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From the TurfNet NewsDesk

  • John Reitman
    The troubles facing the maker of a popular weed killer and its parent company have escalated to an entirely new level - a 10-digit one to be exact.
    An Oakland, California jury on May 13 awarded $2 billion to a Livermore couple who say they have used the non-selective herbicide Roundup for 30 years and blame it for causing their non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. The ruling also included $55 million in compensatory damages. It is the third judgment against Monsanto in three tries, despite U.S. Environmental Protection Agency claims that the chemistry is safe when used as labeled. 
    In March, a San Francisco jury awarded $80 million to a man who blamed his cancer on glyphosate. A $289 million award granted by a California jury last August later was reduced on appeal to $78 million.
    Legal experts predict the $2 billion recently awarded to Alva and Alberta Pilliod also will be reduced on appeal. 
    Due to the size of the award and the number of suits pending in this arena, the latest decision will undoubtedly go through the appeals process, and it is likely Monsanto and parent company Bayer will await that outcome before making any long-term decisions on its defense strategy moving forward, according to a statement from Bayer and the opinion of several legal experts.
    At the crux 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. 
    In the past 10 months, juries have sided 3-0 with the WHO findings and ignored the scientific findings of the EPA, which has a specific scientific review process to determine labeling for every chemistry on the U.S. market. 
    The company says it plans to appeal the recent ruling in the following news statement released May 13: "Bayer is disappointed with the jury's decision and will appeal the verdict in this case, which conflicts directly with the EPA's interim registration review decision released just last month, the consensus among leading health regulators worldwide that glyphosate-based products can be used safely and that glyphosate is not carcinogenic, and the 40 years of extensive scientific research on which their favorable conclusions are based."
    It's clear that Bayer needs an all-or-nothing win at the appellate level. The company is hoping that appellate judges will be more sympathetic to the science cited by the EPA than juries have been, and an attorney for the German-based company told Law.com that he believes there is enough science on Bayer's side to eventually beat back the wave of negative PR surrounding this issue. 
    That will be key moving forward with more than 13,000 other cases against Monsanto pending. The recent $2 billion payday ensures there will be many, many more cases to follow. Because of the growing number of lawsuits involving Roundup, federal multidistrict litigation has been centralized in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. 

    Stock values for Bayer AG have dropped by nearly 23 percent since March and are down by nearly half since the company bought Monsanto for $63 billion last year. The worth of the combined group, according to the Financial Times, is less than what Bayer paid to acquire Monsanto. It was not clear what Bayer's legal defense strategy will be moving forward.
    Some legal analysts have suggested this could be heading toward class-action status. The FT says Bayer officials have ruled that out for now and that no such settlement makes sense until the first wave of appeals takes place later this year.
    According to Bayer's statement: "The verdict in this trial has no impact on future cases and trials, as each one has its own factual and legal circumstances. Also, this litigation will take some time before it concludes as no case has been subject to appellate review where key legal rulings in the trials will be assessed. The company will continue to evaluate and refine its legal strategies as it moves through the next phase of this litigation, which will be marked by a greater focus on post-trial motions and appellate review and trials scheduled in different venues."
    With sympathetic juries ordering awards in the billions, and Bayer (or anyone for that matter) unable to sustain more decisions like the one in Oakland, neither side has much to gain in a rush to the negotiations table.
  • Anthracnose thrives in cool, wet conditions, especially in areas that have been affected in the past. Photo by Rutgers University Prolonged cool, wet conditions throughout much of the country have meant that superintendents must keep two things at the ready through mid-May: a jacket and an arsenal of preferred fungicides.
    Such conditions have provided a fertile environment for many turf diseases, including anthracnose.
    Anthracnose thrives in cool, wet conditions in Poa annua and often recurs in areas that have been troublesome in the past.
    "We have a spring this year, unlike last year. Things are coming fast and hitting us really early and we're really, really wet," said Todd Hicks, program manager for Ohio State's plant pathology department, in a recent Turf Tips video. "It seems to dry out a little bit, but the weather pattern got cool again, so we're getting lots of reports of anthracnose.
    "It seems like if you had a problem with it before, it's coming back."
    That includes areas that are shaded, areas where drainage is poor and places where traffic is high.
    Average daily high and low temperatures in Columbus, where Ohio State is located, have been running about 10 degrees below normal in May, according to the National Weather Service. Rainfall for the year is about 50 percent above normal, according to NWS.
    "This cool, wet pattern is not helping anything," Hicks said. "You can't spray your way out of this one, especially in the really bad areas. You're going to have to use your cultural techniques as an add-on to your fungicide spray to solve those problems."
    Research by Rutgers University suggests low rates of soluble nitrogen applied every seven days from late spring through summer provides consistent reduction in anthracnose severity. Click here to watch a recent TurfNet webinar on managing anthracnose by Bruce Clarke, Ph.D., and Jim Murphy, Ph.D., of Rutgers.
    Pink snow mold also is a lingering problem in Ohio and other areas where these cool, wet conditions continue to persist. Cool-season rhizoctonia also continues to be an issue, and on several occasions has been mis-diagnosed as pink snow mold.
    "It's not uncommon to have this diagnosed all the way up into June if we have a few days of cool, wet whether," OSU plant pathologist Joe Rimelspach, Ph.D., said in the video.
    Rimelspach suggests submitting samples to the lab to correctly diagnose the issue and warns that in either case the infection centers are loaded with spores and it is important to guard against spreading them to unaffected turf.
    "When we get into a wet, cool period, those can move around," he said. "They can be tracked on mowers or move in water patterns. 
    "The good thing is it doesn't usually kill the grass, but it can be pretty alarming."
  • For superintendents who want to squeeze the most from every drop of their disease-control applications, Syngenta recently launched Appear II fungicide.
