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From the TurfNet NewsDesk

  • John Reitman
    Golf remained on its record-setting pace of popularity in September as people who have been stuck inside and at home continued to seek opportunities to get outside.
    As summer came to an end, year-to-year rounds-played increased by nearly 26 percent in September, a figure that equates to some 12 million rounds, marking the largest monthly gains of the year compared to 2019. 
    September also marked the fifth consecutive month of increased rounds play and the third in which play was up in all 48 contiguous states, according to a monthly report from Golf Datatech. In fact, every state in the lower 48 experienced double-digit gains.
    The year got off to a quick start with gains of 11 percent in January and 19 percent in February, then dropped in the early days of the pandemic with monthly losses year-to-year of 8 percent in March and 42 percent in April. That was followed by five consecutive months of gains peaking in September with increases of 25.5 percent.
    With play up in seven of nine months so far in 2020, year-to-date rounds played were up by 8.7 percent.
    Last month, Jim Koppenhaver tempered the good news about golf’s newfound popularity in 2020 with some realism, raising the question of whether the increase in rounds play will be enough to offset losses elsewhere throughout the operation - namely food and beverage and outings. 
    He suggested gains of 11 percent might help offset those losses, and with gains of nearly 9 percent in the books through September and favorable weather throughout much of the country already through October, picking up another couple of percentage points isn’t unreasonable, especially since September doubled industry projections.
    Monthly gains in play ranged from 10 percent in Alabama to 46 percent in Minnesota. The only state where play was down was Hawaii (40 percent), which is under strict Covid travel restrictions. The report does not measure play in Alaska.
  • Equipment was idle a little more than usual during the early days of the pandemic at Lochnivar Golf Club in Houston. Photo from Kevin Cooper via Twitter No one can ever accuse Ross Miller of not being prepared.
    With a global health crisis generating more questions than answers about the future, Miller and his team at the Country Club of Detroit have been ready since the early days of the pandemic.
    He has structured the make-up of his crew and the times they work to minimize the spread and ensure the chain of command remains intact by keeping managers apart from each other physically. All while they are able to provide members with the conditions they expect at a 1912 Harry S. Colt design in Grosse Pointe Farms.
    "Our biggest challenge has been maximizing employee safety, while also optimizing productivity and still focusing on maintaining a championship venue," Miller said. "The Country Club of Detroit is focused on these items through a multi-pronged attack."
    That plan included developing contingencies in the event anyone on Miller's management team contracts the virus. 
    Managing labor issues during the virus has been a challenge for many turf managers.
    "Our biggest challenge over the past seven months has mainly been labor fluctuations," said Kevin Cooper, superintendent at Lochnivar Golf Club in Houston. "In the beginning of Covid, we adjusted our working crews and crew communication. Our morning meetings became a rolling start with minimizing large-group contact versus the break room meeting with 20-plus individuals all gathered inside. We now have a crew meeting on Monday outside, or inside the barn area dependent upon weather, to discuss the week ahead, issues, or basic reminders."
    Through the first two months of the pandemic, minimal maintenance was being performed at Lochnivar, and Cooper and his team still playing a bit of catch-up. Managing conditions on the course while working to keep his team safe, Cooper segregated his crew into teams on staggering shifts to minimize unnecessary contact between employees.
    "In the first few months we had minimal labor daily - seven to nine employees - on a rotating basis to make sure if anyone was sick we could quarantine a group, but not impacting maintaining the course," Cooper said. "By May we had brought everyone back on a daily basis, but were designating carts and assignments with restrictions in regards to interactions. Lunch breaks were broken down into groups with designated time allowing minimal individuals in the lunchroom, between groups the area is sanitized."

    Segregating the crew into teams helped minimize the impact of the pandemic at LedgeRock Golf Club in Pennsylvania. Photo from Alan FitzGerald via Twitter At the Country Club of Detroit, Miller's plan includes developing a chain of command in the event Miller, one of his assistants or his equipment manager contract the virus, a work schedule that breaks the crew into teams so as to mitigate the spread of the virus, staggered lunch times, equipping all members of the team with sanitizer spray and daily cleaning and sanitizing of the break room and locker room in the shop.
    Specifically, Miller has created his own bubble of sorts with his crew, splitting them into two teams, with each working 10 hours a day four days a week. One works Sunday through Wednesday and another that works Wednesday through Saturday. 
    As we've learned the past seven months, stopping an invisible foe is easier said than done.
    "We have had one team member test positive, we were able to contact trace within 24 hours, have any possible team members that came in contact with him get tested, and those two were negative," Miller said. "I would say we have been fortunate, but also vigilant. We have not only our team/department to worry about, but also other teams here, as well as our membership's safety as well."
    Alan FitzGerald has had some labor challenges to overcome as well at LedgeRock Golf Club in Mohnton, Pennsylvania.
    "I know this is an issue for everyone. We've done a lot over the last few years to build up our team and have been pretty successful," said Alan FitzGerald, superintendent at LedgeRock Golf Club in Mohnton, Pennsylvania. "I was extremely lucky to get three interns this year, but I had some guys not travel back due to Covid, so we ran four to five people short all year, once we ramped back up to normal."
    Reduced labor, a cool spring that delayed green-up, reduced maintenance and fuel costs have FitzGerald way under budget for the year. How that number might affect next year's budget is a concern.
    "This is more of a possible upcoming challenge. I am currently something like $150,000 under budget year-to-date. They were looking for me to get to that number for the budget this year but it wasn't possible," FitzGerald said. 
    "I have worked out it's indirectly due to Covid. We had a cool spring, so the turf didn't wake up until late, so we didn't need to mow etc., i.e., regular maintenance wasn't needed. Normally with a cool spring we would have the staff back anyway to complete projects, get a bunch of detail work etc. done so with Covid those jobs were not done and we ran with minimal staff for five to six weeks longer than normal. The effect was we weren't using equipment, so fuel costs were down, equipment repair and maintenance was down etc., so when I ran the numbers year-on-year and job-on-job this is where the savings came from. It just might be difficult to explain this come budget time for 2021."
    Cooper has faced similar challenges at Lochnivar after falling behind early in the pandemic season, which coincided with the peak of the Houston golf season.
    "Managing the expectations of the golf course for our clientele has and is still challenging as we did minimal maintenance at the beginning, while reducing most of our routine annual agronomics to minimize financial impact to the club," Cooper said. "We typically do not have Monday closures, but due to the staff issues and reducing our typical agronomic closures we lobbied for closed Mondays through September. We were granted the closure which allowed us to maintain the playing areas at our high standard. However, the extra outlying areas did get reduced maintenance, which we are now spending extra labor on getting those areas into acceptable form now that the turf is slowing down."
    The key to getting through the past several months, Miller said, has been being as prepared (as much as possible, anyway), having a plan and sticking to it.
    "I truly feel bullish on this, how we have delineated things here has been a key part in our success thus far during this challenging season," Miller said. "One of the inherent challenges with this schedule that becomes even more important than normal is communication. Establishing strong standard operating procedures for communication front-to-back and back-to-front have been key in our success."

    Syngenta Turf Market Manager Stephanie Schwenke presents Matt DiMase with the Superintendent of the Year Award.
    The winner will receive an indoor/outdoor surround sound system by Sonos, courtesy of Syngenta.
    With all the challenges facing golf course superintendents this year, Covid, labor issues, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes and golfers, lots and lots of golfers, we fully expect to bursting with nominations for this year's TurfNet Superintendent of the Year Award, presented by Syngenta.
    After all, superintendents always are called on to do things that to others might seem impossible. Take last year's winner, Matt DiMase, for example.
    With Hurricane Dorian bearing down on The Bahamas just last summer, DiMase didn't give much thought to leaving. 
