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From the TurfNet NewsDesk

  • John Reitman
    Cheryl and Matt Crowther during the 2018 TurfNet members trip to Ireland. Write a book about Matt Crowther's career as a superintendent during the past quarter-century, and it might as well be titled "A Tale of Two Golf Courses."
    In that time, Crowther, 53, has honed his craft on exactly two Massachusetts golf courses. Although they are a short Cape Air flight from each other, they are worlds apart.
    Crowther spent the first 23 years of his career developing environmentally sound best management practices at Mink Meadows Golf Club, a semi-private, nine-hole waterfront layout on Martha's Vineyard, and the tidal saltwater marsh that intrudes on the property from Vineyard Sound. 
    For the past two years, he has been dodging hoards of golfers while trying to grow grass at daily fee Cape Cod Country Club, a 90-year-old Devereux Emmet-Alfred Tull design in Falmouth on the Massachusetts mainland. 
    In 2020, the course was especially busy. Opening was delayed a little more than a month and was packed through October.
    "I don't know how many rounds we did (in 2020), but I know that we did 200 rounds a day, seven days a week every month," Crowther said.
    During this year's virtual Golf Industry Show, Crowther received the GCSAA President's Award for Environmental Stewardship for his work at Mink Meadows, where he worked from 1995-2019. He and wife Cheryl lived in an apartment above the clubhouse, making it difficult to divorce himself from the job.
    "At Mink Meadows, I worked 45 hours a week. If you asked my wife she'd probably tell you it was 75," Crowther said. "The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. I lived above the clubhouse, so I worked the job. After I'd come home, I might go back out on the golf course at 7 o'clock."
    Long before organic turf management became a trend on Martha's Vineyard, Crowther was practicing minimalist agronomics.
    "I was out there doing that before Vineyard (Golf Club in Edgartown) was even built," he said.
    At Mink Meadows, Crowther says he went years without spraying fairways. 
    "Spraying insecticides or herbicides wall to wall always bothered me when you don't get weeds wall to wall, or grubs wall to wall," he said. "And it always bothered me that any weeds at all on a golf course is perceived as a failure. How hard is it to deal with weeds?
    "I'd rather fix a little damage than spread chemicals everywhere for no reason."

    Cheryl Crowther hits out of a bunker at Royal Portrush while Matt watches during the 2015 TurfNet members trip to Ireland.  A Rhode Island native and a graduate of the University of Rhode Island, Crowther credits Cornell professor Frank Rossi, Ph.D., a fellow URI alum and GCSAA President's Award winner, with helping cultivate some of his minimalist tendencies. He listened to every education conference talk given by Rossi that he could, whether in person or online.
    "Rossi has that counter culture mentality," Crowther said. "He makes you think outside the box."
    Crowther's environmental stewardship was not limited to the fairways at Mink Meadows; it extended off the course and into the swampy tidal marsh.
    He worked closely on the marsh project with Lindsey Lawrence, a retired banking executive who split time between homes on the island and in the Boston area.
    "One or two times a year, they had to dredge and refurbish the channel. If you don't dredge, it just fills in. I worked on getting the permits, and Matt was on site overseeing the work," Lawrence said. 
    "It was a project that Matt just took on. He appreciates the environment, the local wildlife and what we have here. I spend most of my time on the mainland. Matt was an islander, and we were not. He could be here to watch over this when we couldn't. I can't imagine how that whole thing would have worked if we did not have him."
    Budget and revenue concerns and the amount of play that occurs on a daily basis prevent adopting the same approach on a wholesale basis at Cape Cod.
    "Here (at Cape Cod Country Club), my goal is consistency," Crowther said. "It's a busy golf course. I understand my role; it's not to make it perfect. It's to make it as good as I can."
    The Emmet-Tull design was built in 1928, and has since undergone several transactions and name-changes. Despite Cape Cod's daily fee background, Crowther remembered it as a challenging layout, so the job caught his eye when it became open.
    "I became a fan of classic architecture. I remember playing this course about 15 years ago, and I knew it had the bones and a layout that everyone raves about," he said. "It can stand with any of the other courses here. Everyone who plays it loves it."
    His goal is not to turn Cape Cod into a remake of Mink Meadows. Rather, he just wants to make it better.
    "My claim to fame is that I can do a better job than most with the money you are giving me," he said. "What I want to hang my hat on at the end of the day is to be that guy who puts out a damn good product without the most financial resources."
  • Metacomet GC in East Providence, Rhode Island, closed last September. Metacomet Golf Club had a long and storied history. It has, however, no future. Not as a golf course, anyway.
    Rebuilt in 1926 by Donald Ross, the course in East Providence, Rhode Island, closed last September. Just what to do with it is a question that so far has no answer.
    Amid years of declining membership, mounting debt and tax issues, the private club went through two sales in little more than a year in 2019-2020, including a short-lived purchase in 2019 by an investment group led by PGA Tour player and Rhode Island native Brad Faxon. That group sold the club in 2020 to Marshall Properties, a Pawtucket real estate developer that wants to transform the 138-acre property into a mixed-use site that includes green space, retail and residential space.
    That plan has not been met with enthusiasm by some, and now, the city is exploring ways to buy the property and retain it as open urban greenspace.
    Last month, two state lawmakers proposed a plan that would tap public money to help the city buy and preserve the property.
    The course originally was built by architect Leonard Byles in 1919. Ross rebuilt it five years later, and the 6,500-yard layout, a modest length by today's standards, has stood the test of time due primarily to its tight quarters that placed a premium on shot-making over distance.
    The likes of Bobby Jones, Walter Hagen and Gene Sarazen have walked Metacomet's fairways.
