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From the TurfNet NewsDesk


  • John Reitman
    Carter Rockwell, assistant superintendent at The Presidio Golf Course in San Francisco. The weekend baseball league he has played in for the past 10 years plays several games each year at San Quentin prison. Photo courtesy of Brian Nettz Prison seems like an odd place to go to derive a sense of self-satisfaction and purpose. But for Carter Rockwell, San Quentin has been that place - about a half-dozen times.
    To be clear, the 32-year-old Rockwell is not and has never been an inmate at San Quentin, a California state maximum security prison in Marin County. The assistant to superintendent Brian Nettz at The Presidio Golf Club in San Francisco, Rockwell has visited San Quentin several times as part of an adult baseball league that gets together a few times a year to face the inmates in a ballgame.
    "Satisfaction, that is the main joy of going in there," Rockwell said. "I love playing baseball, but when I think of playing at San Quentin, it's not playing baseball that I remember; it's talking to the guys on the prison team, hearing their story. I don't meet too many people who have been in a penitentiary very often, so I had created this perception of what they were going to be like. When you get in there, they are normal people, and a lot are very regretful for the decisions they have made, and they're just trying to get back on the right path. Playing baseball against us gives them a little taste of normal society, and that means way more to me than whatever I do on the baseball field."
    A San Francisco native, Rockwell was a standout baseball player locally at Lowell High School. Since he graduated from high school, he has been active in an adult baseball league called Mission Baseball. With a pool of hundreds of players from middle school to age 60-plus who float in and out of the league based on their availability and interest, the group gets together on Sunday afternoons for pick-up games at public parks throughout the city.
    "It's a casual group and everyone just wants to play a good game. There is no one screaming at you about balls and strikes. It's a good group, and we all know each other," he said.
    "There is one person who spearheads it for us and gets us a place to play each week. He sends the email out on Thursdays, and invariably about 20 to 30 people show up, and there might be someone who hasn't played in 10 years who just shows up. We've added people to the group who see us playing in the park and just want to know what it's all about. There is a group of guys in their 50s and 60s who have been doing this for 25 years. We now have kids of players playing with us, so it is a generational thing."
    A few times a year, a more focused email goes out to Mission Baseball's best players.
    The nine players on that list will drive the 30 minutes north on the 101 on a Saturday morning to the infamous San Quentin, which houses nearly 3,800 inmates on 432 acres on San Francisco Bay. 
    Prison baseball is part of San Quentin's outreach program designed to rehabilitate inmates before releasing them back into society. Activities like competitive baseball and basketball are a reward for those who have logged a great deal of time on good behavior. According to the prison, the program works. San Quentin officials say 98 percent of the inmates who play baseball and are later paroled are never incarcerated again.
    The program is currently on Covid-induced hiatus, but Rockwell said he cannot wait to go back once they are permitted.
    "The prisoners are so gracious and appreciative of us coming in and playing," Rockwell said. "On top of playing, they get to interact with people from the outside. A lot of the guys I've played against have gotten out. You can tell they are trying to normalize themselves."
    Players change into their gear in the parking because the only things they are allowed to bring in are uniforms, bats, balls, gloves and the ID. Don't forget your ID.
    Check-in takes about an hour.
    The players pass through a series of checkpoints, each requiring ID and a signature. 
    Passing through the first checkpoint, players are immediately on edge. 
    "The first thing the guards tell you is 'we don't negotiate for hostages,' " Rockwell said. 
    Finally, at the last checkpoint their hands are stamped with invisible ink.
    "Once you get the stamp, the joke is 'don't wash your hands in there,' but it's kind of true," he said. "That is your ticket out!"
    Once players leave the last holding cell and the gate closes behind them "at that point, you're in San Quentin," Rockwell said.
    "By then, you might as well be another prisoner," he said. "Prisoners are everywhere all over the yard doing what you think prisoners do - push ups with their shirts off, running laps around the field. They're not with any guards and neither are you. Once you walk into the prison yard, you are on your own. That was surreal to me."
    Rockwell said his nerves calmed considerably since his first visit on the yard at San Quentin.
    "I remember going into the prison the first time and being more nervous than I've ever been," Rockwell said. "I'd played competitive sports all my life, but nothing added up to this. 
    "It's a long process. You have to get there by 7 o'clock to be on the field by 8 a.m. The guards are intimidating, going through checkpoints is intimidating. The building is intimidating. It's old and huge and not inviting. But it's not supposed to be."

    Carter Rockwell played in games like this one at San Quentin prison on several occasions. Photo by USA Today The team's chaperone for the trip is the manager of the prison team, a member of the community who volunteers his time. But the Mission Baseball group never meets him until after he has had a chance to convene with his own team first.
    "Prisoners can come up and just start talking to you, they are everywhere, it's very intimidating," Rockwell said. "The prisoners who aren't playing baseball, they don't take as kindly to you because there is nothing in it for them."
    As players from both sides take the field, the prison walls almost seem to disappear.
    "Once you step foot on the ball field and talk to the prisoners you are playing, all they are are baseball players at that point," Rockwell said. "Baseball is the great equalizer."
    Players on the prison team manage the field as best they can without benefit of 
    seed, chemicals and water. They rake the infield dirt and paint the lines, but the outfield is weedy and rock hard and it's a ground-rule double if a batter hits a ball into a native American sweat lodge in right field that is in the form of a teepee. Suffice to say, the field will never be confused with AT&T Park, home of the San Francisco Giants. 
    Although the games are for fun, the prison teams are highly competitive.
    "It's fun, good-spirited interaction," Rockwell said. "Everybody on the prisoners' team is stoked just because they get to play baseball. It's the one thing many of them have in prison, so they are in a good mood. On top of that, they want to beat you. For them, it is a sense of pride. They've already been stripped of all their pride. They really want to beat you, and there is a lot of shit-talking. But it's good-natured shit-talking. They want to win that game way more than I've ever wanted to win a game."
    Competitive indeed. Rockwell's record at San Quentin is a humble 2-4. Still, he looks forward to returning in a post-Covid world and doing what he can to help a few inmates get closer to their freedom. 
    "I think us going in, and them interacting with us gives them a chance to test their social skills with others," Rockwell said. "That makes it worth it, when you get a chance to talk to them and hear their stories. It's crazy to talk to someone who has killed someone, and they really regret what they did. I can't imagine putting myself in their shoes."
    Although he likes the feeling he gets from providing some normalcy for San Quentin's baseball team, he always breathes a sigh of relief when he leaves.
    "When the game is over, the teams line up and shake hands," he said. "We mull around with the prisoners and talk with them about whatever. A lot of them thank us for coming to play. 
    "When we're going out, you remember you have been sweating and sliding in the dirt and you look at your hands and think: That's just invisible ink. I hope that's still there!"
  • Four years after what many called the state's worst drought in modern history, California appears to be headed into another dry spell.
    Snowpack in the Sierra Nevada, which provides 30 percent of the state's freshwater supply each year, was down by an overall average of 41 percent, and reservoirs statewide are at just 50 percent of their holding capacity, according to the California Department of Water Resources.
    Snowpack and rainfall levels vary across the state. At Phillips Station, snowpack recently was measured at 83 percent of the historic average, but was much lower at other stations. Overall, snowpack in the Sierras statewide was at just 59 percent of average.
    Snowpack in the Northern and Central Sierra was at 70 percent of average on April 1, but rainfall is below 50 percent of average, making this year the third driest year on record. Snow water equivalents, a measure of how much water is contained in the snowpack, was 53 percent and 54 percent in the northern and central Sierra, respectively, but only 31 percent in the range's southern tier.
    California's State Water Project is a complex system of 700 miles of canals, aqueducts and pipelines that delivers water from 22 reservoirs across to 25 million users from San Francisco to Los Angeles and accounts for 70 percent of the state's freshwater supply. The severity of California's water issues is illustrated by Lake Oroville, the state's largest reservoir. Located on the Feather River 80 miles north of Sacramento, Lake Oroville is at just 53 percent of its overall holding capacity.