    The superintendent at The Abaco Club on Winding Bay, DiMase could have ridden out the storm with his wife and kids in the safety of the family home in Ocala, Florida.
    But he didn't.
    DiMase rode out the storm, brought the devastated golf course back from the dead and played a key role in a humanitarian effort to help members of the club, his employees and members of his Bahamian community. His selflessness earned him the honor of being named the recipient of the 20th annual TurfNet Superintendent of the Year Award, presented by Syngenta. 
    "For us, this is a job, but for our members, this club is their investment," DiMase said when he received the award at the last Golf Industry Show from Syngenta turf market manager Stephanie Schwenke. "I told my team we can stay and protect their property, or we can abandon ship and who knows what will happen. . . . I didn't want to leave. I wanted to stay because of the people."
    Nominations for DiMase's successor are now being accepted. Although it's hard to imagine anyone going through a more trying experience than what DiMase faced in 2019, there has been much about 2020 that has been hard to believe.
    A panel of judges will select five finalists and ultimately the winner from the list of nominees. In a year that will be defined by a global crisis and one in which people starved for outdoor recreation have flocked to courses around the country, the nominations should be plentiful.
    Criteria on which nominees are judged include: labor management, maximizing budget limitations, educating and advancing the careers of colleagues and assistants, negotiating with government agencies, preparing for tournaments under unusual circumstances, service to golf clientele, upgrading or renovating the course and dealing with extreme or emergency conditions.
    CLICK HERE to submit a nomination. Deadline for nominations is Dec. 1. Typically, the winner receives two slots on the annual TurfNet members golf trip, but with the trip on hold due to the pandemic, this year's winner will receive a Sonos Cinematic Surround Sound Audio System and Weatherproof Outdoor Sound System courtesy of Syngenta.
    You can nominate a colleague, supervisor, employee or heck, even nominate yourself.
    Previous winners include: Matt DiMase, The Abaco Club on Winding Bay, Great Abaco, Bahamas (2019); Carlos Arraya, Bellerive Country Club, St. Louis, MO (2018); Jorge Croda, Southern Oaks Golf Club, Burleson, TX, and Rick Tegtmeier, Des Moines Golf and Country Club, West Des Moines, IA (2017); Dick Gray, PGA Golf Club, Port St. Lucie, FL (2016); Matt Gourlay, Colbert Hills, Manhattan, KS (2015); Fred Gehrisch, Highlands Falls Country Club, Highlands, NC (2014); Chad Mark, Kirtland Country Club, Willoughby, OH (2013), Dan Meersman, Philadelphia Cricket Club (2012), Flourtown, PA; Paul Carter, The Bear Trace at Harrison Bay, Harrison, TN (2011); Thomas Bastis, The California Golf Club of San Francisco, South San Francisco, CA (2010); Anthony Williams, Stone Mountain (GA) Golf Club (2009); Sam MacKenzie, Olympia Fields (IL) Country Club (2008); John Zimmers, Oakmont (PA) Country Club (2007); Scott Ramsay, Golf Course at Yale University, New Haven, CT (2006); Mark Burchfield, Victoria Club, Riverside, CA (2005); Stuart Leventhal, Interlachen Country Club, Winter Park, FL (2004); Paul Voykin, Briarwood Country Club, Deerfield, IL (2003); Jeff Burgess, Seven Lakes Golf Course, Windsor, Ontario (2002); Kip Tyler, Salem Country Club, Peabody, MA (2001); Kent McCutcheon, Las Vegas (NV) Paiute Golf Resort (2000).
  • No one will ever mistake LSU Golf Course for the Country Club of Louisiana. The latter, a Jack Nicklaus design, is one of the most exclusive private golf clubs in Baton Rouge. The former has been without a superintendent for more than a year and is so common, it can be a challenge to find someone at the university who knows the identity of the architects who designed it.
    Located on the south side of campus, LSU's golf course lies on a flat parcel smack between two of Baton Rouge's largest attractions, 102,000-seat Tiger Stadium and the Mississippi River. It is the handiwork of Al Michael and Phil Thompson, who designed it 60 years ago.
    The course offers just what one might think, low-cost golf with low expectations. It also offers a group of the university's turf students a lot of hands-on experience that they might not get elsewhere.
    Since February, the university has leaned heavily on Jeff Beasley, Ph.D., an associate professor in the College of Plant, Environmental and Soil Sciences, to develop a plan and find bodies to implement it in the absence of superintendent Mitch Fontenot, who retired in 2019.
    "There is one full-time guy over there and we sprinkle in some students and try to put together a golf course with that is a tough thing," Beasley said. "It's hard to guide a ship when you don't have a superintendent. Especially one as talented as Mitch."
    The golf course also provides about a half-dozen students with work and internship opportunities that, during the past seven months, might not have been so easy to come by.
    "Students were losing internship opportunities, so we created an internship program for five students," Beasley said.
    Matt Lambert is a senior at LSU, and he said there are pros and cons to the current set at the golf course.
    "We have a lot of freedom, and I am getting a lot of good work experience to put on my resume," Lambert said. 
    "Jeff is in charge where the greens are concerned and we get to work directly with him, but there is no superintendent out there, so sometimes we have to look outside for sources to bounce ideas off of."
    A native of Fort Worth, Texas, Lambert worked with Texas Rangers grounds crew in 2019 and 
    "In the last 10 years, we've experienced budget cuts, and we're in an age where we can't go to the well to get more money," Beasley said. 
    "The students are learning on the job. They help aerify, apply fertilizer and bring the golf course back. It's not perfect, but doesn't have a full-time superintendent and it's relying on student labor, so it's beginning to improve."
    An ongoing Air2G2 study at the golf course helps students get real-world experience on some of the industry's latest technology while also improving conditions.
    The course is managed directly by Emily Smith a director in LSU's facility and property oversight office. 
    "Mitch had been gone about a year when they called me in February," Beasley said. "The greens looked like they were about to die, and the irrigation system was down. It's getting better.
    "I'm just one of the cogs. Emily oversees the course, and she has been very supportive. The reality is it is always better when you have a superintendent. My goal is to support them as long as they need. I'm happy with what we've done."
  • Play has been up across the country since the onset of the pandemic. Photos by John Reitman That unfamiliar noise emanating from golf shops nationwide has been the sound of cash registers ringing. Golf courses from coast to coast are enjoying a boon thanks to a global health crisis that has all but eliminated many other recreational activities.
    That rise in play has helped create stress for superintendents, many of whom are eagerly anticipating an end to the golf season.
    How the golf business was impacted at the onset of the pandemic varied state-by-state, county-by-county and city-by-city. Some remained open and unrestricted while others were closed for a short time, and others shuttered for a month or longer. For superintendents at golf courses that were closed then suddenly opened, the experience was like walking through a desert then forced to drink from a hose.
    Three superintendents in three different areas shared some of what they have dealt with since March, and all three share one thing in common - looking forward to a break from a hectic pace.
    The Club at Ruby Hill in Pleasanton, California, is about 40 miles east of Oakland. Traffic usually is a nightmare, but in the early days of the pandemic the scene was surreal and gave no hint at what soon would be headed in Ruby Hill's direction, said superintendent Steve Agin.
    "The (Interstate) 580 and 680 are usually packed 24 hours a day," Agin said. "In the early days of the pandemic you had to look hard to see a car.
    "We were lucky, it was late winter and we didn't have a lot going on. In April, we furloughed 10 people and kept five, which was a lot compared to some places around here. All capital improvements were put on hold. What we thought would be a great year, everything just stopped."
    Except the golfers.
    Whether it was on the West Coast or the East Coast, or somewhere in between, once golfers started coming, it was like the cavalry coming over the hill.
