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From the TurfNet NewsDesk

  • John Reitman
    Rivermont Golf Club in Johns Creek, Georgia, has participated in two studies that examine how turf managers might one day be able to use nanobubble-infused water to reduce inputs on golf courses. In the photo above, researchers install sensors during the first research project. Photo by the University of Georgia Good things come in small packages. Really, really small packages. Water infused with tiny bubbles could hold a key to growing healthier turf and reducing inputs.
    A study by researchers at the University of Georgia is examining the effects of nanobubble-ozone technology on soil health and turfgrass systems.
    The study, which is led by UGA soil microbiologist Mussie Habteselassie, Ph.D., will study the effects of nanobubble-infused irrigation water on root aeration and soil health. Nanobubbles, according to researchers, are 2,500 times smaller than a grain of salt. They are so small that the technology used to infuse the bubbles into water can squeeze 61 million nanobubbles into a single milliliter of water.
    Funded by the Georgia Department of Agriculture, the three-year study began in October and will look at factors such as water use, shoot growth and root growth, and will take place in a greenhouse and in a laboratory at the university's research facility in Griffin, as well as in the field at Rivermont Golf Club in Johns Creek, Georgia. The research team says the study will "track changes in activity, abundance and composition of beneficial soil microorganisms that play an important role in organic matter decomposition and nutrient cycling."
    Although they are small, nanobubbles are mighty, according to researchers who say they can change surface tension and can improve soil health by increasing microbial activity beneath the surface. The results the researchers hope to prove are that the nanobubbles can lead to healthier soil and turf while also allowing turfgrass managers to use less water. Previous research has shown that nanobubbles smaller than viral particles stay suspended in solution unlike larger carbon dioxide bubbles, like those found in soft drinks, thus allowing oxygen to subside throughout the soil profile. Several other studies have shown that use of nanotechnology can result in water savings of as much as 20 percent.
    "What this potentially means is that, when you irrigate a field with nanobubbles, you increase the oxygen level in the root area of the turfgrass," Habteselassie said in a UGA news release. "More oxygen at the roots means better root development, increased water use efficiency, and also an increase in microbial activity. When you have increased microbial activity, there is better decomposition of organic matter and that releases nutrients and makes them more available to the plant."
    Rivermont Golf Club superintendent Mark Hoban has a long history of developing protocols to minimize inputs at the golf course in Atlanta's northern suburbs. He told TurfNet that he hopes the research will prove that the bubble-infused water can result in reduced reliance on pesticides, fertilizers and water.
    "We started trial work in our greenhouse three weeks ago, and we are starting on the golf course this week," Hoban said. 
    "Hopefully, in six to nine months we'll begin seeing some good data."
    The research is an extension of previous work at UGA that was funded by the Georgia Golf Environmental Foundation. The new study utilizes newer technology by Rapid Water Technologies, which manufactures a nanobubble generator that removes and prevents the buildup of biofilm in commercial and industrial water use. Other nanobubble research in turfgrass has been conducted at the University of Arkansas and Clemson University.
    Previous research in Australia has shown that turf irrigated with nanobubble-infused water requires less water, wetting agents and fungicide, Hoban said.
    Results of a similar study conducted in China on rice were published last year. That study showed that nanobubble-infused water resulted in improved nutrient uptake and plant growth. 
    According to the UGA researchers, when nanobubbles burst they release H2O3 which they believe can kill microbial cells and eventually control pathogens that cause diseases such as dollar spot and leaf spot.
    "This is where the sustainability aspect comes in," Habteselassie said. "If we can show that this works in turfgrass, it can lead to reduced use of chemicals and fungicides because the radicals released by the nanobubbles are controlling pathogens."
  • The golf course at Stoneybrook West, a gated residential community in Central Florida, closed in 2018. Not much has happened there since. Photo by Spectrum News Imagine being a homeowner in a golf community with no golf course.
    That is a reality for residents of Stoneybrook West, a 1,200-home gated community in Winter Garden, Florida. The Drew Rogers-designed golf course that opened in 2000 was the magnet that attracted homebuyers to the development in suburban Orlando during golf's boom. Fast forward to a recession that led to golf's bust, and the course that has struggled financially throughout most of its existence closed without warning in December 2018, setting off a period of uncertainty for homeowners that continues today. 
    After three years of strife, the homeowners association eventually bought the golf course last October, but it still has not reopened, and its future remains in doubt.
    More than 2,100 golf courses have closed since 2016, so it is no surprise when another one closes its doors. Although data on shuttered municipal, military, daily fee and private club facilities are easily tracked, gated residential golf courses are another animal. Many closed golf courses eventually are repurposed for residential and commercial real estate, and in some cases are converted for agricultural use. It is not so easy, however, to build apartments or retail outlets behind a guard gate where homeowners call many of the shots.
    "I don't think there is any one answer," said Larry Hirsh, owner of Golf Property Analysts, a golf course appraiser in the Philadelphia area. "The bottom line, for the most part, is either they go fallow and become a mess, or they continue to operate as a golf course."
    Hirsh recently recorded a podcast on the importance of conducting due diligence to identify the status of a golf facility economically, culturally, politically and from a facilities perspective, where its stakeholders want it to be and how to get there.
    In the case of a semi-private course joined at the hip with more than 1,000 single family homes, the answer is simple.
    "If the HOAs are smart, they will buy them and run them as a golf course, even if they lose money," he said. "They have to protect their property values."
    Stoneybrook West has been on a long road to that goal, but with the golf course closed for more than three years, its comeback remains in a state of limbo.
    Kitson and Partners, a real estate development firm from West Palm Beach, owned the course from 2007 to 2010. K&P sold the property to Stoneybrook West LLC, then a newly formed real estate firm with headquarters 220 miles south of Orlando in Fort Lauderdale, for $2.4 million in 2010. The real estate start-up never was able to get the course reopened, and sold it for just $416,000 in March 2019 to Orlando Legends Golf LLC. That transaction came four months after the golf course closed. 