    With the active ingredient potassium phosphite, Appear II is labeled for Pythium blight, Pythium root rot and Pythium damping off and as part of a program can help control other diseases in cool- and warm-season turf, including anthracnose, pink snow mold, Bermudagrass decline and Bermudagrass leaf spot.
    Improved mixability and resuspension mean the active ingredient is immediately available and is quickly absorbed by the plant, while a pigment provides a deep, natural green color and enhanced turf quality through recovery that golfers can see.
    A surfactant system offers superintendents improved resuspension and mixability. Appear II enters into suspension more quickly, and it leaves less residue in sprayer filters.
    Research has shown that Appear II consistently enhances the performance of fungicide programs for disease control and stress tolerance. And when tank mixed with other fungicides, the Appear II label includes additional diseases, including anthracnose and pink snow mold. Research also has shown that fall and/or winter applications of Appear II, when tank mixed with other products, such as Daconil Action or Secure Action, lead to quicker spring green-up and improved turf quality.
  • "Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former."
    - Albert Einstein

    The modern golf game and hard science are joined at the hip. At least they were, but recent events are threatening that relationship.
    The debate about whether glyphosate is or is not a carcinogen is not an argument being argued with science. Instead, it is a battle being waged in venues such as courtrooms, where the ammunition is emotion lobbed at juries, and on social media, where nonsense and untruths rule the day.
    To date, juries have awarded more than $160 million to two people diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma claiming that Roundup is to blame for their cancer, despite multiple reports to the contrary by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. More than 13,000 other pending cases alleging glyphosate causes cancer are awaiting adjudication, including one in which the defendants are seeking damages of $1 billion.
    The process calls into question the effectiveness of the EPA and its role in the future.
    According to the EPA, there is no definitive evidence that suggests glyphosate causes cancer. That's good enough for some in science and for some lawmakers, but not all.
    That has not stopped some U.S. cities from banning its use and some states for trying to do so.
    Three Vermont lawmakers in February proposed legislation that would ban the sale and use of glyphosate unless authorized by the state's agriculture commissioner. 
    The bill includes the following language in paragraph 1 on page 2: "In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a division of the World Health Organization, concluded that glyphosate is a probable carcinogen."
    HR 301 in Vermont has not emerged from committee since it was introduced, but some state, some day is going to be the first to move on this bill or one similar to it.
    Some U.S. municipalities already have. 
    Earlier this year, Miami banned the use of glyphosate on city property. Watsonville, California, which supplies U.S. supermarkets with much of their produce, recently became the latest in a growing list of municipalities in that state to ban glyphosate use.
    The EPA has a specific scientific review process to determine labeling for every chemistry on the market. 
    The decision-making process for city officials in Watsonville was not based in science as reported by the EPA, which is the nation's agency-of-record for determining chemical oversight. Instead, it was based on World Health Organization claims in 2015 that glyphosate is "likely a carcinogen" and the findings of a group of scientists known as the California state legislature that labeled the chemistry as a known carcinogen in 2017.

    Science was not enough to stop Watsonville mayor Francisco Estrada from claiming that Monsanto, the maker of Roundup that was bought by Bayer in 2018, was "hiding" its cancer-related research until being outed by the WHO four years ago.
    The EPA has identified dozens if not hundreds of chemistries as cancer-causing agents, so it does not exactly have a track record of hiding data to serve commercial gain. But when the agency restated on social media its findings that refute a link between glyphosate and cancer, it was bombarded on Twitter by faceless trolls suggesting everything from a Trump EPA that panders to the chemical industry to direct payoffs by Monsanto.
    This is the same sort of shouting from the rooftops that dominates political discourse on social media, where the loudest voice, which usually is not the truest, receives the attention. And those voices keep shouting until the have bullied those who do not agree with them into silent submission.
    Just ask Harrell's, which earlier this year announced it would stop selling glyphosate because the company's insurance carrier refused to provide coverage in the event of litigation against the company.
    In a letter from the company, Harrell's CEO Jack Harrell said: "(D)uring our annual insurance renewal last month, we were surprised to learn that our insurance company was no longer willing to provide coverage for claims related to glyphosate due to the recent high-profile lawsuit and the many thousands of lawsuits since. We sought coverage from other companies but could not buy adequate coverage for the risk we would be incurring. So we had no choice other than to notify our Harrell's Team and customers that we would no longer offer products containing glyphosate as of March 1, 2019."
    Granted, many superintendents probably could get along just fine without glyphosate. But what happens when it is time for that next major renovation or restoration project? Or, what happens when those who are willing to dismiss scientific research come after the next chemistry on their hit list that you do use?
    No one in the T&O industry can fault Harrell's for this business decision, but the thought of the insurance industry buckling to uneducated public opinion to decide what products the T&O and agriculture markets can and cannot use, despite evidence to the contrary, is a frightening prospect and a slippery slope down which we have just begun to slide.
  • Jim Brosnan, Ph.D., right, says he is fielding more questions about glyphosate this year than at any other time in his career. Granted, glyphosate is not the most widely used product on the shelves of golf course maintenance facilities, but recent claims regarding its safety are a wakeup call that it's never too early to start looking for alternative solutions to chemistries with a questionable future.
    "You know, I've gotten a lot of glyphosate questions in 2019, probably more this year than from 2008 to 2019 combined," said Jim Brosnan, Ph.D., professor and weed specialist at the  University of Tennessee. "It's not just me. My colleagues in row crops give a talk on soybeans and all the questions are about Roundup.
    "We as a weed science group, we need to do something to educate our extension agents who are getting these questions from people in Tennessee."
    Superintendents likely use glyphosate for spot treating weeds in non-grassy areas, or to clear wide swaths of turf during renovation projects. But chances are increasingly likely that someone somewhere sometime is going to question you for using it, if they have not taken that option away from you by then.
