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John Reitman

By John Reitman

Absence makes the heart grow fonder; but get used to it, anyway


An oldie, but a goodie: TurfNet's Jon Kiger, John Reitman and Peter McCormick never see each other much outside of the Golf Industry Show. We see each other far less often now.


Few things can test faith like a long-distance relationship. One party is here; the other is there. What could go wrong? 

Either absence makes the heart grow fonder, or it makes them grow apart. 

For the past several months, it feels like this business has been one, big long-distance relationship. One that none of us wanted. One that has been forced upon us - with no end in sight. 

This trial separation we all find ourselves in does not have to be in vain. Some good can come of it. Although being apart stinks now, it is giving us, all of us, an opportunity to reexamine our own little corner of this business and make changes to our operations so we not only can thrive in the future, but simply survive. Doing things the same old way "just because that's how we've always done it" is a surefire path to failure now, 

The virus also has afforded us time to appreciate friends and others with whom we have built meaningful relationships.

Absence indeed makes the heart grow fonder.

Superintendents still have their crews, the infrequent visit from a distributor and maybe an occasional "safety meeting" with colleagues, but for the rest of us, including academia, media and vendors whose products fill your shops, face-to-face interaction is almost non-existent. That is tough in a business propped up as one that is about relationships first. 

I've never really looked at myself as a people person, but I certainly have never considered myself a "no people" person, either.

For nearly half a year, our interactions have been limited almost entirely to phone calls, FaceTime, Zoom, Skype or some other virtual intermediary we've since grown weary of. Travel bans in industry and academia ensure that these relationships will be strained for some time to come.

What is absolute about the virus, what we know to be true is that it has exposed every crack in our society and every weakness in our economy, and this business will never be the same.

We are promised every day that the Covid-19 era won't last forever; that we won't always have to wear a mask, or stay 6 feet away from those outside our nuclear families, but I'm beginning to have my doubts. 

Doctors and politicians feed us conflicting information daily. We are told to trust the science, but, by the very definition of science none exists with this virus. Not yet anyway. Studies surrounding the virus are planned and completed in weeks, not years. They are pushed through peer-review and publication without the replication required to qualify as real science, yet are peddled as absolutes.

What is absolute about the virus, what we know to be true is that it has exposed every crack in our society and every weakness in our economy, and this business will never be the same. Those entities already weakened or at-risk before the virus might not survive this snapshot in history. Even still, much will change for those that do survive. 

Whenever in-person conferences, trade shows, field days and other events resume, who will attend them? Some will, but some won't. And for those who do, what will they find when they get there? The easy answer is "less." 

Attendance at the state, regional and national events already has been in decline. And the Zoom era is proving, as much as we might not like it, that we are able to get by on less than before. Those controlling budgets and spending will decide how much of our in-person relationship we will resume, but returning to a schedule of educational and industry events that require boarding a plane is not coming back any time soon for a lot of us.

A recent poll by Golf Course Industry magazine asked superintendents what they will miss most with no in-person GIS in 2021. The choices were networking (45.3 percent), after-hours events (44.6), seeing new products (6.4) and education (3.7). While the poll is not scientific, it is revealing to learn that 89.9 percent of those responding said the activities they will miss most have nothing at all to do with the show or the conference portions of GIS.

Vendors foot much of the bill at the Golf Industry Show to help support education for superintendents. They also want access to you, the superintendent. When only 6 percent of those in a poll say that more than anything they are going to miss walking the show floor, how much access are they getting? With field day attendance down, how much access to superintendents are they getting? Probably not nearly as much as they'd like. Superintendents in turn counter by bemoaning a lack of buzz-generating new products that will help them do their jobs more efficiently and an educational component in need of a renovation that would make Donald Ross blush.

As stressful to the psyche and damaging to the economy as the pandemic era has been, it also represents an opportunity for change on many levels. In a post-Covid environment, will sponsors continue to fund industry events if they don't get the access they want with superintendents with buying power? 

Some will, but likely at a reduced level. Some likely will never return. Event planners better listen and find a solution that provides value to everyone

Education at industry events is not exempt. In-class curriculum at all levels is changing to include some sort of virtual component, and the last several months have presented the academic community in turf with an opportunity to up its game, too. Virtual events have introduced new ways to present information and allow people to reach a much larger audience at a fraction of the cost associated with travel. Will some sort of hybrid event supplant traditional education that, according to the poll above, might need a refresher course anyway?

Whatever the future holds for this industry when it comes to education and showcasing new products, one thing is almost certain: Nothing will be the same again, and we likely will continue to see much less of each other, at least in person.

That's the way it goes in a long-distance relationship.

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