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From the TurfNet NewsDesk

  • John Reitman
    "Currently, the future of Oakland Hills is focused on a long-term vision of its employees as we look for motivated leaders and builders. Individuals with a passion for golf, agronomy, business management and golf course architecture should explore the opportunity to be an Assistant Superintendent at Oakland Hills. The position emphasizes a team atmosphere with Assistant Superintendents being involved in all facets of our agronomy program including fertilizer/chemical application, cutting edge water management, irrigation diagnostics and repair, course set up, and management of a team.
    "No educational requirements needed, solely the desire to become a Golf Course Superintendent. Oakland Hills will help you achieve all your educational requirements and goals . . .  Golf course experience is a plus but more importantly we are looking for passionate teammates that are motivated and want to be leaders."
    - Oakland Hills CC job listing on TurfNet

    When it comes to hiring staff at Oakland Hills Country Club, Phil Cuffare (below) says the focus has to be on career development for the applicant. A recent employment listing for assistant superintendent at Oakland Hills Country Club is so attractive, that if it does not work, there may be no hope for anyone to attract talent.
    Oakland Hills is one of those places on a short list of clubs that anytime there is a job opening, a well-time advertisement or simply word of mouth should be enough to result in a flood of applicants. It turns out, however, that list is so short, no one is really on it any longer.
    That was when Oakland Hills Director of Agronomy Phil Cuffare called upon his legacy as a mentor and mentee to change the way he searches for help.
    "It used to be, you would get 25 applicants and weed out the ones who don't work hard rather than engage them and see what makes them tick," Cuffare said.
    "My eyes opened when I took the job at Oakland Hills in 2018. Kids who applied weren't interested in hard work. Oakland Hills wasn't a good enough sell anymore. They weren't moved by Ben Hogan winning a major championship here. I don't think any of them even knew who Ben Hogan was."
    Cuffare's recent help-wanted ad for assistant superintendent reflects his approach to hiring that puts the needs, development and growth of the applicant first. 
    The job does not require experience or a college degree. What it does require is a desire to learn, work and grow. Rather than emphasize an applicant's previous experience, Cuffare instead focused on their work ethic and desire to learn as well as his background in mentoring.
    Instead of requiring a college degree, the job promises a commitment to help applicants "achieve educational requirements and goals."
    "Golf course experience is a plus but more importantly we are looking for passionate teammates that are motivated and want to be leaders."
    Where Cuffare's approach really strays from the norm is after the interview.
    For most, interviews are followed by a "don't call us, we'll call you" approach on the part of the employer. Not so at Oakland Hills.
    "We don't hire talent, we hire people," Cuffare said. "If, after the interview and you see what we're about, if you're interested then call me. If you like what you see and you think you can be successful, then let's take that next step."
    Cuffare, who came to Oakland Hills in 2018, learned the meaning of mentoring under superintendents such as Jeff Corcoran and Jared Viarengo.
    "They were my motivation to be the best I can be," Cuffare said. "Now, I look for different ways to motivate people."
    At age 45, Cuffare admits to being old school, but acknowledges that approach isn't good enough when trying to attract talent nowadays.
    "It used to be at a place like Oakland Hills, it was all about championships, and that motivated employees," he said.
    "The industry has changed. You have to take a new approach. You have to develop more of the business side than the farming side. We have to get creative in what we can offer. When I started, it was all about championships, but now it's about learning about leasing packages and renovations and restorations. You have to develop a different skill set than just growing grass and hosting tournaments."
    His approach makes sense. Gen Y and Z have a well-chronicled difference of opinion of what a career should be compared with their Baby Boomer and Gen X colleagues. They have spent their lives watching their parents get burned out, chewed up and spit out by employers and have read countless articles of superintendents being pushed aside at age 50 for a younger and cheaper alternative.
    "I don't mind 14-hour days, or rain, snow or mud. Kids today are not turned on to that, and definitely not by 14-hour days," he said. "We had to step back and see what we were doing wrong. It's not just golf, it's a generational thing." 
    The $64,000 question is whether this approach works.
    "We have a great staff. I think five of my former employees have gotten jobs as superintendents in the last four years," Cuffare said. "That's the ultimate compliment.
    "When we hire someone, we don't want to choose you, we want you to choose us."
  • Heritage Landscape Supply Group has recently acquired WinField United's Professional Products Group.
    WinField's Professional Product Group is a distributor providing technical expertise, solutions, and service to the golf, sports turf, lawn care, ornamental, pest control, aquatics and vegetative management markets. The company operates 16 distribution locations in a dozen states. 
    Among the labels in the WinField portfolio included products from Syngenta, BASF, Bayer, Nufarm and PBI Gordon to name a few.
    During the next several months, WinField PPG will become Heritage Professional Products Group. The new iteration will continue to be led by the current WinField team.
    WinField United is a subsidiary of Land O'Lakes, a member-owned agricultural cooperative based in Minneapolis.
