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After a year of disappointing growth and participation, TurfNet has pulled the plug on TurfNetSports as a standalone entity.
"We launched TurfNetSports in January, 2013, with all good intentions, figuring what has worked well in golf turf for twenty years should be successful in sports turf management as well," said Peter McCormick, founder of TurfNet. "We have always had a few handfuls of professional-level sports turf managers as regular TurfNet members, and all of them as well as many others encouraged us to take the product to sports turf. We did not fully appreciate how different the two markets are," he continued.
"We quickly found that much of what resonates with golf course superintendents doesn't necessarily appeal or apply in sports turf," McCormick said. "Job listings, for instance, are huge on TurfNet.com, but jobs above entry-level laborers in sports turf are few and far between. Used equipment is also big on our golf site, but most of the municipal or school facilities in sports turf can't buy or sell used items. That was two big strikes against us."
Sports turf education was universally desired, but not without it's challenges... and as long as it was free.
"Sports turf is very stratified in its levels of competence and education," McCormick said. "You have custodians at the lowest levels who have little interest beyond mowing grass, all the way to highly-trained turf managers (many of whom are former golf course superintendents) at the college and professional levels managing sand-based fields, in some cases with subsurface heat and artificial lighting. It's tough to offer a schedule of Webinars without boring some or being over the heads of others. Arguably the greatest need is at the lower levels, but they have little-to-no discretionary budget."
All paid members of TurfNetSports have been offered a free year of membership at TurfNet.com. A Sports Turf Management conference has been established in the TurfNet Forum, and at least six sports-turf related Webinars will continue to be offered through TurfNet University each year. Former TurfNetSports members will have access to all TurfNet University webinars, and regular TurfNet members will also be able to attend the sports-related events.
"Our decision was based on both the apparent lack of interest at the paid membership level and on the fact that our staff is flat out as it is," McCormick concluded. "Every business today must continually reexamine its offerings and allocation of resources and adjust when necessary. In this case, it was time to 'cut bait' and focus on our core business."
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After eight years of staring at an evaporating pool of golf courses, declining rounds played and golfers walking away from the course forever, many realize the line between success and failure often can be razor thin, and it takes vigilance to ensure one stays on the right side of the line. Many of the people walking the aisles at the Golf Industry Show in Orlando, Fla., said growing the game is an effort that must take place at the facility level rather than through industry initiatives to be successful. "We have to spread and not just focus on the avid golfer and the golfer who is a scratch player," said Ron Jaworski, the former NFL quarterback and owner of five golf courses in New Jersey. "We have to teach people how to play the game and make the game more accessible and easier." According to the National Golf Foundation, 3.7 million new golfers found their way to a course last year, however, 4.1 million walked off the 18th green and never looked back, meaning the game lost a net 400,000 players in 2013 alone. Golf Datatech says rounds played fell by 5 percent last year, and a although 14 new courses were built across the country, another 157.5 in 18-hole equivalents closed up. Since 2006, there has been a net loss of 643 courses. The statistics show it's a simple matter of supply and demand. Interest in the game is dwindling and no one has found a cork big enough to stop that leak. Additional NGF research shows that 57 percent of those 18-34 said they don't play golf because they think it is boring. Other barriers to attracting and retaining new players is the time it takes to play the game. In her 15 years as a professional golfer, Annika Sorenstam won 72 LPGA events, 10 majors and more than $20 million in career earnings. As a player, she rarely gave much thought to the investment in time required to play a round of golf. As a mother and retired professional, she can't imagine spending 4.5 hours on a golf course. "Then, I had all the time in the world," said Sorenstam, who was at GIS to collect the GCSAA's Old Tom Morris Award. "Now, there's no way we're going out there for 4.5 hours. "People have families and other commitments. Where do you squeeze it in?" Discussions as to how to make the game more inviting to those who don't want to invest four or five hours took place in Orlando just days before GIS at the PGA Merchandise Show. One of the ideas put forth by TaylorMade-Adidas CEO Mark King was 15-inch cups. The oversized cups would be easier to hit than the standard 4.25-inch golf hole, and when coupled with other initiatives such as shorter holes (achieved by moving tees forward into the fairway) and three- or six-hole loops, would make the game much less threatening for beginners or high handicappers. Although he was not aware of King's 15-inch cup idea, Anthony Williams, CGCS, wasn't opposed to it, either. Stone Mountain Golf Club, a 36-hole state park facility near Atlanta where Williams is superintendent, is reliant on walk-up business for its survival. And with several other public-access courses nearby, he knows golfers have a choice when opening their wallets. "We're never going to grow the game if people are never converted," Williams said. "Our traditions are intimidating to those fence-sitters we want down off the fence. We have to attract people with discretionary income, and we have to do it in a way that is non-intimidating. If someone who has never played golf has one bad experience on that first trip, they're not going to come back. "A golf course should be a 300-acre welcome mat." Sorenstam agreed that 7,000-yard courses are not going to be the ticket to growing the game, something she desperately wants to see happen. "Those of us in the golf industry should want the game to grow, so we have to be innovative," Sorenstam said. "We need to find a way to preserve golf's history, but we also need to look outside the box to grow the game." But 15-inch cups? Three-hole and six-hole loops? Rafael Martinez, CGCS at South Hills Country Club in West Covina, Calif., says bring 'em on. "I think it sounds like a wonderful idea," Martinez said. "We are responsible for setting up the golf course for our members. We also have to be able to set up a golf course to attract new golfers. If that means a little inconvenience for the crew, that's not an issue. "If it's guest day, we set up as easy as possible. Ladies day ? as easy as possible. There are always those people who want the course to be as hard as it can be, but those people are the minority. If we follow that then we have sacrificed 95 percent of our golfers."