    Stoneybrook was not being maintained as a golf course after closing, and soon was carpeted in weeds, according to homeowners. An examination of tax appraiser records showed that residential property values had dropped by as much as 11 percent in 2019 - the year the course closed.
    Property values in Stoneybrook West recovered somewhat over the next two years, and appreciated by 5.6 percent, while homes throughout the rest of Winter Garden rose in value by an average of 11 percent during the same time frame.
    The property eventually was sold at auction in April 2021. The City of Winter Garden entered a bid of $2.85 million, well short of the high bid of $3 million. A judge approved the city's bid, saying it was in the best interest of the community for the city to own the property.
    Six months later, the city sold the course in October 2021 to the Stoneybrook HOA. There is no sale price listed on the property appraiser's web site, but published reports put the sale price at $2 million. Every homeowner in the community will come through an extra , which will come through a tax assessment on each homeowner of $85 per year for 20 years. 
    Golf was riding a high 20 years ago when the Stoneybrook development opened in Winter Garden, and homebuyers saw an investment opportunity in one of the country's hottest golf markets.
    When the recession of 2008 hit, the golf industry already had been in decline for two years, and no sector of the market was hit harder than new residential golf communities. Opened in 2000, Stoneybrook West, the golf course, did not yet have the chops to survive the recession. It has been sold four times during the height of the golf industry's decline, according to the Orange County Property Appraiser. Each new owner was hailed by homeowners as a savior as other golf courses around Orlando, throughout Florida and across the country were closing at an alarming clip. So far, each successive owner has failed.
    When the city and the HOA reached a deal on the sale of the golf course, the homeowners association voted 745-47 to lease the operation to KemperSports, according to published reports. That deal inexplicably fell through, and the HOA declined to comment on the status of any future plans for the course. A receptionist did say a company has been hired to maintain the property as a golf course.
    "As appraisers, we operate in this realm of highest and best use. And you have a property there that really only has one highest and best use, and that is to be continually operated as a golf course," Hirsh said. "What HOAs don't understand is that the golf course is the life blood for their home values. 
    Hirsh said Stoneybrook's plight is not uncommon when real estate golf courses struggle, or worse fail.
    "Then you have conflict within the community where 25 percent are golfers and the rest of them don't play golf and don't want to pay for a golf course. They all want to move in there because it is a manicured back yard, but they don't want to pay for it."
  • Doctoral students enrolled at the University of Tennessee and Penn State University will be able to further their education and their research as the latest recipients of The Musser International Turfgrass Foundation Award for the Excellence.
    Devon Carroll, right, is a doctoral candidate at the University of Tennessee. She earned a bachelor's degree in turfgrass science and a master's in agronomy at Penn State and a master's in agricultural leadership, education and communications from Tennessee.
    She wrote her dissertation on the life cycle of the Poa annua and plans to pursue a career in herbicide development.
    Travis Russell, right, earned bachelor's and master's degrees in turfgrass science from the University of Arkansas and is pursuing a doctorate degree in turfgrass pathology from Penn State. There, his work will focus on turfgrass diseases and their control. His research spans different aspects of turfgrass science, such as cultural management, weed science and pathology.
    Russell's research has focused on Pythium patch in annual bluegrass. He plans to begin a career as a technical service representative for Bayer Canada.
    The foundation presents the Award of Excellence and a financial gift to doctoral candidates who have demonstrated overall excellence throughout their doctoral program. This year's recipients each receive $40,000 to put toward their research and education.
    Named for the late H. Burton Musser, professor emeritus of agronomy at Penn State, The Musser International Turfgrass Foundation was organized to promote turfgrass as a profession, recognize the contributions of its namesake and promote learning at all levels in the turfgrass industry.
  • A satirical social media account by a fictitious, yet funny, greenkeeper hints that rising fuel costs have become so high that the budget-busting prices might cut into his ability to mow greens this year at his make-believe "golfing course."
    Although the account represents a parody of life as a golf course superintendent, some of the views of the imaginary Miguel Vega are all too real.
    A total of 518 million rounds were played in 2021. That matches the number of rounds played in 2000, which then were the most ever. Although there has been record play on golf courses nationwide during the past 24 months, the rising cost of goods and services definitely are cutting into profits.
    Just ask Steven Scott, owner of Persimmon Hills Golf Course in Sharon, Tennessee. A distributor spent about $100 in gas to make the nearly 600-mile round trip from Chattanooga to Sharon. This year, the same distributor spent about $250 to make the same delivery run.
    "There is a huge trickle down from fuel costs," Scott said. "The cost for vendors to get product to you is going way up.
    "I know somewhere down the line, it's going to catch up to me, and I'm going to be paying that $250."
    Rounds played at Persimmon Hills were up more than 50 percent in 2021 compared with pre-pandemic numbers in 2019, Scott said. Although revenue is up, profits have not gone up at the same rate. 
    "Before Covid, golf wasn't going gangbusters around here. We knew how to hold stuff together with duct tape and baling wire, and that's how we operated," Scott said. "Last year, there was more golf played than any other year in history, so revenue was up, but with inflation, it's almost a wash. We haven't changed a whole lot from how we were operating pre-Covid."
    Each year, Scott relies on suppliers and distributors when creating a budget. Vendor partners are trusted allies in helping forecast prices for the following fiscal year. That has not been so easy for the past two years, and probably will not get easier any time soon.
    According to the Capital Group, a Los Angeles-based financial services firm, the economy historically lags throughout midterm election years and then rallies after voters cast their ballots in November. Mix in the tail end of a worldwide health crisis, inflation, record-high gasoline prices and a war in Europe that combined threaten to launch another recession, and suddenly predicting prices for products produced in a global economy becomes much more of a challenge.
    In December, Chris Gray of Lebanon Turf wrote about how supply shortages of urea caused a spike in fertilizer prices. Some products doubled in price, while others jumped by more than 200 percent, compared with 2021. The fertilizer market took another body blow in March with the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Russia, the world's leading producer of urea, is No. 2 globally in potash exports. Belarus, the neighboring Russian puppet state, is the third-leading exporter of potash. The volatility of the area will continue to cause limited availability of both urea and potash for the foreseeable future, Gray wrote. Throw in economic instability and forecasting price increases of anything has become much more difficult. 