    "The PPG business has grown into an industry leader providing superior service, products, technology and insights to their customers," said Andy Braunshausen, vice president of WinField United Seed and Crop Protection. "Our hope for the sale is to provide WinField United with additional resources to invest in growth within our core sectors, while pairing PPG with a great partner that will prioritize the business for growth in their portfolio."
    Heritage, of McKinney, Texas, operates a network of independent distributors to serve its customers. The company, which operates 30 local brands in 32 states, is a subsidiary of SRS Distribution, a privately held wholesale distributor.
    "Heritage has grown organically and expanded its platform offering in turf and ornamental products over the last several years," said Matt McDermott, president of Heritage. "The opportunity to join forces with the entire PPG team greatly enhances our market position and adds a strong talent base of the industry's best sales professionals and operators. We are excited to add more than 170 hard- working professionals from PPG to our growing family as we cross the 200-location mark and continue building our legacy in the green industry."
  • An expanded outdoor demo area is a big hit with attendees. Equip Exposition photo Turns out it does not take a rotation through three warm-weather locations to stage a successful turf-centered trade show. Even in a post-pandemic, inflationary world in which labor and disposable income both are in short supply, an education conference and trade show still can thrive in a city where in October it can be 80 one day and snowing the next.
    This year's Equip Exposition, the show formerly known as GIE+Expo, set a new event record Oct. 18-21, with 25,000 attendees and 1,000 exhibitors, participating. The show is produced by the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute and held annually in Louisville, Kentucky. Attendees to the show for the landscape industry came from all 50 states and 49 countries. The state boasts of being within a day's drive of 70 percent of the U.S. population, which is a plus considering the cost and headache currently associated with post-pandemic air travel.
    Along with Hardscape North America, which co-locates with the Equip Expo, the show took up 675,000 square feet inside the Kentucky Exposition Center. A larger Outdoor Demo Yard brought the size of the space from 22 to 30 acres. All available booth space was sold out in September.
    Even a fire in a prototype mower could not keep people away.
    The show has been held annually in Louisville since 2007, and this year's event marks the first-ever sellout. Other shows have not be able to claim record attendance in more than a decade - 2008 in Orlando, to be exact. In fact, attendance was off by about half at this year's GCSAA Conference and Show in San Diego, where Covid protocols were still in place, even if they were not enforced, raising the question of whether the turf industry still had a desire for a national conference and show.
    The answer to that question is clear, at least as far as the Equip Exposition is concerned.
  • The cost of diesel fuel is way up, and supplies are at historic lows, according to experts in the energy industry. During the best of times, managing a golf course is a job wrought with challenges. Superintendents have to deal with golfers demanding conditions that are harder and harder to produce. During the past two years, the job has become increasingly more difficult. More golfers and fewer workers than ever before and supply chain issues that make it difficult to get parts and equipment in a timely manner.
    Just when you thought the job couldn't become any more difficult, there is another potential hurdle on the horizon.
    Experts in the energy industry agree that there is a supply shortage of diesel fuel, and that everyone, including those who buy diesel directly and those who purchase products transported by trucking, should expect to feel the pain until the U.S. economy slows, righting the ship between supply and demand.
    According to Mansfield Energy, a fuel supplier with 11 offices across North America, the volume of diesel stored in facilities across the East Coast is down by 50 percent. The company says average daily storage in the eastern U.S. runs at about 50 million barrels per day, but now is at 25 million.
    Truckers across the country report making stops at multiple service stations to find enough fuel to fill their tanks, while farmers say they are spending double in fuel costs to plant and harvest, while hoping weather cooperates enough to produce a profit at year's end.
    Mansfield said in a news release that tight supplies will cause already-high diesel prices to climb even higher. On Monday, the average cost of diesel fuel was $5.31 per gallon, which is 61 percent higher than the average price of $3.29 a year ago, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, a federal agency that "collects, analyzes, and disseminates independent and impartial energy information to promote sound policymaking, efficient markets, and public understanding of energy and its interaction with the economy and the environment."
    Ed Hirs, who teaches energy economics at the University of Houston, has said that the daily five-year average is so low that if production were to stop today, the U.S. would have a 25-day supply of diesel.
    According to Forbes, the U.S. distillate supply, that includes diesel, jet fuel and heating oil, is at its lowest level since 2008. The demand for diesel typically spikes in spring during the planting season for the ag market, with a surplus heading into winter. However, the supply for distillates in October were at a 40-year low, which is why the cost of diesel is so high, according to the EIA.
    Reuters reported that the nationwide stock of distillates on Oct. 21 was 106 million barrels, the lowest since EIA began tracking data in 1982.
    Contributing to tight supply lines is the fact that several unprofitable refineries have closed, according to Forbes. The main factor, however, in the supply and price of diesel, the publication said, is the cutoff of Russian petroleum imports. The U.S. was importing almost 700,000 barrels of petroleum and petroleum products per day from Russia, which has stopped with the conflict in Ukraine. Most of those imports, Forbes said, were finished products that boosted distillate supplies here.