    The San Francisco Chronicle recently ran a series of before-and-after images taken in 2017 and again in 2021 to illustrate the severity of the situation.
    "There is no doubt California is in a critically dry year," Karla Nemeth, Department of Water Resources director, said in a news release.
    By February 17, water officials in Marin County north of San Francisco had seen enough to officially declare the early stages of a drought. The Marin County Water District has since asked users to voluntarily conserve water.
    "Last year was the second-driest year in 90 years, which has critically impacted our reservoir levels," Marin Water Board President Cynthia Koehler said in a released statement. "While we hope for more rain in the coming weeks, it's important that we reach out to the community now before we get to drier weather in the summer. Water use efficiency is our most cost-effective source of supply, and we have a terrific conservation team at Marin Water and a range of programs and incentives to support consumers in conserving water, not just this year but for the long term."
    California's last drought from 2011 to 2017 was described as the state's most severe on record.
    That event resulted in mandated water-use reductions of 25 percent by then-Gov. Jerry Brown. Meeting those restrictions was a complex matter for many golf course superintendents who already had cut water use before the mandates were implemented. The order by the governor required users to cut from their current use, which for many superintendents ended up being much more than 25 percent.
  • Katy Wilson and Dave Wilson in the 2020 TurfNet TV production of 'Katy returns to Rockbottum. This year's NCAA men's basketball tournament has been filled with feel-good stories, like Gonzaga attempting to put the finishing touches on college basketball's first undefeated season since 1976, and UCLA completing an improbable run to the Final Four as an 11 seed.
    But the real surprise of March Madness has been the onscreen appearance of Katy Wilson, a veteran of the early days of TurfNet TV, who has appeared during the tournament in a run of commercials promoting Experian. Now 28, Katy is the real-life niece of Randy Wilson, and is a lifelong performer who appeared in several early Rockbottum Country Club videos as Tiffany, her uncle's on-screen daughter. 
    "She's been acting and doing theater since she was like 3," Randy said. "She's just so good, she made all of us better."
    Even with a natural stage presence, Katy's crackerjack performances on TurfNet TV might not have been enough to salvage the onscreen persona of Buddy, Randy and Momma, but at least one person on that set graduated beyond the gratuitous violence, chicanery and otherwise sophomoric hijinks that is inspired by Monty Python and Carol Burnett.
    "Those were so much fun," Katy said. "I haven't watched those in years.
    "That was the first time I'd been on a set. I didn't have a sense that it was any different than acting on stage. It was just doing it without an audience."

    A still from the Experian commercial running during the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament. A polished theater performer and vocalist since childhood, Katy is an up-and-coming entertainer who has appeared in stage productions from coast to coast. Given Katy's recent success on the small screen during March Madness, we thought it might be fun to catch up with her and see what she has been up to since her debut on TurfNet TV a decade ago.
    After graduating from Furman University with a bachelor's in vocal performance in 2015, Katy moved to New York to pursue a career in theater. 
    "I thought I would be working in opera and musical theater. I thought I was going to go to New York and be the next Kristin Chenoweth," she said. 
    "I had focused so much on singing that I had forgotten about acting. It has been a joy to refocus on that."
    She worked in traveling productions along the East Coast and was cast in the role of Shelby in an on-stage production of Steel Magnolias in Oregon when the pandemic shut down theaters everywhere. That led her to move in with her parents in North Carolina before eventually relocating to her native Atlanta to take advantage of a thriving television and film industry. Among the television series and big screen movies filmed in the Atlanta area, which has developed the reputation of somewhat of a hot, humid southern version of Hollywood, include The Walking Dead and several editions of The Hunger Games series of movies.
    "We had shows that weekend, and more and more people gradually stopped coming to the theater," she said. "That Monday, they came in to tell us that evening was going to be our last show.
    "With theater on hold, I decided to pursue more TV and film work. I had heard great things about Atlanta, and so many things are filmed there. Plus, my tiny apartment in New York City with so many roommates was not the best place to be during a lockdown. Since October, I've had 65 auditions. It's definitely booming here, it's such an exciting thing."
    The product of a golf family, Katy never developed a love for the game. Her father, Mike, who now is in the sod business in North Carolina, was a superintendent, her grandfather was a superintendent and noted golf instructor, and then there is Randy, a former superintendent who also dabbled in golf course design.
    "I did some golf camps when I was younger," she said. "But, I was very focused on acting, theater and performing."
    She remembers performing in a stage production of The Little Princess, how seriously she took the role and how upset she became when the rest of the 6-year-old girls in the show did not share her zeal for professionalism.

    Click the image above to watch 'GCS Stress Relief.' "The director asked the girls to pretend to be prim and proper and not wave to our audience or to our parents," she said. "As soon as we went out, all the girls waved. 'What are you doing? We're no longer pretending. We're supposed to be prim and proper British girls!' "
    Katy's best friend, cousin Dave Wilson, Randy's son, said she has had that same sense of professionalism as long as he can remember.
    "When I'm in videos with my dad, I always pictured myself as the 'real' actor," said Dave, who plays Bodell, as well as many other characters on TurfNet TV. "When Katy shows up, it's intimidating. Buddy is all over the place, and you might have to feed him his lines 30 times, but Katy is a pro. 
    "I'm going to go out on a ledge and say I played a large role in her acting career," he added laughing. "She took what I gave her and ran with it."
    Although acting is a form of pretending, it is not a world of make-believe for Katy. Instead, she sees it as a way to tell a story. When she made a return appearance to Rockbottum a little more than a year ago, she brought the same professionalism that has served her in New York and Atlanta to the set for TurfNet TV.
    "In 'Katy Returns to Rockbottum' she is so slick," Randy said. "She knew everybody's jobs and everybody's lines. When I'm on camera, it's hard to direct. She just took over and started directing when I was on camera."
    Said Katy: "We know what we do is not perceived as work, but me and my actor friends are very aware that this is work. We want it to look natural for the viewer. For our work to be successful, the viewer has to be moved by the story in some way.
    "I like telling stories, and there are infinite possibilities for stories. That is when I have the most fun and joy in life is when I am working with other actors and telling stories."

    Katy and Randy reveal the best job in golf. Moviegoers and patrons of the theater might believe that acting comes naturally to performers, but it is instead the result of fine-tuned choreography designed to make scenes as realistic as possible while also ensuring the safety of cast, crew and audience.
    She points to a scene in Steel Magnolias where Shelby suffers a diabetic episode while seated in the chair in a hair salon.
    "The diabetic episode with the juice is choreographed like a dance move," she said. "You have to be in control of your movements so you don't hurt the other actors. And in that scene, when I would fling the juice, I had to make sure I didn't get it on anyone in the audience. You count moments and beats to make sure you are in control. We used a fight coordinator to choreograph that scene and we rehearsed it slowly.
    "It's easy to go 100 percent into it emotionally. If you do that eight times a week, you're probably not going to survive it. It's all about an economical way of giving the audience a realistic portrayal of what is happening, while keeping actors safe on the other end."
    Her most recent work, the Experian commercial, was shot last summer with each of the actors recorded remotely because of the pandemic.
    While pursuing her goals in entertainment, she also works as the director of marketing for Cinema Life, an Atlanta-based producer of film festivals. She is in charge of all marketing and social media promotion. That job not only allows her to pay the bills, it also gives her an avenue to network within her chosen career field.
    "That is a huge challenge, the freelance lifestyle of acting. You always have to have additional jobs," she said. "You try to work day jobs while also auditioning and pursuing acting, so it is a real time constraint. Some days, you work all day then go home and have to work on a script.