    The club had been struggling financially for years, and when the investment group led by Faxon, Rhode Island's favorite (golf-playing) son bought the property in April 2019, many thought the club's worries were over. According to published reports, the group bought the property for a song, but also incurred its debt and unpaid taxes. Plans by the new owners included opening a few tee times to daily fee play.
    After a colder-than-usual spring in 2019 delayed the start of the season. Sparse play led the new ownership group to open even more tee times to public golfers, a sure sign that those struggles were only beginning. By year's end, the new owners were answering questions by jilted members about plans to redevelop the property.
    By early 2020, they announced plans to sell the property. Dozens of potential suitors were courted, and few had plans to keep Metacomet as a golf course. By the end of February, just 10 months after buying Metacomet, the owners had struck an agreement to sell the property to Marshall Properties, according to published records. After the sale was completed last summer, the course finally closed for good on Sept. 30.
    Statements by Marshall told Met members all they needed to know: "The Metacomet property is a special place to many in East Providence, and it is equally as special to us. For decades, the property has been fenced off to the public as a private golf course, and we are proud of our plan to take down those fences, and open up Metacomet as an amenity to the people of East Providence.
    "Marshall plans to redevelop the site into an exciting first-class mixed-use property that will bolster both commerce and community in the upper bay. In the coming months, a vision for the property will be unveiled—a vision that will further strengthen East Providence and Rhode Island's economy through investment, job creation and the development of a vibrant center of activity in one of the state's top communities."
    Late last summer, a state legislator proposed the city buy the property to preserve it as greenspace. By late January, that proposal included soliciting state and possibly even federal funds to help the city by the acreage. 
    Time will tell what will become of the property, but this much is sure, Metacomet's future as a golf course is over.
  • Typically, the winner of the TurfNet Superintendent of the Year Award, presented by Syngenta, is judged against a laundry list of criteria.
    In a normal year, that list would include labor management, maximizing budget limitations, educating and advancing the careers of colleagues and assistants, negotiating with government agencies, preparing for tournaments under unusual circumstances, service to golf clientele, upgrading or renovating the course and dealing with extreme or emergency conditions.
    Covid-19, and how it affected day-to-day operations, was THE story of golf in 2020.
    Golf courses nationwide were faced with record play, labor shortages and the challenges of keeping guests and employees safe while also helping to keep the business running.
    Five superintendents have been named finalists for the 2020 Superintendent of the Year Award based on their responses to the Covid-19. They were chosen by our panel of 12 judges from throughout the golf industry from a field of 32 nominees.
    Click on each link to learn more about this year's finalists.
    Alan Brown, Timuquana Country Club, Jacksonville, Florida
    Stephen Rabideau, Winged Foot Golf Club, Mamaroneck, New York
    Chris Reverie, Allentown Municipal Golf Course, Allentown, Pennsylvania
    Justin Sims, The Alotian Club, Roland, Arkansas
    Anthony Williams, TPC Four Seasons, Irving, Texas
    The winner usually is announced live at the Syngenta booth during the Golf Industry Show, but will be announced at 1 p.m. EST Feb. 18 on Zoom. The password to enter the event is 505599. The winner will receive a Sonos Cinematic Surround Sound Audio System and Weatherproof Outdoor Sound System courtesy of Syngenta.
    Previous winners of the award are:
    Matt DiMase, The Abaco Club on Winding Bay, Cherokee, Great Abaco, Bahamas (2019) Carlos Arraya, Bellerive Country Club, St. Louis, MO (2018) Jorge Croda, Southern Oaks Golf Club, Burleson, TX, and Rick Tegtmeier, Des Moines Golf and Country Club, West Des Moines, IA (2017) Dick Gray, PGA Golf Club, Port St. Lucie, FL (2016) Matt Gourlay, Colbert Hills, Manhattan, KS (2015) Fred Gehrisch, Highlands Falls Country Club, Highlands, NC (2014) Chad Mark, Kirtland Country Club, Willoughby, OH (2013) Dan Meersman, Philadelphia Cricket Club (2012), Flourtown, PA Paul Carter, The Bear Trace at Harrison Bay, Harrison, TN (2011) Thomas Bastis, The California Golf Club of San Francisco, South San Francisco, CA (2010) Anthony Williams, Stone Mountain (GA) Golf Club (2009) Sam MacKenzie, Olympia Fields (IL) Country Club (2008) John Zimmers, Oakmont (PA) Country Club (2007) Scott Ramsay, Golf Course at Yale University, New Haven, CT (2006) Mark Burchfield, Victoria Club, Riverside, CA (2005) Stuart Leventhal, Interlachen Country Club, Winter Park, FL (2004) Paul Voykin, Briarwood Country Club, Deerfield, IL (2003) Jeff Burgess, Seven Lakes Golf Course, Windsor, Ontario (2002) Kip Tyler, Salem Country Club, Peabody, MA (2001) Kent McCutcheon, Las Vegas (NV) Paiute Golf Resort (2000)
  • Covid brought many people to the golf course in 2020, including a lot of new faces. For nearly two decades, Jim Koppenhaver and Stuart Lindsay have been labeled as the golf industry's malcontents. The respective principals of Pellucid Corp. and Edgehill Golf Advisors, Koppenhaver and Lindsay have delivered the unvarnished truth about the state of the golf industry since 2006 at the PGA Merchandise Show. 
    Being marked as an industry firebrand is a badge that both wear with pride because they know their unfiltered message is what folks in the golf business need to hear, not necessarily what they want to hear. Until this year.
    For much of the past 15 years, this duo has not had much good news to report on the business of golf. Declining rounds played, fewer and fewer players and even fewer golf courses have been the story since 2006.
    That's not the case this year, as the pandemic sent people to the golf course in droves seeking some sort of outdoor activity.