    Valley Country Club in Aurora, Colorado. "Even when prices went up, it was never much," Scott said. "It might be $2 or $3 more a bag for fertilizer or herbicide, or a couple more dollars a gallon for something else, but it was never what it is now. They were always able to forecast price increases then, but now, things just keep happening," Scott said. "Even before Russia and Ukraine, there was inflation, and it's a midterm year, so the stock market is going bonkers. There are just a lot of factors (vendors) are unable to predict.
    "Right now, it's hard to pin down what it's going to be from one week to the next." 
    Even the cost of PVC rose steadily throughout 2021 until it spiked in September by nearly 30 percent, then dropped by 20 percent in October. Since January 2021, the price of polymers used to manufacture PVC are up by 21 percent, according to Investing.com. That increase eventually is handed down to the customers, making irrigation projects more expensive, too.
    "Luckily, we're set on everything we need for the year through our EOP program," Scott said. "If we have a breakthrough and there's something we need that I don't have on the shelf, then we just have to bite the bullet and do it."
    Western Tennessee and the Silicon Valley are worlds apart, but there are some things that Persimmon Hills and La Rinconada Country Club in Los Altos, California, share, such as the rising cost of just about everything used on a golf course.
    La Rinconada superintendent Kevin Breen has been using some organic nutrition products for years. The price of organics has lagged behind that of synthetics, prompting him to use more of them this year and last.
    "It's disruption that often gets us to change," Breen said. "And that is what we are going through right now."
    At Valley Country Club in Aurora, Colorado, superintendent Zach Bauer is about halfway through a fiscal year that began Oct. 1. A great deal of planning and constant communication with members have helped him through increased costs for everything, including an anticipated jump in labor expenditures.
    "I did my due diligence last year. I went to distributors during the golf season last year and asked where they thought prices would be going," Bauer said. "I must have talked to eight sales reps to make sure I could get as much into my budget as possible."
    For example, he was able to raise his fertilizer budget by 37 percent, compared with the 2020-21 fiscal year.
    "I got in on early buying, and I'm paying 40 percent more than (2020-21), so I'm 3 percent over budget," he said. "Because I did my due diligence, I'm a lot closer than if I'd just said 'OK, about 20 percent more will do it.' 
    "I have not bought fertilizer for fall yet. I usually do two slow-release apps, one in the spring and one in the summer. This year, maybe i stretch the one in summer to get me more into fall."

    Persimmon Hills Golf Course in Sharon, Tennessee. Seed prices, too, are still up. That is, when Bauer can find it.
    "I usually use 100 to 120 bags of perennial ryegrass for divot repair and slit seeding," he said. "This year, I just bought every bit I could find."
    Then there is the supply chain glut, that compared to inflation and fuel, seems like old news by now. He probably will see this year's golf season come and go before a skid steer that has been on order since last August arrives at Valley CC.
    "I might not see it until August this year," he said. "It is what it is."
    Throughout every challenge, Bauer has been sure to keep his members, board and administration in the loop.
    "A lot of our members are contractors or in construction, so when I talk to them about this, they get it," he said. "Where I did have to go in depth was about seed, they did not understand how there could be a shortage of seed."
    To make sure he finishes the year at or under budget, Bauer has limited spending throughout the winter.
    "We know we're going to be spending more on labor this year," Bauer said. "With inflation, everyone is demanding more money. I've had it in the back of my head for the past four months that we're not spending anything over winter. We're saving it all for those six or seven months out of the year when membership doesn't want any excuses. I've told our members, our board and our CFO that we are going to be under budget over the winter, but we'll make up for that in summer.
    "I got a game plan together," he said. "I've been telling my board and green committee, 'hey, a dollar isn't going as far as it used to, and we're going to have to pay more. I know they are thinking 'Zach, we know, we know from the last time you told us.' I'm just making sure they understand what is happening, why it is happening and where we are headed. I'm probably over-communicating."
    That is better than getting caught by surprise - like Miggy.
  • Much has been made of the drought in California in recent years. After all, it is difficult to ignore 39 million people and about 700 golf courses. But the drought across the West is hardly limited to California. All or part of several states across the western part of the Lower 48 have been struggling with arid conditions, and some have felt that thirst for water much longer than California.
    Much of Colorado has been mired in drought for more than 20 years, and the state is ready to take measures to help users save water.
    A bill under consideration by the state legislature would pay homeowners and others to replace non-native grasses with more water-friendly native plants or xeriscapes. 
    House Bill 1151 would offer a portion of a $4 million pool to replace non-native grasses in residential lawns, schools, governments and businesses. Introduced Feb. 4, the bill was referred to the House Committee on Agriculture, Livestock and Water and then the Committee on Appropriations on Feb. 28. The proposed legislation is sponsored by representatives Marc Catlin and Dylan Roberts, and senators Jeff Bridges and Cleave Simpson.
    At least 19 Colorado communities already have a cash-for-grass program. The proposed state program, if it becomes legislation, would provide matching funds in those communities. The program does not apply to golf courses - yet.
    A similar program launched in California's Coachella Valley in 2012, ran out of funds in 2015. Another in the Las Vegas Valley pays up to $3 per square foot up to 10,000 square feet and $1.50 per foot after that. That program has taken more than 200 million square feet out of irrigation.
    According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, parts of Colorado have been in severe or extreme drought almost consistently since 2000.
  • Syngenta enhances WeevilTrak
    Syngenta has introduced the first guarantee for control of annual bluegrass weevil, all white grub species and turf caterpillars with the WeevilTrak annual bluegrass weevil assurance program. 
    To qualify for the assurance, superintendents must be registered WeevilTrak users and apply the recommended rates of Acelepryn, Ference, Provaunt WDG or Scimitar GC insecticides as outlined in the assurance. 