    "After being completely closed for 45 days, we were busier than we have been in decades - usually over 200 rounds every day of the week," said Matt Crowther, CGCS at Cape Cod Country Club in East Falmouth, Massachusetts. "During the closure on a reduced staff we hunkered down taking a minimalist approach - no fertilizer, etc. We focused on making any improvements in areas worn out near tees and greens. Some of this was done over the fall and winter also. The place was scary good when we opened."
    With that much pressure, the turf at Cape Cod is worn out, and so were Crowther and his team and some of his equipment.
    "We were hit with gray leaf spot over Labor Day, so (we) have been busying trying to get that grass back," he said. 
    "We tried to keep up on the daily disinfecting of the equipment and touch points. Our aging equipment somehow knew it was a bad year and joined in. I don't think we went one week without something breaking. All in all, it was a challenge but we managed. Golfers were and remain happy."
    Because it is on a peninsula that juts into the ocean, Cape Cod winters can be milder than on the mainland. The seemingly never-ending parade of golfers has left Crowther hoping for something a little more seasonal this winter.
    "(It) feels like Groundhog Day," he said, "and I am hoping it snows a lot this winter, otherwise we will not get a break."
    Exhaustion and fatigue also are settling in at Bayou Oaks at City Park, a 36-hole municipal operation in New Orleans. Rounds played this year during the pandemic climbed to as much as 9,000 per month. Even the hot, sultry summers of Louisiana and a parade of hurricanes going through the Gulf of Mexico were not enough to keep golfers away.

    Keep staff safe and focused has been a challenge for many superintendents. "Weather has been very kind to us. Although we shut down for a few days a couple of times as a precaution for hurricanes, we were able to get right back into the swing of things with minor cleanup," superintendent Ryan McCavitt said. 
    "Although rounds are up 35 percent, tournaments were all canceled which gave my crew a chance to just stay ahead of daily fee golf which is a lot more simple than setting up for two 7:30 a.m. full-course shotguns," McCavitt said. "(We) never felt under the gun.
    "All of our chemical, fertilizer and equipment sales representatives have been fantastic, and we were able to keep all of the agronomical practices basically on schedule. All in all it's been a crazy year, and I feel lucky and blessed that it has worked out as it has. Great year for golf, but I look forward to 2021."
    Agin also is looking forward to a break at Ruby Hill, where play is up about 60 percent since May. 
    "We are so tired of golfers right now," Agin said. "Since late May, we've seen about 200 rounds a day, four carts a round. Normally, we do 32,000 to 36,000 rounds. At this pace, we'd crack the 55,000 mark if this kept up year-round. The impact is ballmarks, fairway edges, ins and outs on fairways and bunkers. We don't have any rakes out, ball washers or benches. Today, we didn't rake bunkers because we had to fly mow instead. I can't put 24 manhours into raking bunkers in the morning when no one is going to rake them the rest of the day anyway."
    For a recent member event, Agin experimented with rakes by place one on each golf car. By the end of the day, there were dozens of them scattered around the course, proving that old habits do indeed die hard.
    "We did it just to see how it would go," he said. "People just dropped them out of habit. There were 40 to 50 rakes out on the golf course. You can't blame them, that's what they're used to."
    Managing such extremes in play and protecting employees during a pandemic all without compromising playing conditions have made for a long summer.
    "The biggest challenges have been (convincing) staff to stay instead of receiving unemployment, making them feel safe and keeping them motivated," McCavitt said. "The uncharted territory that Covid has brought would definitely be Challenge Number One."
    To do that, McCavitt came up with a plan in which gloves and masks were mandatory for all staff; all equipment was disinfected before and after use; all meetings were held outside; breakroom was closed; lunch was canceled with staff working straight through the day (7 hours, paid for 8).
    "Motivation has been a challenge," he said. 
    Part of the challenge for Agin has been educating his team throughout the pandemic. 
    A member of his team tested positive in May. That shook up the rest of the crew, and suddenly his challenge included keeping the team focused on maintaining the golf course in the face of increased play, budget reductions and golfer demands.
    "I think we did a good job at keeping the standard up as high as we did," Agin said. "We tried hard not to let standards slip. It could have been better, but all things considered, we did a very good job.
    "The worst part has just been not knowing what is coming next. Mentally, it's so tiresome. You want to get away, but there is nowhere to go. It feels like we've been doing this for 10 years, but it's only been since March. Anybody who weathers this and is around in the spring is a champ."
    Part I in a series
  • A GoFundMe account has been established for the family of a golf course equipment manager who died recently in a non-work accident.
    Sam Holysz, equipment manager at Gull Lake Country Club in Richland, Michigan, died Oct. 10 when a tree limb fell on him while working on his family’s winter home, according to a GoFundMe account established by superintendent Jesse Shaver.
    Holysz was 41 and is survived by wife Meredith and his children, Nathaniel, Luke and Christopher Holysz, Tanner and Kiera Callahan. The account has a fundraising goal of $125,000.
    "Everyone who knew Sam was touched by his zest for life, contagious smile, and the way he genuinely cared for others around him. Sam made a profound impact on the lives of so many," according to the GoFundMe page. "He was a devoted husband and father for his family, a consummate fisherman and lifelong outdoorsman, and an extremely skilled professional for his colleagues and friends of 10 years at Gull Lake Country Club. Whether you found Sam working, fishing, relaxing on the boat, or enjoying one of his many adventures, you could always be certain that he would welcome you enthusiastically with open arms and a firm handshake."
    A native of Kalamazoo, Holysz was a U.S. Coast Guard veteran who also loved the outdoors. A memorial service will be held in his honor on Oct. 22 at Gull Lake Country Club.
  • If you're itching for a mask sporting an image of the No. 12 green at Augusta National, they're available through Amazon. Few industries, with the possible exception of the new and lucrative mask-making market, have enjoyed the past half year the way golf has.
    With not much else to do during the pandemic, golf has been the lucky beneficiary of an era in which it is better - we are told - to stay home and stay away from others than it is to go to work or school. As a result, people seeking opportunities for outdoor activities and recreation are heading to the golf course in high numbers, and according to some superintendents, many of them are there for the first time - and loving it. There are, however, some questions that during the pandemic golf cannot escape.
    What about next year? What about after the pandemic? Will we even be out of the pandemic at any point in 2021? What if there is no vaccine, or if, like medical experts now suggest, one is only a temporary fix that fights the bug for months rather than provides a one-time cure?
    "That is the question on everybody's lips," said Jim Koppenhaver, whose Chicago-based Pellucid Corp. crunches industry numbers better than anyone. "Everyone is waiting to find out does (the fallout from the pandemic) change the arc of the game forever, or will we be asking ourselves 'what was this?'"
    Exactly when the economy emerges from a pandemic-induced recession is anyone's guess and will hinge largely on a safe and effective vaccine. The White House has hinted that one could be available before the end of the year, while other studies indicate we might be waiting at least until April 2021, all but guaranteeing more economic misery and uncertainty on a global scale. 
    That won't be good for the golf business, which relies solely on an ever-shrinking pool of discretionary income. Reports estimate U.S. job losses due to Covid-19 between 30-40 million, with fewer than half returning to work at any point in the past seven months. Many of those jobs have disappeared forever, and it could take years for the employment market to catch up to pre-pandemic days.
    The golf business appears to be poised to close out 2020 on a high note, at least from the perspective of rounds played. Beyond that; who knows?
    Through August, rounds were up 21 percent nationwide for the month and 6 percent for the year, compared with the same periods in 2019.
    Although rounds are up, will the change be enough to compensate for other losses throughout the operation? For many, the answer probably is no, according to Koppenhaver.
