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From the TurfNet NewsDesk

  • John Reitman
    Happy birthday to LESCO. The company that changed the way that golf course superintendents shopped for a generation, turns 60 this year.
    LESCO was founded in 1962 by Cleveland entrepreneurs Robert Burkhardt and James Fitzgibbon as the Lakeshore Equipment and Supply Co. With just five employees, the founders recruited ex-greenkeepers who possessed two critical things to help ensure the company's success: understanding of the turf business and credibility with fellow superintendents.
    For those too young to remember, or those so old you've forgotten, in 1976 the company launched its store on wheels campaign in which the all-too-familiar LESCO truck, stocked with fertilizer and pesticides and various accessories brought shopping to the maintenance shop door. From a pair of gloves to a shovel to a cache of fertilizer, the familiar LESCO truck carried just about anything a golf course superintendent would need in a pinch.
    "LESCO changed the golf industry because we developed the Store on Wheels, it would visit individual golf courses on a weekly or bi-weekly basis," said Erich Slider, director of SiteOne's golf division. "We made product recommendations based on data and we also consulted with superintendents as well as brought the product to them."
    By 1980, the company relocated to the Cleveland suburbs in Rocky River, and five years later opened its first Service Center, a 5,000-square foot drive through retail outlet, in Cape Coral, Florida, near Fort Lauderdale. That was the same year the company received its first patent for the Jet Action Spreader Deflector attachment for rotary push spreaders. Another decade later, at least half the golf courses across the country said they were using LESCO products.
    John Deere Landscapes acquired the company in 2007, which became Site One Landscape Supply in 2015
    As technology and the way superintendents conduct business changes, LESCO has changed, too. The company launched an e-commerce site in 2018, allowing customers to order online and have products delivered to the work site. It also launched a new line of advanced agronomic products in 2019, including carbon-based products and enhanced- efficiency fertilizers.   
    "LESCO is a company that started in 1962, and over the course of 60 years has built different fertilizers and chemistries whether they be herbicides, insecticides, fungicides with one thing in mind and one thing only - to think about the quality and end user and how that product is going to be accepted in the market place for the performance and things the customers are looking to do," said Gary Sorensen, agronomic sales manager at SiteOne. "And that is to ultimately have a high quality turf grass."
  • Boaters on Lake Mead recently discovered human remains inside this barrel that was exposed by receding water levels. Police say the victim was dumped in the lake between the mid-1970s to the early '80s. Photo by KVVU-TV In what is becoming a real-life crime drama playing out before our eyes, the receding water level in the country's largest reservoir that also is a major irrigation source for dozens of desert golf courses, is providing a glimpse into the dark side of the history of Las Vegas. That peek behind the curtain no doubt is making aging mobsters nervous and is leading many of the tens of millions of people who rely on the Colorado River for drinking water to reach out to the Culligan Man.
    On two occasions in May, historically low levels in Lake Mead have uncovered the once-hidden remains of at least two people. The latest discovery was made less than a week after boaters reported the remains of a person police say likely was murdered 40-50 years ago. Investigations into both cases are ongoing by Las Vegas Police and the Clark County Coroner's Office, and both have all the makings of a Hollywood mob flick.
    On May 7, the National Park Service was alerted by a Lake Mead Recreation Area visitor who discovered human skeletal remains in the western section of the lake about 30 miles east of Las Vegas. 
    A similar discovery was made May 1 when a partially decomposed body was discovered in a barrel exposed by receding water levels. Las Vegas PD homicide detectives said evidence indicates that the victim had been shot before being stuffed into the barrel and subsequently sent to what then was the bottom of the lake. Based on still-intact pieces of what must be disco-era clothing and footwear, police say the crime occurred somewhere between the mid-1970s to the early '80s.
    Former Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman is an attorney whose former client list includes Sin City mobsters like Anthony Spilotro who ran the infamous Hole in the Wall Gang in Las Vegas for the Chicago mob in the 1970s and '80s before being beaten to death by members of the Outfit in the basement of a suburban Chicago home in 1986, proving there is no honor among thieves. Spilotro also was the inspiration for the character Nicky Santoro, played by Joe Pesci, in the 1995 film "Casino." Goodman told CBS News that many of his living former clients are growing increasingly uneasy about what receding water levels in the lake might eventually expose.
    "There's no telling what we'll find in Lake Mead," Goodman told CBS. "It's not a bad place to dump a body."
    Lake Mead was formed in 1936 with the opening of Hoover Dam on the Colorado River along the Nevada-Arizona border. The past 20 years in the West have been defined by severe drought, putting more strain than ever on the country's largest reservoir that provides drinking water to 40 million people in parts of six states and irrigation water to many golf courses, including dozens in California's Coachella Valley. To that end, water levels in Lake Mead have been on a steady decline. The lake level has dropped 170 feet since 1983, and is expected to drop another 34 feet in the next two years, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. Water levels today are about half of what they were in 2000, marking the lowest volume of water in Lake Mead since 1937, the year after Hoover Dam opened, leaving intakes valves exposed and many scientists believing there is no hope it can ever be refilled.
    That's the bad news, but this story also has a silver lining. 
    Although the low levels in Lake Mead symbolize water shortages throughout the region, these recent discoveries might help the Las Vegas PD solve some cold missing-persons cases, some of which might date to the Ford Administration, or even earlier.
    Police indeed are looking back some 40 years at missing persons cases and said they believe even more bodies will be discovered as water levels in the lake continue to fall.