    "In New York City, I was a nanny, a babysitter, dog-walker, historical tour guide on Wall Street, an usher for shows, did social media, was a personal assistant, anything you can think, of. The good thing with Cinema Life is it is remote. I can take it with me on the set. I do their marketing, social media, program their film festivals and help judge and pick films that make it into the festival. It is in my world and lets me network in my industry, and I'm very thankful for that."
    Her long-term goal is to play dramatic roles that portray strong women and tell the stories of their accomplishments and contributions to society.
    "We are in this golden age of television with streaming services. There is so much opportunity and possibility. And there are so many services filming in Atlanta," she said. "I like historical drama and period pieces; anything that serves the world by telling a story of people we don't usually get to see. 
    "I am naturally interested in story-telling. I'm always looking for opportunities and love being involved in something that I feel is important and special, and when I have the opportunity to get paid to do what I love doing, it is a great day."
  • CLICK HERE TO NOMINATE YOUR TECH

    Jamie Worsham (center) of Beard Equipment, a Baton Rouge John Deere distributor, and Ryan McCavitt (right), director of golf course operations at Bayou Oaks at City Park, congratulate 2020 Golden Wrench winner Evan Meldahl. The past year has been a challenge for just about everyone in the golf industry. This time a year ago, many courses were closed, and no one was quite sure when they would be reopened and what things would look like then. 
    By the time things reopened, many places had sent workers home and golfers began to descend on shorthanded golf courses in record numbers, resulting in added pressure and stress to superintendents and their teams, including equipment managers. 
    With more golfers on the course and shorter windows to conduct daily maintenance, technicians were asked to do more and more, often with fewer and fewer resources. 
    If you have an equipment manager who has gone above and beyond the call of duty during the past year - and there must be a lot of deserving candidates since the implementation of Covid protocols - nominate him or her for the TurfNet 2021 Technician of the Year Award, sponsored by John Deere. The winner will receive the Golden Wrench Award along with their choice of a spot in a Deere training session in North Carolina or a chance to assist with equipment maintenance at next year’s Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. Either will result in an equipment manager who is better trained and more motivated and will make your property better.
    CLICK HERE to submit a nomination.
    Nominees are considered by our panel of judges on the following criteria: crisis management; effective budgeting; environmental awareness; helping to further and promote the careers of colleagues and employees; interpersonal communications; inventory management and cost control; overall condition and dependability of rolling stock; shop safety; and work ethic.
    Deadline to submit a nomination is June 1.
    Previous winners include (2020) Evan Meldahl, Bayou Oaks at City Park, New Orleans, LA; (2019) Dan Dommer, Ozaukee Country Club, Mequon, WI; (2018) Terry Libbert, Old Marsh Golf Club, Palm Beach Gardens, FL; (2017) Tony Nunes, Chicago Golf Club, Wheaton, IL; (2016) Kris Bryan, Pikewood National Golf Club, Morgantown, WV; (2015) Robert Smith, Merion Golf Club, Ardmore, PA; (2014) Lee Medeiros, Timber Creek and Sierra Pines Golf Courses, Roseville, CA; (2013) Brian Sjögren, Corral de Tierra Country Club, Corral de Tierra, CA; (2012) Kevin Bauer, Prairie Bluff Golf Club, Crest Hill, IL; (2011) Jim Kilgallon, The Connecticut Golf Club, Easton, CT; (2010) Herb Berg, Oakmont (PA) Country Club; (2009) Doug Johnson, TPC at Las Colinas, Irving, TX; (2007) Jim Stuart, Stone Mountain (GA) Golf Club; (2006) Fred Peck, Fox Hollow and The Homestead, Lakewood, CO; (2005) Jesus Olivas, Heritage Highlands at Dove Mountain, Marana, AZ; (2004) Henry Heinz, Kalamazoo (MI) Country Club; (2003) Eric Kulaas, Marriott Vinoy Renaissance Resort, Sarasota, FL.
  • Prince might be gone, but the golf business is partying like it's 1999.
    OK, that might be stretching things just a bit, but so far, 2021 looks awfully similar to 2020 when the game began to enjoy a covid-induced resurgence. 
    "It's crazy," said Chris Reverie, superintendent at Allentown Municipal Golf Course in Pennsylvania. "I've never seen play like this. A colleague told me it reminds him of golf back in the 1990s."
    Increased popularity of a game that had been on a slow and steady decline for most of the past two decades is one good thing that has come out of the pandemic. It also has resulted in some superintendents changing the way they do some things so they can stay ahead of the game - literally.
    As the owner of his own management company, Steven Scott has been the superintendent of Persimmon Hills Golf Course in Sharon, Tennessee (shown at right) since 2012. He bought the course last year, and since then 18-hole rounds played there have increased by 40 percent. 
    Scott mows and rolls five days a week. Before last year, he could start early in the morning on No. 9, because it is the closest hole to the maintenance shop, and work his way around the course without much interference. Now, he drives straight to No. 1 first thing in the morning so he can stay ahead of play.
    "I have to be out at least 30 minutes before the shop opens, or they're going to catch up to me pretty quickly," Scott said. "When you're mowing greens, you don't want to get stopped. That makes for a headache all day."
    At least Scott is able to mow right now. That is more than Reverie could say in the first few days after Allentown opened.
    The course opened Sunday, and has been packed with up to 265 players every day. It also had frost delays every morning, meaning Reverie and his spartan team of four have not been unable to mow since the day before opening day. 
    "Other than changing cups, moving tees and picking up trash, there has been no time to mow or roll," Reverie said. "Fortunately, we had a couple of nice days right before we opened, so we were able to get out and cut and get things cleaned up."
    Even after the frost delays are a thing of the past, Reverie and his team will have their work cut out for them. Tee times will eventually back up to 6:30 a.m., meaning he and his crew might have to hit the course around 3-3:30 a.m. He also hasn't ruled out having someone come in to mow late in the day after the last group tees off.
    "I usually start spraying at 3 a.m. Once we're out of this cold stretch, we'll be out there early every day," he said. 
    "I am trying to come up with a schedule that works for everyone."
    In the few days Allentown has been open, it has been so busy that there is up to a 40-minute wait for an open tee on the practice range. Half of the facility's anticipated revenue for the year already is on the books thanks to 15 leagues that play there through the season, and the pro shop has had to adjust its open tee time policy so everyone who wants to play has a chance to do so.
    "We are taking tee times only seven days in advance, and we're seeing people log in (to the course web site) at 12:04 in the morning on Saturdays to make tee times for the next weekend," Reverie said. "I know 20 or 30 regulars who haven't been able to get a tee time yet. Some have asked me, 'Hey Chris, is there anything you can do for me?' I can't do anything for them."
    Play has been so heavy at Allentown (at right) that the city is considering expanding the parking lot.
    "Let me just say I've seen some interesting parking the last couple of days," Reverie said. "We're just trying to figure out what will work. I've never seen anything like this.
    "We're seeing a whole new dynamic as far as the golfers themselves. It's not just seniors or retirees or young kids. We're picking up people in their late 20s and early 30s. There are a lot more of them out on the course and especially on the driving range. I used to be able to go out there and I knew everybody. Now, I know maybe four or five people. I'm seeing a lot of new club sets."
    There are so many newcomers to the game that Reverie adopted a tree management plan during the winter just to help promote pace of play.
    "I took out some trees to open up more shots," he said. "The third hole, a par 5, had a choke point. We took some trees out of there, and play through there is much faster now."
    Persimmon Hills in rural Sharon, Tennessee is 130 miles from Memphis and 150 from Nashville. Right now, it seems like the center of the golf universe for Scott.
    Membership sales are up more than 400 percent, which in rural Tennessee equates to about 37 people. Still, in relative terms that is a lot for a course with an owner operator and a handful of part-time retirees and high school kids that keep everything moving. The course owns 36 carts and wait times for a ride have been up to an hour on weekends.