    "We've determined that rounds have to be up by 11 percent to make up for all the lost cart revenue, outings, leagues and food and beverage," he said. "I'm calling end-of-year at about 5 percent up in revenue. Despite having a great rounds year, revenue at many places could be down by 5 percent when you factor in those other losses, and there are some courses out there that can't survive that."
    Every year since 2006, course closures have outpaced openings. In that time, about 600 new courses have opened while another 2,000 have closed for a net loss of about 1,400.
    When this trend of negative growth began 15 years ago, the industry would have to shet about 1,500 courses, or about 10 percent of its supply, to reach supply-demand equilibrium, Koppenhaver said. That was based on 2006 statistics. Since then, the game has lost 8 million players and shed 50 million rounds per year.

    "The goal posts keep moving. That equation assumes flat demand, but demand has been shrinking along with supply," Koppenhaver said. "The challenge is that we have not be able to take (supply) out as fast as we should or could. Rounds are running away at the same time we are trying to shrink supply. All these years later, we're still at about that same 10 percent."
    The stark reality is that although business has been good for many golf courses, the pandemic might accelerate the process of reaching supply-demand equilibrium.
    "Typically, 40 to 50 golf courses close in the offseason. That could double this year," Koppenhaver said. "A lot of places are going to have to take a really hard look at their balance sheet. There's not going to be a March opening for some."
    Golf will, of course, survive the pandemic, but it will look different than it does now, says Craig Kessler, director of government affairs for the Southern California Golf Association.
    Right or wrong, the game still is perceived as a class struggle between society's haves and have-nots. To that end, private clubs with large budgets probably will emerge OK, while more modest daily fee facilities, the same properties that have been hurt the most during the past 15 years, probably will continue to feel the pinch.
    Of the 103 net closures last year, only 12 were private, and 73 were public, 42 of which were categorized as "value public" facilities.
    "Golf's leadership doesn't acknowledge what went wrong," Kessler said. "They drone on about customer service. It doesn't take a genius to know you need good customer service. What they don't take into account is that it is out of reach for many.
    "It has been aggregating over time and killing growth. It doesn't have anything to do with it taking too long, or being too hard. The culture has changed, but golf (industry) doesn't look at those things."
    Those same courses that have been closing at a high rate already are the very same facilities where the game is grown at a grassroots level. Newcomers start there and youth-development programs such as The First Tee call many of them home.
    "Many will just close," Kessler said. "The First Tee will have nowhere to go."
    Those long-term shifts in cultural and generational shifts in behavior that have stunted the game's growth, could send golf's sudden rise in pandemic era popularity swinging back the other way when things return to more or less to a pre-Covid normal - whatever that looks like.
    For the past seven months, golf has filled a void created by the absence of attending other events. When the all-clear is given to return to baseball games, football games, youth sports, etc., golfers could flee the course in much the same way they have been for much of the past two decades.
    "I'm not optimistic. I'm not pessimistic. I'm realistic," Koppenhaver said. "Nothing has changed with golf, and until someone shows me something to the contrary, I think it will resume on the path it was on as soon as those distractions return. 
    "There is an appeal to the game, but it is out of sync with current society. We grew up appreciating something that was difficult to master. This next generation is about multi-tasking and making the most efficient use of their time. They want to be good at something immediately. If they can't be good right away, they are not willing to put the time into it. They'll do something else."
    Kessler also has a tempered sense of realism thinking ahead to when this time is just a bad memory.
    "I know we won't retain all of this business, but I hope we retain some of it and build a better base moving forward," Kessler said. "Covid has hopefully reminded us that there is a reason golf has been around for 500 years and will be around for 500 more. No matter what, there is something redeeming about spending four hours outdoors where the playing field changes every day."
  • The Toro Co. recently was named one of several winners of the Water Sense Partner of the Year awards.
    The awards, which were announced Oct. 7, are presented annually by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that “help consumers and businesses save water, energy and money by producing and promoting water-efficient products, homes and programs.”
    One of 28 award recipients across three categories, Toro was named a winner in the Water Sense Excellence category.
    According to the EPA: "The Toro Company has continued its tradition of promoting WaterSense and water efficiency, winning another Excellence in Outreach and Training Award for its work in 2019. Throughout the year, Toro showcased its WaterSense-labeled products at 35 home expos and trade shows, reaching several thousand homeowners and industry professionals. Toro conducted several training sessions in a variety of locations to educate attendees on water management trends, share best practices, demonstrate WaterSense labeled irrigation products, and provide hands-on product experience.
    "Toro once again sponsored the Irrigation Association's E3 Program that provides scholarships to professional irrigation students; the program awarded students a record number of scholarships last year. The Toro Company also continued its sponsorship and production of the weekly WaterZone radio program focused on outdoor water efficiency best practices and products. Since the show has been available on iHeart Radio, it now has up to 19,000 listeners per month!"
    WaterSense honored The Toro Company as Manufacturer Partner of the Year in 2016 and an Excellence Award winner in 2017, 2018 and 2019. 
    Since the program was initiated in 2006, winners of the award have helped their partners save 4.4 trillion gallons of water and $87 billion, according to the EPA.
  • Better late than never.
    When Yale Golf Course in New Haven, Connecticut, did not open last spring during the early days of the pandemic, it appeared, at least by many of the photographs circulating at the time, that it might never open again. The course was closed as part of the university’s response to the pandemic, and photographic images seven months ago showed a course not ready for play even if it were open.
    Ranked by some as the top college golf course in the country, Yale Golf Course finally opened Sept. 28 with a new general manager - and no superintendent.
    Between the time when the course closed 11 months ago and the Covid outbreak in late winter, Yale lost longtime superintendent Scott Ramsay, CGCS, who left for The Country Club of Farmington in Connecticut, as well as then-general manager Peter Pulaski.
    New general manager Peter Palacios told the Yale News that one of his priorities over the offseason will be to hire a new superintendent.
    The Yale campus was shuttered in mid-March, which included closing 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.
    "Once the university made the decision on the Spring semester due to the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly all of our staff joined our students in a remote setting," Chun told TurfNet by email in July. "In keeping the health and safety of our employees at the forefront of our decisions, a skeletal crew worked at both the Yale Golf Course and Yale Bowl fields. Even though the golf course grounds crew was skeletal, we did receive permission to add additional hours to their schedule."
    Yale is ranked No. 49 on Golfweek's list of Top 100 Classic Courses, and No. 1 on the publication's list of Top 30 Campus Courses. Getting the course there and keeping there always made Ramsay work extra hard for his lofty Superintendent of the Year status, and he has said in the past that it was always a challenge to unwind years of neglect that occurred before he arrived in New Haven in 2003.
    The club, which is subject to flooding, recently completed a $400,000 drainage project, and was well on its way to marked improvement until Ramsay, the 2006 TurfNet Superintendent of the Year, left for the Country Club at Farmington and the coronavirus closed campus.
    "The Yale Golf Course is one of numerous athletic facilities that we are extremely proud of and have plans to improve," Chun told TurfNet. "When I started as Director of Athletics, I immediately recognized the importance of the course and we pushed its improvement where it was better maintained this last year as compared to the recent past. I have had many discussions with alumni who are excited about the direction the course is headed in terms of improvements. A strategic plan has been started to bring the course back to its glory. We were on our way until COVID-19 hit."
  • Matt Henkel, who sought out alternative treatments at Duke University (above), says he is going to beat brain cancer. Supposedly, everything happens for a reason. At least that is what we are told every time life deals us a bad hand. If anything, at least it helps rationalize hardship and adversity. After all, the reason for the misfortune du jour often is not so obvious, making the "God has a plan" explanation the only thing standing between us and despair.
    How else could anyone possibly explain why a 41-year-old man with a wife and three young children is in the battle of his life against an aggressive form of brain cancer?