    Las Vegas PD and the Clark County Coroner said the identification of the victims will be released if and when they are available.
    Geoff Schumacher, vice president of the National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement, which is housed in the old Las Vegas Post Office Building, said he too believes more bodies will be found in the shrinking lake.
    "I think a lot of these individuals will likely have been drowning victims," Schumacher told CBS News. "But a barrel has a signature of a mob hit. Stuffing a body in a barrel. Sometimes they would dump it in the water."
  • LebanonTurf, a provider of plant nutrition products for the golf and landscaping industries, has launched Country Club IV line of greens grade fertilizers with "Increased Visibility" that make applications easier to see for end users.
    In response to requests from golf course superintendents to make putting greens fertilizer easier to see during application, LebanonTurf has developed these new products that result in an easy-to-see granule utilizing its Composite Technology manufacturing process.
    LebanonTurf's patented Composite Technology fertilizer manufacturing process fuses forms of nitrogen with phosphorus, potassium and other micronutrients to create a homogeneous granule with improved particle dispersion and integrity, along with a higher measurable amount of nitrogen activity.
    "We believe these new products will dramatically help the superintendent make accurate and effective fertilizer applications on their high-quality putting greens," said Christopher S. Gray, Sr. brand manager of professional fertilizers for LebanonTurf.
    Initially, the Country Club IV products will be available in the following formulations: 18-3-18, 18-9-18, 17-0-17 and 0-0-25. Additional product development is currently planned for launch in the fall.  
    "We feel," Gray said, "that our expanded portfolio of high-performing, greens grade products, both these new Country Club IV products and our incredibly popular Country Club MD products, offers today's superintendent a wide range of real-world benefits that fit into any putting green nutrient program."
  • When it comes to building a crew, superintendents are learning that beggars no longer can be choosers.
    With a few exceptions, superintendents have found out the hard way that people no longer embrace the long hours and hard work required to manage a golf course like they once did. And of those who do, there are more than a few who fail to respect the clock. Tardiness, once a fireable offense, has to be tolerated to a degree.
    In a perfect world, Chad Brown, superintendent at Norfolk Golf Club in Westwood, Massachusetts, would carry at least a dozen people on his staff throughout the golf season, about 75 percent of which would be seasonal, part-time help. Times are anything but perfect.
    Brown has been on the job at Norfolk for less than two months, but knows the course inside-out. A former assistant at Norfolk, Brown left in 2019 to accept his first head superintendent position and returned when his former mentor, Jon Zolkowski, resigned earlier this year.
    Like everyone, he is running a little short on seasonal staff this year, a trend that is all but guaranteed to continue at least until the school year in Westwood ends . . .  June 22. Locals still in high school and college are limited to weekend work. 
    "Everyone is having issues," Brown said. "We are no exception to that. Our weekend staff goes above and beyond, but they're still in school. Fortunately, we've had enough staff come back from last year."
    "We are 20 minutes south of Boston. What we tend to see are kids back home from school who live within a few miles. They know us because they've driven by us 100 times."
    You know the business has changed when a superintendent sheds light on the fact that a teenager might be the oldest person on the staff, full-time employees not withstanding.
    As it stands, Brown values work ethic and character much more than experience, or even interest, in golf. 
    "We had three people return from last year, and two are just weekend help, which I'll take," Brown said. "I'll take some new hires. I'll hire friends of good employees. If you have friends with a good work ethic, we're always hiring. That seems to have worked out well. The good employees we have get the program, and they understand what we need. They don't ever recommend anyone they don't feel is up to the job. We do have some bumps, because in the end these are kids.
    "We deal with the same issues everyone else does: attendance, tardiness. It still takes work to get to the point where we're all on the same page."

      In hopes of improving his recruiting success, Brown plans to cross-train his staff. He figures doing so can help maximize efficiency and prevent the staff from getting bored and perhaps leaving for another golf course or leaving the industry altogether.
    "Training is different for every employee, because they come in with a different level of knowledge of the game," Brown said. "They learn the layout the first week and get comfortable on the property. Then they move on to odd jobs, raking bunkers. It's about exposure to the golf course and learning attention to detail. They have to learn that every job is important, because we are judged by our members and guests on our worst attributes. If our greens are great, but the bunkers are poorly maintained, that is what we are going to be judged on that day."
    The golf course is unable to match the local fast food industry, which pays new hires a few dollars more than Massachusetts' $14.25 minimum wage. What he cannot offer in pay, Brown tries to make up for in scheduling.
    "We recognize with prospective employees that we can't compete with the restaurant down the street. When they have zero experience we can't justify spending $18 an hour, but we promise everyone I hire to give them raises not based on longevity, but on the skills they learn," Brown said. "Dunkin' Donuts and McDonald's do offer more, but we offer a consistent schedule with available overtime. Our goal is to get employees to $16 an hour by the end of their first summer. They offer $3 or $4 an hour more, but you'll never get more than 30 hours, and you might be opening one day and closing the next. We're here from 6 (a.m.) to 2 (p.ml.) daily, and weekends we are here from 6 to 9 for a quick mow-and-go, and we go home. . I feel like we provide a fun and rewarding environment, and financially we put employees in a better position."
  • An apprenticeship program in New York is focused on helping solve a labor shortage in the state's turfgrass industry. Photo from NYSTA Golf course superintendents and sports turf managers throughout New York struggling to find help soon will have a new labor source to tap to quench pipeline to tap to alleviate their labor woes.