    If and when that time comes, and it probably will, there are many options available to golf course superintendent, depending on the application, said Ohio State professor and weed scientist David Gardner, Ph.D.
    "There's three areas where I can see glyphosate being used on a regular basis on a golf course one is on hard surfaces, you know, cracks in the concrete, for example. And in those instances, there's all of the acceptable substitutes in the world that are available, so that's not a problem," Gardner said. "Second place where they would use Roundup with some frequency would be on weed control in ornamental beds. And the particular advantage of using glyphosate, there's very few selective weed-control options and none of them are for broadleaf weed control. So you could make a decent argument that Roundup is really the better choice for them.
    "The real issue then would be when they're using glyphosate for renovation and reestablishment purposes. And glyphosate is the only non selective herbicide that's truly systemic. There is some systemicity with glufosinate, but it's relatively limited. In other words, people usually don't use that herbicide in a renovation project for a reason."
    Glyphosate has been blamed for causing cancer in more than 13,000 suits, and two juries have awarded more than $180 million in damages in two cases. 
    Still, glyphosate possesses other traits that make it a more attractive option than many of the alternative herbicides.
    "Its environmental profile is actually very good," Gardner said. "It's not likely to leach.
    "Since it binds so tightly to soil particles after application, the advantage of that is that you're permitted to re-enter the area with seed seven days after application. There's a lot of non-selective herbicides out there that are systemic. The problem is that their soil residue is so long that you would have to wait for a very, very long time before you went back into the area. And so, probably from a from a golf course superintendent standpoint, I would think that that would be the most important cause for concern for them."
  • A year after incorporating autonomous mowing technology at the Presidio, Brian Nettz said putting conditions are better than ever. There was a time when golf course superintendents could not envision entrusting putting surfaces to autonomous mowers. But 12 months after incorporating the technology into his day-to-day routine at the Presidio Golf Club in San Francisco, Brian Nettz cannot imagine ever going back to walk mowing greens.
    For the past year, Nettz has been leasing a fleet of five Cub Cadet R3 mowers at the Presidio. The mowers help him save on labor and fuel costs and reduce the club's environmental footprint.
    "I first saw it on a video, I think on TurfNet," Nettz said. "I always thought they were pretty cool, but thought they'd never work here. I thought they would be too expensive and we'd never get people to embrace it."
    Turns out that some of the benefits of such technology made it a pretty easy sell.
    As each autonomous unit mows greens, its "operator" is free to do things like rake bunkers and cup cuts. The units, each weighs in excess of 500 pounds, also roll as they mow, allowing allow five people to do more in one day than twice as many could accomplish a few days a week just one year ago. In fact, Nettz figures the units help save more than 70 labor hours per week. That's a big deal with help becoming increasingly hard to find. 
    Historically, Nettz would have 15 people on staff, plus a mechanic. For the past few years, with help harder and harder to find, that number has been around 11. Based on that data, Nettz figures the units will offset the cost of a four-year lease in about two years. 
    "We've been trying to hire for three years, and there is nobody out there," Nettz said. "This saves about 72 labor hours a week."
    The Presidio Golf Club is located in Presidio National Park. Any new machinery used on the property must be approved by the Presidio Trust, a federal agency that manages the park for the National Park Service. Incorporating equipment that uses a renewable energy source was an important consideration in one of the country's environmental hotbeds, and made justifying the move to autonomous technology easier to defend.
    "They are much more progressive than a board of directors at a country club. The environmental issues were a big driver," Nettz said. "It's all electric, which was in their wheelhouse of burning less fuel. We never really had to get into the justification of it."

    Kevin Breen uses autonomous mowing technology on the practice green at La Rinconada CC in Los Gatos, California. At La Rinconada Country Club in Los Gatos, just southwest of San Jose, Kevin Breen began using autonomous mowing technology about a year-and-a-half ago. He uses it on his practice green and the No. 1 green so as to be in compliance with a local noise ordinance.
    "I believe in it. I'm pretty happy with it," Breen said. "I think there are still some things that can be improved and that's why I'm hesitant to go to the entire golf course with it yet. But it's coming and it's worthwhile and it is going to change the industry and how we work."
    Members at La Rinconada have been curious and supportive of the slow and subtle move toward autonomous technology.
    “They've been pretty enthusiastic about it," Breen said. “Most of my members are in the tech industry, so they embrace technology and understand it can be beneficial. They are all for advancing what we are doing to maximize efficiency of the operation."
    The Presidio was in the market to replace a fleet of 14-year-old walk mowers a year ago, and a few other courses in the San Francisco-San Jose area already were using them, including the California Golf Club.
    "Once we saw them in action, it was a no-brainer," Nettz said. "The operator sets it up and walks off to rake bunkers. It's heavy, so it rolls and mows at the same time. It does three jobs at once."
    The units are controlled by a series of four beacons that recognize perimeter wires buried underneath the surface to map mowing patterns around each green.
    The decision of lease vs. buy came down to staying current with improvements to the technology down the road.
    "Why own them when the technology will be outdated in a couple of years?" he asked.
    The hilly terrain at the Presidio and the mowers navigating slopes in morning dew was a concern, and once in a while a unit might need a push up a grade to get going.
    Nettz said the quality of cut is better than that produced by a walk mower. In fact, mowing Presidio's bent/Poa greens at 0.140 inches and rolling simultaneously has produced better putting conditions than in the pre-robot days, he said. 
    "That's a good speed for us and it's a good height based on agronomic factors here and the chemistries we can use," Nettz said. "The quality of cut is better, the balls rolls farther and the greens put truer because we roll every day."
    Something as dramatic as a change to autonomous technology has to be the cornerstone of an agronomic program, not just a piece of it, Nettz said.