    Matt Henkel, general manager and superintendent at Prairie View Golf Club, a public forest preserve property in Byron, Illinois,, was diagnosed with brain cancer 12 years ago. After several surgeries and radiation treatments, he was cancer-free for four years until his annual check-up last fall when doctors discovered a grade 4 glioblastoma that has left the family feeling gut-punched, unsure of the future and asking "why".
    Glioblastoma, according to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, is a common and aggressively growing form of brain cancer for which there is no cure. Even with aggressive treatment, recurrence is virtually certain, making a long-term prognosis grim. The average length of survival is 15-18 months, and the five-year survival rate is about 10 percent.
    While those statistics might appear cold in print, the Henkels already are quite familiar with them.
    "Why has this happened? I don't know. I have to believe there is a reason," Matt's wife, Cammie, said. "This is just a chapter in our story. We don't know the ending yet. Some time down the road we might find out why this is happening. I know there will be a reason, we just don't know it yet. I'm not going to question it; I'm just going to go along for the ride."
    After nearly a dozen surgeries to remove cancerous tissue and relieve fluid pressure on his brain, cancer is gone for Henkel - again. He has been cleared by doctors to return to work on a part-time basis, giving him a much-needed dose of normal life, however small it may be. 
    In the face of recent good news, Matt and Cammie know the historic prognosis for people with this diagnosis. It is sometimes difficult to hold on to hope due to that nagging realism. Coming to grips with your own mortality tends to do that to a person. Still, Henkel, who has sought out experimental trials at Duke University and UCLA, holds out hope that he will be the one who bucks the trend, that maybe the reason he is going through this is so he can survive his ordeal and be an inspiration to others. Even his assistant said the only reason he got back into the business after a short stint in sales was because of Henkel's character.
    "I'm going to beat this," Henkel said.
    "Since last Halloween, I've really had to work at keeping my head in the right spot. I'm remaining hopeful."
    After all, he has much to live for.
    The experience has made for some difficult discussions with their children, son Ashton (15) and daughters Claire (13) and Mara (8).
    "It's hard with the children. Nobody can understand it until they are put through it," said Cammie, a first-grade teacher at Mary Morgan Elementary in Byron. 
    "We've sat them down and talked to them. They know what the situation is, and we're very proud of how they are handling it. They've had to grow up fast. The dynamic has changed a lot in the last 11 months."
    Restrictions resulting from the pandemic actually have provided the Henkels with a valuable opportunity. One they did not waste.
    "One positive take during Covid has been six months of family time that we couldn't get back," Cammie said. "It gave us time together that we wouldn't have had, and we didn't miss out on anything, because whatever it was was canceled anyway."
    Henkel's ordeal is something no one should have to go through, and it is no experience for children either. 
    It was early in 2008 and Henkel was getting ready for another golf season at Prairie View when something in his head just didn't feel right.
    It started with fatigue and exhaustion that Henkel initially dismissed as the flu. That was in March. But it wasn't the flu. Those symptoms escalated over the next couple of months to include neck pain and headaches. He finally went to the emergency room at Katherine Shaw Bethea Hospital in Dixon, Illinois. Doctors there told him he had strep throat, but that was wrong, too, and things continued to worsen. That's when Cammie demanded doctors perform a CT scan.
    The news was not good.
    "The doctor said 'there's something on your brain. We're going to admit you and do an MRI tomorrow,' " Henkel said.
    With the realization that this was no longer just a headache or a case of the flu, things suddenly started to get very real for the Henkels, who have been together since their days as high school sweethearts in Amboy, Illinois.
    "We were just a young married couple," Cammie said. "The news wasn't real until we heard 'cancer,' and that set it all into motion." 
    The hospital in smalltown Dixon, the boyhood home of Ronald Regan, was hardly the place for Henkel to deal with this, so doctors there recommended either Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, or the University of Wisconsin. Considering he probably would be making the trip multiple times, Henkel chose a few extra miles on the road to Madison, Wisconsin over Chicago's traffic.
    After all, one headache at a time has been more than enough.
    "Being young and naive with two kids under 2 years old, we didn't know the severity of it until we were sitting across from a team of doctors telling him he will be having brain surgery," Cammie said. "Then it was very real and there are so many emotions that run through your head."
    After 11 surgical procedures to remove tumors, scrape away malignant cells and to insert and remove shunts to relieve fluid pressure on his brain; radiation treatments; chemotherapy; and a staff infection, Henkel deserved a break.
    In 2014, there were signs he might have beaten cancer. At that time, he had been seeing doctors in Madison every three months for a fresh MRI to make sure the cancer had not returned. It was then when his surgeon suggested annual visits over quarterly.
    "That was scary, but he's a neurosurgeon, so I trust him," Henkel said.
    "So, in 2015, nothing; 2016, nothing; 2017, nothing; 2018, still all clear."
    Just when Henkel was thinking this awful mess might be in his past, he was reminded last October what a soulless monster cancer is.
    That was when the headaches and dizziness returned. He had trouble focusing when working on the computer and finding his place when reading. Things were bad enough that he called his neurosurgeon and asked to move up his annual visit to Oct. 31.
    When he arrived in Madison and had the MRI, Henkel did not need a doctor to tell him something was wrong.

    "When I go for a scan, I usually have an appointment with the doctor immediately following," he said. "When I went to the exam room and it was 45 minutes before he came in, I knew something wasn't right. He came in, and I could tell by the look on his face."
    He can still hear the words from his neurosurgeon, Dr. Azam Ahmed: "It's grown back, and it's big. I can't let you leave the hospital. You have to have surgery as soon as possible."
    The diagnosis was a glioblastoma, a fast-growing form of brain cancer for which there is no cure. Even after surgery, recurrence is almost certain. But that did not stop Henkel and his doctors from trying.
    After surgery on Nov. 1 and another MRI to determine whether there were any cancerous cells remaining, the surgeon wanted to go back in the following day to remove more matter. 
    "I asked him 'what would you do?' " Henkel said. "He said he'd do it, so we did it. He felt confident that he got 100 percent of the visible tumor."
    Ten months later, Henkel remains cancer free, but he has not been without his problems.
    Early in the process, doctors determined that chemotherapy likely would not help his cancer and would be used only as a last option. After the surgery in November, Dr. Ahmed told him "it's time to play the chemotherapy card."
    The road back also has meant more radiation - a month's worth to be exact. 
    "I didn't tolerate that second wave of radiation nearly as well as the first," Henkel said. "I was sick from Day 1 all the way through it.
    More headaches last winter revealed a fluid buildup asserting pressure on his brain that required shunts to relieve the pressure. 
    "The headaches came right back," he said. "And I was sleeping 20 hours a day."
    A staff infection in September that affected his central nervous system was the latest among an assault of challenges.
    Naturally, Henkel has not been able to spend much time at the golf course since the GBM was diagnosed. Even without the cancer, the radiation, chemo, fluid on the brain and a dangerous infection together have been enough to keep him at home.
    "The cancer hasn't really knocked him down until recently," Cammie said. 
    "Going to the golf course was the one thing that always made him happy."
    Mike Brown, Henkel's assistant for the past three years, has been holding down the operation in his absence. Brown, who prepped under Sam MacKenzie at Olympia Fields near Chicago, came to Prairie View after a short career in sales at J.W. Turf in Elgin, Illinois. When the job at Prairie View opened, he jumped on it because he knew Henkel and he knew his reputation.
    "I always told myself I wasn't going to get back into it unless it was the perfect situation, and this was it," Brown said. "He is the salt of the earth, and he works harder than everyone else.
    "I've learned a lot of agronomic practices from him, but what I've really learned from him is how to treat people."