    The New York State Turfgrass Association is finalizing a statewide registered apprenticeship program for the turfgrass industry. The program will help NYSTA employer partners find and secure talent for specialized skilled positions in an industry starved for trained and educated professionals by creating a career pathway for job seekers throughout New York on golf courses, sports facilities, athletic fields, lawn/landscape and other turf-oriented businesses.
    The program provides a template to help employers provide state-approved training for an existing employee or a newly recruited worker, said Dom Morales, the retired SUNY Delhi instructor who is helping organize the project for NYSTA.
    The New York State Department of Labor is in the final stages of approving the template. Once approved, the program will offer 4,000 hours of structured, on-the-job training and additional instruction through a host of cooperating partners.
    The concept has been in the works since 2018. Once approved, the program will offer training, education and certification for groundskeeper - golf course, groundskeeper - sports turf and turf equipment technician.
    "Programs like this have been discussed before," Morales said. "This program is the first time something like this has been done on a statewide basis."
    Tyler Bloom Consulting helped develop core competencies for the training program and will help market the concept to employers throughout New York. So far, six employers have signed on to either train an existing employee or use the apprenticeship to attract new help.
    "I saw this as a way to make an impact in the turf industry and solve a problem," Bloom said. 
    "This is not just one faction of the turf industry. This is multiple factions coming together to solve a really big problem."
    Once the program is up and running, it will do so on a one-year probationary period.
    "There are a lot of checks and balances," Morales said.
    "It is currently in the hands of the Department of Labor, and it should be approved by late May, or early June."
    There is an increasing number of high school students across the state who at least express a passing interest in careers in agriculture and horticulture. As many as 140 high schools in New York have a Future Farmers of America chapter or some other type of agriculture education program. 
    Morales and Bloom are going to Syracuse May 12-14 for the state's FFA conference that is expected to attract more than 2,000 high school students interested in some sort of agricultural career.
    "Ag-ed has exploded here," Morales said. 
    "The apprenticeship program also would be ideal for a veteran, or someone looking for a career change. This is where the rubber meets the road."
  • Brandt partners with Florida GCSA
    A new system modeled on the PGA Tour FedEx Cup will help send a group of Florida superintendents to the GCSAA National Golf Championship. Under a three-year partnership with Brandt Consolidated, the new points-race system will provide an annual trophy for the overall winner plus travel, entry fees and uniforms for a total of 10 Florida GCSA members (two teams) to represent the state in the team event at GCSAA championship.
    Golfers will earn points based on their performance in the Everglades GCSA Poa Annua Golf Classic, the Florida GCSA Steven Wright Memorial Golf Tournament, the North Florida GCSA Fall Classic, the Central Florida Crowfoot Open and the inaugural Florida GCSA Benevolent Fund Tournament.
    The event will be known as the "Florida GCSA Race to Orlando presented by Brandt." The highest points earner will get to keep the BRANDT Cup for one year as well as a trophy they keep permanently.
    "We are very excited to help ensure that superintendent golfers who qualify will actually get to go the national," Brandt turf and ornamental territory manager, Chris Cartin, says. "It gets more and more expensive to attend the national show each year and not every superintendent or their facility has the resources to meet those costs. We’re looking to help guys have that chance to participate, show their skills and proudly represent their state."
    The partnership will also ensure the Florida GCSA has the best chance to build on its record at the national golf championship. During the past 20 years, Florida has produced the winner of the individual championship nine times and the winners of the team event eight times.
    FMC gives back to golf
    FMC gave back more than $26,000 to 49 local GCSAA chapters through its "Give B ack to Local GCSAA Chapters" program. Since the program’s inception, FMC has donated more than $106,000 directly back to local chapters to fund education, programming and research.
    This year's rewards-check recipients represent GCSAA chapters from all across the country that were winners in FMC’s booth contest at the GCSAA Conference and Trade Show in February in San Diego that was tied to the launch of Serata fungicide.
    Purchases of Fame SC, Rayora, Kalida, and Serata fungicides through August will generate additional rewards for GCSAA local chapters.
    PBI-Gordon names new sales, marketing managers
    PBI-Gordon, a manufacturer of herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, growth regulators and other products, recently named Geoff Smith the company’s new sales team as national key account manager, and Lyndsie Balstad as product manager for the marketing team.
    As national key account manager, Smith is responsible for overseeing all sales initiatives. Most recently, he was formulator sales territory manager for Gowan USA and also worked for The Scotts Co.
    As product manager with the PBI-Gordon marketing team, Balstad will focus on the herbicide portfolio by supporting product life cycle management and driving innovation to bring new products to the market. 
    Before joining PBI-Gordon, Balstad was with Corteva, where she has extensive experience in the agricultural market. 
  • There is a lot of competition for use of public golf courses in California. Photo by John Reitman Don't look now, but the California legislature's assault on public golf that appeared dead earlier this year is gathering momentum.
    The state assembly Local Government Committee voted 5-2 (with one abstention) on April 27 in favor of Assembly Bill 1910, which would provide funding to help convert publicly owned golf courses to a mix of high-density housing and open space. There are a few steps remaining before the bill would become law. The proposed legislation now moves on to the Appropriations Committee for a vote. If approved, the measure would next have to pass the full assembly before it could be sent to Gov. Gavin Newsom to be signed into law.
    The push to repurpose public golf courses in housing-starved California appeared over in January.
    Known as the Public Golf Endangerment Act, Assembly Bill 1910 was first introduced in 2021 as AB 672 by assembly member Cristina Garcia of Bell Gardens in Los Angeles County. It appeared dead in January after it passed through two California Assembly committee hearings on Jan. 12, but failed Jan. 20 to get the necessary support in the Appropriations Committee.