    "If we looked at the scorecard for the entire industry," Koppenhaver said, "we would call it bogey-free.
    Rounds played were up by 14 percent in 2020 compared with 2019, the number of people playing the game was relatively flat, but golf attracted a lot of newcomers and a lot of women, and course closures were at a minimum.
    "Covid did what Stuart and I said 10 player-development programs couldn't do. It kick-started golf," Koppenhaver said. "Rounds started going up and kept going up throughout the year.
    "As we went into fall, we wondered if it would continue or not, and fortunately, it did."
    The question is, how long will the Covid bump last.
    "(There is) lots of happier news to report this year," Koppenhaver said. "Now, if we can only keep some meaningful portion of the gains in '21. Easier task, we'll still be Covid-constrained at least for the opening half of the year in my crystal ball, tougher in the back half as things open."
    Rounds played, according to Koppenhaver's report, were up to 493.5 million rounds last year from 433.3 million rounds in 2019. That's an increase of a whopping 60 million rounds. It was the most rounds played since 498 million in 2002, but still short of the industry highwater mark of 518 million rounds in 2000.
    While utilization, or rounds played, were up by 14 percent, rounds per course were up 15 percent to an average of 37,900 rounds at each 18-hole equivalent, and play rate, or rounds per capita, also were up to 1.4 rounds per person. 
    "We hit the trifecta," Koppenhaver said. 
    The pandemic bump was felt equally among private and public courses.
    Play on daily fee facilities was up from 344 million rounds in 2019 to 387 million rounds last year, an increase of 12 percent. The news was even better at private clubs, where play was up by 20 percent, from nearly 86 million rounds in 2019 to almost 103 million rounds.
    From 2006 through 2019, 605 courses opened and 2,007 have closed for a net loss of 1,472,  bringing the net supply of courses nationwide to 13,408, according to the study. In 2020, a total of 155 courses closed (in 18-hole equivalents), while there were 19 new openings, for a net loss of 136 properties, and bringing the net loss since 2006 to 1,627 18-hole equivalents. Of the 19 openings, most were reopenings of courses that had previously closed, Koppenhaver said.
    Of the 155 closings, 110 were public, 18 were private and 27 were learning and practice facilities.
    The number of people playing the game held steady at about 21 million, a number that includes about 100,000 new female players, many who returned after dropping the game and lot of newcomers who played for the first time in 2020.
    "The question is, can it be sustained?" Koppenhaver said.
    "This proves to the naysayers that we can deliver good news - when it is warranted."
  • It is hard to imagine that there have been very many conversations since August among people in the golf turf world that at one time or another did not include the question: "So, what do you think about a virtual Golf Industry Show?"
    Social media is full of both plaudits and skepticism, which would be the case even if the show were held in person on the Las Vegas strip. Although the numbers for this year's show are not out, in the long run, it probably does not much matter what anyone thinks about the show or its format. It does not matter how many people registered, or how many "attended" the virtual event. And it does not really matter how many exhibitors bought booth space.
    What matters, as long as GCSAA's financial health is tied to the annual tradeshow, is that the association just held an event. Period.
    The association deserves a great deal of credit for adjusting to the challenges of Covid, finding a workable solution to its largest fundraiser and implementing it within six months.
    It's no secret that there are vendors out there who would welcome a chance to socially distance themselves from an expensive tradeshow. Some have been looking for any excuse to say no to the expense of renting a booth, moving in product and flying in and boarding staff from around the country. This year, that excuse found them.
    After nearly a year of almost everything occurring in a virtual format, attending three days of online events from the office is much more challenging than in person. In the office, other tasks beckon. That does not happen so much when attendees are off site at an in-person event.
    According to the GCSAA, 510 exhibitors bought space last year in Orlando. This year, a quick scan of the virtual tradeshow revealed that about 200 vendors exhibited in the online event. That's a drop of about 60 percent. 
    So what?
    Many of those who did buy booth space were pleasantly surprised how many people checked in. Others were less impressed, claiming the drive-by visits were only an attempt to earn points redeemable for prizes. 

    Each year at GIS, enough university turf programs exhibit at the show to fill an entire row in some far-flung convention center. This year, there were not enough to fill a row on a computer screen. A few of those who did exhibit said they thought the shortage of schools on the floor helped drive traffic to them.
    Last July, GCSAA chief executive officer Rhett Evans told TurfNet that the association has enough resources in reserve to withstand a year without a Golf Industry Show. So, while a profit would be nice in the short term, the long-term goal should have been more about just keeping the GIS brand in front of superintendents and the many suppliers of chemicals, fertilizers and equipment who support them. For the long-term future of the show, GCSAA needed to have something, anything with the GIS brand on it simply for validation, because it can be a challenge to bring back an event after canceling it, even for one year.
    Skip a year, and a lot of vendors probably never come back. Skip a year, and risk showing that a marquee event is not essential, and some superintendents probably are never allowed to come back.
    It will be interesting to see what the next in-person Golf Industry Show will look like. Many vendors will come back from what is hopefully just a year's hiatus. Undoubtedly some will not, figuring they finally have the out they have been seeking. 
    There were many staple events postponed or canceled throughout 2020: The British Open, the men's and women's NCAA Basketball Championship, the Little League World Series, the Tokyo Olympics, the Canadian Football League season, the men's and women's College World Series and Wimbledon, just to name a few. 
    What makes them different from GIS is it is easier to bring back an event that people are eager to get into. Bringing back an event people are eager to leave is much more challenging.
    This is not necessarily an endorsement of a system that relies too heavily on what many believe is an outdated model. That said, holding the show, regardless of the financial return, is a cost worth incurring to keep the GIS name in front of superintendents, university professors and corporate partners. At least as long as the budget depends on a viable tradeshow model for success.