    "You really have to reinvent the wheel and how your do your greens sections," he said. "You can't just drop it into your current plan. You have to use them and plan everything else around that. That's how you really get the efficiency out of these. There are some limitations and you have to plan around those. You have to know who you are, and we know who we are, and we know we're not Augusta. But when you plan around those limitations, there is no other way to do it. I can't ever see going back to regular mowers."
  • Eight TurfNet staffers and contributors won a combined 13 awards at the annual Turf and Ornamental Communicators Association's annual Communication Awards contest in Charlotte, North Carolina. Not shown are Parker Stancil's two awards. Photo by John Reitman With the exploits of NASCAR's all-time greats echoing nearby, it was fitting that TurfNet's driver and several members of his pit crew were recognized at the green industry's largest awards contest.
    Eight TurfNet staffers and contributors combined to win 13 awards in the annual Turf and Ornamental Communicators Association annual Communications Awards contest. The awards were presented May 2 at TOCA's annual meeting across the street from the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, North Carolina.
    Winners included TurfNet founder Peter McCormick, as well as John Reitman, Jon Kiger, Randy Wilson, Frank Rossi, Ph.D., Kevin Ross, Paul MacCormack and Parker Stancil, who combined for eight first-place awards, one best-in-show award and four second place or merit awards.
    Stancil, a turf student at Horry-Georgetown Technical College in Myrtle Beach, won first place and a best-in-show Gardner Award for his blog work while interning last summer at Great Northern Golf Club in Kerteminde, Denmark. 

    Parker Stancil (2nd from right) shows off his first place and Gardner Best of Show awards, with (l-r) outgoing TOCA executive director Den Gardner, TurfNet 2019 intern-abroad Adam Galigher, and Kristy Mach, TOCA associate director. Also winning first place awards were Wilson, Reitman, Kiger, MacCormack, Ross and Rossi. Wilson, McCormick and Reitman also won merit awards.
    Wilson won firsts for best use of opinion in a video and best long video, respectively, for "A message for golf from a last-wave millennial" and "Top 4 tips for a happy future golf career".

    The annual TOCA meeting and awards contest took place across the street from the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Photo by the NASCAR Hall of Fame. MacCormack was recognized with a first-place award for his "2018 Mindful Superintendent Retreat". Rossi won best podcast for "50 years of controversy, an interview with Dr. Joe Vargas". In the category of best instructional video, Ross won for his work titled "Document projects with before-and-after photography".
    TurfNet's Kiger won in the best special projects category for the "2018 TurfNet members trip to Ireland", and Reitman won best writing for a Web site with a look back on the life of the late James Beard, Ph.D. with "Beard brought the science in turfgrass science".
    Reitman also won two merit awards in the writing category with "Labor issues affecting the golf course industry" (best series) and with "Ohio YMCA takes over golf course" (business management).
    The founder of TurfNet 25 years ago, McCormick won a merit award for Web site design, and Wilson's third award of the night was for his video titled "Forest Therapy".
    The Turf and Ornamental Communicators Association is a 200-plus member association comprising editorial, advertising and marketing professionals working in the green industry.
  • In the PR war being waged against glyphosate, no one can accuse the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency of buckling to public opinion.
    As the debate wears on about whether the world's most popular weed killer causes cancer, the EPA reaffirmed its findings from 2017 that there is no evidence to support claims that glyphosate is a carcinogen.
    The announcement came in response to two lawsuits in California in which juries awarded hundreds of millions of dollars to two cancer patients who say Roundup caused their non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
    It is not difficult to find negative press on glyphosate. Besides the two California cases, it is named as a cancer-causing agent in thousands of other ongoing lawsuits and it is the subject of late-night TV commercials funded by law groups seeking to cash in on the next suit. Even the city of Miami recently banned its use on city property.
    The EPA says otherwise when it backed up its findings in an April 20 news announcement.
    "EPA has found no risks to public health from the current registered uses of glyphosate," said EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler. "Today's proposed action includes new management measures that will help farmers use glyphosate in the most effective and efficient way possible, including pollinator protections. We look forward to input from farmers and other stakeholders to ensure that the draft management measures are workable, realistic, and effective."
    According to the EPA: There are no risks to children or adults from currently registered uses; there is no indication that children are more sensitive to glyphosate; and there is no evidence that glyphosate causes cancer. 
    The Agency concluded that glyphosate is not likely to be carcinogenic to humans. EPA considered a significantly more extensive and relevant dataset than the International Agency on the Research for Cancer. 
    A California jury last year ordered Monsanto to pay $289 million to a school groundskeeper who said his terminal cancer was caused by Roundup. That figure was later adjusted by a judge to $78.5 million. In March, a San Francisco jury awarded another cancer patient $80. 
    According to published reports, there are more than 11,000 lawsuits pending against Monsanto and Bayer. However, in 2017, a study published by the Journal of the National Cancer Institute said there was no scientific evidence to link glyphosate and cancer in people. Another study published in Brazil came to the same conclusion.
    The EPA's cancer classification is consistent with other international expert panels and regulatory authorities, including the Canadian Pest Management Regulatory Agency, Australian Pesticide and Veterinary Medicines Authority, European Food Safety Authority, European Chemicals Agency, German Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, New Zealand Environmental Protection Authority and the Food Safety Commission of Japan.
  • Pete Cookingham (below right) presides over one of the world's largest collections of turfgrass literature and scientific research It is not a mistake, nor is it a coincidence that Pete Cookingham is the curator of one of the world's foremost collections of literature dedicated to turf.
    Long before Cookingham became project director of the Michigan State University Turfgrass Information Center and the corresponding digital presence known as Turfgrass Information File, he had a career as a grounds manager. Specifically, Cookingham, who first graduated from the University of Wyoming with a degree in recreation and park administration, was the general manager of an 1,800-acre property owners association in rural central Illinois and later was a park administrator in Africa for the Peace Corps.
    “My real first world is outside in the dirt," said Cookingham. “It's not in fine turf, but in rough turf, parks and recreation facilities."