    It was brought up again to the Housing and Community Development committee on March 23, where it passed by a 6-2 vote. An early April vote by the Local Government Committee was postponed by the bill's author when it did not have the support necessary to get through the committee.
    The bill proposes providing public relief in the way of developer subsidies and grants to local agencies to redevelop California's municipal golf courses into low-incoming housing and green space. To be eligible for public assistance in converting a golf course, a project must meet several criteria under AB 1910 in its current form. At least 25 percent of all new dwelling units must be affordable to, and occupied by, lower-income households; at least 15 percent of the development must be publicly accessible open space (a golf course is not considered public space under AB 1910); no more than one-third of the square footage of the development, excluding the portion reserved for open space, is dedicated to nonresidential uses, such as parking.
    Through every stage, AB 1910 is the subject of constant tweaks and rewrites, and it might be fine-tuned yet again before its next vote. Other criteria, which are not so clear cut, include: the subject golf property must be deemed underutilized; must be in a community that rises to a certain level of population density; and must be in a community deemed park poor. Three terms that have not yet been fully defined, nor has it been determined who will define them are underutilized, population density and park poor.
    The Southern California Golf Association released a statement addressing the issue shortly after the vote.
    "What do 'underutilized,' 'population density,' and 'park poor' mean in concrete terms? What are the metrics of each? How are they to be objectively measured?”
    "Who or what will serve as the final arbiter of whether real meat can be put on the bones of these three vague admonitions? That's not entirely clear. Will golf be invited to provide input on how real meat can be put on those slender bones?
    "Lots of questions. No real answers yet."
    Garcia introduced the bill last year eyeing the repurposing of some public golf courses as a way to solve a housing shortage crisis in California. Simply put, lawmakers say, there is not enough affordable housing for many of California's 39 million residents, and converting golf courses into a mix of affordable housing while retaining some of the property as greenspace, could help solve that.
    The Southern California Golf Association and the USGA both have actively opposed the bill and lobbied the public about the merits of municipal golf in the country's most populous state.
    There are 921 golf courses located throughout California, about 200 of which are publicly owned. Although municipal golf comprises only about 22 percent of California's golf supply, it hosts about 45 percent of all play statewide, according to the Southern California Golf Association.
    No date has yet been set for a vote by the Appropriations Committee.
  • It is no secret that staffing issues are among the chief concerns currently facing golf course superintendents. Those staffing challenges are not limited to assistant superintendents, interns or seasonal crew, but often include mechanics, as well.
    In an effort to alleviate some of the void created by a lack of qualified applicants, East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, is implementing an equipment manager apprenticeship program that golf course superintendent Charles Aubrey hopes will help the club fill its own needs in the near term, while also eventually providing long-range benefits to colleagues throughout the industry.
    Ideally, the program (which admittedly is in its infancy) will provide a paid entry level position plus housing while that person learns the trade for a period of two to three years under the direction of East Lake equipment manager Chris Lewis. Upon completion of the program, that newly trained technician will be pushed out of the nest into the world to fly on his (or her) own, and the cycle will begin anew.
    "We will put that person on a continuing education path to become a successful equipment manager," said Aubrey, who has worked at East Lake with director of agronomy Ralph Kepple for seven years. "In two or three years, they will be ready to be an equipment manager, and they'll be able to choose where they want to go."
    Even East Lake, the site of the PGA Tour Championship and the historic home course to Bobby Jones, is not immune to staffing challenges, said Aubrey.
    "Everyone is having difficulty filling positions. Period," Aubrey said. "That's not just entry level, or assistant superintendents. The last few years, when clubs around Atlanta have been trying to find a head equipment technician, no one is qualified, or no one is interested. I know places in Atlanta that have been looking for a head equipment tech for six months, and can't find anyone."
    Housing is provided at a nearby apartment complex in a three-bed, two-bath unit shared with two of East Lake's assistants in training.
    Lewis currently has an assistant mechanic working with him, but more help is needed throughout much of the year, especially in the run-up to the Tour Championship.

    East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, the historic home course to Bobby Jones and the permanent site of the PGA Tour Championship since 2004, is starting an equipment technician apprenticeship program to help fill a need at the club and eventually help pump qualified mechanics into the field. Photo by East Lake Golf Club "We walk-mow everything, and we are running three fairway units a week, and we might have anywhere from seven to 20 cutting units a day that need to be checked in," Aubrey said. "Chris does all the budgeting, then you might have a unit with a flat tire, a backpack blower might not be working, sprayers need servicing. There is a constant line of equipment that needs to be checked out and checked in every day.
    "Chris and his assistant stay on top of things. They do a phenomenal job. But there is a never-ending queue of maintenance needs, and Chris needs an extra hand to do that.
    "We're going to get someone in here and train and educate them, and we're going to help them move along, and then we're going to start over. We want to get mechanics in here and trained and out into the industry, because God knows we need them."
    Although he is anxious to get the program off the ground in its inaugural year, Aubrey said working at East Lake is not for everyone.
    "You have to have the right work ethic to be successful. And you have to just put your head down and do the job with the right attitude. That is what we value," he said. "If someone has to stay late, who is going to do it? If you're showing initiative and doing the extra things and want to learn something else, let's introduce that person to other aspects of the industry. This isn't just a job. We want to educate them."