    To that end, Henkel already has lobbied for Brown to be promoted to head superintendent.
    "He's still the superintendent," Brown said. "We're not doing that.
    "I'm not going to let him do too much. He's going to be like an advisor. Getting back to work is going to mean some sense of normal for him, and he needs that."
    Although their situation is horrible, the Henkels have discovered they are not alone.
    Jaron McCracken, who is from Henkel's hometown of Amboy, also is battling brain cancer. Henkel realizes his purpose might include helping McCracken through his experience.
    "We're in this together," Matt said. "We're going to be the two who beat it and watch our kids grow up."
    Cammie has gotten involved with cancer groups and helps others in a similar situation deal with their anxiety, fear and grief.
    "Everyone is here for a reason," she said. "I've tried to help others.
    "I've known others, since Matt's first diagnosis, who have died. The initial diagnosis is scary, but he's still here, he's still working and he's still giving others positivity."
    And just maybe it helps answer that question: Why?
    "The reality is it just sucks," Cammie said. "We know what happens with GBM. My bar isn't set very high for reality. It scares me. We treat every day as a blessing."
  • A camera upgrade project will allow enthusiasts to take a closer look at eagles that nest annually at The Bear Trace at Harrison Bay in Tennessee. For the past decade, The Bear Trace at Harrison Bay, a state park golf course near Chattanooga, Tennessee, has become synonymous with an education and outreach effort that has helped introduce curious onlookers around the world to the private lives of bald eagles.
    Thanks to cameras placed atop a tree more than 100 feet in the air, the Harrison Bay Eagle Cam project allows people everywhere to view the nesting and parenting habits of eagles that return each year to the same nest. 
    This year, state officials are partnering with HD on Tap, a California technology company, to upgrade the infrastructure that has made the park and the golf course known around the world with bald eagle conservation.
    "They are pioneers of eagle cams," said Bear Trace golf course superintendent Paul Carter, CGCS. "When they detailed their plans, it was like 'Oh my! We never thought of anything like that!'
    "It is the next level of eagle cam technology. We've been playing in the minor leagues for so long. We're looking to move up to the major leagues now."
    Eagles first showed up in 2010 at Harrison Bay, and those environmental programs came to the forefront a year later, thanks to fundraising efforts through The Friends of Harrison Bay, when park officials first installed a camera that peered into a nest. That technical set up has been updated several times. 
    The current upgrade will include two treetop cameras capable of panning and zooming in and out, one stationary camera and a fourth on the ground. The system will be operated and monitored from HD on Tap’s offices in Del Mar. The cost is about $13,000, and the state park system is committed to paying for it through private donations and corporate partnerships. 
    "That sounds like a lot of money, and it is," Carter said. "But we've spent $5,000, $6,000 and $7,000 before and never had anything like this."
    Time is a critical piece to the eagle cam project. The male and female have been coming and going making repairs to the decade-old nest. Eagles are protected by several federal laws, and all work to the camera project must be completed before the female settles in to lay her eggs, which usually occurs in late November, with hatchlings emerging in early to mid-February.
    "It usually happens during GIS," Carter said. "I'm usually in a meeting or at a dinner when my phone starts blowing up with pictures."
    The project has been an important piece to Harrison Bay's outreach efforts for a long time.
    When two eagles arrived in 2010, they were named Elliott and Eloise by Carter's daughter Hannah, who was 8 years old at the time. Hannah is 17 today and a senior in high school. Elliott is still coming around every year, but Eloise died two years ago. A new female, named Athena by those who watch the live stream, is on the nest today. 
    The property has become synonymous with eagle conservation and education. To that end, in 2015, Carter introduced himself at the Syngenta Business Institute as the superintendent of the golf course with the eagle cam project. Industry colleagues who did not immediately recognize his face or name, knew about the eagle cam project at The Bear Trace at Harrison Bay near Chattanooga, Tennessee, and quickly put 2 and 2 together.
    "Ohhhh" many uttered while visibly shaking their heads in acknowledgement.
    The Bear Trace is certified by Audubon International's Cooperative Sanctuary program and was the 2013 recipient of the Environmental Leaders in Golf award, presented by Golf Digest and the GCSAA.
    "This program has been a game-changer for us," Carter said. "As a state park property, we don't have money for marketing. The eagle cam allows us to do that. Without the eagle cam, I doubt we win that Golf Digest award.
    "People have come from all over to see it in person. It has brought us worldwide recognition and attention. I don't mind being known as the 'eagle cam guy.' It's better than being known as the guy who lost all his greens in one year."
  • Jack Nicklaus hits the first tee shot at American Dunes Golf Club in Grand Haven, Michigan, which will help provide funding for scholarships for family members of wounded and deceased veterans. Photo by Carlos Monarrez/Detroit Free Press The pandemic has done little to slow the progress of one of a project near and dear to one of the game’s most iconic players.
    Onlookers this week were able to take a sneak peek at the American Dunes Golf Club renovation project in Grand Haven, Michigan. The course is scheduled for a grand opening next spring and proceeds will benefit the Folds of Honor program that helps provide scholarships to members of military families.
    Opened in 1965, Grand Haven Golf Club was designed and built on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan by the father-and-son architecture team of Bruce and Jerry Matthews. 
    Nicklaus took on the task of redesigning the course that will serve as a living tribute to the armed forces and all who have served by being an avenue for raising funds to provide scholarships to the spouses and children of wounded or deceased veterans. The Folds of Honor program was founded by Maj. Dan Rooney, a PGA professional and a pilot in the U.S. Air Force Reserves who served two tours in Iraq . The program has awarded more than $130 million in scholarships since its inception more than a decade ago.
    "That's all to spouses and children of those killed, injured or disabled," said Rooney.
    Dr. John Rooney bought Grand Haven in 1988. Two decades later, Rooney’s son, Maj. Dan Rooney, a PGA professional and a pilot in the U.S. Air Force Reserves, started the Folds of Honor program there in 2008. The newly renovated course will be a fundraising tool to support the scholarship program through a series of tournaments held in conjunction with the annual Patriot Golf Day. Nine holes opened this year, with the remaining nine to be unveiled in the spring.
    This week, Nicklaus and wife Barbara were on hand for the unofficial opening.
    Rooney and Nicklaus have known each other for years, and the latter has been a supporter of Folds of Honor since its inception. The two met in 2017 at The Bear's Club in Jupiter, Florida, where Rooney shared his vision for Grand Haven's legacy in the Folds of Honor program. During that meeting, Rooney shared how he wanted his family’s legacy to include helping serve those who have served their country. Nicklaus offered his design services and those of his team at his North Palm Beach, Florida firm that has designed or renovated more than 400 golf courses in nearly 50 countries.
    Nicklaus has a history of helping veterans and other charitable organizations through golf. 
    A decade ago, Nicklaus donated design services to redesign and expand American Lake Veterans Golf Course on the grounds of the Veterans Administration Puget Sound Healthcare System in Lakewood, Washington. 
    When North Palm Beach Country Club, a city-owned course about a mile down U.S. 1 from Nicklaus’s Florida home, needed a makeover, he charged the town $1. 
    The Memorial Tournament held at Nicklaus' Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio, has raised more than $30 million for charity since the inaugural event in 1976. He also has been a longtime supporter of the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, a fundraising and research initiative by the University of Miami that targets spinal cord and brain injuries.
  • Going back to her days of competing on the boys high school golf team, Kelly Lynch is accustomed to being the only woman in the room in a man's world. It is a role that Lynch has played throughout her career as a golf pro, golf coach and in the seed industry, and she's fine with that.
    "I've earned my seat at the table, and I've never taken it lightly," Lynch said. "I knew I was a trailblazer, and it was a privilege to be there. 
