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From the TurfNet NewsDesk


  • John Reitman
    When it comes to hot dogs and hardship, Jesus Romero knows a lot about both. After all, it was too much of one that years ago prevented him from enjoying any of the other.
    An assistant superintendent at PGA Golf Club in Port St. Lucie, Florida, for the past three years and a 20-plus-year veteran of the golf business, the 59-year-old Romero has seen his share of adversity since crossing the Rio Grande from his native Mexico into Texas three decades ago.
    He made that long journey toward the American dream with a pregnant wife and ever since the two have led a hardscrabble life that he looks back on today as a gift. They came from nothing and lived in the U.S. for months without their two children, who were left behind in Mexico until they became settled. They didn't speak English, and made a living in those early days - barely - milking cows and picking fruit across Florida, and in the meantime raising four children in a new land while trying to teach them the importance of hard work and traditional values that would help them find an easier life than that of their parents. His life story is the stuff of a Hollywood script.
    "There is a lot of stuff that happened in our lives that is like 'wow, that's incredible,' " Romero said in a thick Mexican accent. "I don't regret any of it. I'm real happy."

    Jesus Romero has gone from milking cows and picking oranges to assistant superintendent at PGA Golf Club in Port St. Lucie, Florida. Photos by John Reitman That sense of satisfaction comes from knowing he and wife Estella have tried to do everything the right way - from becoming U.S. citizens 18 years ago to showing their four children that nothing in life comes without a price.
    "We make a plan. Our goal was to help our kids to help themselves so they would have enough money, enough studies, enough resources to take care of their families. We've raised four kids who are good kids and are able to take care of their families. I can die today. I'm very satisfied."
    That satisfaction also is a product of trying to live a humble and virtuous life not only at home, but at work since then-assistant superintendent John Cunningham hired him onto superintendent Dave Oliver's crew at Martin Downs in Palm City, Florida more than 20 years ago.
    In those days, Martin Downs was the first western outpost along State Road 714 before arriving in Stuart from farming communities like Okeechobee and Indiantown.
    "He stopped in looking for work. He didn't know what a golf course was. He just wanted to work," said Cunningham, who still counts Romero as a close friend today. "I took him around on his first day. He said he'd never seen such a beautiful park. He had no reference of what a golf course was."
    Romero picked up the work quickly, earned a spray license and after working several years under Oliver, Dick Gray and Cunningham, the last for six years, was named head superintendent at Martin Downs for two years until the property was sold.
    He rejoined Gray at PGA three years ago, when his position as crew coordinator for a restoration project at Sailfish Point was eliminated. In his three years at PGA he helped oversee the renovation of the Dye Course and is looked up to by just everyone who crosses his path, regardless of their first language.
    "His story is the American dream," Gray said. "Born in Mexico; got his shirt wet getting here; picked fruit and vegetables; and we caught a break when we met him.
    "We made him an assistant superintendent at Martin Downs, then after Johnny and I left, he became the superintendent. The place then sold and Jesus became expendable. I was lucky enough to draft him as the best available athlete even though I didn't have the immediate need. He worked himself back to the top again. He's a great coach and a great philosopher. He's the person that has put the Dye back together. He has a delivery, especially in making suggestions, that is just pure. I put in his evaluation, the portion that he doesn't see, that he has qualities as a person that I wish I had."
    Romero's childhood in Mexico was no easier than the road he found before him in Florida. His father walked out on the family when he was a child. His wife shared a similar childhood experience.
    "My father, he leave us when I was 10," he said. "My wife, she's been cooking for her family since she was 7. Her father left, too. We both are from broken families. We come from the same page. If we don't have it, we don't need it. We always believed that."
    And they went without a lot.
    Romero was working in an accounting office in Mexico City when a friend convinced him to emigrate to the United States.
    "He said you can find money everywhere in the United States. Money was in the ground, you just had to come and get it," Romero said. "It's not true."
    The journey itself into Texas was an ordeal, and one which he thought he might have to pay with his life. The couple had left two young children with family in Mexico until they could get situated in the U.S. Estella, pregnant with their third child, had a hard time at the border, where nar-do-wells had earned a reputation as predators, robbing, raping and killing those in search of a better life.
    "It was real bad. My wife was pregnant, and that made it double hard," he said. "A bunch of times she fell. There are a bunch of gangs at the border, and the people leading us across, they tell us 'if you stay, they'll rape and kill your wife in front of you.' We fell behind. It was hard."
    They made their way almost immediately to Okeechobee, Florida, where the promise of work was plentiful. 
    The couple worked long, hard hours, first milking cows, then picking fruit, all in hopes of creating a better life for their family, but all Estella could think about was her children, Ruben and Diana, back in Mexico. 
    "Our daughter was 1, and our son was 4 when we left them with (Estella's) mom. Three months later, my wife was not doing anything but crying," Romero said. "She wake up and cry, go to work and cry, come home and cry. She was ready to go back."
    That's when a family they met in Florida helped bring their children to the U.S.
    With two more children born in the U.S., no marketable skill and no grasp of English, life in the citrus groves was hard for Romero. When he needed to communicate with Americans and required the help of a translator, he was startled and disappointed at what he learned about his community.
    "If I need someone to translate, it was 'OK, that's $5.' If I needed a ride, 'OK, that's $5,' " Romero said. "I worked hard to learn English. In three months, I was translating for other Spanish people. I was bad, but I was a translator, and I decided I'd never charge a penny for a translation or a ride. I didn't think it was right to take advantage of your own people. I don't work like that."

    Jesus Romero, left, and superintendent Dick Gray check things out on the Dye Course at PGA Golf Club. Not all field supervisors in the ag business were trustworthy in those days, either, and Romero bounced around from one field to the next. With little money and so many mouths to feed, times were tough. When his car broke down, he walked four hours each way to work.
    "We struggled for three years real bad. I was paid $140 a week. I had to pay rent, buy food and pay bills. At the end of the week, I had $1 left over. What do I do with it? Buy myself a piece of sweet bread, or a beer?"
    Watching every penny was part of the plan he and Estella put into place, and they stuck to it.