    "It is not just people playing more golf. We are seeing substantially more people than ever before. It's absolutely unreal," Scott said. "This is a small town, so I'm pretty much familiar with our regular golfers. If I don't know their names, I know their faces. Right now, we are busy with people I've never seen before. We're getting people from Kentucky, from all over. And we're getting a lot of locals who have never played before until last year."
    The $64,000 question, of course, is how long does it last. The answer is anyone's guess.
    "We are seeing the benefit of no travel baseball, soccer or basketball where people are pulled in 100 different directions," Scott said. "Now that things are starting back up, how many will stick with golf? How many are going to watch their grandkids play travel sports in Nashville or Memphis, and how many are going to continue to play golf with their regular group? We definitely have to make hay while the sun is shining."
  • The past year has been, to say the least, uh, interesting at Yale Golf Course.
    The No. 1 campus golf course in the Golfweek's Best list, Yale will open for the season April 13, after some offseason improvement projects. There are a lot of if's, and's and but's in that reopening.
    Through June 27, the 1926 C.B. MacDonald classic in New Haven is open only to Connecticut residents with an active Yale Golf Course account.
    There's more.
    Everyone must maintain social distancing of at least six feet at all times throughout the property, including parking lots and playing areas. Respect of social distancing applies not only to fellow golfers but also to golf course staff. Anyone not following social distancing policies will be asked to leave, according to a release by Yale GC general manager Peter Palacios Jr.
    All golfers must have a facial covering in their possession at all times, but facial coverings are not required while playing golf. They are required while on the property (checking in for tee time, in the parking lot, etc.), while driving and riding in a cart with another passenger and they must cover the nose and mouth at all times.
    Although the course will open, the clubhouse, pro shop, driving range and snack bar will not.
    Yale Golf Course only has been open for a few months in the past year-and-a-half. After closing at the end of the season in 2019, it did not reopen again until Sept. 28, 2020. Trouble started long before that. 
    Between the time when the course closed in November 2019 and the Covid outbreak more than a year ago, Yale lost longtime superintendent Scott Ramsay, CGCS, who left for The Country Club of Farmington in Connecticut, as well as general manager Peter Pulaski.
    The Yale campus was shuttered in mid-March, including the golf course, which the university traditionally treats as part of the overall university infrastructure rather than a standalone golf entity. All employees across all sectors of campus operations were sent home. According to Vicky Chun, the athletic director at Yale since July 2018, what she described as a "skeletal crew" was permitted to stay on and work a minimal number of hours to maintain the golf course.
    Palacios still has not hired a superintendent to replace Ramsay, who left Yale last March.
  • Years after settlers opened the western frontier traveling on covered wagons, the emerald ash borer has been staging its own version of manifest destiny for the better part of the past two decades.
    The invasive pest that climbed aboard a Chinese cargo ship before making its way into the port of Detroit in 2002 has since been found in at least 35 U.S. states and five provinces in Canada, and leaving a swath of dead ash trees in their wake.
    Its population and its range have expanded due to a lack of natural predators. Growing to only a half-inch in length, EAB is still a heavyweight when it comes to damaging ash trees. According to EAB.org, a joint educational effort that includes multiple universities and government agencies, EAB has wiped out hundreds of millions of trees across North America, and its range is predicted to swell unchecked until it reaches everywhere across the continent where ash trees grow.
    The EAB network now hosts a series of webinars to educate viewers on the pest. 
    Ash trees in EAB's native Asia have built up some immunity to the pest over time, while host trees in the U.S. have not.
    "Several of us around the country have evaluated host susceptibility to EAB since we first detected it in 2002. We've used a variety of experimental designs to evaluate host susceptibility," said Nate Siegert, entomologist at U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Service, in a webinar hosted by the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
    "What we consistently find across these studies is that North American species of ash are more susceptible than Asian species of ash due to co-evolution of the host and the insect pest. European species tend to be intermediate in terms of susceptibility."
    Click here for more resources on EAB.
    Adult females, which grow to about a half-inch in length, create a hole in the bark into which they deposit their eggs. After hatching, the larvae feed on and chew galleries (pictured above right) through the tissue beneath the bark layer where the tree's vascular system is found. EAB kills ash trees by disrupting the uptake of water and nutrients through the trunk and into the upper reaches of the tree. In the spring, new adults chew through the bark and emerge leaving behind a D-shaped exit hole before flying into the canopy to ingest ash leaves and the reproductive process begins all over again.
     
    Symptoms of infestation include thinning of the canopy and sprouts growing from holes in the trunk that were created by the pests, along with voracious woodpeckers that have developed quite a taste for EAB. According to scientists, canopies of mature ash trees typically die off within two years of infestation and the trees are dead within five years. All native North American ash species are susceptible to EAB.
    To date, EAB is found in Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia and West Virginia, as well as Manitoba, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario and Quebec in Canada.
    EAB.org is a joint effort of Michigan State, Purdue and Ohio State universities; the Michigan and Ohio departments of agriculture; the Michigan, Indiana and Ohio departments of natural resources; the USDA Forest Service; the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS); and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
  • It is doubtful that anyone has seen more of Ohio during the past three decades than Joe Rimelspach.
    An extension agent and program specialist in Ohio State's turf pathology department, Rimelspach has criss-crossed the state hundreds of times during his 39-year career in Columbus, helping golf course superintendents, sports field managers, lawn care operators, homeowners and arborists diagnose countless plant diseases and help them on the road to recovery.
    That all comes to an end this month when Rimelspach, 70, will officially retire.
    "I've never not gone to work before," Rimelspach said as he was cleaning out the only office he has occupied at Ohio State. "It's going to be different. I'm having a hard time getting my head around this."
    For much of his tenure at Ohio State, Rimelspach has been one-half of Ohio State's 1-2-punch turf pathology team that also includes Todd Hicks. The traveling roadshow of "Joe and Todd" has been almost inseparable both professionally and personally for the past 20 years. Together, they have taught at Ohio Turfgrass Foundation events and annual field days and they have criss-crossed the state giving talks to professional associations, making site visits and building immeasurable good will from Akron to Zanesville and everywhere in between. They have produced a series of educational videos that prove chemistry in the turf business is not only about spray products, but also about how well two people can work together.
    "Our personalities are so different, but they complement each other," Rimelspach said of his two-decade history of working alongside Hicks. "Most people don't have jobs like ours. We play off each other's strengths. He makes me laugh, I make him laugh. That improves the quality of life in the workplace."
    Often, their workplace was in a car driving to one corner of the state or another, in a lab diagnosing a pathogen or teaching at a field day at the OTF research facility in Columbus.
    "Joe is the go-to guy at The Ohio State University for disease," said Tim Glorioso, superintendent at Toledo Country Club and a past president of the Ohio Turfgrass Foundation. "He is always available for help and loves to educate everyone on disease identification and management. Whenever we needed a speaker for a Northwest Ohio GCSA event, Joe always made time for us superintendents.
    "The Joe and Todd pathology show at OTF just won't be the same without both of them doing presentations and their online turf tips. Joe will be missed."
    A native of Fremont in north-central Ohio, Rimelspach grew up eyeing a career in farming. After a few years of working his uncle's farm, he left for a job on the crew at Fremont Country Club. That was in 1967.
    "That job was a blast," Rimelspach said. "I enjoyed the people and being outside."

    After a year of night school through Bowling Green State University, he went on to Ohio State for a career in turf, but eventually changed majors to landscape horticulture because he enjoyed working with shrubs and trees. His career included 19 years at Chemlawn, where he trained technicians and established a pathology lab before finally joining the turf pathology program at Ohio State under pathologist Phil Larsen, beginning a career that lasted 29 years, including the past 20 alongside Hicks. Together their work has included instruction, extension work, field research and operating a pathology lab. 
    "Everybody likes Joe. He has a lot of information," Hicks said. "And you can't find a person who has a bad thing to say about him.
    "The key to his success has been his attitude. People rely on you to make things right, and maybe even save their job. A great lesson I learned from Joe is it's not always what you tell, but how you tell them. It goes beach to him being that nice guy. He never met a stranger."