    Reuters predicts spikes in the price of diesel and ongoing shortages of supply until a slowdown in the U.S. economy, which the British news agency says is necessary to boost supply and reduce price.
  • Some of the more famous antitrust lawsuits in U.S. history include parties such as Standard Oil Co. of New Jersey, the Chicago Board of Trade, AT&T, Microsoft and . . .  Augusta National Golf Club.
    For months, the PGA Tour has been the subject of antitrust talks over its rules governing player participation in competing tours, particularly as they relate to the Saudi-back LIV Golf tour. Recently, the USGA and Augusta National have been named in the U.S. Department of Justice antitrust investigation. 
    According to a report by the Wall Street Journal, the DOJ launched an antitrust investigation into the PGA Tour in July over allegations it would not allow former Tour players who defected to the Saudi-backed tour to compete. Players agents have received inquiries from the DOJ about the PGA Tour's bylaws about participating in competing tours.
    A lawsuit filed by several former Tour players who left for the LIV tour, Augusta National aligned with the PGA Tour and indicated earlier this year that it might ban LIV tour players from the Masters, including former champions.
    The litigants, who include Phil Mickelson and Bryson DeChambeau, say in the suit that "the links between the PGA Tour and Augusta National run deep. The actions by Augusta National indicate that the PGA Tour has used these channels to pressure Augusta National to do its bidding. For example, in February, 2022 Augusta National representatives threatened to disinvite players from The Masters if they joined LIV Golf."
    The USGA, which also has aligned with the PGA Tour's side, has confirmed it, too, has been named in the investigation and intends to comply with all DOJ requests. Attorneys for Augusta National have been mum on the subject.
  • After new owners bought Auburn Valley Golf Course in December, the property has yet to reopen. Just a matter of months ago, it appeared troubled Auburn Valley Golf Course near Sacramento might yet have a bright future.
    Six months after its owners declared bankruptcy in June 2021, a group from Oakland bought the 60-year-old property in December with promises of continuing to operate it as a golf course.
    The better part of a year later, the course has yet to reopen, the new owners have yet to weigh in on whether it will and a clubhouse phone number that once rang endlessly has been disconnected. Just like that, the course nestled in California’s wine country appears destined for a place atop the heap of closed golf courses that have piled up during the past 16 years.
    Auburn Valley was built in 1960 on 175 acres that was once a dairy farm.
    Since then, it has had a troubled existence. It has gone through two bankruptcies as well as a foreclosure.
    The previous owners, the Par 5 Property Investments group, claimed bankruptcy last June, citing $6.5 million in debt and $3.84 million in assets and about $6.5 million in liabilities. The new owners, Auburn Sierra Golf Club LLC in Oakland, closed the sale on the property that included a clubhouse, an events center and a bar and restaurant for $2.9 million.
    It is unclear what the owners’ intentions are with the property, but it is not currently zoned for residential or commercial redevelopment, according to the Sacramento Business Journal. 
    According to the National Golf Foundation about 50 golf courses have closed so far this year. About 2,100 golf courses (18-hole equivalents) have closed since 2006.
  • Some decisions are as old as time: Coke or Pepsi, salty or sweet, hot dog or hamburger and pull a core or don't pull a core. 
    Disrupting the soil to relieve compaction and introduce oxygen to produce a better playing surface is as common in golf as placing a ball on a tee. But the decision to pull a core in the process or not is as varied as Titleist vs. Callaway. 
    Studies by some of the greatest minds in turf academia support both schools of thought, and researchers on either side of the debate are convinced the other side is wrong.
    Although superintendents might choose one side of the fence or the other based initially on peer-reviewed research, they ultimately settle on hollow or solid tines based on one thing - if it works for them.
    At Mountain Lake, a Seth Raynor design in Lake Wales, Florida, Tony Nysse says the pressures of a year-round golf season are too great to support a core-free cultural program.
    "We pull cores here multiple times a year," Nysse said. "I am not of the school that enough topdressing and enough solid tining can keep up with 12 months of growth in Florida. I have seen many examples where clubs have tried right after a renovation and end up having to core several years later to get the greens back to performing to the expectations of their membership. We put down hundreds of inputs over the course of a year, so we also have to take the time to remove the spoils (thatch) of those efforts."
    Nearly 3,000 miles away in San Francisco, Brian Nettz, CGCS, also sees golfers year-round at the Presidio Golf Club. Like Nysse, he opts for pulling cores to keep up with the rigors of a 12-month growing season.
    "Definitely core," said Nettz. "Gotta bring up that microbe-rich subsoil, or what's the point?"