    WeevilTrak features monitoring updates, digital tools and ongoing insights from researchers via the WeevilTrak blog. In addition to the assurance, Syngenta added monitoring sites at Kings Mill Resort in Williamsburg, Virginia, and Cannon Golf Club in Lothian, Maryland.
    Click here for more information.

    Aquatrols taps new territory manager
    Aquatrols recently named Ian Grove as territory manager for the southeastern United States.
    A former superintendent, Grove will be responsible for overseeing business in South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia. 
    He joined Aquatrols after working in sales for SiteOne, Harrells and Agrium Advance Technologies.
    Click here for more information.
    Pursell names new T&O director
    Pursell Agri-Tech named Bill Abetz as director of turf and ornamentals. A 30-year green industry veteran, Abetz will oversee its nursery, greenhouse, lawn care, golf, sod and sports turf markets.
    A former assistant superintendent and nursery operations manager, Abetz has more than 20 years in chemical and fertilizer sales and product development. He has introduced multiple products and new product categories into the market.
    Click here for more information.
  • Throughout his career as a golf course superintendent, Kevin Breen never gave much thought to becoming his professional association's president. Nor was it why he got involved with the GCSAA's member board. 
    His reasons for volunteering on behalf of other superintendents were much more understated, if not selfless.
    "When I am finished not just as president, but with my service on the board, I want members to see that they have a direct responsibility in the success of that organization and that they are critically important to what the association is," said Breen, superintendent at La Rinconada Country Club in Los Gatos, California, and for the next 11 months the GCSAA president. "I want them to feel they are involved and heard and that they are important in contributing to something bigger than yourself."
    And he knows what he does extends beyond the boundaries of Lawrence, Kansas.
    "As a board, we listen to members, we listen to industry partners, we listen to suppliers and we take that input and give a strategy to the staff to execute a plan so that we are all successful, so everyone with a stake in the overall industry, not just GCSAA, is successful. We know there are a lot of facilities where there is not a GCSAA member, and what we do affects them, too."
    In a time when just about everything, including the golf industry, is in a state of flux and uncertainty, Breen, with his self-effacing and benevolent approach, is the right person at the right time for the office, says Mike Kosak, who hired Breen as his assistant many years ago at Lahontan Golf Club in Truckee, California.
    "As I did, Kevin came from humble beginnings and was the main reason I brought him on at Lahontan," Kosak said. "We spoke of GCSAA often in those early days and he wanted to make an impact in some fashion as he didn't feel the small golf courses with minimum budgets were represented in the association. He made it his mission to open up opportunities within the GCSAA for the low budget facilities around the country.  He was instrumental in starting a grass roots movement in the Sierra Nevada chapter that included all facilities from the Mom and Pop 9-holer to the big budget private facilities."
    An avid reader of books on leadership and a one-time aspiring meteorologist, Breen has made a career of progressive out-of-the-box thinking. As a superintendent in an area that is subject to some of the most unique climate challenges and is constantly under the regulatory microscope, Breen has been an agent of choice both out of choice as well as necessity. It will require someone who is both to help guide the golf industry through uncharted waters, even if he has to treat those same waters for bicarbonates first. 
    He has spent years finding solutions to irrigation challenges, including water that is both dirty and scarce.
    When asked if he would consider natural products in response to the rising cost of synthetic fertilizer, he responded: "I've been using organic products for years, and I plan on using more organics."
    For most of the next year, he is bringing that reputation for change to the role as president of the GCSAA board. 
    His two years as vice president and president of GCSAA have been, so far, defined in part by two years of a Covid-plagued annual conference and trade show that was all virtual in 2021 and in-person, but lightly attended in 2022. 
    "With the challenges GCSAA and golf in general face going forward, the timing of naming Kevin Breen President couldn't be better," Kosak said. "I know Kevin will make every effort to be inclusive of all golf facilities and open doors for those who want to advance their careers through educational programs. He's always believed in the local chapters of GCSAA as being the opportunity to open those doors; at this time I think his leadership is just what GCSAA needs."
    It is no secret that the current conference and trade show format does not fit the needs of everyone. Two years of challenges associated with Covid have provided GCSAA with an opportunity to adjust that model in future years.
    "That is actually what we are discussing at the board level," Breen said. 
    "There is no answer at this point what exactly the show will be, but there is the recognition that it needs to evolve, it needs to change. Over the next year, we need to hear what members want and what the vendors who support the show want. We need to have those conversations with them about what they need to be successful.
    "The GCSAA does not get revenue and is not successful unless vendors are successful and they get what they need out of the show, as well as our members, so it's a balancing act. Over the course of the next few months, those discussions will be going on, and it will be a partnership with everyone involved. It's going to be a lot of listening and planning with these entities and listening to one another. The show will evolve, and that change will be ongoing. I'm excited by that, by the chance to do it better than it had been done in the past. And in a new world with new changes all around us, it only makes sense the conference and show will evolve, also."Breen says his defining moment of service to fellow superintendents came when working with the association's government affairs group, in particular advocating on behalf of his colleagues on key issues like water.
    "The pivotal moment for me in board service was in government advocacy and our priority issues agenda and how we arrive at those," he said.
    "What I hear about most from our members is the loss of our resources, be they chemicals, fertilizers and especially water in the West. That's the big one, that and manpower."
    For the past eight years, Breen has attended National Golf Day in Washington, where he plays an active role in the lobbying process by meeting with Congressional and Senate aides about key issues affecting the golf industry.
    "The first few years, it's like 'OK, you're here representing golf. That's nice, we'll see you maybe never again. Then you come back the next year, and the next year and the next year.
    "It takes time to develop credibility and build relationships necessary to effect change and influence lawmakers to see why this is a concern to us, and the fact that we have been persistent, they now can see what we are asking for is reasonableness."
  • Overnight there is a new and unfamiliar name in the golf turf and ornamental industry.