    That became evident about a decade ago when Hicks and Rimelspach attended a friend's funeral. When they arrived, the viewing room was so crowded, Rimelspach wandered about the funeral home and ducked into another person's viewing. There he talked to and consoled the family of the deceased.
    "He was talking to those people trying to make them feel better," Hicks said. "That's Joe."
    His position at Ohio State originally was partially funded by OTF.
    "I am guessing, but he must have done 40 talks a year, and they all were current and useful," said Todd Voss, superintendent at Double Eagle Club in Galena, Ohio, and a past president of OTF.
    "He would do as many talks as we wanted and would take whatever time slot we gave him and it was amazing, the room was always full.
    "In today's university world, Joe will be impossible to replace."
    Retirement is something Rimelspach has been pondering for some time. Covid got in the way last year and led him to delay his announcement several times. It was not until about a month ago that he finally decided the time was right, with a little urging from wife, July.
    "She asked me 'how long are you going to work, anyway?' " he said. "I have to admit, working at home during Covid has been a transition. Judy has made it known that she hates me taking over the dining room table as an office."
    Although Rimelspach will no longer be on the OSU payroll, he will remain on Hicks' speed dial.
    "There will be times I will have to reach out to my old friend and see if he can help me out," Hicks said. 
    "You normally don't have this kind of relationship with someone you work with. He's family. He's my mentor and father figure."
  • CLICK HERE TO NOMINATE YOUR TECH

    Jamie Worsham (center) of Beard Equipment, a Baton Rouge John Deere distributor, and Ryan McCavitt (right), director of golf course operations at Bayou Oaks at City Park, congratulate 2020 Golden Wrench winner Evan Meldahl. The past year has been a challenge for just about everyone in the golf industry. This time a year ago, many courses were closed, and no one was quite sure when they would be reopened and what things would look like then. 
    By the time things reopened, many places had sent workers home and golfers began to descend on shorthanded golf courses in record numbers, resulting in added pressure and stress to superintendents and their teams, including equipment managers. 
    With more golfers on the course and shorter windows to conduct daily maintenance, technicians were asked to do more and more, often with fewer and fewer resources. 
    If you have an equipment manager who has gone above and beyond the call of duty during the past year - and there must be a lot of deserving candidates since the implementation of Covid protocols - nominate him or her for the TurfNet 2021 Technician of the Year Award, sponsored by John Deere. The winner will receive the Golden Wrench Award along with their choice of a spot in a Deere training session in North Carolina or a chance to assist with equipment maintenance at next year’s Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. Either will result in an equipment manager who is better trained and more motivated and will make your property better.
    CLICK HERE to submit a nomination.
    Nominees are considered by our panel of judges on the following criteria: crisis management; effective budgeting; environmental awareness; helping to further and promote the careers of colleagues and employees; interpersonal communications; inventory management and cost control; overall condition and dependability of rolling stock; shop safety; and work ethic.
    Deadline to submit a nomination is June 1.
    Previous winners include (2020) Evan Meldahl, Bayou Oaks at City Park, New Orleans, LA; (2019) Dan Dommer, Ozaukee Country Club, Mequon, WI; (2018) Terry Libbert, Old Marsh Golf Club, Palm Beach Gardens, FL; (2017) Tony Nunes, Chicago Golf Club, Wheaton, IL; (2016) Kris Bryan, Pikewood National Golf Club, Morgantown, WV; (2015) Robert Smith, Merion Golf Club, Ardmore, PA; (2014) Lee Medeiros, Timber Creek and Sierra Pines Golf Courses, Roseville, CA; (2013) Brian Sjögren, Corral de Tierra Country Club, Corral de Tierra, CA; (2012) Kevin Bauer, Prairie Bluff Golf Club, Crest Hill, IL; (2011) Jim Kilgallon, The Connecticut Golf Club, Easton, CT; (2010) Herb Berg, Oakmont (PA) Country Club; (2009) Doug Johnson, TPC at Las Colinas, Irving, TX; (2007) Jim Stuart, Stone Mountain (GA) Golf Club; (2006) Fred Peck, Fox Hollow and The Homestead, Lakewood, CO; (2005) Jesus Olivas, Heritage Highlands at Dove Mountain, Marana, AZ; (2004) Henry Heinz, Kalamazoo (MI) Country Club; (2003) Eric Kulaas, Marriott Vinoy Renaissance Resort, Sarasota, FL.
  • A study under way at multiple Midwestern universities will one day provide turfgrass managers with a tool that can help them identify the threat of winterkill and give them time to take action before damage sets in. At least that is what scientists are hoping for.
    Researchers at Michigan State and the University of Minnesota are using subsurface sensors planted at several golf courses in both states to measure soil moisture and temperature at three depths as well as oxygen and carbon dioxide levels just below the surface to learn how that data might one day help predict the threat of winterkill. Data measured by the sensors is transmitted to the user through a cellular connection.
    The sensors, which were developed at the University of Minnesota were installed at 10 courses in that state, six in Michigan and one in Norway, said Kevin Frank, Ph.D., of Michigan State.
    "The hope is that we can develop a model that will tell people in real time that they might have an issue," Frank said. 'We believe it is anoxia underneath ice cover that causes winterkill. It might be soil moisture and temperature and a combination with freeze-and-thaw cycles."
    The study is part of a larger multi-university research project under the U.S. Department of Agriculture Specialty Crop Research Initiative, but in two previous tries it has yet to be approved by the USDA for funding. The cost of the sensors, at least those in the ground on golf courses in Michigan, was funded by the Michigan Turfgrass Foundation.
    "Hopefully, the third time is the charm," Frank said. "Our challenge has always been winterkill is unpredictable. Seven years ago, there was mass turf death in this area. It might be another seven years before we see anything like that again. It might be 20 years, or we might never have that kind of death again."
    Placing the sensors in different locations that include Detroit, Grand Rapids, Gaylord and Petoskey areas in Michigan, increase the chances of encountering some adverse conditions.
    "I know this is going to sound awful, but placing them in different locations gives us a better opportunity to see some death," Frank said. "Hopefully, we'll be able to pinpoint data on gasses, or temperature or moisture levels. It will be helpful to show that the research is working before getting funding."
    The sensors were installed last autumn. The research is still in its early stages.
    "The first year, we're just trying to find if they work and do they give a continuous data stream," Frank said. "Half were working here, the others are a mystery until I get them in my hands and see if they recorded data. 
    "After several years of doing this, we want to find if there are there specific thresholds of temperatures, gasses, moisture, and in real time can it tell superintendents that they have an issue and there might be something they can do about it. That is the goal."
  • For the past several years, Matthew Woodcock saw Old Erie Golf Course as a place where everyone in his family, adults and children alike, could have fun and feel welcome. Now that he owns it, he plans to keep it that way, and not just for his family, but everyone else's, too.
    Woodcock, 31, and wife Jill bought Old Erie, a nine-hole mom-and-pop operation in Durhamville, New York, on March 1. Built in 1968, Old Erie will not show up on anyone's top 100 list and it does not have bocce courts. It does have a Thursday night cornhole league that plays on a vacant area behind the clubhouse, and the jeans-wearing crowd that is the facility's bread and butter think the playing conditions here are plenty good.
    If the game is going to build on its renewed popularity of 2020, continue to grow and attract new players, it has to be, more than anything else, fun, and the atmosphere customers find at their local course has to be inviting.
    "We're not going to be the best course in the area, but one thing we can do is provide a great atmosphere where everyone feels welcome, where they don't have to worry about wearing a collared shirt," Woodcock said. "That's not who we are.
    "We want to provide a fun atmosphere where people can come and not be judged about what they are wearing, or about their game. That's who we are."
    Woodcock, his wife and their family spent many a day at Old Erie long before they bought it. They had become so at-home at Old Erie that when David Niemann and John Stewart, who bought the course in 2012, considered retirement, they asked Woodcock on several occasions if he was interested in buying it.