    As a regional superintendent for U.S. Navy golf courses in California, Austin Daniells once agreed with the pull-a-core argument, and he still does — to a degree. He core aerifies fairways, but when it comes to managing putting surfaces, he's all about solid tining.
    "If we're talking about greens, I have shifted over the last seven, eight years to only doing a solid tine aerification throughout the year," Daniells said. "Typically, we do a spring and fall larger tine aerification and a number of needle tine applications throughout the rest of the year. If I had the equipment, I would also deep tine greens a few times per year."
    His shift in cultural practice philosophy is two-fold.
    "I made the shift due to research," he said. "I have read, as well as through my own experiences and other input from superintendents in the area. I keep a very close eye on our nitrogen inputs as well as use some other products that help with the breakdown of organic matter which has helped to limit our organic matter accumulation."
    Daniells oversees a host of daily fee, military courses in Southern California that see a lot of play, especially during the past two years, and his greens are standing up to the pressure.
    "I felt like we were getting the same amount of sand into the holes with the solid tine versus the core aerification," Daniells said. "And the healing time was a little shorter."

    Since its inception in 2005, the Boeing Classic, a PGA Champions Tour event, has been played at The Club at Snoqualmie Ridge in suburban Seattle is the site of The Boeing Classic. Little does defending champion Miguel Angel Jimenez, or any of the others pros who play there, realize that superintendent Ryan Gordon manages championship conditions, literally, without pulling a core.
    "We have not pulled a core on our greens since 2013," Gordon said via email.
    He says solid tining is less disruptive, which also promotes faster healing, but it also requires less labor and produces results good enough for the world's best players.
    "Our organic matter levels on greens have remained in the 1.2-1.9 percent range since we began this practice," he said. "I consider anything under 3% to be ideal. That tells me that any thatch production is getting diluted sufficiently. Greens are firm, drain well and play fantastic.  We also see much faster recovery and a higher amount of sand incorporation with this method vs. if we pulled a core. Not to mention, it is much less labor intensive and easier on equipment when solid-tining."
    Gordon acknowledges that coring can be effective at helping manage fairy ring, which, he said, is a common practice at some Seattle-area courses, but the benefits are not enough to convince to go back to pre-2013.
    "I have heard that some guys that deal with fairy ring, or root-borne diseases find that they have better turf health through the season when they pull a core," he said. "The theory is that by mixing the soils via coring, you are keeping the soil ecosystem in balance which allows for root-based disease pressure to be minimized.  
    "We deal with fairy ring on our fairways here and there, but I have found that it hasn't impacted turf health enough for me to want to switch back to the headache of coring."
    With many superintendents firmly entrenched on one side or the other on the pull-a-core debate, one greenkeeper is rethinking his strategy, not based on scientific research but rather unscientific results on the golf course he manages.
    Ryan Cummings at Elcona Golf Club in Bristol, Indiana, pulls cores on collars and tees, but has not extracted a plug from putting surfaces in six years.
    That might soon change.
    "I have not pulled a core on greens or fairways since 2016," Cummings said. "And even though I know all the research points to it not really mattering from a compaction standpoint, anecdotally I am seeing some slower percolation rates by - again, my possibly incorrect opinion - forcing that organic matter down and to the sides of the channel over time. My testing shows a slight uptick in organic matter, which could support my hypothesis.
    "Next year, I will be pulling cores on fairways in the fall given what I believe is happening on my property, while solid tining in the spring to get the course in better condition sooner for play. I have not decided on greens yet besides using a three-quarter-inch Viper tine in June and July that pulls a core, but is quite simple to verticut and clean up."
    Then there are some who alternate between coring and solid tining for a variety of reasons, including the time of year.
    Iowa does not have the world's longest golf season, so making sure the golf course is ready by opening day is important for Rick Tegtmeier, CGCS at Des Moines Golf and Country Club. While solid or needle tining can result in faster recovery in the spring, pulling a core in the fall can help set the course up for the next season while also leading to some level of consistency beneath the surface.
    "We do not pull a core in the spring; we do in the fall," Tegtmeier said. "We don't in the spring because of disruption to play (and) healing. We do in the fall . . . because of the high salt. It aids in the flushing process. We also have greens that (are at) varying stages in years. Coring allows us to get the same medium in those greens."
  • The Michigan State University Turf School Short Course is scheduled for Dec. 12-15 in East Lansing. The upcoming Michigan State University Turf School Short Course is structured to provide a baseline of information for novice turfgrass managers, or serve as a refresher for seasoned professionals.
    Scheduled for Dec. 12-15 in East Lansing, the MSU Turf School is a four-day program that teaches the basics of turfgrass science as well as the practical techniques of managing turfgrass. 
    The school will be taught by MSU turfgrass faculty and staff and will cover a wide range of turfgrass management topics, including basic soils and soil management, turfgrass species identification, selection and physiology, turf establishment and renovation, fertilization, proper pesticide use and environmental stewardship. 