    "The bus taking us to pick oranges would stop at a store that sold coffee, soda, things like that. They sold hot dogs, and everybody on the bus grabbed a hot dog for 99 cents," he said. "We just had to look at it. I really was hungry, but we had to put our face down. We had no money. We never had a hot dog. It was eight years before I could go back to that same store and buy a hot dog. Now, I love hot dogs."
    Their life became a simple model of "if we don't have it, we don't need it," he said.
    "Our first house, we had no furniture for three years, only beds," he said. "We were happy. The kids had a place to stay. There was a time we had no house and had to hide in an abandoned trailer in a citrus grove in Vero Beach. I had to leave at 4 a.m. before the other workers showed up, and my wife had to keep four kids quiet during the day. I don't know how she did it. We lived there like that for eight months."
    It wasn't until he started in the golf business that things began to look up.
    He made more money at Martin Downs than in the fields, and made even more as a spray tech.
    "He was always thinking there had to be something better," Cunningham said. "When he was milking cows, there had to be something better. When he was picking oranges, there had to be something better. Before he got his spray license, there had to be something better."
    Golf helped him learn English, which opened a lot of doors. His kids all went on to college and are successful in their own careers with their own families. Two are in the military, one works for the Martin County Sheriff's Office in Florida and the fourth is a teacher.
    "He and Estella are very traditional, and they raised great kids," Cunningham said. "It was lights out and in bed at 10 p.m. every night."
    Romero prefers to deflect praise to those who've helped him along the way.
    "I love to work on the golf course. I was fortunate to find people like John Cunningham, like Dick Gray," he said. "They see something in you and let you grow. 
    "I've been working in this business for 20-something years and my kids are grown and out of the house. The difference is that I was able to find honest, not greedy, people in my life. That's the key. In citrus, I had some real bad bosses, but I had to take because I had to work. When you have a boss who trusts you, it helps you grow. When you do something that's not right, but they tell you to keep going. Without guys like John Cunningham, like Dick Gray, my life would be a different story."
    So would many others.
    "We have a significant bond for sure," said Cunningham, now the general manager at Aronimink Golf Club near Philadelphia. "When you're a young superintendent, you need to get things done, and you need people you can rely on. He was that person for me. And I think he needed me, too. It was mutually beneficial. I learned as much from him as hopefully he did from me."
    Their kids grew up together, and Cunningham's brother, Dan, a lieutenant with the Martin County Sheriff's Office, helped Romero's son, Ruben, get on the force.
    When Cunningham interviewed for the GM position at Aronimink, he was asked to define his greatest accomplishment.
    "I said it was Jesus Romero," Cunningham said. "From milking cows to where he is now - what a story. I can honestly say I'm a better person for knowing him."
  • Roundup ready creeping bentgrass seed is planted in an Oregon field 15 years ago. Photo by The Oregonian Remember the promise of glyphosate-resistant creeping bentgrass that was all the rage about 15 years ago and has been all but dead for the past 10?
    Turns out, we've not hear the last of this genetically modified turfgrass that promised so much to golf courses at the height of the construction boom nearly two decades ago.
    Farmers throughout Oregon are still battling this GMO, and many are at their wit’s end over what to do about it.
    Click here to read the rest of the story in The Oregonian.
  • Studies conducted by researchers at the University of Minnesota showed that late-season applications of plant growth regulators could prove detrimental to spring green up, or worse, have no effect at all other than impact a superintendent’s bottom line.
    Trials were conducted in 2017 at three courses in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, testing the effects of paclobutrazol, prohexadione calcium and trinexapac-ethyl on a variety of cool-season grasses.
    Their advice to superintendents in Minnesota is to follow current PGR guidelines and cease applications by mid-September.
    Researchers wanted to learn whether these products, if applied in early October, would: 1. injure turfgrass, 2. impact spring turfgrass quality and recovery, 3. have any effect at all, and 4. reveal whether mixture combinations are better than single product applications.Each chemistry was applied at varying rates at all three properties, and results were measured on Oct. 13 and Oct. 24.
    According to the results, no differences from any applications were detected on creeping bentgrass on the first collection date, and the annual bluegrass and Kentucky bluegrass stands at at least one site were injured on the second collection date.
    The researchers determined that late fall PGR applications are too risky, that they might injure turf and delay spring recovery. In some instances, they might have no effect at all, and thus the expense might not be justified.
  • Canadian amateur Terrill Smith, left, her caddie and a fan stroll down the ninth fairway at Chicago Golf Club during preparations for the inaugural U.S. Senior Women's Open. Photos by John Reitman It has been nearly 15 years since JoAnne Carner has played in a professional golf tournament and more than 30 years since she was victorious in one.
    On Thursday, at age 79, Big Mama, as she was affectionately known during her playing days, struck the first shot off the first tee in the inaugural U.S. Senior Women's Open at historic Chicago Golf Club in Wheaton, Illinois. And although the odds of winning against a field of competitors 20 or 30 years her junior aren't in Carner's favor, at least she has had a chance to compete again at a high level, and that's what is important.
    Three years in the planning, the first-of-its-kind event has been a dream come true for Carner and so many others, who for years have longed for someone to validate the women-over-50 set and ladies golf in general.
    "This has been a long time coming," Carner said. "The men's senior open has been around for years. We kept thinking sooner or later the USGA would put together a women's senior; it just never happened. I think that when Mike Davis got in (as chief executive officer), things started to change, and all of a sudden we get a beautiful golf course that reputation-wise is one of the best."
    The tournament is the right event, at the right time, at the right place.
    Originally designed by Charles Blair Macdonald, Chicago Golf Club opened in 1893 and is reported to be the oldest golf club in the U.S. in continuous operation on the same site. A year later, it was one of five clubs that banded together to found the USGA as a custodian of the rules of the game.
    "Golf in Chicago is huge. The Evans Scholars (Foundation) started in Chicago," said Hollis Stacy, who has won 21 professional events and is a three-time winner of the U.S. Women's Open. "It just feels right that the first U.S. Senior Women's Open is here at Chicago Golf Club."
    According to the National Golf Foundation's most recent data, there are about 21 million golfers in the United States, and about a fourth of them are girls and women.
    As golf course operators struggle to keep their piece of a shrinking pie of golfers, women have long been identified as a key demographic they'd like to see more of. For the past three years, however, more women have been leaving the game than coming into it.