    "In my younger days, I was the token female, and I learned a lot. It was a privilege to be at the table and learn how to be heard in a room of men. It came through years of learning to advocate, communicate and building bridges."
    Today, Lynch, a regional manager with Pure Seed in Oregon, is passionate about helping other women in the golf industry find their seat at the table, too. 
    A PGA professional and former men's and women's golf coach at Eastern Washington and Gonzaga universities, Lynch learned early on that golf was a male-dominated industry. What she found on the green side of the industry even surprised her.
    "The PGA had few females. When I came to the turf side, there are no females," Lynch said.
    "Women are rare, and they are on islands most of the time. I want to engage them, empower them and encourage them."
    And Lynch is not alone.
    Several years of initiatives that include events like Syngenta's Ladies Leading Turf and Bayer's Women in Golf, have helped women in the turf business build networking connections and have provided an avenue to career-development education designed specifically for women. They also have helped lay the foundation for promoting careers in turf to more women, but the $64,000 question is "what's next?"
    One answer is to expand the circle to include more decision makers.
    "We have to evolve to that next level," said former USGA Green Section director Kim Erusha (above right). 
    "That is where we need to get to; multiple groups of people in one room. Those discussions need to be in a broaders sense of how do you work with each other."
    A likely starting point for that next-level cooperation is at the professional association level, something the golf industry has plenty of.
    "It becomes a matter of who do we hire? Who do we promote?" said Renee Geyer, West Golf Course superintendent at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio. "Those are the people who have to take it to the next level. These companies, like Bayer and Syngenta, that's kick-started this movement; now, it is up to local associations, state associations and clubs to get involved from a business perspective."
    Before that is likely to happen, many women acknowledge there are other barriers to overcome, namely proving they belong.
    "To me, this isn't really a gender issue. Not only as a woman, but I think everyone has to show your value to your employer," said former USGA Green Section director Kim Erusha. "Are there times I have been pushed aside because of my gender? Yes, but you have to be persistent in pursuit of your goals. 
    "Life is not all rainbows and ponies. Part of this comes down to crap just happens. I can deal with any challenges out there, but they are there unfortunately, and it is discouraging. But that's part of life and you just have to figure out how to work through it.
    "You have to be the driver of your own future."
    Still, there is the impression that women often have to work harder to prove themselves in a man's world. Whether men accept that or view it as urban legend, it's true, and women know it. And although they don't agree that they should have to do more to prove their worth in the industry, it is a burden they embrace, partly because they can and partly because they know it makes them better.
    "What we all realize is that we all made it in a male-dominated world," Lynch said. 
    "People say that women have to work twice as hard as men, and I did that. That doesn't make it right. We have a problem, and we have work to do. People have to understand that we have to address these things. This is a symptom of a broken cultural system."
    Lynch makes a great point.
    Golf is widely recognized as a game propped up by men. That is especially true in turf. The game struggles to attract women and minority players. The turf industry faces the same struggles at its highest levels.
    Whether it is equal pay, equal opportunity or equal respect, there will be no wholesale changes for women industry wide until that culture changes.
    "To me, industry associations need to be aware and continue to weave that philosophy into the day-to-day messaging. It can't just be here is the special event of the day, and then move on," Erusha said. "We have to get to a point where that is normal procedure. It has to be part of our day-to-day fabric of what we do."
    Geyer (right) has attended two of Bayer's three career-development events, including last year in North Carolina and this year's virtual event.
    She gives as much as she receives from her new network of colleagues. 
    "I never thought I would get to walk into a room with 49 other women," she said. "It's incredible. I said 'they get me, this is my tribe, these are my people."
    Like Erusha, she said working to prove yourself is more about being a professional than being a female professional.
    "We have to continue to do what we have been doing, which is quality work," Geyer said. "Women have as much of a place in this business as men."
    Until that culture undergoes a sea change, Initiating change will require doing more and relying on others to help educate an industry. And for those who do not want to help move the industry forward?
    "I have had to realign myself with people who get it, because it is not my job to fight that battle alone," Lynch said. 
    "We have to educate those who can hear, and if they can't hear, you move on to someone who can, so we find a place where we get to do that."
  • BIGGA, the Carolinas GCSA and more than 30 other chapters are teaming up to redefine distance education this year. For those who think traditional education in the turf industry has been redefined in Covid era, you ain't seen nothin' yet.
    Nearly three dozen golf course superintendent associations across the United States and the British International Golf Greenkeepers Association are partnering in a marathon online education conference this fall devised in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Using a tailored Zoom platform, Conference Comes to You presents 30 two-hour seminars – scheduled one a day – over 30 days starting November 2.
    Registration in the program presented by the Carolinas Golf Course Superintendents Association opens at 10 a.m. Friday, Sept. 25 at www.conferencecomestoyou.org.
    The online conference, which has a week off over Thanksgiving, takes the place of the Carolinas GCSA’s annual conference and trade show in Myrtle Beach, which is the largest regional event for superintendents in the U.S.
    As official partners in Conference Comes to You, participating chapters earn discounted pricing for members – $40 rather than $70 – and will receive a share of each member registration fee. Each attendee also has the chance to share in $30,000 of guaranteed cash prizes ranging from $100 to $2,500. Members qualify for one entry with each seminar they take.
    Participating chapters include: Alabama, Calusa, Central Florida, Central Ohio, Connecticut, Eastern Shore, Everglades, Florida, Florida West Coast, Georgia, Gulf Coast, Hawaii, Heart of America, Hi-Lo Desert, Louisiana-Mississippi, Met GCSA, Miami Valley, Mid-Atlantic, Minnesota, New England, New Jersey, North Florida, Northern California, Palm Beach, Rdige, Rocky Mountain, Seven Rivers, South Florida, Southern California, Southern Nevada, Suncoast, Tennessee, Treasure Coast, Wisconsin and Virginia.
    "We're thrilled to have so many chapters joining us. This platform benefits everyone involved, and the more people who participate the more benefit there will be for everyone," said Carolinas GCSA president, Brian Stiehler, CGCS, MG at Highlands Country Club in Highlands, North Carolina.
    "We see many visitors from across the country and overseas at our traditional conference and show each year. So, in these extraordinary times, when we can’t be face to face, it made sense for our conference to go 'see' them."
    Stiehler stressed his association's gratitude for the financial backing of dozens of industry partners, including longtime education partner, Syngenta, and prize package partners, John Deere Golf, Revels Turf and Tractor, Greenville Turf and Tractor, Toro, Smith Turf and Irrigation, Jacobsen and TSP Turf.
    "This is an incredible show of support from companies we have worked with for years and in many cases, generations," Stiehler said. "That they have stepped up to help superintendents continue their professional development in times like these speaks volumes."
  • The Bayer/Monsanto Roundup story has as many twists and turns as a country road.
    Bayer recently settled thousands of Roundup lawsuits as part of an $11 billion settlement, according to published reports. The news came about a month after a golf industry professional claimed the weedkiller caused his cancer and just days before an attorney close to the case was sentenced to two years in prison after being convicted of extortion. It is, after all, 2020.
    Close to 200,000 people have or are expected to file suit claiming that glyphosate, the active ingredient in the weedkiller Roundup, caused their non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. At the heart of the glyphosate debate are conflicting reports by the World Health Organization and the EPA. In 2015, the WHO concluded that glyphosate was a "probable" carcinogen. The EPA, on the other hand, has said that there is no evidence indicating that glyphosate causes cancer based on the results of more than 800 tests and studies. 
    The recent settlements for $10.9 billion include 15,000 lawsuits in which plaintiffs blame Monsanto's weedkiller for causing their non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, according to reports. Bayer, which acquired Monsanto in 2018, already has settled about 30,000 cases and faces as many as an additional 125,000 suits that have yet to be filed, according to reports. 