    A significant portion of the school is dedicated to weed, insect and disease identification and management. The pest management section is delivered in lecture and laboratory settings with hands-on learning emphasized. 
    The program is an excellent opportunity for one-on-one interaction between participants and the MSU turfgrass faculty, including Joe Vargas, Trey Rogers, Kevin Frank, Thom Nikolai, Emily Merewitz-Holm, David Gilstrap and Nancy Dykema.
    The MSU Turf School is perfect for those looking to add to their turf knowledge - the school starts with the turf basics and expands from there throughout the week. Past attendees include golf course employees without formal training, lawn care company employees, turfgrass equipment technicians, industry sales representatives and school employees responsible for grounds and athletic fields.
    Topics that are covered include turfgrass species and cultivars including a hands-on identification lab, establishment and renovation, nutrition and fertilizers, weed, insect, and disease management including hands-on identification labs, turfgrass soils, cultivation and compaction.
    This year's school will be held Dec. 12-15 at the Kellogg Hotel and Conference Center on the Michigan State University campus. The school begins at 8 a.m. on Monday and concludes at 5 p.m. on Thursday. Lodging arrangements can be made with the Kellogg Hotel and Conference Center online at www.kelloggcenter.com, or by calling 800-875-5090. Reference the group code 2212MSUTUR to get the block room rate of $123 per night for single or double occupancy.
    Cost for the program is $700 and includes all class materials and lunch daily at the MSU Brody Complex. Registration is limited to 100 people. 
  • From parts and components to entire pieces of mechanized equipment, much has been made in the past two years of how supply chain challenges are affecting how golf course superintendents conduct day-to-day business.
    There are other facets of the golf business that are feeling the effects of shortages caused by roadblocks in the supply chain.
    A recent story in the Desert Sun newspaper in California's Coachella Valley, detailed how 27-hole Desert Princess planned to install new sand in 51 hazards after a bunker project. That should have been a routine project, but when a sand supply could not be located, all three nines at Desert Princess were reopened with the only thing in bunkers being liners.
    Eventually, enough sand was located to fill greenside bunkers on one nine-hole layout. With the valley's busy season here, the decision was made to leave the course as - without sand - and complete the bunker project next summer."We are going to write it off this year because of (the upcoming) prime season," DPCC head pro Rodney Youngtold the newspaper. "We can't be doing bunker projects, so we are going to reset and reorganize and see if we can't get it done next July."
    Jason Straka faced a similar situation earlier this year during the highly anticipated restoration of Belleair Country Club in Belleair, Florida.
    The project hit a snag when 1,000 tons of gravel for greens construction went missing at the Port of Tampa Bay while Straka was having it tested.
    Straka did not even know who bought the gravel while he wasn't looking.
    "It's not just golf," Straka said. "Some of it is being lost to road construction."
    He told TurfNet in June that to get what he needed he probably would have to do the same thing - go to the port and buy someone else's gravel out from underneath them.

    Nathan Crace says he has never been busier in his 30 years as a golf course architect. Nathan Crace, principal of The Watermark Golf Co., says he has never been busier in his 30 years as a golf course architect than he is now.
    Crace, pictured above, said he also has had a hard time getting what he needs when he needs it.
    "I haven't resorted to boosting sand," Crace said. "But I am ordering material, like irrigation pipe, way in advance. 
    He has had trouble getting things besides product for irrigation and drainage projects.
    Crace has been retained for a restoration of Colonial Country Club in Memphis that is due to begin next year. A month ago he ordered irrigation materials so he could have it in time for the project to begin in late winter.
    "It used to be when I was hired for a project the first call I would make was to the engineers. Now, the first call is to suppliers to make sure I can get everything I need in time," Crace said.
    "It's frustrating, but that's where we are right now."
    When Bermudagrass sprigs could not be obtained from a supplier in nearby Texas during a recent renovation at Oak Wing Golf Club in Alexandria, Louisiana, sprigs were sent overnight in a refrigerated truck from a grower in Georgia.
    The number of restoration and renovation projects going on have made other goods and services, such as contractors, harder to come by.
    "I'm having to hire contractors a year in advance," he said. "When I hire a contractor, they tell me to send them the plans, and I have to tell them I haven't started them yet."
  • Founded in 2019 by Aquatrols, the FairWays Foundation promotes conservation efforts in the golf industry in the U.S. and abroad. In its third year, the FairWays Foundation has dedicated a combined total of nearly a half-million dollars to a variety of green industry projects.
    The foundation recently completed its third grant cycle, providing $169,000 in awards to a dozen diverse projects, including a Great Salt Lake Field Trip program, the expansion of previously supported Irvine to Girvan Nectar Network, a golf course vegetable garden, the installation of bat boxes, restoring an agricultural field to prairie, phragmites removal, canal bank restoration and more.
    Founded in 2019 by Aquatrols president Matt Foster, the FairWays Foundation is a non-profit organization that promotes conservation and stewardship initiatives in the green industry in the U.S. and abroad.