    "People are finding other ways to spend their time, and I think the expense has gotten out of control," said U.S. Senior Women's Open competitor Laurie Brower, whose LPGA rookie season came 26 years ago. "I think the expense has gotten out of control for a lot of people. It's so expensive and you lose four to five hours of your day that you can be with your kids and doing other things. People will see this (tournament) and they'll see that these gals have been playing for 40 or 50 years and they can still do it. You know, we can still play golf. It doesn't matter how far you hit it; motion is the lotion. Keep moving and keep playing."
    Efforts to generate interest in the game among women and girls clearly are in need of a shot in the arm, even if it comes from those needing a shot of B12.
    "It's a sad trend. Sadly, we're dealing with it in Sweden," said Helen Alfredsson, who has more than $5.5 million in career earnings, since she joined the LPGA in 1992. "It's a good thing when you do more with the game on all levels, even if it spans from 5 years old to over 50."

    The U.S. Senior Women's Open at Chicago Golf Club rewards - finally - women have contributed much to the game of golf. The tournament also comes as a reward to a group of women who have given so much to the game.
    "We still love the game and want to be able to continue to play; we all do, but it's hard when  you don't have tournaments to play to stay competitive," Alfredsson said. "You realize how much you miss, and sometimes not miss the emotions, the adrenaline, the stomach pits, the feeling when you do something good, the pressure the things that are hard to find anywhere else."
    A total of 15 golfers in the 120-player field are U.S. Women's  Open winners, six won the U.S. Women's Amateur, five won the U.S. Junior Girls title, three are past U.S. Women's Mid-Amateur winners, two won the U.S. Senior Women's Amateur and eight have experience on past Curtis Cup teams.
    Some haven't picked up a club, at least competitively, for a long time.
    "Fortunately, I didn't have to qualify," said Merten, who automatically qualified on the strength of her win in the 1993 U.S. Women's Open. "That was key to signing up for this event,. I don't know that I would have come out of retirement for that. 
    "It's fun to see these people. We have to take our sunglasses off so everybody knows who we are. Most everybody looks the same; we're just a little more sore and a little older."

  • John Anderson, right, and 2017 TurfNet Technician of the Year Tony Nunes take a break during preparations for the inaugural U.S. Senior Women's Open at Chicago Golf Club. Photos by John Reitman Four decades in the same industry provides quite an opportunity for a lifetime of learning. For John Anderson, four decades is not enough.
    "I have a bachelor's degree in forestry and ornamental horticulture, and a master's in agronomy," Anderson said. "All those years ago, I decided what I wanted to do, and I'm still learning today. That's what makes it fun."
    At age 58, Anderson is reinventing himself, and he's having a ball doing it.
    A former superintendent with nearly 30 years of industry sales experience, Anderson, started in March at historic Chicago Golf Club as a laborer, but not just any laborer. 
    Since Day 1, he has been in charge of all logistics for the three dozen or so volunteers on hand to help superintendent Scott Bordner and his team prep the Charles Blair Macdonald classic for the inaugural U.S. Senior Women's Open.
    That job has included securing housing, transportation and meals for a group comprised in large part by former employees who have since moved on to other courses to further their respective careers.
    Whether it's mowing fairways one day or making last-minute lodging arrangements the next because the hotel he has worked with for months suddenly is overbooked the week of the tournament, Anderson jumps in without question wherever Bordner needs him, even if it means making an ice cream run for volunteers and crew.
    "I am relearning everything," he said. "I call it the re-education of a seasoned veteran.
    "I've stopped thinking about anything I used to do, and now I concentrate on watching, listening and seeing how Scott wants it done."
    Anderson has thought long and hard about this stage of his career, and has broken it down into three phases: deprogramming everything previously learned, retraining and learning new information and implementing what he's learned.
    "Everything has changed since I first go into the business," he said. "Scott said I needed a title, so I'm calling myself a laborer in training." 

    One of John Anderson's biggest jobs so far at Chicago Golf Club has been planning and coordinating meals, lodging and transportation for dozens of volunteers for the inaugural U.S. Senior Women's Open. A native of Joliet and a graduate of the University of Illinois, where he earned bachelor's and master's degrees under Al Turgeon, Ph.D.,  Anderson was a superintendent for eight years in the 1980s before spending 28 years in sales for companies such as Scotts, Clesen Pro Turf and multiple iterations of what is now J.R. Simplot.
    He thought his days on the golf course were over until the operator of nine-hole Frankfort Commons begged him last year to be their superintendent.
    "It was fun getting my hands dirty," Anderson said. "It was me and two laborers. I had a ball managing the whole thing, but it was two hours of drive time down and back. I didn't want to do that."
    Anderson knew he still had a lot to offer the business. He had the experience and the desire, two things even Al Turgeon can't teach. After years in sales, he also had contacts; lots and lots of contacts.
    As the 2017 playing season in Chicago began to wind down, he called on many of those contacts, but this time the product he was selling was not a pesticide or fungicide, it was his experience.
    "I sent out an email to 100 to 120 or so supe's in Chicago I know and asked if anyone near Naperville was looking for a laborer only to let me know," he said.
    He had a reply less than an hour later.
    "I asked him if he wanted to do something fun," Bordner said. "We have this tournament coming up. Do you want to be part of it?
    "We were building a pole barn and working on a wetlands project, and I was spending a lot of time with the county. It was all taking a lot more time than I thought it would, and I needed someone to handle the logistics when you are hosting a golf tournament."
    That included setting up lodging accommodations, meals and transportation and getting color-coordinated shirts for volunteers and crew for tournament week. It also meant calling upon industry partners to help cover the cost of all of that.
    "John stepped right in and took over," Bordner said. "He knows all the vendors you need to make this happen, and he knows all the proper recognition to give them. We couldn't have hosted this many people without his help."
    With that much industry experience under Anderson's belt, it would be understandable, if not expected, for him to come aboard at Chicago GC with a certain level of ego. 
    "I envisioned him coming in and mentoring the assistants and the interns," Bordner said. 
    Instead, Anderson sees himself as just another spoke in the wheel. After all, the job is much different now than when he was superintendent in the 1980s at Woodmar Country Club in Hammond, Indiana.