    An information junkie, the 66-year-old Cookingham has headed up the MSU turf library since 1985, when he graduated from the University of Illinois with a master's in library science.
    Today, he oversees what is probably the world's foremost collection of works on turfgrass and turfgrass research. 
    “I would have thought the likelihood of me connecting libraries with information services was pretty low. Turns out, that would have been a bad assumption," Cookingham said. 
    “I was always interested in information resources and the transition of connecting research to management, the whole science-into-practice and how to apply what goes on in the lab and what goes on in the field. Then I realized if you are going to do this, you have to have people who understand it and do it theoretically."
    The Turfgrass Information Center was started by former MSU and Texas A&M professor James Beard, Ph.D. Part of that early collection includes some of the private collection of O.J. Noer, who died in 1966. Beard, who died last year, also gave the center volumes of works from his private collection in 2003. Part II of the Beard collection is due in East Lansing soon, and will include some very unique publications, Cookingham said.
    “He collected a lot of obscure stuff," Cookingham said. “He had some things that no one else had."
    Part II of the Beard collection, Cookingham said, is a whopping 8 tons of material. Although Cookingham is unsure of the number of publications on hand in the Turfgrass Information Center, he said in all it tips the scales at about 40 tons.
    “It's amazing the amount of information they have amassed and is right there as a student when you need it," said MSU alum Sean Reehoorn, superintendent at Aldarra Golf Club in Sammamish, Washington. “You don't full appreciate it until you've left school and need to find something later in your career.  It's a legacy Pete Cookingham can leave behind and know he helped everyone in our industry."
    Some of the works from the Beard collection are located in other libraries around campus and efforts to digitize some works has made counting them a nearly impossible task.
    “The number of volumes? I don't actually know the answer to that. I know tons is not a good way to measure," he said.
    “We try to acquire everything in the world published in turf. That's easier said than done, but that is our goal."
    Whether it is browsing the shelves of the Center in East Lansing, or browsing the File online from a remote location, the MSU turf library has been a valuable resource for academicians, researchers and turfgrass managers for nearly 60 years.
    "I became familiar with the Turfgrass Information File at MSU Libraries when I was in grad school at MSU," said Brandon Horvath, Ph.D., turfgrass pathologist at the University of Tennessee. “I met Pete during my first few years there, and I was happy that I did meet Pete. He greatly increased my efficiency and effectiveness for searching what research had been done on turfgrass. Pete has continued to be one of my biggest cheerleaders, and has always supported me however he could. Now, as a professor, I ask Pete to help me expose what he does, and what the TGIF can provide to our students, and he consistently has gone above and beyond what I've envisioned for any activity I've done with our students. I'd just say that I truly appreciate what Pete has done for our industry, and his efforts have gone largely unsung. I hope as we move forward, many others come to appreciate how important it has been to have someone tirelessly cataloging literally everything that gets published in this industry."
    For those who think the TGIF eventually will become a virtual mirror image of the brick-and-mortar library, think again.
    Cookingham's efforts to digitize library works recently surpassed 300,000 publications and journal articles, but copyright issues prevent him from making everything on the shelves available online. For some works, interested readers are going to have to make the trip to East Lansing. Even for the works that are digitized, hard copies are retained because eventually even digital works will deteriorate, he said.
    Staying on top of technology and new ways to store information are important when working with something so vast.
    “Right now, PDF is the comfortable and safe display standard. What happens when that is not the case. Everything falls apart whether it is physical or digital," Cookingham said. “Our digital archives are in TIFF formation. How long will that be viable?
    “If you're not looking 20 years ahead, you're in trouble, because you are turning an aircraft carrier. There is too much stuff and the scale is too massive, so you must have a system for swapping out information and refreshing it."
  • Women comprise 24 percent of the total U.S. golfer population , but make up more than 30 percent of all new golfers. Three months after a state of the industry report that is either one of the most highly anticipated or feared dispatches in the golf business was rolled out at this year's PGA Show, the National Golf Foundation released its own communique. And this one paints a slightly rosier picture than the report given annually in Orlando by Pellucid Corp. and Edgehill Consulting.
    According to the NGF 2018 Golf Industry Report, 24.2 million golfers played 434 million rounds. Those numbers represent a slight increase in players and a nearly 5 percent drop in rounds played, but that's still better than the 20.8 million people who played 427 million rounds, according to the Pellucid/Edgehill report.
    Golf is an $84 billion industry that is adapting to cultural and behavioral shifts.
    Baby boomers, most notably white males, have been the game's bread and butter since the pre-selfie days of Old Tom Morris, but that is changing with that demographic in decline.
    While women comprise about 24 percent of the total golfer population in the U.S., girls make up about 36 percent of the junior sector and about 31 percent of all new golfers are female. Those numbers are more than double what they were two decades ago. Juniors as a whole represent about 10 percent of the total U.S. golfer market.
    The NGF says 198.5 18-hole equivalent courses closed throughout the U.S. in 2018, while 12.5 new 18-HEQ opened, for a net reduction of 180.5 facilities, or about 1.2 percent of the total supply. That's worse than the January report that indicated 120 courses closed and 30 opened, for a net loss of 90 18-hole equivalent facilities.
    Today's market is close to what it was 20 years ago when it ballooned, partly in response to the Tiger Woods phenomenon. In other words, the market is getting closer to self correcting to its pre-Tiger self. How quickly it reaches that destination, if ever, is a bit murky given generational and cultural shifts sweeping across the country.
    One area on which the Pellucid/Edgehill and NGF reports agreed was the influence of off-course golf activities, which are in turn creating an all-time interest in the game among non-golfers. A total of 33.5 million people, the NGF says, play golf and/or participate in off-course activities such as Topgolf or Drive Shack. That's about 1 in every 9 Americans. 