    A graduate of the Michigan State turfgrass program, Aubrey said he is not worried about training someone and losing them, even if they leave East Lake and land at another Atlanta-area club. In fact it is quite the opposite. Aubrey not only believes East Lake already has a well-earned reputation as an efficient training ground for up-and-coming professionals in the turf industry, he feels an obligation to educate people and send qualified professionals out into the workplace. To that end, the goal of the program is to eventually pump qualified equipment technicians into the field to help other golf operations, not just East Lake.
    "Everyone is hard-up try to find someone," he said. "We want to build a program to mold people and provide them with what they need to be successful, and this program will give them the skills to do that.
    "High turnover is part of what this industry is. All we can do is teach people as much as we can while they are here. And when they leave here, we hope they tell others 'if you get a chance to go to East Lake, you can't turn it down, because you will learn so much.' If we can do that, it will help our business 10-fold while also giving back to the industry."
  • Type the words "golfers are . . ." into Google and a flood of unflattering modifiers auto-populate in the results. Apparently, there are people who believe that golfers are "not athletes," but feel pretty strongly that they are "pricks, douchebags, selfish and rude."
    It's hard to argue with any of that, but one description that did not pop up in the latest Google search was "golfers are . . . terrorists."
    That might change after a jury awarded nearly $5 million in damages to Erik and Athina Tenczar, who claimed they have been terrorized by hundreds of golf balls launched toward their home along Indian Pond Country Club in Kingston, 35 miles south of Boston. 
    The headline in the original story in the Boston Globe read: "Family terrorized by golf balls wins nearly $5 million from neighboring country club."
    The plaintiffs bought their home on the par-4 15th fairway in 2017 and soon realized just how bad some of the golfers at Indian Pond are at hitting fairways in regulation. During the course of four years, the plaintiffs say about 700 golf balls either crashed into their home, breaking windows, denting siding, damaging their deck and left the couple's children clad in bicycle helmets to protect themselves from incoming fire while playing outdoors.
    They filed suit after repeated calls to the golf course and police resulted in no help.
    "When it hits, it sounds like a gunshot," Athina Tenczar said. 
    "We're always on edge," said her husband.
    A jury awarded the homeowners $3.5 million in damages. Including interest, the award totals $4.9 million, or about $7,000 per golf ball. And you thought 50 bucks for a dozen Pro V1s was a ripoff!
    Whether the court's decision is upheld in appeal remains to be seen, but this is by no means the first time a golf course has been sued by those feeling like their home is being used for artillery practice. In fact, it's not even the first case in Massachusetts. 
    Here are just a few other examples of homeowners suing golf courses over the intrusion of errant shots.
    Another Massachusetts homeowner filed suit in 2005 against Middlebrook Country Club in Rehoboth, when she claimed golfers pelted her yard and house with 1,800 golf balls during a five-year span. The plaintiff in that case was awarded an undisclosed amount.
    In 2008, a court issued a restraining order that temporarily banned play on the No. 6 hole at Winged Foot in Mamaroneck, New York, which has been the site of six U.S. Open Championships and a PGA Championship. 
    Homeowners in Ventura County, California, moved out of their home and demanded a professional relocation service refund their purchase price of their home on Spanish Hills Country Club in Camarillo, after complaining of more than two-dozen golf balls per day landing in their yard or bouncing off their $2 million house on the seventh fairway.
    In the case of Indian Pond and the $4.9 million payout, the plaintiffs said getting the courts involved was the last thing they wanted.
    "We never wanted a lawsuit," said one-half of the couple looking to collect on $4.9 million. "Nobody wants a lawsuit."
    An appeal most assuredly awaits in what is not the first case of homeowner vs. golf course. And with juries handing out seven-figure awards, it won't be the last.
  • Winter damage on the No. 7 green at Norfolk Golf Club in Westwood, Massachusetts in late March. Photo by Chad Brown via Twitter When it comes to dishing out punishment on golf courses, diseases play no favorites.
    Winter damage caused by repeated cycles of thawing and refreezing of soaked putting greens historically is a sporadic issue on golf courses. When it shows up, it does not care whether the superintendent is a rookie on a public golf course or a seasoned veteran getting ready for a major championship. 
    The winter of 2022, specifically the month of February, provided one of those occasional periods of distress for many superintendents in the Northeast. Private and daily fee golf courses throughout the Northeast were equally affected. 
    As spring weather emerges and turf begins to green up, there is evidence that a series of freeze-thaw cycles in February have caused damage of varying degrees on Poa annua putting greens throughout parts of the Northeast.
    "When it comes to winter damage," said Steve McDonald, a golf turf consultant and owner of Turfgrass Disease Solutions, "Mother Nature does not discriminate."
    McDonald has conducted site visits to dozens of golf courses this year where winter damage has been an issue. The severity of damage has been indiscriminate.
    "I've seen damage that is only the size of a pillow to about 60 percent of the putting surface. I've seen it on all the greens (on a golf course) and on just a few," McDonald said. 
    "I can visit five or six courses a day within 30 to 40 minutes of each, and it's all different."
    Tony Girardi has spent 28 of his 33 years as a superintendent at Rockrimmon Country Club in Stamford, Connecticut, and winter damage has been an infrequent visitor there. This year is the first time he has seen it at Rockrimmon since 2015. 
    Of this year's damage, Girardi said: "We got clobbered."
    "We had a freeze-thaw, then snow, then rain in January. That created slushy ice. That wasn't so bad," Girardi said. "Then we had temperature swings from the 20s to the 50s for the whole month of February."