    "Everything's changed. We never walk-mowed greens then. We used a triplex," he said. "Now, everyone is topdressing with straight sand. Then, we used an 80-20 mix and only did it after aerification. Then, we turned water on every night. Now, we do it only when needed and most of it is by hand.
    "The whole mindset of how to manage a golf course has changed. I had the background by I had to start over."
    That meant using his ears a lot more than his mouth.
    "When I started here, I said to myself 'don't say you know how to do anything.' " he said. "If someone asks me if I can mow greens, my answer is 'I'm sure I can, but why don't you walk me through how you want them done.'
    "I can run any piece of equipment here. That's not the issue. What I don't want is to just go out and do things the way I know how. I'm trying to learn how they want it done."
  • Each year since 2002, the TurfNet Superintendent's Best Friend Calendar has showcased 14 golf course dogs and their tireless contributions to golf courses across the country and around the world.   It is that time of year to once again nominate your canine friend for a place in the next TurfNet Superintendent's Best Friend Calendar, presented for 2019 by Syngenta.   Some tips to improve your chances of winning:   > Shoot at your camera's highest resolution setting. > Images should be taken in a horizontal format; we can't use vertical photos. > Get down to the dog's level; don't shoot down at them from a standing position. > Fill the frame with the dog as much as possible, but try not to center your dog in the frame. Left or right orientation often can result in a more dramatic photograph. > Avoid clutter and distracting backgrounds. > If your dog is on a leash, take it off for the photo. > A scenic course background is fine as long as the dog is featured prominently. > All dogs must belong to the course or to a course employee and spends significant time there. Submit your best photo; multiple entries are discouraged.   A panel of judges will select the 14 dogs for the calendar, including the cover and December 2018. To nominate your dog, click on the online submission form and be sure to include the dog's name, age and breed; photographer's name; owner's name, phone number, email address; and the name and location of the golf course where the dog and its owner work. Deadline for nominations is July 31.
  • Terry Libbert (formerly) of Old Marsh Golf Club (left) was nominated by current superintendent Tony Nysse (right) and three of his predecessors. Photos by John Reitman Talk about your bittersweet moments.   When Tony Nysse, superintendent at Old Marsh Golf Club, called in Terry Libbert to inform him he had been named a finalist for the TurfNet 2018 Technician of the Year Awards, presented by Toro, the longtime mechanic at the club in Palm Beach Gardens was coming in anyway.   Libbert, who was hired more than 18 years ago at this 1987 Pete Dye design, was giving his notice after accepting a job as equipment manager at Michael Jordan's Grove XXIII that is being built 10 miles up U.S. 1 in Hobe Sound.   "It was a bittersweet moment," Libbert said. "I was grateful for the recognition, but it was 'oops, I'm on my way out the door.' "   Even a change of jobs was not enough to sway TurfNet's panel of judges who named Libbert the winner of this year's Golden Wrench Award.   Other finalists for the award were Dave Stofanak of Saucon Valley Country Club in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and Bob Fedge of The Connecticut Golf Club in Easton.   As the winner, Libbert receives the Golden Wrench Award and a spot in next year's Toro Service Training University at the company's headquarters in Bloomington, Minnesota, courtesy of Hector Turf, the local Toro distributor based in Deerfield Beach.   Criteria on which candidates are judged include: 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.   Previous winners include (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.   Terry Libbert maintained Old Marsh's equipment for more than 18 years.
    In 18 years, Libbert had mastered all of those traits. He was nominated not only by Nysse, but by the three other superintendents he has outlasted at Old Marsh, including Jim Colo, now at Naples National, Al Clements of Pablo Creek in Jacksonville, and Jupiter Hills's Steve Ehrbar, who hired him.   "To find out every superintendent who had been here, including Tony and all the predecessors all wanted to get in on that was really uplifting," Libbert said. "I had always felt that they respected what I'd done as their mechanic. But that they were interested in participating (in the nomination process) was uplifting."   He is a master at maintaining sharp reels, preventive maintenance and fabricating tools to fit specific needs.   When the course was renovated two years ago, Nysse needed groomers for Old Marsh's TifEagle greens, and once he and Nysse nailed down the exact specifications that were needed, Libbert built a custom set of brushes for all the walkmowers within a matter of days.   "We have stiff brooms and softer-bristle brooms," Nysse said. "He saved us a few thousand dollars right there."   During Libbert's time at Old Marsh, it changed hands from an owner to a member-owned club, but Libbert who outlasted so much, always was more than just a hired hand.   "As long as he's worked here is kind of unheard of," Nysse said.   "The respect he's earned by management, HR, members, colleagues and former superintendents is unique. They don't look at him as a guy who fixes stuff. The members know him by name, and they value him as a person. That's cool for an equipment tech to be looked at that way. He will be missed."   As for Michael Jordan and his nearby project?   "They're getting a heckuva tech who is much more than a technician," Nysse said. "They're getting a really good person."
  • Chalk one up in the win column for turf management professionals and responsible integrated pest management programs.   In response to pleas by concerned parents to ban a handful of pesticides used to control weeds on school grounds, athletic fields and parks, an Oregon school district sided with its IPM program and the university data used to develop it.   The West Linn-Wilsonville School District, in the face of stiff objections by parents, decided during a June 11 school board meeting against banning the use glyphosate, dicamba and 2, 4-D.   Tim Woodley, director of operations for the school board, told parents that the district developed its IPM program based on a list of low-impact pesticides, which includes herbicides for weeds and insecticides for insect pests.    Parents advocating for a ban of these pesticides spoke in favor of alternative pest-control methods that include live-trapping rodents, relocating hives, hand-pulling weeds and using steam weeding machines. Organic pesticides only are to be used as a last resort, according to that plan.   Woodley told parents and an advocacy group known as Non Toxic Wilsonville, that the district's goal is minimal use of pesticides and that the university's list of approved chemistries helped the district develop an IPM program that is appropriate for schools. The district says it has reduced synthetic pesticide use by more than 80 percent since adopting its current IPM strategy.    Non Toxic Wilsonville made similar requests to Wilsonville City Council during a council meeting June 4. But Wilsonville City Manager Bryan Cosgrove said the city also uses minimal amounts of pesticides in its parks and natural areas. You might or might not recall that former golf course superintendent and OSU research assistant Tod Blankenship, CGCS, is the parks supervisor for the City of Wilsonville.    That IPM program includes more than just what to apply. It includes when to apply it. For example, the plan prohibits spraying in windy conditions (5 mph or more).   Although the district has sided with science, the battle is far from over. Parents and those representing Non Toxic Wilsonville who are concerned with exposing children to potential carcinogens, vow to keep up the fight.