    In 2011, there were 10 Top Golf facilities nationwide. This year, there are expected to be 60 facilities across the country earning $1.5 billion in revenue. Last year, off-course facilities like Topgolf attracted 13 million visitors, 51 percent of whom identify as non-golfers, 70 percent are under 35 years of age and 32 percent of which are female. The good news is that about 29 percent of those who attend these off-course facilities. 
    If and when that interest results in more traditional on-course play is anyone's guess.
    The trick to growing the game and not becoming the next NGF (or Pellucid) statistic is to continue to embrace committed golfers, who account for 95 percent of rounds played and all golf-related spending, while also making the game more inviting and inclusive to newcomers and beginners - and not alienating either side in the process.
  • Jim Brosnan, Ph.D., of the University of Tennessee discusses Poa annua control during the recent #PoaDay event held in conjunction with AquaAid Solutions. Earlier this month, the University of Tennessee and AquaAid Solutions teamed to provide answers about controlling annual bluegrass for superintendents who do not have the time or resources to travel to ask the questions.
    #PoaDay is a virtual field day event hosted by members of the university's turfgrass and ornamental weed science team. The goals of the event, which was held on what appeared to be a brisk April 3 morning in Knoxville, are to make turfgrass managers aware of the emerging problem of herbicide resistance evolving in turfgrass weeds, particularly annual bluegrass and educate turfgrass managers about the different strategies available for annual bluegrass control.
    The event was broadcast live on Periscope by AquaAid Solutions, and a recording now is available for on-demand access on Vimeo.
    Follow @UTTurfWeeds or @Solutions4Turf on Twitter for more information.
    The event includes updates from field trials examining the effects of several herbicides applied at varying rates to control Poa annua in Bermudagrass at putting green and fairway heights as well as perennial ryegrass. A video of the proceedings will be made available this spring. 
    For more on weed control, please check out any of these TurfNet University Webinar archives.
    Summer weed control update: Jim Brosnan, Ph.D., University of Tennessee,
    Non-herbicidal strategies for control of Poa annua: Beth Guertal, Ph.D., Auburn University,
    Optimizing herbicide performance for better weed control: Jason Ferrell, Ph.D., University of Florida,
    New post-emergent herbicides for difficult-to-control weeds: Scott McElroy, Ph.D., Auburn University,
    Winter annual weed management: Jim Brosnan, Ph.D., University of Tennessee.
  • Golf course superintendents seeking options for growing warm-season grass that is better suited to handle the challenges associated with less-than-ideal irrigation water have a new tool at their disposal.
    The University of Georgia recently launched the Web site gapaspalum.com that is a comprehensive home for information, research and maintenance suggestions for seashore paspalum turfgrass. Backed by a team of researchers in agronomy, entomology, weed science, plant physiology, plant pathology and molecular genetics, the site provides scientific research on planting, growing and managing paspalum for a variety of uses, including golf courses and athletic fields.
    Developed by the University of Georgia, the site is a collaborative effort that includes Innovation Gateway, Georgia Seed Development and the Georgia Crop Improvement Association. 
    The Web site includes an archive of information on paspalum, including fact sheets, planting recommendations and university-produced news articles as well as an interactive blog. The site also includes an entire section dedicated to paspalum management, including a disease-identification guide, weed control, insect pest management and agronomic practices specific to growing paspalum.
    A research section includes more than a dozen scientific, peer-reviewed articles on topics such as pest management, irrigation water quality, plant breeding and fertility.
    Paspalum is becoming more popular for use on golf courses growing warm-season turf because of its salt tolerance and ability to withstand poor quality irrigation water, low fertility requirements, visual turf quality and playability.
    UGA has been ground zero for paspalum breeding and development, and four paspalum varieties currently on the market today - SeaStar, SeaIsle 1, SeaIsle 2000 and SeaIsle Supreme - were developed there.
  • Tod Blankenship, CGCS, (right) with Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers at Trappers Turn GC in Wisconsin. Call Tod Blankenship a giver.
    After more than two decades in turf management, growing grass still runs in Blankenship's veins. Working as a superintendent? Not so much anymore, although he does retain his GCSAA certification. Still, the former golf course greenkeeper and turfgrass researcher at Oregon State University is branching out on his own, offering turfgrass consulting, management and research services under the label Tblankenship LLC for superintendents, universities, chemical companies and whoever else across the Pacific Northwest might be in need of such services.
    "Independent research, precision management, remote mapping, digital analysis, consultation, or just listening," Blankenship said, describing his services. "I want to be out with the golf course guys, and I feel like there is a need out there."
    A graduate of the University of Wisconsin and a former graduate research assistant at Oregon State while working toward a master's degree under Rob Golembiewski, Ph.D., Blankenship possesses a unique skill set. Besides working for three golf courses in Wisconsin and a research university in the Pacific Northwest, Blankenship worked the past five as parks director for the City of Wilsonville, Oregon. That was a match that, let's just say had exhausted its useful life cycle on both sides, prompting Blankenship to explore new opportunities. A superintendent for 10 years at Wisconsin River, Big Fish and Trappers Turn golf clubs in Wisconsin, the day-to-day rigors as a greenkeeper and the hardship that schedule can impose on a wife and two young kids made returning to work as a superintendent impractical. His wife, LuAnn, made sure of that.
    "We decided I wouldn't be applying for too many golf course superintendent opportunities," Blankenship said.
    "My wife knows what I went through and what we went through as a family and I knew she would be against that."
    Although he is not too hot on the idea of being a superintendent again, Blankenship has a passion for helping those in the business and helping grow the game he loves.
    After conducting due diligence, drafting a business plan and discussing his plans with Golembiewski and others, all that is left to finalize his plan is tying up some loose ends with the IRS. He has taken the test to earn a remote pilot's license and is eager to help integrate new technology that can benefit superintendents but that many might not have the expertise, resources or time to utilize themselves. 