  • Rounds played were up 14 percent nationwide in 2020. Photo by John Reitman "Good" is a relative term. 
    Nothing brings that to light more than the past 10 months of the golf business. What has been good for golf has not necessarily been good for the rest of the country. 
    With little else to do thanks to a global pandemic, people flocked in record numbers to golf courses in (almost) every state since last spring. 
    Bayou Oaks at City Park in New Orleans reported as many as 9,000 rounds per month last spring and summer. A total of 42,000 rounds were played last year at Allentown Municipal Golf Course in Pennsylvania.
    The numbers were similar in just about every other corner of the country.
    According to Golf Datatech, rounds played in 2020 were up 14 percent nationwide compared with 2019. That’s a pretty good number, especially considering rounds played in 2019 were up 1.5 percent from the previous year, which was the first increase in rounds demand in three years. 
    Rounds were up in 46 states. The exceptions were Hawaii, Nevada and South Carolina, where demand was down by 32 percent, 3 percent and 0.2 percent, respectively. The report does not keep data for Alaska.
    Leading the way were Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma and South Dakota, where play was up 24 percent over the previous year. Play was up by 10 percent or more in 30 other states, according to the survey of private and daily fee facilities nationwide.
  • Throughout a career that dates back to the Johnson Administration (Lyndon, not Andrew), Dick Gray never was much for professional titles. His last business card - at the PGA Golf Club in Port St. Lucie, Florida, where he once managed four golf courses - simply read "greenkeeper."
    Now, after parts of seven decades in the business, including seven years at PGA, Gray is ready for the next chapter of his life, but it hardly includes a corner room in the old superintendents' home. He eats right and works out daily in a gym he built in his home in Stuart, and at age 77 is living proof it is never too late to reinvent yourself. 
    Gray exudes a toughness that is the product of another era. A former college wrestler in his native Indiana, Gray still can whip most people half his age. And if he doesn't know you, he's probably sizing you up for a takedown while simultaneously forming a first opinion - because you never know.
    "I see the world through the eyes of a guy who has been on the mat," Gray said when he was named the 2016 Superintendent of the Year, presented by Syngenta (shown at right receiving the award from Syngenta golf market manager Stephanie Schwenke). "When I see someone, I'm sizing him up. I'm looking for opportunities and holes so that if push comes to shove, I know where I'm going and he doesn't. And that's my world."
    His career as a greenkeeper began in 1967 at Pete Dye's Crooked Stick in Indiana and included a half-dozen clubs in Florida close enough to Stuart that he has had the same address and home phone number for 40 years.
    That career that spanned more than 50 years came to an end, involuntarily, last June, when he failed to report that a couple of workers on his crew had tested positive for Covid-19 until after they returned safely to work. 
    That news was a blessing of sorts.
    Gray's wife of 33 years, Toni, had been battling breast cancer on and off for a dozen years. His newfound time off gave him precious time to be with her as the disease ravaged her body and spread to her bones, liver and lungs. Unable to fight any longer, Toni Gray lost her battle on Nov. 10, 2020.
    "She spent her 56th birthday signing papers over to hospice," Gray said. "That was on October 19. She was 21 years younger than I am. Last April, we were working on my will. I never thought about it being the opposite way. I always knew I would go first. Then all of a sudden, the cancer was back and that idea was reversed. Her personality just dissolved. That's the only way I can think to put it. It didn't erode. Erosion is slow. It was heartbreaking to see that personality dissolve in front of you. The last month to six weeks, there was little acknowledgement of anything other than pain. We were hoping for a miracle, but the miracle wasn't coming. We needed mercy."
    That loss has afforded Gray a chance to look back on his career and put things into better perspective. For years, he was up at 4 a.m. seven days a week and at the golf course shortly thereafter.
    "I always thought that if I was going to be the best I had to be at the golf course seven days a week," Gray said. "I thought I was in a groove, but really I was in a rut."
    Gray's greenkeeping career began at Crooked Stick in Indiana. That's where he first met Dye, and the two formed a close friendship that lasted a lifetime - literally.
    "This is my American Pie - the day the music died," Gray said when Dye passed away more than a year ago on Jan. 9, 2020.
    Eventually, the job took him to Florida where he was the head greenkeeper at Loblolly Pines in Hobe Sound and Jupiter Hills in Tequesta, as well as Martin Downs and Sailfish Point in Stuart. In the mid-1990s, Gray designed the Florida Club in Stuart. Gray, who later in his career earned a master's degree in hospitality management from Texas Tech, also was the club's general manager. His legacy on the golf turf management business was the way he treated his employees. When he introduced staff uniforms shortly after he started at PGA, he told his team they could choose their own hats with one condition - they all wore the same one. He made such an impact on the team they chose to wear Gray's signature cowboy hat.
    "He is the total package," Loblolly pro Rick Whitfield told TurfNet in 2017. "He can build it, he can grow it, he can maintain it and he can grow a crew."
    A decade after building the Florida Club, Gray took a break from the golf course for a sales job with Pathway BioLogic. That gig gave him a new appreciation for the way soil microbials and how they influence golf turf. He came in off the road to take the job at PGA Golf Club so he could spend more time with his wife as she fought cancer.
    After the separation from the PGA, Gray has been doing some consulting work around Florida for Tom Fazio, and he thought about peddling biologicals again. The death of his wife, however, has poured cold water on that idea. Instead, his thoughts have turned to selling his home on the St. Lucie River where he enjoys fishing, and moving north somewhere along Florida's I-10 corridor. He also is renovating a home in his native Logansport, Indiana, where he can spend summers and entertain his grandkids.
    "Stuart? It's just time to go," he said. 
    "I love to bluegill fish, and maybe I need a change of seasons. Here, we have gators behind the house that are 11 feet. At Sweetwater Lake in Indiana, the water is gin-clear and I won't get eaten."