    The latest round of grants brings the foundation's total funding to $441,791 for 29 projects in the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom.
    Past recipients include Cog Hill Golf and Country Club, Salmon Run Golf Course, Hartford Golf Course, the Scottish Wildlife Trust, Concord Country Club, Heritage Oaks Golf Course, Cactus and Pines GCSA, Martis Camp, Chester Golf Club, Elcona Country Club and the University of Georgia Research Foundation.
    The FairWays Foundation is seeking ambassadors to continue its goal of championing environmental projects but cannot proceed due to a lack of resources. For more information, click here.
  • The University of Florida Plant Science Research and Education facility in Citra. File photo by John Reitman How many times does one turn 100?
    For the University of Florida turfgrass program, the answer is at least twice.
    Big plans were in place throughout the year to celebrate the UF turfgrass program's centennial anniversary. That all changed in late September.
    After Hurricane Ian ripped through Florida on Sept. 28, creating a trail of death and destruction in its wake, the university turf program 100-year anniversary that includes a golf tournament, research field day and reception will have to wait until next year - when the program turns 101.
    "Everything north and west of Gainesville was untouched," said UF turf professor Bryan Unruh, Ph.D.
    The rest of the state was hit hard. Very hard.
    Ian made landfall Sept. 28 in Lee County in Southwest Florida on a northeasterly track before making landfall again in South Carolina on Sept. 30. Ian has been blamed for more than 100 deaths, and damage in the U.S.  could be as high as $70 billion, according to Forbes. 
    "My sense is that it is postponed and we'll do it next year," Unruh said. "It didn't seem appropriate with so many people suffering."
  • Clean up was minimal at Olde Florida Golf Club in Naples. Darren Davis photo It is difficult to think about the fate of golf courses in the path of a hurricane in the face of so much human suffering.
    Hurricane Ian has been blamed for more than 100 deaths in Florida since it plowed through the state Sept. 28 as a Category 4 storm with winds of 155 mph. Days later, rescue teams were still combing the area for survivors as well as victims. The news reports and videos on social media have been horrifying. Wide swaths of homes and businesses in areas like Fort Myers beach, and Sanibel and Marco Islands have been whisked away by Ian's winds while others have been destroyed by storm surge. Sanibel and Pine Islands have been cut off from the mainland due to bridge damage, prompting evacuations of those who stayed behind. 
    Conditions on Sanibel Island, which was under curfew from dusk to dawn, are so bad that city government has set up shop in a mainland hotel in Fort Myers. Residents have no idea when they will be able to get back to their homes as the state works on plans to construct a temporary bridge followed by a permanent structure.
    Hundreds of golf courses in Florida and South Carolina, where Ian made another landfall on Sept. 30, were in the path of the storm. Some escaped largely unscathed with minor debris clean-up, others sustained major damage while still others were under water.
    Social media is filled with photos and videos of golf courses turned into rivers, including Bonita Bay Club in Bonita Springs.
    Rainfall totals exceeded 14 inches throughout the Fort Myers area, and 17 inches in parts of metro Orlando and 21 inches at the NASA facility on the state's East Coast.
    Even The Villages, which is 50 miles inland, did not escape Ian's wrath. The massive property that spans parts of Sumter, Lake, Marion and Polk Counties, is prone to sinkholes and multiple sinkholes were reported on the El Diablo Golf Course.
    Joshua Kelley, director of grounds at The Ritz-Carlton & JW Marriott Orlando, Grande Lakes, posted images on Twitter showing flooding and debris at the course located just minutes from Central Florida's theme parks.
    The golf courses at Streamsong Resort, which is about 60 miles due east of the Bradenton area, were closed for a week to allow for clean-up. 
    Phone, email and text capabilities in parts of Southwest Florida are, at best, spotty to, at worst, non-existent. Storm surge left places like Sanibel and Marco Island inundated with saltwater, and satellite imagery from the U.S. Geological Survey showed standing water on golf courses on Sanibel. 
    Few places could have been hit harder than Kelly Greens Golf and Country Club in Fort Myers, where drone footage by a local TV news station showed most of the property under water.
    Darren Davis, CGCS at Olde Florida Golf Club, is no stranger to hurricanes. The course in Naples was rocked in 2017 by Hurricane Irma. Davis was lucky this time, and was almost embarrassed to admit he will be able to reopen in just a few days after Ian with minor debris clean-up. 
    "Irma kicked our ass. We had no power, and had to hire a security guard," Davis said, looking back five years. 

    Dead fish littered the bunkers at The Ritz-Carlton & JW Marriott Orlando, Grande Lakes more than an hour from the coast. Joshua Kelley photo "The golf course will be open on Friday, and we're opening the clubhouse Tuesday to get some business in there for anyone who wants to come in, although I don't know who is going to be coming out to eat lunch right now."