    "I want to help superintendents integrate all these new tools," he said. "Whether we like it or not, they are going to be part of turfgrass management from now on."
    Along with consulting, a large part of Blankenship's future likely will include independent turfgrass research, a job for which he is well suited as a former research assistant at Oregon State when Golembiewski, now a member of Bayer's Green Solutions Team, headed the turf program in Corvallis.
    The Oregon State program is in solid hands with associate professor Alec Kowalewski, Ph.D., and research assistant Brian McDonald, but as turf programs in neighboring states face declining numbers in faculty and student population, there are opportunities for independent contractors to fill those voids in extension work and research. In fact, rather than view Blankenship as an interloper, OSU's Kowalewski welcomes another researcher to help cover such an expansive area.
    "There is one place that does research on the West Coast, or at least the northern half of the West Coast," Kowalewski said. "We’re basically serving Oregon, Washington, Northern California, Idaho and Western Montana. If there is another person to do research in our area - great. 
    "If there is more capacity to do more research in Oregon, it’s going to be better for everyone. And Tod got his master’s degree here and did research here - he’s part of our program in my book."
    Blankenship relied heavily on advice from his former mentor before hanging his own shingle.
    "As I explained to Tod, if you look at the Pacific Northwest, Alec and Brian are filling a need for Oregon, but there are opportunities elsewhere in Washington, California and even into Canada to provide expertise and conduct research for that region," Golembiewski said. 
    "Ultimately, he cares and he wants to help people. At Oregon State, his expectations were to deliver a quality research farm and provide the ability to help the superintendent do his job. On the research side, he showed an attention to detail and was diligent in his research. He was out there seven days a week at the farm."
    When it comes to helping grow the game, Blankenship isn't just all talk. He and wife LuAnn are in the market for a nine-hole golf course that he said will be focused on bring fun back to golf and could serve as home base for his research and consulting operation. 
    "It might not be a traditional nine holes or 18 holes. I just want to try to get a club into people's hands. I know that sounds cheesy, but that's it. People don't have time for that five-hour commitment," said. 
    After watching the industry shrink for the past 13 years, he believes he would be getting in as a golf course owner at the right time.
    "I don't think golf is in a race to the bottom. I believe we've hit bottom and are climbing out of it," he said. "Those who are still in it are in it for the right reason.
    "It will be something I'll maintain and my family will be part of. No one is going to get rich, but that's how you have to make money in golf."
    Blankenship has been around the game and the industry long enough to know that any venture as a golf course owner or independent contractor will require patience before those efforts bear fruit.
    "He has no preconceived notions, he just needs to do quality work and contract research and provide that information back to the superintendent. It's a multi-faceted approach," Golembiewski said. "Nothing is going to happen overnight, and he understands that."
  • Turfgrass breeding, herbicide resistance and using drone technology to assist with turf research and management are just a few of the topics on the agenda for the 73rd installment of the Southeastern Turfgrass Conference.
    Scheduled for April 25, the event is held each year at the University of Georgia Tifton campus.
    This year's conference will include speakers from the University of Georgia, University of Florida and North Carolina State University.
    Information presented this year will include the latest trends in turfgrass breeding with a focus on cost efficiency. Particular emphasis will be on turf varieties that can produce acceptable turf quality with minimal input. This session also will include information on new hybrid varieties for use on golf courses and athletic fields and an update on the efforts of developing more wear-tolerant and disease-tolerant zoysiagrasses for professional applications.
    Other topics on the agenda include the importance of understanding plant physiology and its role in turfgrass management and how researchers are using drones to develop drought-resistant turfgrasses in the Southeast.
    The University of Georgia has been a leader in paspalum research and development, and this year's conference will include a session on a non-GMO herbicide resistance system designed to improve management of Bermudagrass and grassy weeds in seashore paspalum. 
    UGA turfgrass breeder Paul Raymer and his team are evaluating their current trials to determine which varieties will be released into the market.
  • Fifth-generation wireless technology could mean big changes for the golf maintenance industry, including how superintendents consume education. The advent of coming fifth-generation wireless technology promises to change the way we live and conduct business.
    Not only does 5G mean connections so fast it will dramatically improve web browsing and video streaming, it promises latency measured in single-digit milliseconds (try 1 millisecond on for size) that one scientific publication says is faster than the human brain can process. With processing speeds at least 20 times faster than 4G according to Verizon, 5G technology will have dramatic influences over online learning and medical procedures. For golf course superintendents, faster processing speeds will improve online learning opportunities (imagine a faster, improved TurfNet University Webinar experience and lag-free Randy Wilson videos) and could change in-person events and tradeshows (or the need for them) forever. In fact, lag time with 5G is so minimal that doctors in London, with the use of a virtual reality headset and robotic glove to control a robotic arm, successfully performed a surgery on a that was in another location.
    Think what such processing speeds can mean on the golf course, where it can influence record keeping, committee meetings, access to educational seminars, downloading and accessing data about course conditions and remote control of irrigation software.
    But such technology comes at a cost that is not always measured in dollars and cents.
    Fifth generation wireless might be faster than anything you've used to date, but the effects of shorter waves that easily can penetrate the human body have not been fully understood. That said, 5G technology has been give the green light in most places around the globe. There also is concern about possible threats of espionage and cyber security due to the potential for installing bugging and malware software into some Chinese-manufactured chips. 
    That threat is so real that the U.S. has outlawed use of Chinese-manufactured chips in U.S. government devices and could affect information sharing with allied governments using devices outfitted with the chips.
    Because wavelengths are shorter than those utilized by 4G and previous iterations of wireless technology, 5G technology requires far more antennas and repeater boxes to relay the waves. Rather than using the intrusive cell phone towers that dot the landscape, 5G technology uses smaller, more obscure boxes that must be installed every few hundred feet on utility poles, sides of buildings, etc. And each handheld device will transmit a focused beam (up to 20 watts) in search of the next relay station.