    Girardi is using permeable covers to accelerate growth so he can see every place where damage has occurred.
    "We're still trying to assess damage," he said. 
    His multi-probed recovery plan includes resodding large areas, aerification and overseeding, or just letting the least-affected turf to grow out naturally.
    "In 2015, there was distinct death in areas where water pooled. We were able to identify damage right away," he said. "This year, damage was widespread and not confined to one area."
    At Fairview Country Club in Greenwich, Connecticut, Jim Pavonetti had minimal damage on three greens. He believes he was able to avoid further, more serious damage through an aggressive aerification program late last fall. That program started with an aerification procedure of three-fourths-inch holes on 2-inch spacing in November, followed by a drill-and-fill of 12-inch holes on 6-inch spacing, followed by another aerification procedure - also three-fourths inch on 2-inch spacing.

    Winter damage on the No. 7 green at Norfolk Golf Club in Westwood, Massachusetts in early April after a week or so under a cover.. Photo by Chad Brown via Twitter "With so many holes," Pavonetti said, "we did not have the surface water needed to create problems."
    Currently, there is no science to back up the validity of any preventive measures, says turfgrass consultant John Daniels, agronomist with the USGA Green Section's Northeast Region. Any success, says McDonald, is purely anecdotal.
    "The problem is this year we are seeing damage in areas where we are not accustomed to seeing damage. It's a head-scratcher," Daniels said. 
    "Damage is in varying degrees, even on the same golf course. That golf course might have damage, while others in the same town do not."
    Chad Brown, superintendent at Norfolk Golf Club in Westwood, Massachusetts, can attest to that.
    Brown has been on the job at Norfolk for less than two months, but knows the course inside-out. A former assistant at Norfolk, Brown left in 2019 to accept his first head superintendent position and returned when his former mentor, Jon Zolkowski, resigned earlier this year.
    Even the installation of new drainage on the No. 7 green did not prevent damage from occurring there this year.
    "We still had ice damage," Brown said. "We had just radical changes in temperatures that did not allow surface water to penetrate."
    He placed a permeable cover over the area to promote green-up and assess the extent of the damage.
    "We covered that area from the last week of March and the first week of April," Brown said. "I considered plugging, but day by day it looked better, so I decided to let it ride. I did skip the first Proxy application in that area. I'll take any seedhead as long as we have turf."
    In his days as an assistant under Zolkowski, Brown would dig out small pockets of problem areas, install pea gravel to promote drainage and re-cover the area with the turf canopy. 
    "After seeing damage this year, in the future, whatever I decide to do on greens in winter, I'm probably going to go old school and dig a hole again," Brown said. "I have to give the water somewhere to go."
    Some years, winter damage might come in the form of desiccation on bare, exposed areas, or Poa greens encased in ice for extended periods. This year, a pattern of freeze-thaw cycles has resulted in crown hydration damage.
    "A lot of damage can be traced back to drainage limitations on the surface or underground," Daniels said. "A lot of courses in the Northeast love their Poa greens, and they are proud of them. But winter damage is one of the risks you take when you try to maintain Poa greens in this part of the country. It's been six years since we've had damage, then boom! We have damage. It might be another six years before we see this again, or we might get hit again next year."
    "There is not a hard-and-fast rule that says 'if this happens, all damage can be traced back to this.' There certainly are factors that predispose certain greens to more damage, but it's not as simple as you can just do one thing and then you're good, or fix one issue then you're good. It's much more complex and multifaceted as to what you can do.When we experience this kind of weather, really all we can do is keep our fingers crossed and hope the water can move before it refreezes."
    Although there is no science to accurately predict when and where winter damage might occur, promoting overall soil health throughout the year could minimize the threat, Daniels said.
    "We have to step back and ask, how strong and healthy are your greens year-round?" Daniels said. "If greens are in a weak state in October, I would expect them to be more vulnerable to winter damage in January, and in April if they have to recover. I don't think you can push greens so hard in the summer, then just raise the height of cut going into winter and think that is going to absolve you of all your problems going forward."
  • Anyone who has managed warm-season turf on a golf course already knows how devastating nematodes can be. What they might not be aware of is the extent of the damage they can cause nationwide.
    Conservative estimates put nematode damage in warm-season turf at north of $50 million annually. Often, however, nematode damage is misdiagnosed, perhaps as a fungal disease. Other times, damage can be caused by both disease and pest. According to University of Florida nematologist Billy Crow, Ph.D., (shown at right) root damage caused by sting nematodes can create an optimal environment for fungal diseases, such as Pythium.
    Left to their own devices, nematodes can wipe out entire areas on warm-season turf on putting green, so if these microscopic worms are suspected of causing damage, then it is critical to get the diagnosis correct and put the correct curative measures in place.
    Crow says there is a science to sampling for nematodes. The country's leading voice in nematology says take about 16 samples in a back-and-forth pattern across the affected area. Doing so helps ensure randomly capturing enough nematodes.
    Taking samples from one area, Crow said, does not provide an accurate view of what is happening beneath the surface.
    "On healthy grass, because we don't know where these nematodes tend to occur because they're going to be unevenly distributed in clumps," Crow said. "We don't know where these clumps are," Crow said. "So what you're going to do is you're going to go across the area, the green, the fairway, or the tee, in more of a zig-zag pattern, and taking samples as you're going along in the zig-zag so we're getting the average nematode population density across the areas."
    Crow's nematode sampling advice was the subject of a recent video distributed by Syngenta.