    "We all hung out here all summer," Woodcock said. "The owners really cultivated a family atmosphere here.
    "They saw we were invested in the property, and he wanted someone who was going to continue to run it the way he did. I guess they saw that in us."
    As owner-operator, Woodcock also is the course superintendent. He has no turf degree, and his experience includes four years of golf course maintenance at Old Erie and before that, Turning Stone, a multi-course resort in nearby Verona that was a PGA Tour stop for a brief time.
    He ended up in the turf business only because he was looking for a job after he lost his position in the payroll processing sales industry. 
    "I am not a salesman," he said. "I should have been fired. When someone said 'no' I'd just leave and tell them 'have a nice day."
    It was wife Jill who saw a help-wanted ad for seasonal maintenance work on the crew at Turning Stone.
    "I fell in love with it," he said. "I fell in love with the work: mowing, weed-eating, being outside all day. I loved it.
    "I have an associate's degree in science. I applied to the turf program at Penn State, but I had to put those plans on hold - because I bought a golf course."
    The day after closing on the golf course, Woodcock delivered a presentation to the Penn State Turf Club in a virtual conference.

    Running Old Erie Golf Course is a family affair for Matthew Woodcock and son Ezra, 6, who also is shown below. "I told them that I felt funny talking to them because they knew more than I did," he said. "I talked to them about how hard work and luck make people successful. You need both, because hard work doesn't always get you there. Sometimes you need a little luck. That's where I'm at."
    The nondescript but family friendly course opened in 1968. Conditions and expectations are 180 degrees at the opposite end of the spectrum from those at Turning Stone, which was home to the Turning Stone Resort Championship from 2007 to 2010.
    "Our tolerance for disease pressure at this golf course is pretty high," Woodcock said. 
    "If there is disease on a tee, we probably have to live with it. We focus on the greens. People come here and pay $20 to play nine holes. They don't care if there is disease in the fairways. I learned that from the owner, and that was a culture shock coming from Turning Stone. We have to live with flaws, because we can't afford to fix them, and our clientele does not demand that we fix them. They come here to have fun."
    The decision to buy a golf course - during a pandemic - was not one the Woodcocks entered into lightly. Matthew's parents, David and Susie, and Jill's mother, Michelle Vance, helped with the down payment, making the purchase of a golf course a true family affair.
    At least 11 family members help with everything from accounting and marketing to tending bar and managing special events to working in the clubhouse and assisting with course maintenance.
    "The previous owners really promoted a family atmosphere. When they had tournaments, everyone would stay after and have dinner together," said Woodcock's dad, David, an MRI technician during the week and now part-time golf course employee on weekends. "Sometimes they'd have live music. It's just been a lot of fun. When they talked to Matthew about buying it, it just seemed right for them to take it over and for us to help him.
    "I travel a lot for work, but I'm home on weekends and I'll help out when I can. I was always there anyway."
    The course has about 100 members. Woodcock says he'd like to grow that number to about 150 or so, but not much more.
    "We can't support 250 or 300 members," he said. "If people come out here on a Saturday and it's packed wall to wall, we'll lose members anyway."
    There are no illusions of getting rich off Old Erie. Woodcock is renovating a house on the property that he and Jill and their four children eventually will occupy. That will help them with expenses.
    "He knows he's not going to get rich doing this, running this kind of golf course," David Woodcock said. "We figured if you make a decent living, have fun and all are OK and we can make a go of this, I think that is the way to do it.
    "It's never going to be Augusta, but the fairways and greens are always very good."
    The experience also is a legacy the Woodcocks can pass down to their four children.
    "We want to do outreach with our local charities to make our local area better," Woodcock said.  "I grew up a mile from here. I'm super proud of this area. I am fully invested in it, and I want to make it an area our kids can be proud of, as well."
  • The USGA will invest nearly $2 million into turf research grants this year through the Green Section Turfgrass and Environmental Research program.
    The annual investment in the program, which this year totals $1.8 million into 70-plus grants, is part of the USGA's contined effort to support the sustainability of golf, which, the USGA says, saves the industry an estimated $1.8 billion annually.
    During the Green Section's 100-year history, which was marked last year, the USGA has invested more than $46 million in research aimed at improving the golfer experience and reducing inputs. The program represents the largest private turfgrass and environmental research effort in the game's history.
    The 2021 grant recipients – including 16 new projects – will receive an average of $25,000 in funding this year. Projects include an innovative multi-year effort with the University of Minnesota to improve irrigation efficiency, while ongoing support to the University of Nebraska will advance the development of new cultivars of buffalograss that require fewer inputs. 
    Another grant of $25,000 will be invested in a collaborative effort between North Carolina State University, Purdue University and the University of Georgia-Tifton to develop new cultivars of zoysiagrass with improved heat, drought and traffic tolerance.
    Since the founding of the Green Section in 1920, the USGA has led the effort to enhance golf course sustainability through the development and support of research that produces a healthier environment and improved playing conditions.
    Led by Cole Thompson, Ph.D., the research program is one way in which the USGA brings to life its mission to champion and advance the game. Universities and research companies submit grant applications that are reviewed by 17 scientists on the TERP committee. In addition to the TERP, the USGA invests in research that benefits other areas of course sustainability and golfer experience.
    Through the program's emphasis on sustainable turfgrass management and environmental protection, combined with research and educational efforts, the USGA has improved the efficiency of key areas of golf course management. These areas include advances in putting green construction methods, the use of naturalized rough, precision irrigation strategies and best application practices for fertilizers and pesticides, all of which have been adopted at about half the country's golf courses.
    Overall, these efforts have resulted in an industry-wide reduction in water use of about 19 percent from 2005-2013, a 37 percent decrease in fertilizer use from 2006-2014, and the development of more than 30 turfgrass cultivars that use fewer inputs.
    Click here to view complete summaries of current research projects. Summaries from research conducted in 2020 will be updated next month.
  • 2020 TurfNet Technician of the Year Evan Meldahl of Bayou Oaks at City Park in New Orleans. CLICK HERE TO NOMINATE YOUR TECH
    As far as city-owned municipal golf courses go, Bayou Oaks at City Park in New Orleans is about as nice as it gets. A Rees Jones design, the golf course is the centerpiece of an effort to fund an urban renewal project for a vulnerable part of the city that struggled to get back on its feet in the years following Hurricane Katrina, which crippled the city in 2005.
    Providing great playing conditions is about more than just meeting the needs of local residents and tourists who play the course. There is a deeper goal. Much deeper.
    Revenue generated by the golf operation helps fund a variety of projects on that city’s east side that directly impact the residents, such as low-income housing, a school and an emergency clinic.
    Keeping equipment in top shape so superintendent Ryan McCavitt and his team can give golfers the conditions they demand and so they continue to come back and spend their money, thus funding these various initiatives, is the responsibility of equipment manager Evan Meldahl. Without the golf course to help fund them, many of these programs struggle to survive - if they survive at all. Talk about going above and beyond.
    If you have an equipment manager who has gone above and beyond the call of duty during the past year - and there must be a lot of deserving candidates since the implementation of Covid protocols - nominate him or her for the TurfNet 2021 Technician of the Year Award, sponsored by John Deere. The winner will receive the Golden Wrench Award along with their choice of a spot in a Deere training session in North Carolina or a chance to assist with equipment maintenance at next year’s Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. Either will result in an equipment manager who is better trained and more motivated and will make your property better.
    CLICK HERE to submit a nomination.
    Nominees are considered by our panel of judges on the following criteria: crisis management; effective budgeting; environmental awareness; helping to further and promote the careers of colleagues and employees; interpersonal communications; inventory management and cost control; overall condition and dependability of rolling stock; shop safety; and work ethic.
    Deadline to submit a nomination is June 1.