    A metal plate inside each phone between the circuitry and the display will attempt to protect the user's head from that penetrating beam, but users in crowded locations will be subjected to a constant matrix of beams. There is no consensus among scientists and medical professionals about what such exposure will mean now or to unborn generations as we store these radioactive devices in our pockets.
    According to the Web site HowToGeek, as many as 17 U.S. markets already have 5G technology and at least two dozen more are scheduled to come aboard throughout the year. AT&T is promising nationwide coverage by 2020.
    In Belgium, officials in Brussels have halted 5G testing in that nation's capital and put a pilot program rollout on hold until the effects of such intense radiation exposure can be studied further. 
    Despite the industry's push for 5G acceptance, there has been widespread opposition to the technology across the U.S., at least until health risks associated with it are better understood.
    Congress has accused the FCC for not doing enough to understand the risks. One town in California has voted to block installation of antennas and others have asked to halt advance of the technology until scientists have a better handle on its effects. At least seven bills asking for more information on electromagnetic fields emitted by wireless devices are being considered by legislators in Massachusetts.
    There are a lot of positives that will come with 5G wireless technology (and whatever iterations come after that). Indeed blazing fast TurfNet University Webinars and buffer-free streaming of Randy and Buddy are inviting ends-justify-the-means scenarios, but obviously there are health questions we deserve answers to (like a dose of brain cancer that makes a skillet to the head by Momma seem like a stroll up the 18th fairway) before this technology is widely adopted. In a world where government and big business - and the money that flows between them - are linked as closely as Romulus and Remus, we can only hope that common sense wins out over dollars and cents.
  • As golf fans focus on the next Masters champion, there's nothing quite like one of golf's major championships to remind us that game is pretty much carried on the backs of men.
    As U.S. demographics shift and the numbers of those middle-aged - and older - men shouldering a large share of rounds played decline in numbers, we are reminded, as we channel our inner-Martha Burke, that some things will have to change - and quickly - as more and more people in golf will continue to change careers. Nearly 2,000 golf courses have closed in the past 15 years, and fewer than 600 have opened, meaning there are about 1,400 fewer golf courses across the U.S. today than there were when Phil won his first Masters championship.
    If your course has managed to escape golf's grim reaper during the past decade-and-a-half, there's always tomorrow. Industry experts agree, with the loss of another 100,000 golfers last year (which brings us to a loss of about 10 million in the past two decades) there is more pain to come.
    Ultimately, whether a golf course succeeds or fails will depend on property-specific efforts that will appeal to, attract and retain new players, most notably juniors, minorities and women. That said, there are a few industry initiatives aimed specifically at making golf - the game and the industry - more appealing to women. Likewise, several turf industry suppliers, including Syngenta, Nufarm and Bayer, have made an effort the past two years to increase awareness among women to careers in the golf industry. It stands to reason that the more popular the game is among females, the more cognizant women will be to career opportunities in the industry. So, while women in golf and women in turf are two separate movements, they are linked.
    The Golf 2020 Women's Task Force seeks to increase awareness of and participation in golf among women by targeting its message and efforts to families, fans of the game and industry partners, according to the group's strategic plan. Other initiatives include a joint effort between the LPGA and the Executive Women's Golf Association, Women's Golf Day and the Invite Her campaigns.
    The good news is that these efforts appear to be having an impact. According to the National Golf Foundation, women comprise about 24 percent of all U.S. golfers, however, 35 percent of all newcomers to the game are females. That's good news for a business that has seen annual rounds played drop by 90 million from 518 million in 2000 to 427 million last year.
    Just like the game is never returning to its days of Tiger Woods-fueled hysteria at the turn of the century when 30 million people considered themselves golfers, rolling over and crying uncle is not an option either, as people choose to spend more time driving to kids travel sports leagues, playing video games and doing just about anything else that, unlike golf, does not take years to master. 
    The effort to attract more women to the game is not just a U.S. golf issue. The R&A last year also adopted a strategic plan designed to get more women to play golf and work in the industry.
    The R&A Women in Golf Charter, adopted about 11 months ago, seeks to:
    > strengthen the focus on gender balance and provide a united position for the golf industry;
    > commit national federations and organizations to support measures targeted at increasing participation of women, girls and families in golf;
    > call upon signatories to take positive action to support the recruitment, retention and progression of women working at all levels of the sport;
    > set individual targets for national associations for participation and membership and reporting progress annually;
    > develop an inclusive environment for women and girls within golf.
    Frankly, it is difficult to comprehend that making the golf business more inclusive merits conversation, yet here we are.
    According to statistics presented at this year's Golf Industry Show, 4.4 percent of the PGA's 29,000 members and 1.5 percent of the 18,000-member GCSAA are women. According to the GCSAA, 112 female superintendents are members of the association, and only 61 of them are head superintendents.
    The push to be more inclusive has become such a cause celebre that the R&A, which governs the game outside the purview of the USGA, says more than 100 other golf organizations globally have signed on in support of its mission, including the British and International Golf Greenkeepers Association, which just recently endorsed the charter and is dedicated to "seeking to develop a culture that values women's involvement in pursuing a career as a greenkeeper."
    That group also includes Golf Canada, Golf Australia, New Zealand Golf, the Italian Golf Federation, England Golf, Scottish Golf, Wales Golf, the PGA TOUR; the European Tour, the Ladies' European Tour; the PGA, the Golf Foundation, the PGAs of Europe, the European Disabled Golf Association, the ANNIKA Foundation, IMG, VisitScotland and the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Golf.
    Endorsement at an organizational level is laudable and a good start, but eventually acceptance and implementation will have to trickle down to individual facilities, and the data show the golf industry still has a long way to increase real career opportunities for women.