    In the video, Crow also recommends not sampling areas where damage is overly obvious, i.e., areas of dead turf or bare ground.
    "We wouldn't want to take a nematode sample there because there's no grass. So nematode populations are going to be low because these nematodes have to feed on live turf, so we want to stay away from the really bad spots," he said. "I try to concentrate on areas where the grass was sick, (but) where it wasn't dead."
    The point is to provide the lab with enough accurate samples so the problem is properly diagnosed, said Crow, who has seen dried and useless samples arrive at his lab in Gainesville in everything from plastic containers to brown paper lunch sacks.
    Samples should be taken from a depth of 3 to 4 inches.
    "Greens, 3 inches, fairways and tees, down to 4 inches," he said. "In that range is going to be where most of the nematodes are."
    He recommends placing the samples, about 16 cores, in a plastic bag and getting them out of direct sunlight as soon as possible. It also is important to store them in an air-conditioned room until they are shipped - ideally within 24 hours of sampling - so they do not dry out.
    "The longer these samples are in transit," he says, "generally the lower the recovery gets."
  • The USGA is investing $1.9 million in more than 80 turfgrass research projects this year. Photo by USGA The USGA has committed nearly $2 million to help fund dozens of research projects throughout the year, marking the largest investment in turf and environmental research in the game's history.
    In the past 40 years, the USGA has invested almost $47 million in turfgrass research, including $1.9 million this year that will fund more than 80 projects. In the past decade, USGA-funded projects has resulted in practices that can help turf manages reduce water use by 20 percent and nutrient use by 40 percent, the association says.
    The USGA says its investment in golf course sustainability saves the industry as much as $1.92 billion annually. That includes $201 million from advancing irrigation and reducing water use, $530 million from advancing irrigation scheduling with soil-moisture meters and $295 million from more efficient fertilizer and pesticide use.
    "A core focus of the USGA is to ensure golf is not only thriving today, but is also growing in the next 20, 30, and 50 years. To ensure future success, we need to continually invest in efforts that can address challenges that our game will face long-term – like water scarcity, the cost of labor/resources, and the availability of land," said Mike Whan, USGA chief executive officer. "We are making significant investments in research projects that will create an even more sustainable and resource-friendly game. These advances are critically important steps to ensure that golf remains nimble and innovative in its approach to long-term sustainability – so that our kids, and their kids, inherit an even stronger game."
    The 2022 grant recipients include more than a dozen universities and represent both short- and long-term projects. Grant applicants are chosen for meeting criteria, such as optimizing sustainable golf course management and playing conditions; protecting and conserving water resources; or identifying and developing novel plant materials.
    Projects receiving funding this year include a multi-university evaluation of drought tolerance and water use of fairway grasses; a Texas A&M study focused on site-specific reduction of fertilizer use; and turfgrass breeding programs at several universities.
    Formerly the Turfgrass Environmental Research Program, the initiative was renamed last year for Mike Davis, the former USGA executive director and CEO.
  • It often is said that it takes a village to raise a child. There are times when it also requires a large group to raise a golf course superintendent, especially in times of disaster.
    When an overnight fire on April 2-3 destroyed an auxiliary maintenance building and most everything inside it at Framingham Country Club in Massachusetts, director of golf course and grounds Pat Daly, CGCS, wondered how he and his team at the club near Boston would be able to complete all of the spring spraying applications.
    After a couple of quick phone calls, a host of people, including fellow superintendents and suppliers came forward with equipment from sprayers and utility vehicles to blowers to help Daly get through his spring spraying applications.
    "This is already a tough business, but the beauty of it is the camaraderie," said Daly, who is in his 22nd year at the club near Boston. "I can't tell you how many people have called to offer equipment - equipment distributors, chemical distributors. I've been overwhelmed by my friends in the industry who have stepped forward to help out."
    On April 3, Daly and wife Judy were supposed to take their son, Nathan, to Williamsburg, Virginia, to visit William & Mary, where he will be a freshman in the fall. Those plans changed when Daly awoke that morning and saw missed calls and messages on his phone from a club bartender, general manager and Framingham's president. Rather than head for the airport, Daly went to the golf course.
    The night before, an assistant clubhouse manager noticed flames coming from a satellite maintenance building about 9:45 p.m. A former cart barn, the building houses much of the specialized equipment that Daly does not use on a daily basis, such as sprayers, aerifiers, blowers and a tractor. The fire department was on the scene by 10 p.m. The fire finally was out by 2 a.m. Structurally, the building was a total loss as was everything in it.
    The cumulative loss is estimated at $1.2 million.
    Among the victims were, four sprayers, four aerifiers, two tractors and blowers, a verticutting unit, seeder and two tow-behind leaf vacs. An adjacent storage unit used to house chemicals and fertilizers was not damaged by the fire, but remained shuddered by fire officials until they were able to safely clear it. Their concern was that firefighting efforts might cause runoff into an adjacent stream if the doors to the unit are opened. Daly also was concerned how the intense heat from the flames might affect product efficacy. 
    "Everything I walk through, I find something else under the ashes," Daly said. "It was a gut punch."
    Daly immediately started calling equipment and chemical suppliers looking for help.
    Soon, he had assistance from many. Among those who rushed to help were Tony Girardi, superintendent at Rockrimmon Country Club in Stamford, Connecticut; Herbert Meredith of Meredith Chem-Farm Sales in Maryland; Shane Cornicelli of A-OK Turf Equipment of Coventry, Rhode Island; and Nat Binns of Turf Products Corp., an Enfield, Connecticut Toro dealer, among others, who stepped up to loan Daly blowers and sprayers and utility vehicles to help him get through his spring applications.