    Davis has been posting to his blog about conditions at Olde Florida so members know what is going on, what to expect and when to expect it.
    "If I want my message out in my words, then I better get that blog out," he said. 
    "Again, I'm almost embarrassed that we're able to open so soon, while others are dealing with such severe devastation."
    Hideaway Beach Club on Marco Island was not as lucky. Storm surge reportedly overwhelmed the maintenance shop and its contents. Davis is lending superintendent Tom Ryon two greens mowers and the local Toro distributor is also coming to Ryon's aid with equipment, as well. 
    "He lost all his equipment," Davis said. "He can have those mowers as long as he needs them."
    Superintendents coming to the aid of their colleagues is happening throughout the area, said Ralph Dain, the GCSAA field rep for Florida.
    "A lot of superintendents are pulling together to help those in the hardest-hit areas," Dain said. "That willingness to pull together and help out colleagues is one of the things that make our industry so special."
    As of Oct. 4, Dain had talked to a few superintendents throughout his territory, but has had difficulty reaching those in the most severely affected areas. As a superintendent for 18 years in Florida at places like Sailfish Point in Stuart and Myacoo Lakes Country Club in West Palm Beach, Dain is aware of the drill involved in hurricane response.
    Among the main concerns in areas that have been affected the most are prolonged loss of electricity and damage to irrigation systems.
    Scores of research conducted over decades by names like Beard, Ervin, Bigelow and Huang have shown that use of surfactants and plant growth regulators can reduce somewhat the need for irrigation.
    "If you don't have electricity, or a generator can't get your pump station working, hopefully you have a water tank," Dain said. "That way, you can at least suck water out of the lakes and hand water greens."
    Bryan Unruh, Ph.D., of the University of Florida, said many variables will dictate how and when a golf course emerges from the other side of a hurricane, such as how long a course is under saltwater. Today's Bermudagrasses can withstand several days of submersion, he said, and likely will be fine. Turf might be brown for a while, but it will recover, he said.
    "Because of our sandy soils, we don't see a lot of salt accumulation," Unruh said. "Even if it is underwater for two or three days, it will come back, even under saltwater."
  • After 19 months, the sale of Bayer's turf and ornamental division is finally complete.
    Cinven, a private equity firm based in London with offices in seven countries, reached an agreement in March to acquire the professional business segment of Bayer's Environmental Science division for $2.6 billion. The deal finally was completed Oct. 5 for the agreed-upon amount, according to a news release.
    The business will operate as an independent company known as Envu. Like its predecessor, the new company will be a solutions-based business specializing in pest, disease and weed control in non-agricultural markets including turf, vegetation management, forestry and professional pest management. Almost 900 former Bayer employees will make the transition to Envu, which will do business in Bayer’s former headquarters in Cary, North Carolina.
    The transaction allows Bayer to unload its turf and ornamental division while focusing on agriculture.
    "In Cinven, we have found a strong new owner with a firm commitment to the long-term growth potential of the business and to its people," said Rodrigo Santos, member of the board of management of Bayer AG and head of the Crop Science division. "At the same time, we can concentrate on our core agricultural business and the successful implementation of our growth strategy in the Crop Science Division." 
    Founded in 1977, Cinven is an equity firm that acquires American and European companies in the following market segments: business services, technology, media and telecommunications, financial services, industrials, healthcare and consumer products.
    "We thank Bayer for the trust they have placed in Cinven and plan to build on the strong foundations established by Bayer by significantly investing in it," Pontus Pettersson, a partner at Cinven, said in the release. "Cinven is excited to build an independent, focused company and is well positioned to continue to drive innovation and accelerate growth, including the delivery of digital and data-enabled solutions, and to extend the product portfolio further by creating innovative and sustainable solutions for its customers."
    The decision to divest Bayer Environmental Science included its professional turf and ornamental business, but does not include the segment's agricultural or commercial units, which are among its most profitable divisions. 
    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. The news release detailing the transaction, however, said Bayer will use the net proceeds from the sale to reduce its net financial debt.
    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-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Since then, the company set aside $15 billion to settle current and future cases.
  • STEC Equipment product offerings will now be available on the West Coast through Belkorp Golf and Turf. STEC Equipment photo STEC Equipment, a leader in specialized turf equipment distribution, and Belkorp Golf and Turf have reached an accord that will make the former's equipment lines available to customers on the West Coast.
    Belkorp Golf and Turf is a Stockton, California-based John Deere dealer that has six locations throughout Central and Northern California. 
    Based in Anderson, South Carolina, STEC Equipment distributes multiple lines of turf care equipment.
    The agreement is a win-win that allows STEC to broaden its reach to the West Coast.
    "Partnering with Belkorp is allowing us to reach our goal of having a larger presence on the West Coast," said David Taylor, STEC's president and CEO. "We look forward to working with Belkorp to introduce new and innovative machines to their customers."