  • Millennials aren't playing golf. Neither are minorities. And women are leaving the game in droves.
      Nothing is absolute, but these are some generalities we've learned to rely on in the past dozen years since golf course closings began to outnumber openings on a regular basis. 2006 marked the first time since the World War II era that more golf courses closed than opened. Since then, there has been a net reduction of about 1,300 18-hole equivalents.   Ask anyone in golf what they want most and the answers are pretty standard: more golfers and more rounds.   But is your concern founded?   Data show that some types of golf courses are more likely than others to become an industry statistics.   Rounds played in 2017 dropped from 460.8 million in 2016 to 447.4 million. Rounds have dropped steadily since 2000, when the game's all-time high mark was 518.4 million rounds played.    Leading up to the drop in rounds played is a slow leak in the number of golfers. The number of players in the market dropped by 150,000 in 2016 to about 21 million, the latest figures available.   In the early 1960s, there were 5,600 golf courses nationwide, and that number swelled to nearly 8,500 by 1970. In those days, there were only about 900 golfers per course. Today, there are about 13,500 golf courses with 1,300 players per course.   It's clear that something has to give. But what? Or, more accurately, who?   According to Stuart Lindsay of Edgehill Consulting, only 2 percent of member-equity clubs have closed since the wheels fell off the golf industry cart in 2006. Military golf course have had it worse - much worse - with 17 percent of the government's golf portfolio closing their doors in the past dozen years. In the middle were municipal (7 percent have closed) and privately owned facilities (14 percent), according to Lindsay.   Men comprise the largest single demographic, with 15.4 million players, and their numbers increased by a modest 1.6 percent in 2016. Women, on the other hand, make up just 26 percent of the golf market. And although they are an audience many golf course operators are trying to woo, they left the game in 2016 at a rate of 6.6 percent, more than offsetting any gains made by men.   Juniors and millennials are dropping out in huge numbers. In 2016, the number of juniors playing golf dropped by 9 percent, while those aged 18-34 were down by 4.5 percent.   Baby boomers, particularly male baby boomers, continue to be the game's bread and butter, a trend that eventually will reverse for a generation in decline. Millennials overtook baby boomers as the country's largest generation in 2015. As the baby boomer generation's numbers continue to decline, they will be surpassed by Generation X in about another decade.   He suggests that unless millennials and those at the upper end of Generation X miraculously start to pick up the game, the pressure will intensify for privately owned facilities, municipal course and military facilities. And what about the future for private, member-equity clubs?   It's a slow leak, but it's a leak nonetheless.
  • Two years removed since making one of the biggest decisions of his life, Bryan Bergner is more content than ever.

    In 2016, Bergner left his job as head superintendent at Westmoor Country Club in Milwaukee, trading his role on the golf course for that of a stay-at-home father so his wife could focus on her law career."

    "It's not something I planned for," Bergner said. "But it's the best decision I've ever made."

    In the years leading up to that decision, Bergner and wife Danielle were focused on their respective careers, he as head superintendent at Westmoor and Danielle as one of Milwaukee's up-and-coming commercial real estate attorneys.

    That combination left little time for anything else.
      "I would leave for work at 3 or 4 in the morning and be home at 2-ish. My wife would leave at 8 in the morning and not get home until 8 or 9 at night," said Bergner, now 46. "We were two ships passing, and our son was in the middle of it.   "Miles was just a couple of years old in September 2011 when I took over for a man who had been superintendent at Westmoor for 37 years. I felt like I had to show myself off those first two years and put my mark on Westmoor. I worked all the time, and that caused a rift in the family dynamic.   "I had been trying to be a superintendent for so long. It was all about me. My job was the most important thing to me."   Things had gotten so bad that the Bergners had separated and a divorce was looming.   "We were incredibly close to signing those papers," he said.    "I had moved out into a rental property we have at the beginning of the golf season. Our son was young enough that he didn't pick up on what was happening. I wouldn't wish that upon anybody. It was pure hell."   By many accounts, Danielle Bergner is one of Milwaukee's top commercial real estate attorneys. She is a managing partner at Michael Best & Friederich.   In May, she was named one of Milwaukee's Women of Influence by the Milwaukee Business Journal, and last year, she was recognized as an advocate and volunteer for change with a Philanthropic Five Award by the United Way.   Obviously, her career was not going to change.   "There was no way it was going to be my wife stepping away from her career," Bergner said. "I was paid well, but I wasn't going anywhere. She, on the other hand, had a tremendous amount of upward mobility."   Being a stay-at-home parent allows Bergner to focus on couple's son. That includes driving to and from school each day, volunteering for school activities, coaching Miles' basketball team and providing the security that comes with knowing a member of the nuclear family is raising their 8-year-old.   "I volunteer for recess and lunch duty three times a week and volunteer at school functions," he said. "Before, there was no way in hell I could do that. I'm using the same intensity I had at the golf course and using it at school now."  
    I wouldn't wish that upon anybody. It was pure hell."
     
    The move also helped his wife in her career.   "Because of her position, she needed the reins off so she could make more connections. I was holding her back," he said.    "As soon as I stepped away, I was able to take care of everything. Her stress level dropped and her career has really taken off."   The time away from Westmoor has provided ample opportunity for self-reflection. He was a member of the search committee that hired his replacement - eventually settling on his assistant, Patrick Reuteman.   During Bergner's tenure there, the course installed new irrigation, a new pump station and all new greens.   "I had everything. I was at the peak of my career, but I was selfish," he said.   "I utilized every bit of technology to help me be away, but mentally I couldn't do it. I went to yoga four times a week, and it didn't help.   "I had a great crew, and looking back I should have trusted them more. They're all still there. I could have left for a month, and they wouldn't have missed a beat. I expected them to know what I was thinking. I expected them to be an extension of me. That's not how anyone works. Patrick has a better handle on that."   Will he ever return to the golf course?   "I get that a lot," Bergner said. "I had everything there. I don't think I'd ever want to claw my way back up.    "I was just out there the other day. Everything looks great, but when I was leaving, I said to myself, "geez, I'm glad I don't have to be here every day."