    Cinven, a private equity firm based in London with offices in seven countries, has reached an agreement to acquire the professional business segment of Bayer's Environmental Science for $2.6 billion. Founded in 1977, Cinven acquires U.S. and European corporations in the following market segments: business services, technology, media and telecommunications, financial services, industrials, healthcare and consumer products.
    The company announced in February 2021 its intent to divest the professional arm of its Environmental Science business, a division of Bayer Crop Science.
    Environmental Science Professional is focused on environmental solutions to control pests, diseases and weeds in non-agricultural areas such as vector control, professional pest management, vegetation management, forestry and turf and ornamentals. In 2021, the business had approximately 800 employees supporting operations and sales in more than 100 countries. It is headquartered in Cary, North Carolina.
    The decision to divest Bayer Environmental Science includes its professional turf and ornamental business, but does not include the segment's agricultural or commercial units, which are among its most profitable divisions. 
    "This divestment represents a very attractive purchase price and allows us to focus on our core agricultural business and the successful implementation of our Crop Science Division growth strategy," said Rodrigo Santos, president of Bayer's Crop Science division. 
    A spokesperson for Bayer said last year that the sale is not related to the company's ongoing challenges associated with settling thousands of lawsuits that blame glyphosate, the active ingredient in Bayer's Roundup herbicide, for causing cancer. 
    Bayer acquired Monsanto, the maker of Roundup, in 2018. Shortly after the acquisition, Bayer began answering charges filed by litigants that Roundup was responsible for causing their non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Since then, the company has spent almost $15 billion to settle current and future cases and recently has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to step in and stop the bleeding.
    The company announced last summer that it plans to halt sales of Roundup in the consumer market in 2023.
  • Peggy Kirk Bell was a charter member of the LPGA Tour and dedicated her career to advancing women's golf. She was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2019. Photo by USGA The element of surprise is gone from this year's U.S. Women's Open volunteer experience.
    When a team of 30 volunteers arrive in June for this year's Open at Pine Needles Resort in North Carolina, it will be difficult to replicate the wow factor that took the golf world by storm a year ago at the Olympic Club in San Francisco. Some things are more important than wow, so what will take place at the resort facility in Southern Pines will be no less significant.
    Again, it will provide an opportunity for some of the best the industry has to offer to network and learn from each other while promoting the job of greenkeeping to others who might never have considered it. And they will do it at a place with a long history of contributing to women's golf.
    This year will be the fourth Women's Open for Pine Needles, the resort facility in the North Carolina sandhills region that holds a significant place in the history of women's golf. Pine Needles was the longtime home of the late Peggy Kirk Bell, an LPGA legend and member of seven golf-related halls of fame, who, with her husband, Warren, bought the property in 1954. She lived there until her death in 2016 at age 95, and her family still owns the property today. This year's event will be a fitting tribute to someone who has dedicated her life to growing the game and advancing women's golf.
    David Fruchte has been golf course superintendent at Pine Needles since 1990 and has overseen preparations for all three Women's Open events held there (1996, 2001, 2007). 
    "Mrs. Bell was a direct influence to getting the Women's Open to Pine Needles," Fruchte said. "It was a pretty quick deal. When she wants the Open, she gets it."
    Bell was an accomplished player and instructor, and she also was an owner with a keen eye for agronomics and the contributions of golf course superintendents.
    "Mrs. Bell was great to work for," Fruchte said. "She was my biggest cheerleader."
    Like last year at Olympic, this year's volunteer group will include 30 women who are golf course superintendents, assistants and mechanics. Others come from the world of academia and industry vendors. The group will include 15 who worked last year's Open and 15 newcomers.
    Among those new to the experience this year is Renee Geyer, superintendent at Canterwood Golf and Country Club in Gig Harbor, Washington. Before she accepted the job at Canterwood last autumn, Geyer was golf course superintendent at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio. The site of several professional events, Firestone was home to the PGA Tour's WGC Bridgestone Invitational until 2018, and since then has been home to the Senior Players Championship.
    "I have never had the chance to participate in a USGA event. I have had many years of experience with hosting PGA Tour events, but never gotten the opportunity to be involved with a USGA tournament," Geyer said. "I hope it will bring me to see process and procedure through yet another lens of high-quality turf maintenance."
    Jessican Lenihan, formerly an assistant superintendent in Idaho and now a sod farm manager in Colorado, was on hand last year at the Olympic Club and will be at Pine Needles in June. The message she and many other women want to send is loud and clear.
    "Hey, we can do this, too!" Lenihan said.
    There also is a message she and others want to send to young women watching in person and on TV.
    "The biggest thing with getting more women into this industry is having them be aware that this is even a career option and being on the main stage during a major is one of the best ways to get that done," she said. "When I was in high school, I didn't have a clue this was even something I could do until I got a job on a golf course by chance working with the flowers. Come to find out I liked to cut the grass more."
    The opportunity for so many women in a male-dominated industry to gather for networking, education and just prove to doubters what they are capable of doing was a breath-of-fresh-air story that stole headlines in the trades and traditional media throughout much of 2021.
    This year's tournament experience, although no longer new, will be just as significant.
    A native of Findlay, Ohio, Peggy Kirk Bell was an accomplished amateur player. She won three Ohio Women's Amateur titles and went on to play collegiate golf at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida. In 1949, she claimed her only major win at the Titleholders Championship at Augusta Country Club, which butts up to its more famous neighbor in Georgia. She was a member of the 1950 U.S. Curtis Cup team, a charter member of the LPGA and a 2019 inductee into the World Golf Hall of Fame. 
    When the Bells bought Pine Needles, they saved it from financial distress and renovated the property. An accomplished golf instructor, Bell brought the game to countless women, children and men through her Golfari (golf safari) program at Pine Needles.
    "The history at Pine Needle is beyond that of a fairy tale," said Jennifer Torres, superintendent at Westlake Golf and Country Club in Yardley, Pennsylvania and an Open volunteer for this year. 
    "Peggy Kirk Bell was a powerful woman that brought success to Pine Needle. Her passion for Womens' golf brought numerous championship events to the resort."