    The most recent settlement comes about a month after a golf professional in the Spokane, Washington area filed suit claiming that Roundup caused his cancer. On Aug. 3, Gary Lindeblad filed suit against Bayer and Monsanto, saying it caused his cancer.
    According to the lawsuit, Lindeblad "sprayed Roundup on a regular basis" beginning in the 1970s. He was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins lymphoma in 1999. He has since incurred "significant economic and non-economic damages," according to the suit.
    Lindeblad worked for 31 years at the Indian Canyon Golf Course. Most recently, he has worked at the Kalispel Golf and Country Club.
    On Sept. 21, Tim Litzenburg, the Virginia lawyer representing a plaintiff who won a $289 million verdict in the ongoing litigation against Bayer, was sentenced to two years in prison after he was convicted on extortion charges. 
    Litzenburg was charged in December with extortion after threatening to "to inflict substantial financial and reputational harm" against two unnamed companies unless he was paid a $200 million consulting fee, according to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia.
    According to court documents, Litzenburg suggested in October 2019 that the unnamed Company 1 could avoid future costs associated with litigation, reputational damage and a drop in stock prices if it hired him as a consultant for $200 million. 
    The document said that Litzenburg and an unnamed accomplice would steer prospective litigants away from the Roundup case as part of the deal. According to the complaint, Litzenburg called his $200 million consulting fee "fair" and promised to unleash a public relations "nightmare" against the companies involved.
    The criminal complaint stated that Litzenburg also agreed to steer complainants away from Company 2. Those unnamed companies were believed to be Bayer and Monsanto, but a spokesperson for Bayer said last year that was untrue.
  • Cultural practices, like aerification, have been delayed or even canceled at some courses this year as facilities capitalize on increased play to drive revenue. Photos by Andrew Jorgensen via Twitter For some reason, it is getting harder and harder every day to distinguish between a silver lining and a storm cloud, or a glass that is half full and one that is half empty.
    For almost two decades, the golf business has been defined by how many people were leaving the game. In a nutshell, there are nearly 10 million fewer players today than there were in 2002; there are more than 2,000 fewer courses and golfers are playing almost 70 million fewer rounds than they were 20 years ago.
    In many corners of the country, golf rounds are not a problem during the pandemic. According to Golf Datatech, which measures rounds played at private and daily fee courses nationwide, year-over-year rounds played were up nearly 20 percent in July compared with the same month last year. Rounds played in July were up in every state except Hawaii.
    For many, this summer has been a case of "be careful what you wish for."
    Even as some services, namely food and beverage, have been slow to return during the pandemic, golf has brought casual players back to the course in droves and superintendents across the country have reported seeing scores of new players.
    Superintendent Joe Wachter credits the Covid-19 golf boom for helping keep the lights on at Glen Echo Country Club in St. Louis. Like every place, the club has lost a lot of money from canceled outings and weddings, and stands to lose more in the fall. Since opening in the spring during the pandemic, about 800-900 rounds a week have been played at this 1901 James Foulis design that was the site of Olympic golf during the 1904 Summer Games. After a brief dip in play in late July and early August, play is ticking up again at the end of the season.
    "A lot of people put their clubs away after Labor Day, but not so much this year," Wachter said.
    "The most important thing for us is that all this play has kept us all employed."
    There is such thing as too much of a good thing.
    The Chattanooga golf market was a mixed bag in the early days of the pandemic. Courses in the city limits were closed. The Bear Trace at Harrison Bay, a state park golf course outside of town, was closed as were all state-owned facilities. All other courses outside the city limits were open for play.
    Now, The Bear Trace, which was closed for about a month early in the pandemic, is getting all the rounds it wants - and then some. With 12-minute tee times and single riders in golf carts, up to 170 rounds a day are played at the state park course along the banks of the Tennessee River.
    No golfers can tee off after 4 p.m., thanks in part to the single rider policy.
    "Otherwise, those guys (in the cart facility) would be here until dark-thirty just cleaning carts," Carter said. 
    "When I look at a tee, I see four or eight carts sitting there, and of course they play Follow the Leader. We're warm-season grass, so it's not affecting us yet, but those courses with cool-season grass are getting worn out. We haven't seen the damage yet, but it's there. The golf course, with single riders, is taking another year's worth of abuse."

    The result, thatchy, spongy greens, is nothing a good aerification can't cure. That will have to wait.
    "We usually aerify in late July or early August. We close and go Monday to Friday. It really helps us. Those five days are it; we don't do anything else the rest of the year, but we're not going to close to aerfiy this year," Carter said. "We had to give it up to keep the cash register open to make up for the month we were closed. The damage is something only a superintendent can see - spongy greens, some scalping. We'll get that back next year."
    In place of a traditional aerification, Carter and his team have been performing some pretty aggressive verticutting and punching smaller holes with 1-inch tines to remove at least some thatch.
    The tiny tines disrupt only about 1 percent of the surface area, but is better than nothing when closing for traditional aerification is not an option.
    "You're not really pulling anything," Carter said. "You're just trying to keep some holes open and manage thatch."
    There are a couple low-lying holes at Bear Trace that Carter has to keep closed throughout the winter to prevent damage that doesn't often show itself on warm-season grass until spring. The increased play and absence of aerification might necessitate closing a couple more.
    Carter's story is one that has been told throughout the country this year - too much play, but too much money to close for needed cultural practices.
    "One of the biggest limiting factors we are hearing about is all the play is wearing out the grass," said Joe Rimelspach, turf pathologist and program specialist at Ohio State University. "Many places haven't been able to core or aerate, because the course has found out that they can make more money with all the play."
    Glen Echo has benefitted from a cooperative agreement that grants golf privileges to members of the Missouri Athletic Club, a non-golf athletic club.
    "I've seen a lot of new faces this year that I don't recognize as regular Glen Echo members," Wachter said. "That has really helped drive revenue.
    "We're seeing more women and more couples this year."
    Andrew Jorgensen manages 81 holes in Florida for On Top of the World Communities, including 54 in Ocala and 27 in Clearwater.
    All of the courses managed by OTWC closed in March and began to reopen throughout April. Early spring typically is not the best time to be poking holes in mostly TifDwarf and Tif Eagle greens, but this has been anything but a typical year.
    "Normally, April is not the best time for aerification. Recovery is slower, but after doing it now, I'm all for it mostly for selfish reasons," Jorgensen said. "The weather was good. It was 75 when we did it, not 95, so it wasn't unbearable. Recovery did take longer, but we'll never be able to do that again.
    "At first, we didn't know if we were going to be closed for two weeks or all summer. We bumped up aerification to early in April and stayed closed for two weeks after that before reopening. We knew we would be ridiculed for shutting down right after reopening for aerification. By doing it in early April, we just stayed closed."
    The Florida heat and humidity has done little to keep golfers away even throughout the summer.
    "There has been a lot of increased play and increased traffic,"Jorgensen said. "I know a lot of guys who are pushing off aerification because they are packed and the cash register keeps ringing."
    With so many holes of golf available, Jorgensen has the luxury of closing courses and moving players around to keep up with cultural practices. That's a luxury not everyone has.
    In Chattanooga, there is no end in sight, at least not yet anyway. The Chattanooga Lookouts baseball team was grounded when all minor league play was canceled in June, movie theaters are only now beginning to reopen. Golf has been there for experienced players and newcomers alike almost through the duration of the pandemic.
    "We're going as long as the weather's good," Carter said. 'People are playing. There's nothing else to do. 
    "It's either golf or go fishing or go take a hike at a state park.
    "If we were on our normal nine-minute tee times with two people per cart and not closing it off at 4 o'clock we could be 250 rounds a day."
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