  • As a branch off the Dick Gray tree of personnel management, John Cunningham recognizes the importance of an engaged and inspired team of employees.    He knew it as a superintendent at Martin Downs and Black Diamond Ranch, both in Florida, the Four Seasons in Irving, Texas and Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis where he eventually was both head greenkeeper and assistant general manager. As the general manager at Aronimink Golf Club near Philadelphia, Cunningham spends more time than ever trying to attract quality employees and trying to keep it.   "People are interested in learning and getting better. I have to put my superintendent hat on for a minute. I go to classes and learn there. It's no different in the role I am in now," Cunningham said. "A lot of what we do is leadership, mentoring and coaching.   "The selection process is unbelievably important."   As a former superintendent, Cunningham knows full well how difficult it is to attract and retain employees. Americans don't want to do the work, and it is increasingly difficult to get seasonal help from the guest worker pool. His managers throughout the rest of the operation experience similar challenges.   "It's here, it's there, it's everywhere: bag drop, porter, valet, golf operations," he said. "Try finding someone who can park luxury vehicles at night. How do you find that one?"   Cunningham also knows how important it is to stay in constant communication with staff and members. Addressing expectations and providing performance-based feedback feeds employees, and keeping members updated on course conditions and projects helps keep golfers happy.   As Aronimink's GM, he still keeps in touch with members, and most of his messages once aimed at assistant superintendents and hourly employees now are targeted toward his management team.   "What if we're getting 70 percent out of our team? What if we can get 85 percent? How do we do that?" Cunningham said.   "On the golf course, superintendents are good at writing standards to maximize member experience, which is what we are always preaching. Member experience is why we are all here."   Some of the recent communiques Cunningham has shared with his staff include "Create a growth culture, not a performance-obsessed one" and "How to stay ahead of customer expectations in the club industry".   According to the latter, high standards must be teachable, domain specific, recognizable and realistic.   For a growth culture to take hold, a workplace must be safe, must foster learning and experimenting and provide feedback.   "You have to nurture and take care of them. How do you do that and push them to be better? Too much challenge without reassurance overwhelms us. Too little challenge and too much time in their comfort zone, then there is no growth," Cunningham said. "That's the delicate balance.   "Surveys show money is not the No. 1 motivating factor for employees. It's up there, but it's not No. 1. If someone trusts you, you can challenge them and they'll respond. If they don't trust you, it's going to be tough for you to challenge them."  
  • When Scott Yates took over as director of operations at West Orange Country Club more than a decade ago, he faced an impossible task.   Thanks to a falling out between construction and club officials during a greens renovation project, work on the putting surfaces was never completed. Every green on the golf course was surrounded by a trench that captured water and prevented golfers from running their ball up to the cup.   "It was the craziest thing I'd ever seen. You had to chip the ball over that trench," Yates said. "And they wanted me to sell private club memberships with that."   That's when Yates reconnected with a friend from his childhood who also had spent most of his life in the golf business.   In more than three decades in the golf business, Mark Sauger has done just about everything: aspiring tour pro, superintendent, instructor, golf course builder and shaper.   "There's not a job in the golf industry that I have not done at one time or another," said Sauger, 48.     The son of golf pro and course owner Regis Sauger, Mark Sauger has won numerous amateur tournaments in his native Michigan. He has been driving a tractor and moving dirt on golf courses since he was a teenager and has construction experience on more than a dozen courses in at least five states. Shaping the terrain, fixing the mistakes of others and consulting on ways to save and redirect resources is his passion, and he's pretty good at it, Yates said.   "He stripped off the turf, filled in the material and blended it in to where you couldn't tell the difference," Yates said. "He was a magician on that tractor. He saved our greens.    "It's one thing to build a green. It's another to fix someone else's mistake and make it look like it never happened."   Sauger's eye for design work is only part of the niche he is trying to carve out in the golf business. He also consults financially distressed courses. The entirety of his passion is to help owners and operators make the most of their investment.     "The last 10 years or so, I've seen the industry take a huge hit," Sauger said. "Courses usually close for one of two reasons, they were built to sell real estate and they've been mismanaged, or the owners or management companies are overwhelmed.   "I try to help them find what options they have to keep the doors open, even if it's for a future buyer."   Often, he said, courses have underperforming assets that can be sold to help infuse cash into the operation.   Sauger says his wide breadth of experience in the industry is unique.   "I'm trying to offer the industry something different," Sauger said. "I'm not just a shaper. I'm one of few who has been a shaper and a golf pro. When I create something, I'm thinking of mowing and playing it. It's not just a piece of dirt."   Yates, now at Big Cypress Golf Club in Lakeland, Florida, is a believer.   Three years after fixing the greens at West Orange, Sauger returned to build a new practice green.   "His creativity in moving dirt and understanding of drainage and what it takes to build a green; he's a genius," said Yates. "A hump here, a hump there; he did an awesome job."  