  • Chris Reverie never envisioned a career in public golf. Yet, seven years after becoming the superintendent at Allentown Municipal Golf Course in Pennsylvania, he can hardly imagine being anywhere else.
    "I spent time interning at Merion for Matt Shaffer. My goal was to return to one of the clubs in Philadelphia," Reverie said.
    "Munis are important to the future of golf; they need to be highlighted more than they are."
    Whether it is at a private club in Philadelphia, or a city-owned course out in the state that helps grow the game at the grassroots level, Reverie's objective as an agronomist is unchanged.
    "My goal is to provide our members and daily fee players with the best conditions possible," he said.
    In those seven years, he has led a revival transitioning Allentown Golf Course from a non-descript daily fee facility into a course where conditions rival those of the big name clubs he once coveted.
    "When Chris came on board the Course was in OK condition," said Rick Holtzman, superintendent of parks in Allentown. "Chris has brought an energetic culture to the Allentown Municipal Greens Department. 
    That's not always easy at a place that lacks the same resources found at those private clubs in Philly. And it is even more challenging during a year like 2020 when a pandemic resulted in a labor shortage just before golfers - with nothing else to do - descended on the course in droves, and a tropical storm flooded the course in mid-summer.
    "We did 42,000 rounds last year," he said. "That is a lot of golf."
    In the early stages of the pandemic, Allentown was closed for eight weeks. Reverie worked alongside city officials to develop a plan and series of protocols to safely open the golf course. In the meantime, with no golf, a spending freeze imposed by the city eliminated his part-time seasonal help, leaving just a skeleton crew in place.
    "We had to develop a plan on how to reopen the golf course whenever we got the word from the city," he said. "Instead of mowing the greens, I just topdressed them. Whenever it looked like they needed to be mowed, I topdressed again and again."
    Questions arose, like whether there would be a summer crew at all, and what those Covid protocols might look like.
    When he was told he would not be able to hire a seasonal summer crew, Reverie convinced the city to put some of that money to just two full-time positions.
    "When we opened May 1, we were wondering how we were going to make this work," Reverie said. "I was able to convince the city that instead of hiring a bunch of part-time crew to let me hire two full-time workers. That was the happiest day ever when I told my mechanic we had two more people coming in the next day."
    Throughout the pandemic, Allentown has limited players to one rider per cart. 
    "That was more traffic on the golf course than I had ever seen before," he said. "You'd be surprised at the traffic even from pull carts."
    Tropical Storm Isaias arrived in Allentown the first week of August, and the flooding rains it brought closed the course for three day.
    Between the pandemic, the resulting labor crunch, the flood of golfers and the flood brought on by Isaias, 2020 became a time to prioritize tasks on the golf course.
    "We had to realize and accept that in 2020 there were things that we were going to have to let go," Reverie said. "The detail work was just not going to be there."
  • No one can say Alan Brown has not remained positive throughout the many challenges of 2020.
    "I've gone through five hurricanes, and something good always comes out of it," said Brown, superintendent at Timuquana Country Club, a century-old Donald Ross design in Jacksonville, Florida. "I feel the same way about 2020 and the Covid issue. Something great is going to come out of it, and we are going to be better for it."
    That's not to say managing the response to Covid has been easy, especially in a state with as much out-of-state traffic as Florida.
    "It was changing daily," Brown said. "And we had to be open-minded about it and roll with the punches."
    Although protocols for dealing with the Covid pandemic changed often in Florida and nearly everywhere else, Brown's approach to managing the response to it did not. And that consistency resulted in a successful year, including financially for the club in North Florida, those who play there and those who work there.
    "We had to step back and be sensitive to everything that everyone was going through while taking care of the golf course while record rounds were going on," he said. 
    "We had to be sensitive when managing people and not overlooking what is important to membership, the management of the club and your staff."
    Brown spreads around a lot of credit to former mentors when asked about his success managing people. He worked at Old Marsh Golf Club in Palm Beach Gardens under Steve Ehrbar (now at Jupiter Hills in Tequesta, Florida) and at the Alotian Club in Roland, Arkansas for Jim Colo (now at Naples National Golf Club in Florida) and fellow Superintendent of the Year finalist Justin Sims.
    "They all gave me something that I carry with me every day," he said.
    "I've learned a lot about myself, and all played an important role in developing my management style and the skills we use every day. I speak to all of these guys almost every week. I don't think you can do this job without relationships; they are vital when managing turfgrass, people and yourself. You need people to support you.
    Brown has embraced a philosophy based on the lessons he learned from his mentors while giving members of his team freedom to do their jobs - and make mistakes without fear of punishment.
    "What I admire most about them, they never yelled or got mad and people gave them 100 percent," he said. 'I've taken that philosophy while giving people ownership of operations and let them develop and become a better person. The people who work for you are the most important resource you have because they are the ones getting the job done."
    While always important, communications with other departments within the club and administration have taken on added importance throughout the pandemic.
    "We had record rounds in the past year, because we are an outlet for people working from home," he said. "The challenge is keeping conditions to the highest standards with limited labor and time.
    "We have worked to communicate with the golf department, committees and membership, and that has been a big part of our success here."
  • When crediting those who have made a positive impact on his career, Justin Sims checks all the usual boxes, like superintendents for whom he once worked. Sims, the director of grounds and facilities at the Alotian Club in Roland, Arkansas, also points to some unlikely influences.
    One of the major influences on Sims' career is the late John Wooden, who led the UCLA basketball program to 10 national championships in 12 years in the 1960s and '70s.