  • Since 1995, the first Friday of March has been recognized as National Employee Appreciation Day. 
    TurfNet recognizes the accomplishment of golf course employees throughout the year. The Rising Stars of Turf recognizes superintendents in the early stages of their careers, assistants, equipment technicians, interns, students and sports turf managers. All Stars of Turf recognizes established superintendents, equipment technicians, career assistants, salespeople, architects, consultants or educators who have distinguished themselves over time. Presenting sponsors for Rising Stars of Turf are EarthWorks and DryJect; the All Stars of Turf program is presented by Foley Co. and Air2G2 by Foley.
    If you know someone who should be recognized for either program, let us know through Twitter @turfnet, but be sure and check your spelling and punctuation. March 4 also is National Grammar Day.
    Recipients will be announced monthly and featured on TurfNet.com and social media.
  • The wheel, the fork, coffee, the dishwasher, the toilet, Edison's lightbulb, landing on the moon, the Declaration of Independence, digital music and buying crypto currency are among the revolutionary ideas dismissed by Seinfeld co-creator Larry David in a series of commercials borne out of this year's Super Bowl.
    Turn back the clock to 2016, and chances are David would have added Bayer's opportunity to acquire Monsanto, the maker of the herbicide Roundup, to the list of things he would have poo-pooed.
    Facing thousands of lawsuits filed by those claiming the weedkiller Roundup is responsible for causing cancer, Bayer has spent billions in settlements. Recently, the company has said it should not be responsible for paying out any additional claims, and last August asked the U.S. Supreme Court to weigh in on the matter. Last year, Bayer filed a petition with SCOTUS appealing a lower court decision in Hardeman v Monsanto. The company claims federal preemption prevents Bayer from complying with some states' laws asking for cancer warnings on product labeling.
    In more recent news, disruption to supply of at least one undisclosed ingredient to Roundup has forced Bayer to limit production of the weedkiller it plans to pull from the consumer market next year.
    According to Reuters, Bayer told its industrial customers on Feb. 11 of disruptions to supply and production, and declared force majeure, which relieves the company from contractual obligations. The slowdown of production, according to published reports, will last about three months. 
    Shortly after Bayer announced plans to acquire Monsanto in 2016, the company was hit with a wave of lawsuits from litigants who say they contracted non-Hodgkins lymphoma from repeated exposure to glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup. Since then, the company has settled nearly 100,000 cases for about $11 billion. The company also has set aside an additional $4.5 billion for future settlements. 
    In December, the Supreme Court asked for input from the Solicitor General's office in response to Bayer's request for the court to overturn Hardeman.
  • Steve Ott has been the equipment manager at Elcona Country Club for 44 years. Like so many other golf course operations throughout the country, Elcona Country Club in Indiana has not been immune to the labor crunch that grips the industry. 
    One job superintendent Ryan Cummings has not had to worry about was that of equipment manager. Not until recently, anyway.
    Steve Ott, equipment manager at Elcona CC in Bristol, Indiana, is retiring this year after 44 years on the job.
    "We just all get along here. It's like a family," Ott said. "And everybody here works great together."
    Ott, 69, arrived at Elcona in 1978. Then, Grease was No. 1 at the box office, Night Fever by the BeeGees was near the top of the Billboard Top 100 list, the average cost of a gallon of gas was 63 cents and a home $54,000. In that time, Ott has worked under five different superintendents, including current greenkeeper Ryan Cummings.
    "When I started here nine years ago, there were six employees here with over 25 years of experience," Cummings said. "It's just a family atmosphere in the shop. I try to improve on that and keep that culture going."
    He will stay on for several weeks before riding off into retirement as Elcona's first new equipment manager in nearly a half-century learns his way around the operation.
    Ott's plans for retirement include traveling with wife Barbara and spending time with his grandchildren.
    "Hanging out with the grandkids, that's what I usually do," Ott said. "How many do I have? Let's see, nine, I believe."
    Ott is a self-trained mechanic who learned his way around engines as a kid while helping his dad, who worked at a local northern Indiana paper mill and liked tinkering with cars. Before he arrived at Elcona, Ott worked in a gas station and owned one for a while.
    He got his start in golf during high school raking bunkers and mowing fairways at a handful of golf courses around the Elkhart area, which is the RV capital of America. He took those skills to Elcona after getting out of the gasoline business.
    "I raked sticks my first day. There had just been a big storm come through," Ott said. "I just worked my way up from there."
    Throughout his time at Elcona, Ott has been more than an equipment manager. He also works every day on the golf course when he is not busy in the shop repairing something. His day might also include mowing fairways and roughs and serving as irrigation tech or whatever else Cummings needs.
    "He has a wide range of experience at all sorts of jobs out there," Cummings said. "There is not a job on the golf course he has not done or could not figure out in 10 minutes."
    Spending time out on the golf course on a regular basis helps Ott when he is working in the shop, as well.
    "He takes a lot of pride in the product we produce," Cummings said. 
    "Being out on the golf course two or three days a week, he has a good eye on what he has to adjust so it works better out in the field."
    Still, it is Ott's skill as an equipment manager that has made him so valuable for so long, especially when it comes to fabricating tools to help Cummings and his team do their jobs more efficiently.
    When Cummings needed a way to transport pumps efficiently and easily throughout the golf course to drain water from bunkers into sump pits, Ott transformed old, unused walk mow trailers into pump trailers, with a hook to roll up hoses.
    "I told him what I needed, and within four hours he had one made," Cummings said, "It's nothing fancy, but it does the job we need it to do. He's probably made 30 things that make our job on the golf course easier every day."
  • Jeremy Dobson with Holly Neidel, the former general manager at The Patriot Golf Club. Hardworking, honest and candid to a fault were just a few of the ways those who knew Jeremy Dobson will remember him.
    The grow-in superintendent at The Patriot Golf Club in Owasso, Oklahoma, Dobson died Feb. 21 when the recreational vehicle in which he was a passenger crashed in Jacksonville, Florida. Dobson and a group of friends from his hometown of Arkansas City, Kansas, were returning from the Daytona 500 when the crash occurred. He was 48.