    It also expands Belkorp's product line to its customer base in one of the country's largest golf markets.
    "Belkorp Golf and Turf is excited to partner with STEC Equipment Inc.," said Sal Sorbello, golf sales manager for Belkorp. "We look forward to offering their innovative and specialized equipment to our customers on the West Coast."
  • Aquatrols' CarbN and Brawler both are formulated with UniGrow to promote even distribution. For golf course superintendents concerned with even application of their turf nutritional products, Aquatrols has released two combination fertilizers.
    CarbN with UniGrow and Brawler with UniGrow are the newest fertilizer offerings in Aquatrols' expanded nutrition product category. Each is formulated with UniGrow, Aquatrols' proprietary technology that facilitates efficient uptake by leaves and roots and promotes whole plant translocation, helping ensure even distribution of each application.
    "Our goal is always to offer something not only unique to customers but also effective for common issues they face,” said Robert Wilson, Aquatrols product manager. “We feel that these two new products, along with our new proprietary technology, do just that and more." 
    CarbN is a fast-acting nitrogen and soluble carbon solution with 16 percent total nitrogen that works to help increase micro-nutrient uptake and nitrogen efficiency, resulting in enhanced plant performance, the company says. 
    Brawler is a phosphite fertilizer formulated with 24 percent soluble potash to increase tolerance of biotic and abiotic stresses by promoting plant defense mechanisms, such as systemic acquired resistance.
    The label for each says they are safe for use on all turf types and all areas of the golf course and on athletic fields.
    CarbN and Brawler are currently registered in 39 states throughout the U.S., with registration approvals pending in the remaining states.
    For more information, visit Aquatrols.com/Nutritionals.
  • As the golf business attracted many newcomers to the game during the pandemic, many individual properties did not do a good job at wooing and retaining them, says Jim Koppenhaver. File photo by John Reitman Barely six months ago, just about everyone in the golf business was collectively crowing about picking up record numbers of golfers and rounds played during the pandemic.
    Today, both are predictably down, but there still is room for optimism, said an industry analyst.
    Throughout the pandemic, the game picked up about 2 million new golfers and 25 million more rounds played.
    Rounds played this year are down by about 5 percent, for reasons you might not think, and, according to early research, about 75 percent of the golfers who came to golf during Covid, have left the game as quickly as they arrived.
    "What we've seen in studies we've done is that the majority of the Covid surge was due to existing golfers playing more, not new golfers," said Jim Koppenhaver of Pellucid Corp. 
    "We picked up 2 million new golfers during Covid, and 25 percent of them stayed. That's the bad news. The good news is existing golfers play more and are less likely to flake than those who have not yet honed their skills."
    According to Golf Datatech's rounds played reports, participation is down by 5 percent compared to 2021. However, golf playable hours, a function of golf-friendly hours throughout the day, are down by 8 percent, Koppenhaver said, meaning golf is outperforming the decline in players and weather.
    That is encouraging, said Koppenhaver, considering not only the weather and decline in number of players, but also economic challenges such as record inflation and fuel prices.
    "Most of the golfing population is not as affected by a weak economy as Joe Lunchbucket," he said. 
    But is the industry recession proof? Koppenhaver says no.
    He recalls industry leaders who years ago touted the "build a course a day" philosophy, saying golf was always the last industry to enter a recession and the first one out.
    "Is golf recession proof? I think we've proven that to be categorically false," he said. "I would say it is recession resistant."
    Koppenhaver says it did not have to be this way at all - losing 75 percent of the players picked up during the pandemic. With better customer service, more emphasis on point of sale and collecting contact information in the golf shop
    "Some said it was inevitable that we would give back what we gained. I disagree with that," he said. "We attracted new golfers and we did a crappy job communicating with them and convincing them to come back.
    "We didn't up our customer relations and management skills. We didn't change the way we talked to them. What we did was what we always do - greet them, show them a good time and just hope they come back."
    With just a little effort, things could be different. Much different. In fact, many daily fee operations might be missing out altogether.
    Pellucid's data indicates that greens fees have lagged inflation significantly since the pandemic.
    Does that mean every golf course should automatically increase fees across the board by 10 percent? Probably not, Koppenhaver wrote in his latest newsletter. But the numbers suggest that an increase is warranted, even for those operations who live in fear of losing players over a fee hike.
    "The best-case scenario, with a little effort maybe we lose only 50 percent of the newcomers, but we still let six figures slip through our fingers," Koppenhaver said. 
    "The golf industry is like anything else - we gravitate to what we are familiar with. It is time to 
    Take some of this revenue and put it into customer relationship management. But as an industry did we do that? No. We bought new cart fleets, and we put it into the golf course. We have to have a balanced attack. We should have split 50 cents of every dollar into renovations and 50 cents to building customer relationships.
    "But we're not comfortable with that. We put money into stuff we know how to do. And when we keep doing that, we keep getting the same results."
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