    A motivational genius, Wooden developed his Pyramid of Success that assigns an order of importance to 15 personal attributes that serve as building blocks of success. They key to that ultimate success, which in the case of UCLA's basketball teams was Competitive Greatness, is dependent on the other 14 building blocks being in place. That ultimate goal cannot be achieved if just one block in the pyramid is compromised.
    "I have read a lot of books about him and books that he has written," Sims said. 
    "He has a lot of philosophies that apply not only on the basketball court, but in life."
    The other mentors who have played a role in Sims' career include Marsh Benson and Brad Owen at Augusta National and Pat Finlen at the Olympic Club.
    He needed to call on every lesson he learned from each of them in 2020.
    Sims, who oversees all outdoor operations at the Alotian Club, was down about 30 people across the golf course maintenance and landscape operations while simultaneously taking on a greens renovation project. 
    "This year was a double-whammy for us. We've had quite a few H2B workers in the first eight years I've worked here," Sims said. "This year, we didn't get any of them. We were down 30 people, so we were busy recruiting and worrying about what we were going to do to find people. Then the virus hit while we were in the middle of rebuilding seven greens. We were closed January 1 and were supposed to reopen March 28, so we had a lot of stuff going on. We were in a bad spot."
    Sims eventually was able to put together what he described as a hodgepodge crew. Throughout the pandemic, the club has been testing all employees every Wednesday. The virus affected large chunks of the team throughout the summer, with as many as 19-20 people in quarantine at one time or another.
    The pandemic has given Sims an opportunity to take a hard look at the members of his team and see how they fit into his philosophy.
    "The last year has been good for building a crew," he said. "I was able to get a handle on how people handled adversity, how they are able to block things out and concentrate on getting better every day. An adverse time provides an opportunity to assess how everyone fits in as part of the team."
    Enter Coach Wooden.
    "I'm very people oriented. I know everyone is unique and personalities vary, and there is no one-size-fits-all philosophy," Sims said. "When we're hiring, I'm only looking for three things: integrity, attitude and do they have, as John Wooden would call it, industriousness. If someone has those things, then they're good to go; you can be part of a team and you're someone I can manage. I've never been able to train someone to be honest. I've never been able to train someone to work hard. And I've never been able to train someone to have a positive attitude."
  • Promoting environmental stewardship on the golf course is not a passing fancy or a fad with Anthony Williams. It is a way of life - literally. And he has the hardware to prove it.
    Williams was named the winner of the GCSAA/Golf Digest Environmental Leaders in Golf Award in 2020 in the Communications and Outreach category for his work at TPC Four Seasons in Irving, Texas. Williams has earned four ELGA awards on three different properties, including the Private and Overall winner at Four Seasons in 2017, Public and Overall winner at Stone Mountain (Georgia) Golf Club in 2006 and he tied with Troy Russell of Bandon Dunes for in the Resort category in 2005 when he was superintendent at the Renaissance Pineisle Resort in Sugar Hill, Georgia.
    Being at his best is something Williams strives for every day, whether it is at a state park golf course in Georgia or the home to one of the game's greatest players.
    "Every morning when I make my first round, I am reminded when I go by the Byron Nelson statue, of how excellent he was and what a legacy he has in golf, in Texas and on this property," Williams said. "And I am reminded that I am the keeper of this legacy."
    That was a challenge in 2020.
    When the Four Seasons was closed to golfers, Williams not only oversaw agronomics with a shadow of a crew, he also played the role of security guard, chasing off those daring enough to try to sneak onto the course to play a few holes or make their way to the practice area.
    When the property did reopen, it was in phases.
    "We were immediately tasked with a physical ask and a mental ask," Williams said. "And we had to figure out how to deal with protocols to be safe and produce a great product consistently as we brought the first course back online, then the second course, then the resort."
    Eventually, the Four Seasons reopened to member and guest play and the resort served as the Major League Baseball postseason bubble, housing all the teams that qualified for the playoffs, including the World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers.
    To ensure the safety of MLB players and personnel and protect the integrity of the postseason, resort staff had to make sure that the bubble was not compromised.
    "That was an opportunity to show our ability to keep people safe and show our hospitality," Williams said. 
    "We ran a fence to split the property in half. October is also when we have our member-guest and all club championships, and it was also the time when we had to separate members from our high-profile guests, and success was expected. Only a few of us were allowed inside the bubble. I've never before mowed pool grass at night while our guests were at the (Texas Rangers baseball) stadium. While they were at the game, we were able to take care of everything to protect the asset and our guests.
    "We've always had contingencies in place here, but I never thought it would have to go as severe as it did this year. We were able to make adjustments, because we had total buy-in and good processes that just needed to be tweaked."
  • As a golf course superintendent, Stephen Rabideau wears many hats - agronomist, accountant, personnel manager and counselor. In 2020, he also put on the hat of amateur psychologist in an attempt to console members of his team when an event for which they had been preparing for months was cast into doubt in the early stages of the pandemic.
    Rabideau and his crew at Winged Foot in Mamaroneck, New York, had been busy getting the West Course ready for the 2020 U.S. Open, when the event was put on hold and its fate uncertain, sending their collective psyche on a months-long roller coaster ride. And when it was decided the Open would be played - without fans - late into the summer from Sept. 17-20, a smaller-than-usual team was charged with providing U.S. Open conditions at the end of the season when they normally would be getting the course ready for the offseason.
    "We had no idea what was going on with the Open," Rabideau said. "There was so much unknown, and there was a letdown among those on the crew. 
    "The Open gets moved to September, and now we have to keep the golf course perfect through the summer. That's hard. In September we're holding a U.S. Open when we're normally aerifying the golf course because it's tired."
    By early March, construction of staging areas was underway. The following week, there were at least 100 more people on site as construction continued. By the third week, everything changed.