    "I loved him like a brother," said Russ Myers, superintendent at Southern Hills in Tulsa where Dobson was an assistant for 12 years before growing-in The Patriot course in 2010. "He was a grinder. He worked hard and liked to have fun. He had a lot of friends, but he never had to go to them; they came to him. He never lost a friend."
    Other superintendents throughout the industry thought just as highly of Dobson, Myers said.
    "He was hugely respected by his colleagues and was unbelievably talented," he said. "He was a nice guy, but he was no shrinking violet. He had a way of telling you he disagreed with you without offending you. He knew what he wanted.
    "From the first scratch of the shovel in the ground he was so dedicated to The Patriot. He was as honest and loyal as the day is long."
    A native of Arkansas City, Dobson was a graduate of the Kansas State University turf program. He started as an intern at Southern Hills in 1997 and was hired into a full-time role the following year. There, he prepped under the likes of Bob Randquist, John Szklinski and Myers before moving on to build The Patriot.
    Four others in the RV at the time of the crash suffered non-life-threatening injuries, according to published reports. Also on the trip, but on a flight home at the time was Los Angeles Country Club director of golf courses and grounds Chris Wilson, who has been friends with Dobson since the two were in the fourth grade back in Kansas.
    "I don't know if I am going to be able to get through this (conversation)," Wilson said.
    "He could always make the worst situation better, and he made challenging times great. That's just who he was. He had such a positive impact on everyone he came in contact with."
    Wilson and Dobson got their start in golf in high school when both worked at Arkansas City Country Club. And it was Dobson who recruited his lifelong friend to Southern Hills in 1998. 
    Wilson later went with Myers to Los Angeles Country Club as an assistant and was named head superintendent in 2016 when his boss returned to Southern Hills. He credits his lifelong friend with helping him forge his career path.
    "He always worked hard and grinded it out," Wilson said. "You could just trust him as soon as you met him. He looked you in the eye, had a firm handshake and was easy to talk to. There was no bull****. He doesn't sugar coat anything."
    Myers' relationship with Dobson transitioned from one of superintendent and assistant to one of trusted colleague.
    "When I came to Southern Hills at the end of 2006, I inherited Chris Wilson and Jeremy Dobson and a third assistant, Roy Bradshaw, who is now our equipment manager. Chris and Jeremy were already good friends, and they were very good," Myers said. "It was apparent to me on Day 1 that I wasn't going to have to change much here. They were incredible people. They did not have to prove themselves to me, I had to prove myself to them. 
    "In 2007, we held the PGA Championship here, and over the next couple of years, the relationships we developed were lifelong bonds. It was a fraternity in a way. Now, every time I question something, or I'm worried if I'm missing something, Jeremy was always my first call. I trusted his judgment."
    Said Wilson: "He was the best bentgrass grower I've ever seen. Bar none. He knew how to manage water and nutrients with seeing tests. He just had an eye for it."
    Myers and Tim Moraghan of Aspire Golf have a long history. Through his relationship with Myers, Moraghan had gotten to know Dobson and eyed him for more than one potential career change opportunity.
    "I always try to match the personality of the superintendent with the personality of the club so everyone benefits," Moraghan said. "He produced a great product, but that's not what matters now. This is someone in the prime of life and the prime of his career who is gone for whatever reason. When something like this happens, it's sad. Right now, I don't care about grass, or selfies, or hiring practices. It's just turf, and today that is insignificant."
  • Proposed legislation in the U.S. Senate could result in canceling registration of several pesticides, some of which are used on golf courses.
    Senate Bill 3283, known as the Protect America's Children from Toxic Pesticides Act was introduced last November by Sen. Cory Booker,  N.J. The bill, which appears to still be in front of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, according to the Congressional Record.
    According to the author of the proposed legislation, the EPA "regularly fails to incorporate updated scientific understanding to protect human health and the environment from the harmful effects of pesticide products, as envisioned by the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act, resulting in the use of billions of pounds of pesticides every year that were approved based on outdated science."
    If passed, SB 3283 would update the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act of 1972, known as FIFRA, by canceling U.S. Environmental Protection Agency registration of neonicotinoids, organophosphate insecticides and the herbicide paraquat.
    Proponents of the bill call it historic and overdue. Its critics call it a waste of time that would override work put in by the EPA.
    The bill has the agriculture industry squarely in its crosshairs, and other industries, such as golf, could be affected if it ever becomes law. An earlier version of the bill, that one authored by Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., in 2020, but died in committee without receiving a vote.
  • In today's world of greenkeeping, a host of stimuli make evidence of lengthy careers harder to find. Increased golfer demand, a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately mentality and the murky waters of club politics, along with a shrinking supply of golf courses over the past decade-and-a-half combine to make staying at one location for any length of time increasingly less likely and send many into careers in support roles such as vendor sales and even drive others out of the business entirely.
    Although plain old hard work always is the foundation on which a solid career is built, it is not always enough. Success also requires an arsenal of soft skills when dealing with golfers and committees, a trusted network of colleagues and mentors as well as a little bit of luck.
    After 40 years as a head superintendent, including the last 22 at Westwood Country Club in Rocky River, Ohio, Dave Webner (right) knows a little bit about what it takes to succeed as a greenkeeper. He also knows about paying his good fortune forward for the benefit of others, including his two current assistants, Scott Pike and Eric Nordmeyer.
    "It is important to have guys you can call, sometimes just to joke with and help make you feel better, sometimes just to blow off steam and sometimes to ask for help," Webner said. "You have people you work with or for, and you take things that are positive, and there are some things you don't use and you develop what works for you."
    When Webner's own career began more than four decades ago, he learned the ropes from two other superintendents with long careers. After attending Penn State's two-year turf program run then by Joe Duich, Ph.D. he worked as an assistant at Canterbury Golf Club in Beachwood, Ohio, under both Bill Burdick and Terry Bonar. His time at Penn State and later Canterbury helped launch a career that has spanned more than four decades.