  • So, you implemented your PGR program this year like every other year, but you got annual bluegrass seed head production anyway.   Don't worry. You're not alone and there's nothing wrong with your chemistry. Chances are, say researchers at Michigan State, your timing probably was off.   Efforts to suppress seedheads at the Hancock Turfgrass Research Center in East Lansing were  unsuccessful and, according to reports, superintendents at golf courses throughout Michigan also struggled this year, according to Kevin Frank, Ph.D., associate professor at MSU, and research assistant Aaron Hathaway.   Researchers at MSU applied different combinations of plant growth regulators using the Proxy/Primo GDD timer within the application window of March 30-May 1 based on 200 and 500 GDDs base 32 degrees Fahrenheit, available at GDD Tracker.   First applications were made April 25. The result was some seedhead suppression, however, more than 10 percent of the surface area was covered with seedheads. They waited for the end of the application window because the long, cold spring delayed mowing until late April.   Many in Michigan experienced the same process by waiting for growth before making the first application. In 2017, the application window using the same GDD model ended April 10.   It's difficult to know exactly why many seedhead suppression efforts failed this year. However, here are a few thoughts.   Seedhead production in annual bluegrass can be affected by many factors. MSU researchers use a GDD model that only accounts for the accumulation of heat units. There may be other climatic factors that affect the timing of peak seedhead flush that aren't being measured. Likewise, annual bluegrass is biologically diverse, so seedhead production can vary greatly.   Some research suggests that a PGR application must be timed before a seedhead emerges from the plant. The model is designed to signal application timing before emergence. Seedheads may emerge and not be easily viewed without some hands-on investigation of plants, so investigate. Look closely for emergence in south-facing slopes or other areas that might heat up faster than others. These observations can help fine-tune your application even within the window given by GDD models. In the end, apply early rather than late. Once seedhead emergence begins, it is too late.   Start Proxy plus Primo applications in late fall. If you are spending the time and money in spring to control seedheads, the researchers said, add a fall-timed application for a little insurance. These applications followed by GDD-timed Proxy plus Primo applications in spring have proven to consistently provide better seedhead suppression than spring applications alone.  
  • Reality TV has nothing on the golf business.   When Brooks Koepka walked off the 18th green Sunday, he brought the unnecessary drama at the 118th U.S. Open to a merciful end. So what if Tony Finau and Daniel Berger were still on the course? The book closed on this year's Open the moment Finau's tee shot on No. 18 went astray.   For the record, I have no problem with the way Shinnecock Hills played. You play the course that lays out before you. That's the nature of golf, whether you're putting for $5 or $1 million.   The issue here is conflicting messaging at every turn surrounding this year's Open and the failure of the USGA to consistently recognize the greatest asset at its disposal during its biggest event of the year - the golf course superintendent.   From off-color greens, to tricky pin placements, to a boorish and tiresome New York gallery to one of the game's biggest names making a mockery of the rules for his own benefit - and the chatter that accompanied each - the end to this sideshow, that at times was more like something on TruTV than Fox Sports, couldn't come soon enough.   We have come to accept certain things about professional tour golf, especially USGA championships, namely lightning-fast putting conditions in which greens sometimes are pushed to the brink of failure and really long grass off the fairways.    Was it necessary to push Shinnecock's putting surfaces to the point where calling them "greens" was a misnomer? Regardless of your feelings on how Shinnecock's putting surfaces played, they looked awful and that fed into what the media wanted - a controversial storyline that dominated the weekend.   It's hard not to empathize with Shinnecock's members, as well as superintendent Jon Jennings and his crew, all of whom have invested a tremendous amount of blood, sweat, tears, time and money into preparing for this event, only to have the USGA foul it up. They turned over a perfect golf course to the USGA, which turned around and gave the world what looked on HDTV to be the second coming of the 2004 U.S. Open, when then-superintendent Mark Michaud's team was dragging hoses between Sunday pairings to keep the greens alive.   Shame on the USGA for again wresting control away from a great superintendent, and pretending to know more than the man who eats, sleeps and lives conditions at Shinnecock 365 days a year and proving that you don't by creating a needless subplot about course conditions during the biggest event on your calendar.    What a joke.   The Golf Channel's Brad Klein was on site all week, and said repeatedly that course conditions held up despite how they looked on television. Klein has built a golf course, consulted on others and knows more about golf course architecture than most, so his word is good enough for us.   Not everyone who spent the week at Shinnecock felt the same way.   After Sunday's final round, the Golf Channel's Rich Lerner called Saturday's proceedings "an embarrassment," and Zach Johnson went on record Saturday saying the USGA had "lost" the golf course, Ian Poulter tweeted that perhaps Bozo the Clown was responsible for set-up and the Washington Post called the tournament "carnival golf."   Spanish tour pro Rafael Cabrera-Bello tweeted "... it was not a fair test of golf. Greens were unplayable, with unnecessary pin positions. @USGA found a way to make us look like fools on the course. A pity they manage to destroy a beautiful golf course."   In other words, the narrative on course conditioning at the highest level is being driven by those who have plenty of opinions, but lack expertise in the field. That's not good for the USGA, it's not good for Jennings and it's not good for you.   There is no question some of the pin placements were so close to the edge of Shinnecock's massive greens that they looked more like something from a superintendent's revenge tournament, prompting Phil Mickelson to take a whack at a moving ball on No. 13 on Saturday rather than face the prospect of playing it from the bottom of the hill.       Add in the controversy-driven media, an all-too-willing accomplice despite their absence of knowledge on the subject, and the feeding frenzy was on.   Even David Fay, the former USGA executive director, was on TV saying the course had been taken too far. He went on to say the real problem is that current demands require superintendents to cut greens too short all the time, not just for tournament golf. Other than what aired on The History Channel, those were the only words uttered on TV all weekend that made sense and should be captured for a spot in the next GCSAA marketing piece.   The USGA's Mike Davis finally conceded Saturday that pin placements, coupled with green speed and unexpected afternoon wind resulted in unfair conditions on some holes.   The result is a trickle down that could affect golf course superintendents everywhere.   The reality is it didn't have to be this way. The smart money says that if the USGA tells Jennings, or any other number of superintendents for that matter, what they want, odds are pretty good he's going to deliver it while providing a fair test of golf and without the circus-like atmosphere that seems to follow the USGA.    For decades, the industry has struggled to swim upstream against the Augusta Syndrome. On one hand, we have researchers, consultants and agronomists promoting the importance of sustainability, conservation of resources and acceptance of dry conditions that once in a while might include shades of brown. On the other we have the media and professional golfers who whine every time they don't get pristine conditions and lush green color.   They did it at Shinnecock and they did it at this year's U.S. Women's Open at Shoal Creek.   The game needs a consistent message. Either a little brown is OK, or it's not, and the pro circuit has to recognize how it drives public opinion about the game.   Frank Nobilo said on the Golf Channel on Sunday that the game was at a crossroads, and it's time to make a decision on what is most important, defend par by "tricking up" the golf course, accept high scoring every week or throttle back equipment. David Duval suggested the USGA consult with the PGA Tour on how to develop consistency from Thursday morning through Sunday afternoon.    I've yet to hear anyone suggest consulting the superintendent who works there all the time and produces consistency year-round - until the USGA comes to town.    How does a superintendent stand a chance when he's not even part of the conversation?