    "We were two years out preparing for the Open," Rabideau said. "In December of 2019, we were building and paving roads. We put in 5,000 feet of water lines to get to the USGA's food areas. In January and February of 2020 it was so mild we worked all winter.
    "Covid began ramping up, then the USGA stopped work and sent their guys home. Everything was at a standstill. We didn't know if there was going to be an Open."
    New York quickly earned the reputation as being the epicenter of the virus, but Rabideau and his team were deemed essential workers.
    "People were being told to stay home, because it was not safe, but we were told it was OK to come to work," he said. "We had no idea what was going on with the Open. It was confusing. Team morale was pretty bad."
    A month after the world had shut down, Rabideau still did not know if there would be an Open, or whether the months of work put in by his team would all be for nothing.
    "There were rumors it might move, and there were rumors that it hinged on the British Open," he said. "Everyone was fighting for the same weekend in the fall. One weekend, we were told that it was moving. That was not good.
    "Motivating our guys was becoming really hard. From March, all the April and May into a week or two into June, we still had less than half a staff to maintain two top-100 golf courses, but the expectations were the same. The guys were asked to do more, all not knowing what was going on with the Open."
    Finally, by July, word came that the Open would be played - in September and without fans.
    "That was another letdown," he said. "That meant no family, no friends, nobody."
    Whether it was the drama and uncertainty of the Open schedule, or the late summer date on the calendar, none of that prevented Rabideau and his team from providing the world's best players with Open-caliber conditions.
    After winning his first major championship in September, Bryson DeChambeau called Winged Foot "an incredible test" and eight-time majors champion Tom Watson called the West Course "arguably the toughest course there is."
    "The big thing was the rough," Rabideau said. "We were fertilizing and watering the rough through the summer. Then if you do that, you have to spray it. This was not an easy year. It was hot and dry, and we had to keep the greens, tees, fairways, approaches and rough perfect until fall. That is a lot. Then by September we had two hours less daylight.
    "We were really busy seven days a week. Typically, we're aerifying in September. This year, we were hosting a U.S. Open instead."
  • Just a few years removed from what some called the driest period in the state's history, California might be on the cusp of another drought.
    According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, the entire state is under some level of drought, ranging from Abnormally Dry to Extreme Drought conditions. And California is not alone. Nine other western states are completely under drought-like conditions and eight more are very close.
    Winter snow in the Sierra Nevada range supplies about 30 percent of the state's water supply through a system of aqueducts and waterways known as the State Water Project that captures runoff. The California Department of Water Resources says based on reports from 204 weather stations throughout the Sierras that snowpack in the mountain range that runs along California's spine for 400 miles is at an average of just 42 percent of normal through January 19. 
    The state is so dry that two power providers in Southern California interrupted power to thousands of customers, out of fear that winds could take down electrical lines leading to more wildfires.
    "The snow survey results reflect California's dry start to the water year and provide an important reminder that our state's variable weather conditions are made more extreme by climate change," said Karla Nemeth, director of the department of water resources, in a news release. "We still have several months left to bring us up to average, but we should prepare now for extended dry conditions. The Department, along with other state agencies and local water districts, is prepared to support communities should conditions remain dry."
    Rainfall throughout Los Angeles County was down by about 25 percent through 2020 according to the National Weather Service. No rainfall at all was recorded in the county in five months throughout the year, including four months straight from June through September. Some of the largest of the state's 47 reservoirs are well under storage capacity, including Shasta (42 percent), Oroville (34 percent) and San Luis (49 percent).
    "While the dry conditions during late summer and fall have led to a below average snowpack," Nemeth said, "it is still encouraging to have the amount of snow we already have with two of the three typically wettest months still to come."
    The last drought plagued most of the state at some point from 2011 to 2017 and resulted in mandated water-use restrictions statewide.
  • Several varieties of beneficial predators will attack clay versions of some turfgrass pests, such as fall armyworms and black cutworms. Photo by University of Georgia Turf managers can use all the help they can get when it comes to managing common pests such as fall armyworms and black cutworms. But little is known how natural predators interact with these pests.
    Research at the University of Georgia is shedding light on how various predators attack their pray when it is in its vulnerable larval stage. And the medium used to track this activity.
    The study showed that beneficial predator insects will attack even clay models that resemble their prey, the larvae of cutworms and armyworms. Results of the study by entomology University of Georgia doctoral candidate Fawad Khan were published in November in the publication "Entomologia Experimentalis et Applicata." It is believed to be the first study that used modeling clay in such a manner in turfgrass research.
    The research team, that included assistant professor Shimat Joseph, Ph.D., created two sizes of simulated larvae from modeling clay. Then they collected natural predators from turf lawns at UGA's Griffin campus. Each collected arthropod spent 48 hours in a petri dish with two sizes of clay larvae models. This was enough time for them to make their marks. Because the clay stays soft at room temperature, any markings left by the predators were preserved.
    Researchers observed how the predators interacted with models in the field. Outside of the petri dish-controlled environment, they also placed the clay models near a fire ant mound in turfgrass. The study found different types of predators created distinct markings after attacking the clay models.
    Researchers noted the differentiations in the specific markings left by each of at least a dozen types of predators, so they could further study these relationships in real-world settings.
    According to Joseph, the clay models are effective and cheap. Clay models of worm larvae left on trees or in the turf canopy usually will attract predators within a day or two.
    Further research into predation on cutworms and armyworms by different predators in different systems so as to include the results in IPM programs and that predatory behavior actually can be manipulated and influenced.
  • Educational events like the Syngenta Business Institute (below) and the Green Start Academy, held by Bayer and John Deere, (below right) went from in-person to online events in 2020. Around the world, people are suffering the effects of a new infirmity; one that can leave its victims lethargic, disinterested and unable to focus on the task at hand. When seeking out its victims, Zoom Fatigue plays no favorites. It has affected people in every age group, from the kindergarten playroom to the corporate boardroom and everywhere in between.