    "Duich would pitch a piece of chalk to different guys in the class and say 'draw a grass plant,' " Webner said. "Some of the drawings were elaborate, some were a stick figure of a grass plant, but none of them were right. Then he'd say 'You want to grow grass, but you can't even draw what a grass plant looks like.' You had to start from scratch."
    Webner's early years and subsequently his introduction to golf are a slice of Americana. The son of a man so true he was nicknamed "Honest" Rod, Webner grew up in Orrville, Ohio, the home of two iconic brands that prove sweet and sour can mutually coexist - Smucker's jelly and former Indiana University basketball coach Bobby Knight.
    During the 1975-76 college basketball season, Knight's Indiana Hoosiers were on their way to finishing the season undefeated and eventually went on to win the national championship. That group is still the last Division I team to finish the season without a loss. In 1976 back in Orrville, Webner learned of an opportunity that proved to be just as historic and life-changing - for him, anyway.
    While running a neighborhood grocery store in his hometown, Webner took a part-time job as the night waterman at another Orrville institution, Riceland Golf Course, a 100-year-old  mom-and-pop daily fee that remains a deal even today with walking rates of $18 and $30 with a cart.
    It was at Riceland, which lacks the resources of eastern Ohio layouts like Sharon or Firestone, where Webner got his first taste of what really is involved in keeping turf alive through challenging conditions.
    Fast forward to his last days at Penn State in 1981, and Webner had his choice of jobs, including offers from Frank Dobie at Sharon Golf Club and Burdick at Canterbury. He chose the latter and soon was working under Bonar when Burdick was promoted to oversee not only Canterbury, but also nearby Shaker Heights.
    That no-nonsense approach embraced by Duich, Burdick and Bonar helped forge the skills Webner would need in the real world.
    "Dave had a lot of positive qualities," Bonar said. "He was easy to talk to, and very open-minded about learning new things and different ways of doing things."
    During his 40 years as a superintendent, that include a short stint at Delaware Country Club in Muncie Indiana, and 13 years at Lake Forest Country Club in Hudson, Ohio, Webner has, like any superintendent, navigated good times and bad. He's asked colleagues for help and been there for them, too.
    "David is one smart guy and a great superintendent," said Kevin Ross, a former superintendent and turfgrass consultant who was Webner's classmate at Penn State. "Always love having conversations with him, because they are at a different level."
    The beneficiary of the experience of mentors and colleagues, Webner also is a benefactor, sharing his knowledge with others to help them out of a jam, or to further their own careers.

    Westwood Country Club. Photos provided by Scott Pike A graduate of Ohio State's four-year program, Scott Pike already was the assistant at Westwood when Webner was hired in 2000. The two had met previously at OTF events, but Pike recalls being a bit nervous when his employer was hiring his new boss.
    "I had started here as the assistant in 1999, and Dave was hired in March or April of 2000," Pike said. 
    "The club told me they wanted to go in a different direction and were not going to promote me. I had heard stories of how some superintendents like to bring in their own people, so I told them if they hire someone to please tell that person the job comes with an assistant already in place. I wanted to make sure whoever was interviewing knew my story and my background."
    It did not take long for both parties to realize each could complement the other.
    "We were driving the course one day when he first got here, and I was able to see right away how he does things," Pike said. "He has high standards and an eye for detail. 
    "He asked my opinions, and I think he wanted to see where I was coming from. He picked my brain, but I think a lot of that was to see what I knew and didn't know. Still, he valued my opinion, and that meant a lot to me."
    That relationship has been enough to keep Pike, 50, around as an assistant for more than two decades.
    "He cares about the people he works with," Pike said. "He never says I work for him. He always says we work together. It's a we thing, not an I thing, and that is a big part of what has kept me here as long as I've been here."
    Although he credits his mother and Honest Rod for much of that outlook, Webner says he learned a great deal about accountability on the job from Burdick and Bonar during his time at Canterbury.
    "They always talked about how the only thing you have is your credibility. If you screw up, stand up and admit it," Webner said. "It will haunt you if you try to cover it up."
    Bonar taught not just how to be a superintendent, but what it truly means to manage a staff.
    "He taught me that you need to know where everyone is on course all the time, that you should be able to drive across the course and tell if someone is out of place," Webner said. "And if someone is out of place you have to know why."
    Bonar laughed when he was reminded of that advice.
    "I wrote a paper on that. It was a damn good paper," Bonar said.
    "You know what section everyone is on, and you know how long it takes to mow greens, or fairways, or rake bunkers. At Canterbury, we had two hours between when we started and when play began, so you knew where everyone was supposed to be in relation to play. If you looked at your watch and saw someone was behind, 'no, no, no, that's not right.' It was just about being efficient."
    When things on the golf course went south, which they are prone to do on occasion, those early lessons, especially remaining humble, have proven invaluable.
    "You have to always be truthful and own your mistakes," Bonar said. "You have a responsibility, a responsibility to your membership to take care of their golf course. That comes above everything."
  • What better honoree for a new scholarship to help students pursue a degree in turfgrass studies than someone known as Dr. Dirt?
    A new scholarship to help undergraduate students in the University of Connecticut turf program is named in honor of the late William Dest, Ph.D. A former UConn student, researcher and professor, Dest died last spring at age 91.
    The William and Anne Dest Scholarship will provide between $1,200 to $1,500 to one student each year.
    Dest was nearly 40 years old, was a Korean War veteran and already was working as a golf course superintendent at Wethersfield Country Club when he showed up at UConn as an undergraduate in 1967. After graduating with a bachelor's degree in plant science, he earned a master’s in agronomy and  was named as a research associate. He eventually earned a doctorate in 1980 at Rutgers.
    During his career, Dest's research centered around turfgrass fertilizer programs, putting green speeds and improving conditions on athletic field.
    Recipients of the Dest award will be chosen by faculty members in UConn's' Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture.
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