  • Call it a bunker renovation on steroids.   That bunker project eventually transformed into a restoration of four Ross holes lost over time to previous renovation projects, reworking all the bunkers on the course, adding new tees and reclaiming the former glory of this Donald Ross classic in Toledo, Ohio, that has been the site of four U.S. Opens and two PGA Championships.   The foundation for this groundbreaking trip back in time was laid more than two years ago when architect Andrew Green walked the course with then-superintendent Chad Mark and members of the club as they conducted their due diligence in the search for an architect to draft a master plan.   On their own, those newer holes were fine - if they had been part of a golf course built in the 1970s, but they didn't fit in a 1916 design.   "It started as a bunker project. I could tell it had been worked on previously. I was blown away by Ross's use of the ground, but the newer holes stood out as different from the rest of the course," Green said. "The fine fescue faces, the wind, it just wasn't a good place for wispy fescue. It was a problem for maintenance and playability, lost balls, pace of play. They needed something to reinvigorate the place."   Changes to reclaim the glory days of Ross included reworking Nos. 2, 4, 5 and 8. The first is a replica of the second hold at Inverness that Ross built in 1916, while 4 is a recreation of the original No. 7, 5 is a replica of the original No. 13 and No. 8 is patterned after the original 6th hole, according to Green.   "I really respect Ross's work," Green said. "In all my time doing this, and that's about 20 years, you hear numerous things about the courses he did. Did he really do this or that, or was it just a whistlestop tour and they just call it a Ross course?    "The places like Inverness where you know he was on the ground and spent time, he did a marvelous job. He was a genius at fitting holes into the ground he had and being creative to build good golf holes. He had a great eye for utilizing the ground. Each piece of ground was utilized in unique ways, and there was a tremendous amount of variety in his designs.   "All the old guys were good. They didn't need a bulldozer to bail them out."   Green's plan included expanding the course onto some available land, so even though the layout isn't exactly the way Ross drew it up 102 years ago, it keeps alive his intent while also stretching the course to more than 7,500 yards to keep relevant in today's game. It also put the course, that will host the U.S. Junior Amateur in 2019 and the Solheim Cup in 2021, back in the spotlight.   If there is anyone who knows about preparing for and staging big events, it's Inverness superintendent John Zimmers, who came to the Toledo classic last April after nearly two decades at Oakmont Country Club near Pittsburgh.     Although getting back on the radar screen for big events is nice, it was not the intent of the renovation work, says Zimmers, who took over when Mark left last year for Muirfield Village in Dublin, Ohio.   "More than anything, this really is about everyday member play," Zimmers said. "We want them to have something they can be proud of."   While Inverness has a bright future, it also has a proud past.   Inverness is where Brit Ted Ray, in 1920, became the oldest U.S. Open champion at age 43, and it's where Billy Burke needed 72 playoff holes to beat George Von Elm by a single stroke in the 1931 championship. A grandfather clock in the clubhouse was gifted to the club's members in 1920 from U.S. Open participants as a display of gratitude for allowing them to use the clubhouse, which, until then was not permitted.   That is the era Green wanted to recapture.   "I play a lot of dirt golf and hit shots during different segments of construction to see what makes sense," Green said. "I used things that in my best guess Ross would have used in making the course come to life.   "I'm my own harshest critic. I want the golfer to step back into the same feel of the 1920 and 1931 U.S. Open. I think we did that. We created some variety around the greens and through the rest of the course. That's what we focused on. The natural flow and rhythm is back to where it should be."
  • It's hard to think about winter the same week the world's best golfers are competing in the U.S. Open - unless you're a superintendent growing Bermudagrass in the transition zone, then there are reminders all over the place.   There were visible blemishes aplenty at TPC Southwind in Memphis for the FedEx St. Jude Classic and at the U.S. Women's Open at Shoal Creek in Alabama, and, now that the high spring season is over in the Myrtle Beach area, nearly a dozen courses on the Grand Strand are temporarily closed while superintendents there make repairs to their greens.   The long, cold winter of 2017-18 has adversely affected countless golf courses growing Bermudagrass in the transition zone. Just a few months ago, Clemson turf pathologist Bruce Martin, Ph.D., called the winter damage throughout South Carolina the worst he'd seen in more than two decades.   In April, he estimated that 20 to 30 percent of the golf courses in Myrtle Beach had some level of damage on their putting greens, but that it would be two or three months before the full extent of the damage was known.   Today, we know.   According to The Sun News in Myrtle Beach, at least 11 courses in the area are closed, were closed or soon will be for repairs. That list, according to the newspaper, includes Glen Dornoch Waterway Links, the Tradition Club, Myrtlewood Golf Club, Indigo Creek Golf Club, the International Club, Diamondback Golf Club, Panther Run Golf Links, Long Bay Club, Lion's Paw Golf Links, Aberdeen Country Club and Sandpiper Bay Golf and Country Club.   Making matters worse has been a long, cool spring that delayed Bermuda-growing weather, Martin said.   There is enough damage at some other courses that the list of closed courses might grow.   The trials and tribulations of others would be wasted if they didn't serve as a learning opportunity for others.   Recent research at the University of Arkansas shed some light on the use of covers on ultradwarf Bermudagrass greens.   While covering greens protects them from cold weather damage, it also prevents play and requires more manpower to deploy and remove, adding to the course's operating costs.   Master's candidate Eric DeBoer looked into the effects of covers on Champion, TifEagle and MiniVerde greens at 25 degrees, 22 degrees, 18 degrees and 15 degrees Fahrenheit. According to the study, TifEagle and MiniVerde were more cold tolerant than Champion.   According to the study, Bermudagrass greens covered when temperatures reached 15 degrees survived throughout the winter with improved spring green up. Covered greens even survived two days of extreme cold temperatures where overnight lows dropped to 0 degrees on consecutive nights.   According to Martin, courses that used two layers of protection, such as a cover placed atop a blanket of pine straw that promotes airflow, came through the winter better than those with a single layer of cover.  
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