    The only cure, it seems, might be a return to a normal way of life, one in which children can go back to school and their parents can attend meetings, trade shows and educational seminars in person. Until such time, virtual education is here to stay.
    That's true in turf, where regional conferences, university field days and even meetings that once occurred in what seems like an old-fashioned face-to-face format, now take place on a computer screen or cell phone.
    "I am on two to three Zoom calls every day," said Dan Meersman, director of grounds at the Philadelphia Cricket Club. "I'm in them all the time. I had to attend one last night where I did not have to speak much. I worked out in our basement while the meeting was going on. I paused to make a statement, then finished my workout."
    As the first virtual version of the Golf Industry Show approaches, many wonder what turnout will be like. Other virtual events that have occurred since last March indicate that turfgrass management professionals embrace the idea of online education.
    Although overall attendance was down at the hybrid version of the Carolinas GCSA show, nearly 2,200 "seats" were sold for virtual education, topping the previous in-person record of 1,379.
    When the University of Tennessee decided last spring to cancel its annual field day held each September at the East Tennessee Research and Education Center, the event was replaced with Turfgrass Tuesdays, a live webinar series held the first week of each month. 
    An average of 130 turf professionals logged in for each session.
    When educational conferences like Green Start Academy, presented annually by John Deere and Bayer, and the Syngenta Business Institute, went online, they were met with the same enthusiasm attendees had for in-person events.
    "I thoroughly enjoyed the Syngenta Business Institute," said Parish Pina, superintendent at The Ridge Club in Sandwich, Massachusetts. "I thought the way they made it interactive within groups and engaging to listen to, outstanding. I don't have many other online learning experiences to set a precedent as yet, but they have definitely set the bar."
    Meersman has been a speaker or mentor at the past two Green Start Academies, including the virtual version in 2020, when he led a breakout session after each of four weekly events. Meersman believes the comfort of attending from home or work in some ways improved the experience and led to better interaction between attendees and mentors.
    "I thought they were more candid and honest and asked really good questions," Meersman said. "And we had more time after each topic to discuss what was brought up in the discussion and provide real-world examples."
    For more than a decade, Syngenta has been providing business education for dozens of superintendents through the Syngenta Business Institute held in cooperation with the Wake Forest University School of Business.
    The program provides graduate school-level instruction on topics including financial management, human resource management, negotiating, managing across generations and cultural divides, impact hiring and other leadership- and professional-development skills. The event, which has been held annually at Wake Forest, was all virtual last December.
    "Syngenta is deeply committed to educating superintendents, so we were pleased to be able to offer the Syngenta Business Institute in a safe and effective virtual format," said Stephanie Schwenke, turf market manager for Syngenta. "I was very impressed with how engaged the 2020 class was throughout the week. They were extremely involved with each other, asked the four professors great questions, added invaluable insights for everyone and built relationships through the social events. The 2020 cohort exceeded my expectations. We look forward to meeting as many of them as possible in person during future industry events."
    Rick Mooney, vice president of maintenance and development at Shorelodge in McCall, Idaho, had read and heard all about SBI since its inception 12 years ago, and although the event was online in 2020 he was excited he had landed a spot in the annual rotation of about 40 golf course superintendents chosen to attend.
     "I came into the institute with an open mind willing to put in the effort and try to become a better business leader," Mooney said. "The curriculum was great, and I found myself fully engaged and feeling like we could have extended class possibly with a break for lunch with a morning and afternoon session. I found that I wanted further interaction with my peers, and I wish we would have had more time exchanging ideas and learning from each other's experiences as well as the instructors' input. If they offered a Syngenta virtual 2.0, I am sure that I would ask to continue my learning experience."
  • The Syngenta booth is always a hub of activity during the Golf Industry Show. Even with this year's show taking place online, Syngenta's virtual booth still will have a lot going on.
    During the virtual 2021 Golf Industry Show, scheduled from Feb. 2-4, Syngenta will encourage superintendents to share their perspective for the year ahead, network and celebrate each other and focus on their personal health while also learning about the latest products available from Syngenta. 
    While visiting the Syngenta virtual booth or GreenCastOnline.com/GIS, visitors can choose their own adventure through an interactive video that provides insights into controlling turf diseases such as dollar spot, large patch, fairy ring, anthracnose, spring dead spot and take-all root rot featuring the latest fungicides, Ascernity, Posterity XT and Posterity Forte, as well as assurances and agronomic alerts. Upon completion, participants will receive their choice of a 12-ounce or 16-ounce YETI Rambler Colster can insulator. 
    Additionally, from Jan. 17 – Feb. 4, golf course professionals can follow @SyngentaTurf on Facebook and Twitter and share their positive #TurfPerspectives for a chance to win one of seven Solo Stove Yukon fire pits. 
    At GIS, Syngenta will introduce the GreenCast Turf App, which has been redesigned with added features and flexibility to fit each user’s needs. All data is now cloud-based, allowing for access on multiple devices and the ability to share information easily. 
    During the virtual show, Syngenta also will be supporting numerous events, including the Opening Ceremony, Ladies Leading Turf panel discussion and networking reception, the GCSAA Certification Luncheon, several education sessions as well as the annual Health in Action 5K, which will be hosted virtually.
    "While we are certainly going to miss seeing our customers face-to-face at the Golf Industry Show, Syngenta is committed to providing the best support possible for superintendents through the virtual format," said Stephanie Schwenke, turf marketing manager at Syngenta. "We hope it will provide an opportunity for even more turf professionals to participate who may not have historically been able to do so. Our team will be available throughout the show and look forward to interacting with everyone."
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