    Previous winners include (2020) Evan Meldahl, Bayou Oaks at City Park, New Orleans, LA; (2019) Dan Dommer, Ozaukee Country Club, Mequon, WI; (2018) Terry Libbert, Old Marsh Golf Club, Palm Beach Gardens, FL; (2017) Tony Nunes, Chicago Golf Club, Wheaton, IL; (2016) Kris Bryan, Pikewood National Golf Club, Morgantown, WV; (2015) Robert Smith, Merion Golf Club, Ardmore, PA; (2014) Lee Medeiros, Timber Creek and Sierra Pines Golf Courses, Roseville, CA; (2013) Brian Sjögren, Corral de Tierra Country Club, Corral de Tierra, CA; (2012) Kevin Bauer, Prairie Bluff Golf Club, Crest Hill, IL; (2011) Jim Kilgallon, The Connecticut Golf Club, Easton, CT; (2010) Herb Berg, Oakmont (PA) Country Club; (2009) Doug Johnson, TPC at Las Colinas, Irving, TX; (2007) Jim Stuart, Stone Mountain (GA) Golf Club; (2006) Fred Peck, Fox Hollow and The Homestead, Lakewood, CO; (2005) Jesus Olivas, Heritage Highlands at Dove Mountain, Marana, AZ; (2004) Henry Heinz, Kalamazoo (MI) Country Club; (2003) Eric Kulaas, Marriott Vinoy Renaissance Resort, Sarasota, FL.
  • As a captain in the U.S. Army, Matt Pope knows all too well the importance of motivating a team. Success depends on everyone working toward a common goal. That experience inspiring and leading others in difficult situations is what makes building a post-military career in a John Deere production facility, with hundreds of other people, such a good match.
    As he transitions out of the Army, Pope is interning at John Deere's Turf Care manufacturing facility in Fuquay-Varina, North Carolina as part of the U.S. Department of Defense Skills Bridge program through John Deere's Career Skills Program.
    "In the Army, you're leading teams and creating buy-in, values and protecting lives," said Pope (at right). "Hard work and dedication drive our soldiers. At Deere, it's the same thing: We're dedicated to hard work and values and delivering products to our customers."
    A native of Rocky Mount, North Carolina, Pope, 26, is a graduate of the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York. He is transitioning out of the Army after five years to achieve a little more work-life balance with his wife of two years, Katherine. Deere's CDP allows him to do just that.
    Deere's Career Skills Program, which was started 11 months ago, partners with the DoD SkillBridge program to allow transitioning service members the opportunity to match their leadership and technical skills with Deere's needs. The SkillBridge program thus allows servicemen and women to begin their transition by working with  during the last five months of their military commitment by interning at one of Deere's many production facilities or dealerships.
    Since April, Deere has placed 74 interns transitioning out of the service, including 59 at dealerships and 15 in the company's production facilities.
    "We, at John Deere, are passionate about finding a way to give back to those who have served our nation," said David Ottavianelli, labor relations director at John Deere and himself a USMA graduate. "We understand that the transition for many service members can be difficult, and we can play a key role and make an impact through programs like this."
    Capt. Pope was stationed at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, and in 2019-20 was deployed to Afghanistan as part of Operation Freedom Sentinel. His experience as an officer in an overseas theater of operations left him imminently qualified to lead a production floor in a Deere manufacturing facility.
    "My desire is to work with teams," Pope said. "When I found John Deere, that is what attracted me to them.
    "How to lead a team in a manufacturing facility, that's what I wanted to learn, take my skills from the Army and bridge that gap."
    Although the program helps Deere fill a need, the program goes much deeper than that. Transitioning out of the service can be a challenge for many, "and we feel this program helps make that transition easier for the service members," according to Ottavianelli. "Our internal skills program is designed to match veteran's technical and leadership skills to open positions."
    William Duquette (at right) retired a year ago after 23 years in the Army. As a first sergeant working as a Brigade Maintenance Supervisor, also at Fort Bragg, Duquette, 41, was in charge of as many as 200 technicians who serviced more than 2,000 wheeled vehicles operating in at least 10 countries.
    Last April, he began a SkillBridge internship at Deere's Quality Equipment facility in Dunn, North Carolina. By July, Deere hired him full time as a service technician for the company's large agricultural equipment. 
    A chance like the one provided by Deere was the right opportunity at the right time for Duquette and his wife Leah.
    "When I retired, she told me she didn't want to move," Duquette said. "We had moved enough. This was perfect."
    There are a lot of differences in vehicle repair work for the Army and at Deere. In the Army, vehicle repair for Duquette and his team consisted mostly of parts replacement. Full scale repairs were sent off to what Duquette called an "upper echelon" unit. 
    "Here, we do it all ourselves," Duquette said. 
    Although there is a learning curve moving from wheeled military vehicles to combines, tractors and bailers, there are soft skills that the military teaches that any industry would welcome.
    "The discipline," Duquette said. "You have to be at work on time, and you need self-motivation for that. If you don't have that skill, you're not going to make it."
  • In the waning hours of the 2018 Golf Industry Show in San Antonio, Chris Claypool of Jacklin Seed couldn't wait to talk to TurfNet about shortages in the seed industry. Little did we know at the time that it appeared he might be trying to solve those shortages all by himself.
    Claypool, the former general manager of Jacklin Seed Co., is facing charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and money laundering against the company's former owner, J.R. Simplot Co., according to the U.S. Justice Department. If convicted, Claypool faces up to 70 years in prison and fines of more than $15 million.
    The U.S. Attorney's Office in Oregon says Jacklin Seed contracted with independent growers for the production of proprietary grass seed varieties and fulfilled orders from a distribution facility in Albany, Oregon. But much of what Jacklin delivered, under Claypool's direction, was not what customers ordered, according to federal documents.
    Claypool, 52, (at right) oversaw the company's product sales to domestic and international distributors.
    U.S. attorney officials said Claypool's alleged schemes include packaging seed varieties with false and misleading labels, embezzling more than $12 million while posing as a foreign sales partner and conspiring with a travel agency in Spokane, Washington, to inflate costs of his international travel.
    Throughout the duration of Claypool's elaborate matrix of deception, Jacklin Seed was a division of JR Simplot Co. Jacklin was acquired by Barenbrug in October 2020.
    The U.S. Attorney's Office says Claypool and other Jacklin employees, upon recognizing shortages of some lower yield turfgrass varieties, began a process of substituting different varieties of seeds and hiding the substitutions from customers with falsified labels and invoices, all to avoid paying premiums to growers that would adversely affect the company's profits and their own careers. This practice of deception began in early 2015 and continued at least until 2019, according to the justice department.
    At the 2018 GIS, Claypool told TurfNet that because of all the turfgrass varieties on the market today, customers were not too choosy about what they bought - or at least what he shipped.
    "There are so many choices now. It's almost confusing to the end user," Claypool told TurfNet from the tradeshow floor in San Antonio. "There are some elite Kentucky bluegrass varieties, but those elite varieties don't have prolific seed yield.
     
    "People don't ask much for a specific variety. They just want seed."
    Whether that is true, the U.S. Attorney says whatever is in the bag must match what is on the label. Throughout the duration of this dastardly seed plot, Jacklin invoiced customers for $1.1 million in seed it did not deliver, the U.S. Attorney's office wrote.

    The turf seed market once was dominated by a few varieties and price was about all that mattered. As turf management has evolved with lower heights of cut leading to more and more stress issues, the market has become overrun with an increasing number of varieties as turf breeders seek to develop grasses with improved resistance to various biotic and abiotic stress factors. Factors like price and high yield that once were attractive, have taken a back seat to increased resistance and other traits that might be more costly up front, but can help users save money in the long run.
    As a result of low yield, more acres are taken out of turf production and transitioned into agricultural crops with higher profit.
    Bilking customers for product they never received is only the tip of Claypool's intricate and elaborate scheme.
