead. It can be sticky glue.

Appreciate your words!!!

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