    "We had a new blower that was used once. And now it is under a pile of debris," Daly said. "I contacted A-OK Turf, and the first word out of Shane's mouth was 'what do you need?' I told him I needed a blower, and it was shipped. That's the industry we're in."
    Girardi and Daly have been friends since the early 1990s when they were classmates at the University of Rhode Island. When he heard about the fire, Girardi pledged anything he could do to help his friend, including sending a 200-gallon sprayer.
    "Fire is my biggest fear. If something like that happens to the maintenance building, I never want to know that feeling," Girardi said. "I am a big believer in paying it forward. I would want someone to help me if I was in that same situation."
    Chemical suppliers were on the phone with Daly by Sunday. New product is now being stored in a smaller unit, which will necessitate reorganizing the space and installing shelves so Daly can fit everything he needs into a confined area.
    "I feel like I could teach a class," Daly said. "I feel like Matt Damon in 'The Martian': I'm working the problem. I have a legal pad with me all the time. When I see something I write it down."
    Meredith's father, Howard Sr., started Chem-Ag in the 1970s to service the agriculture industry. Eventually, business expanded to include golf. Daly and Howard Sr. first met in the 1980s, so when news of the fire spread, Howard Jr. began working the phones on Daly's behalf.
    Supply chain issues that have plagued the golf industry have made it a challenge to get everything to Daly that he needs. Meredith quickly refurbished a sprayer with a new pump and new hoses to make sure Daly would get a reliable piece of equipment that is built to last.
    "He called me Sunday after the fire. I've known Pat for 25 years. I immediately searched to see if we had anything that would work for him," Meredith said. "He was dead in the water, we had to find him something. 
    "The pump I put on was the last one on my shelf, and I don't know when I'll get another one. No one can tell you how long it will be."

    After four hours, firefighters finally had the blaze under control by 2 a.m. on April 3. Fire photos courtesy of Pat Daly   Binns has known Daly since the former began working at Turf Products in 2006. He too, was quick to respond to the needs of a longtime customer and friend, sending him a Workman.
    "He's welcome to use anything he needs," Binns said. "There is a brotherhood in this industry, and when something like this happens, it's everyone to the forefront. We just happened to get lucky. The biggest need was sprayers. Howard found some of those, but Pat needed vehicles to mount them on."
    The fraternal bond that has been on display since the fire is not the only silver lining to come from the disaster at Framingham. The lost building also was used for staff meetings, leaving Daly with the feeling that as bad as things are, they could have been worse.
    "I've always had a great relationship with the fire department, police and the town. I'm thankful no firefighters or police were hurt," Daly said. "Thank God it didn't happen at 2 in the afternoon. I would have gone in and tried to grab a sprayer, or something stupid like that. I have a great crew, and they are very dedicated, and one of them probably would have done the same. They're a great crew, with young families. It always could have been worse. Thank God no one got hurt.
    "This can be a difficult job, but the people are outstanding, and sometimes, we need to focus more on that. That might be better for all of us."
  • Photos by University of Missouri For those confounded by weeds rearing their ugly heads on the golf course this spring, a digital resource from the University of Missouri makes identifying weeds and developing a management plan easier than ever.
    Missouri's Weed ID Guide provides information on more than 450 species of broadleaf and grassy weeds. The guide includes descriptions on each plant’s life cycle and growth characteristics, as well as identifiable features, such as leaf structure, and descriptions of stems and flower and fruit, and other characteristics. 
    Multiple photographic images of each plant also help with identification.
    Users also can cross reference their search by grassy or broad-leaf weed type, common name or Latin name for 461 weed species.
    The site also includes a searchable database that references scientific research by weed species, year and specific herbicide used.
  • Garia is a manufacturer of golf cars and light utility vehicles based in Denmark. Club Car has reached a deal to acquire Garia, a Danish company that makes electric vehicles for the golf industry and other markets.
    Founded in 2005, Garia is a leader in Europe in the luxury golf car market, and launched a utility vehicle line in 2015. The company also serves the municipal, hospital, university, parks, industrial, hotel and resort, zoo, amusement park, forestry and agriculture, postal and package-delivery and food-delivery markets.
    The acquisition also includes Melex, a Polish company Garia acquired last fall that specializes in lightweight utility vehicles.
    Club Car is a division of Platinum Equity, which acquired the company from Ingersoll-Rand a year ago.
    Club Car officials say Garia and Melex’s utility products fill a market that Club Car does not occupy.
    The deal is expected to close in the second quarter. Terms were not released.
  • Learning the art of negotiating is just one of the sessions taught at the Syngenta Business Institute. File photo by John Reitman Applications are being accepted for this year's Syngenta Business Institute, which is back as an in-person event after being conducted online for two years.
    The three-day professional-development program is scheduled for Dec. 6-9 at the Graylyn International Conference Center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
    Offered in cooperation with the Wake Forest University School of Business, SBI features educational courses designed to teach superintendents critical industry skills and offers plenty of networking opportinities. Upon completion, participants will earn 1.5 GCSAA Education Points. Topics to be covered during this year’s program include: work/life balance, negotiating, personnel management, leading across cultures and generations.
    Attendees must be employed as a superintendent, director of agronomy or at an equivalent level at a U.S. golf course.
    To apply, visit GreenCastOnline.com/SBI. Deadline to apply is Aug. 22. Applicants selected for the program will be notified by Syngenta in October. 
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