    Claypool's elaborate plot of deception grew faster and more vigorously than the grass he was awaiting to produce seed. According to the justice department, under Claypool's urging, an accomplice created a limited liability corporation to act as an independent seed broker. Claypool is charged with funnelling Jacklin sales through the newly created LLC, charging mark ups and taking kickbacks. Over the course of eight months from December 2018-August 2019, Claypool generated more than $369,000 in fraudulent commissions.
    As the GM of a seed company that did a great deal of international business, Claypool traveled extensively overseas. According to the justice department, he generated another $500,000 in kickbacks from a travel agent who inflated the costs of Jacklin-paid international travel.
    The coup de grace of Claypool's elaborate plan of deception and fraud was, according to the U.S. Attorney's office, when he funneled $12 million in rebates and commissions to entities established to appear as foreign sales partners but in reality were front organizations for Claypool and his co-consipirators. Those funds were distributed to accounts in Hong Kong to real estate investments in Hawaii that Claypool himself controlled and eventually sold, sending the money ultimately, as part of a money-laundering scheme, to investment accounts in Washington.
    This case is being investigated by IRS Criminal Investigation and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Office of Inspector General. It is being prosecuted by Ryan W. Bounds, Assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Oregon.
  • Think of influential people in the turf business, and the name Ed Etchells is not exactly a household word - even among golf course superintendents. But there are plenty who believe no conversation about the giants of turf is complete without mentioning his name.
    A native of Philadelphia and a 1964 graduate of Rutgers' turfgrass management program, Etchells was the first superintendent at Nicklaus's Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio. He later oversaw agronomic programs at Nicklaus-designed courses worldwide for 29 years before spinning off his own turfgrass consulting business in 2001 in Tequesta, Florida.
    Credited with jumpstarting the careers of dozens of golf course superintendents, Etchells died Feb. 13 in Lake Worth, Florida, after being diagnosed with Covid-19. He was 78.
    Those who worked with him during the past six decades remember him as a great agronomist and a no-nonsense manager.
    "He developed a lot of cultural practices that today are common," said Mike McBride, the former Muirfield Village GC superintendent and co-developer of the Brandt iHammer line of turf nutrient products. "He taught me cultural practices to maintain turf, but he also taught me how to deal with personalities, which is probably more important. 
    "If you asked Ed questions, you got really good answers, but you had to know when to ask him questions - and when not to. He was a very intense, very detail-oriented guy."
    Jim Sprankle has a long history on Nicklaus-designed courses, including the Loxahatchee Club in Jupiter, Florida, where he has been superintendent since 2007. He recalls when Etchells hired him as superintendent at Cabo Del Sol, a Nicklaus design in Mexico.
    "Ed told me 'This is a big job, don't **** it up. Don't make me look bad,' " Sprankle said. "Every day in the back of my mind I thought 'Don't screw it up.' 
    "He was stern and direct. That's the way he was - business was business. But outside the office, he was a good friend and would do anything for you."
    When Nicklaus was building Muirfield in 1972, it was with a PGA Tour event in mind. And he wanted a golf course superintendent who could push the turf and coax out of it the conditions that both Nicklaus and his fellow pros would demand for an annual tour stop. Nicklaus saw the conditions he was looking for at Brookside Golf and Country Club in nearby Worthington, where Etchells was superintendent.
    "He was one of the original guys, who said we can stress a green and get speed out of it," Nicklaus told TurfNet.
    After six years as superintendent at Nicklaus's home course, Etchells turned over the reins at Muirfield to his assistant, Charlie Hutson. 
    But Etchells did not move on, he moved up, as vice president of Golfturf, the agronomic division of Nicklaus's Golden Bear International. In that role, he consulted on or developed agronomic programs for all Nicklaus-designed courses around the world. That made him the person to know for anyone aspiring to be a greenkeeper on a Nicklaus course. In 2001, he struck out on his own, migrating Golfturf into his Tequesta-based Greens Management consulting firm.
    Jon Scott is one of those agronomists who credits Etchells with launching his career. 
    Over a 27-year period, Scott, principal of his own Traverse City, Michigan-based consulting firm, worked two stints with Nicklaus sandwiched around a nine-year career as vice president of agronomy for the PGA Tour. He began his career as a superintendent at various locations, including Grand Traverse Resort in Michigan, and Valhalla in Louisville, Kentucky, both Nicklaus designs. 
    "My goal was to become a superintendent at a Jack Nicklaus golf course," Scott said. "I remember someone telling me 'if you want to do that, you have to know Ed Etchells. He taught me the business side of golf course consulting, and he taught me more about relationships than I knew anyone could. 
    "He gave me the opportunity to advance myself, and that is what I needed at the time. My career with Jack led to a career with the PGA Tour and it ended with Jack. And it is all because of Ed. I can't say enough about how he influenced my career."

    Ed Etchells (far right) with (from left) Ivor Young, Jim Gerring, Pandel Savic, Jack Nicklaus and Bob Hoag playing the first round of golf at Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio, in 1973. Photo courtesy of Muirfield Village Golf Club Etchells' reputation as a mentor was a reflection of his personnel management skills and his abilities as an agronomist. He turned to foliar fertilizer programs and light frequent applications of sand topdressing and lower amounts of fertilizer in granular form when few if any other superintendents were, says McBride. Because of his pioneering ways, Etchells was called in to consult when Augusta National converted from Bermudagrass to creeping bentgrass putting greens before the 1981 Masters.
    "He developed techniques with green quality, green speed, green firmness and green resilience," McBride said. "Ed had to figure out how to do that stuff. You don't realize how much work there is to do to get a golf course to the expectations of Jack Nicklaus."
    Etchells was able to meet or exceed Nicklaus' expectations - most of the time. However, Nicklaus himself pointed to the 1979 Memorial Tournament as an exception. Damp and gloomy weather dominated the tournament, and those conditions were expected to last through Sunday's final round. When the weather broke, the combination of sun and wind, and Etchells' handiwork, left Muirfield's greens more like trying to hold a putt in a bathtub.
    .
    "I remember one year, I gave Ed hell because he got the greens too fast at Muirfield Village," Nicklaus said. "I think it was '79. He had the greens cut, triple cut them at one-sixty-fourth of an inch or maybe it was three-sixty-fourths. It was really tight, and we ended up getting a lot of wind that was not forecast, and sunshine, and on the golf course, the greens got over 17 (on the Stimpmeter). Watson won the tournament. I think I shot 79 the last round - and moved up.
    "That was Ed. He liked to take things to the edge. Not always to the edge does it work. He was a very creative and innovative guy in golf course maintenance, and he did a good job."
    Sprankle first met Etchells when he was hired as superintendent at Damai Indah Golf and Country Club, a Nicklaus design in Indonesia. They remained lifelong friends.
    "I was 25 and green as green can be," Sprankle said. "I'd heard rumors of Ed Etchells, and that he was all this and that. I wondered 'Who is this guy? He sounds like someone I don't want to mess with.'
    "I was cocky, but we hit it off. He was my agronomist. He came in once a month, and we'd walk the golf course and go to dinner and it was 'see you next month.' He took to me, and I accepted him as my mentor, and we hit it off as friends."
    A great mentor and friend, Etchells also had a hard side that made him and those around him successful.
    "He was direct and stern, and that rubbed some people the wrong way," Sprankle said. "He was a good friend and would do anything for you, but business was business."
    Said Scott: "He was the right person at the right time for me to make the jump from a good superintendent into agronomy consulting that launched my second career. My career with Jack led to a career with the PGA Tour and ended with Jack, and it's all because of Ed. He helped me understand what it took to be successful."
    Survivors include son Edward, Jr., (Kimberly) and grandsons Michael and Christopher.
    Due to the Covid pandemic, the family is planning a future memorial service to celebrate and honor his life.
    "I just talked to him on his birthday," McBride said. "He was a mentor obviously, but he was a great friend, and we stayed in contact. I will miss the guy."
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