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Indeed, just about every exhibitor we spoke with at GIS2014 mentioned the terms productivity, efficiency, efficacy, capacity, price points, total cost of ownership and their various synonyms. Why? Because while maintenance budgets continue to shrink, golfer expectations have not... so superintendents have to continually find ways to do more with less, and fiscal responsibility is paramount to the survival of every golf course operation.
That's no big secret to superintendents... but now a mantra and national ad campaign of a major industry supplier have put it in the spotlight.
Toro's Turfonomics advertising campaign kicked off in January with "Chapter 1", to be followed (obviously) with subsequent chapters of the story. Products are featured with emphasis on "Top Line Thinking" (focusing on providing the best course conditions possible), "Bottom Line Thinking" (operator productivity, ease of maintenance, etc) and "Real World Thinking" (meshing course conditioning with cost of ownership of any product).
According to Toro, it all boils down to simple Turfonomics.
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"I do it because I plan to be there for a long time," Mark said. "If you don't plan on being somewhere for 10 years, you're not going to be."
For his dedication to customer service at the 90-plus-year-old club, Mark was named winner of the TurfNet Superintendent of the Year Award, presented by Syngenta.
Mark was chosen by a panel of judges from a field of six finalists that included Matt Gourlay, CGCS of Colbert Hills in Manhattan, Kan.; Brad Jolliff of KickingBird Golf Course in Edmond, Okla.; Curtis Nickerson of University Park Country Club in University Park, Fla.; Josh Saunders of Longue Vue Club in Penn Hills, Pa., and Matt Shaffer of Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa. He was nominated by a group that included his club president, grounds chairman, general manager, several members, colleagues throughout the industry and former employees.
The award is presented annually to a superintendent who excels at one or more of the following: 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, dealing with extreme or emergency conditions.
Previous winners include Meersman (2012); Paul Carter, CGCS (2011); Thomas Bastis, CGCS (2010); Anthony Williams, CGCS (2009); Sam MacKenzie (2008); John Zimmers (2007); Scott Ramsay, CGCS (2006); Mark Burchfield (2005); Stuart Leventhal, CGCS (2004); Paul Voykin (2003); Jeff Burgess (2002); Kip Tyler (2001); and Kent McCutcheon (2000).
The common thread in each of the nominations Mark received, a devotion to customer service, the golf course and his staff. Mark's 10-year career at Kirtland has been defined by constant enhancements to the course, including ongoing drainage improvements, ushering the 1921 Charles Hugh Alison design through a major restoration and an irrigation upgrade project that, despite a flood event, went on without interruption.
"Mr. Mark provides, and helps ensure others from his staff provide, only the highest level of service to our membership and our guests at Kirtland Country Club," said club member Andy Sikorovsky. "Each year since his arrival, Chad seemingly gives more and more of his time and expertise to enhancing the client experience at our golf course. He seeks to understand the various and countless challenges and opportunities to improve the course from year to year. He helps the membership prioritize needs, set expectations, build consensus, and then delivers more than the membership expects within budget. He is very approachable and communicative. He eagerly welcomes suggestions and seeks critique of his work. He leads by example and isn't afraid to get dirty. Member satisfaction seems to be the sole point on his compass."
When the Chagrin River that runs through the course flooded in 2013, it threatened not only to derail Kirtland's playing season, but an $800,000 irrigation upgrade project that included installation of a new pump house.
Instead, Mark and his crew had the course cleared and reopened in a matter of days while the irrigation project and pump house installation went on uninterrupted.
"We kept on running," Petzing said. "He did both at the same time without stopping.
"He's a team player and an integral part of the management team. He is part of long-range planning for the club and sits in on board members with me. He sees the big picture."
Among those celebrating with Mark after the announcement was 2007 Superintendent of the Year John Zimmers of Oakmont Country Club. Zimmers hired Mark as an intern at Sand Ridge Golf Club in Chardon, Ohio, when Mark was a student at Ohio State.
Zimmers said it was clear early in Mark's career that he was focused on customer service.
"You could tell that first year that Chad was driven, focused and had all the talent to be very successful in this profession," Zimmers said. "Chad was very loyal, and dedicated to always trying to do the job right. I got to know his family, and you could tell he was being taught great values. I am proud to say that I had a small part in Chad's successful career to date. I would consider Chad to be one of the best young superintendents in the country, and more importantly, a great friend, mentor, husband and father to his wonderful family."
He communicates regularly with members via email updates on course conditions as well as by his attendance in committee meetings and entries in the club's newsletter.
"I cannot imagine any group being better informed than we who are Kirtland members," said Kirtland member Paul Mouguey.
For Mark, taking on a leadership role at the club reflects his passion for golf and giving back to the game he loves.
"I feel like I add a lot of value because I love for the club, love for the profession, and I want to see the club sustained for another 85 years," Mark said. "It's important to me to be as involved as I can so it is a well-rounded facility."
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The 2014 Great Lakes School of Turfgrass Science is a 10-week program that aims to provide "thorough and practical continuing education in turfgrass management." This year marks the first time the program has been taught online.
Scheduled for March 5 through May 7, the program is affiliated with the universities of Minnesota and Wisconsin and will include curriculum by 10 professors from Cornell, Michigan State, Ohio State, Purdue and South Dakota State, as well as the two host schools.
The original iteration of the Great Lakes Schools of Turfgrass Science was started as a short course in 1991 by Frank S. Rossi, Ph.D., when he was an assistant professor at Wisconsin. It has subsequently been administered by John Stier, Ph.D., and now Doug Soldat, Ph.D., both of Wisconsin, as well as Sam Bauer and Brian Horgan, Ph.D., of Minnesota.
Classes will convene for two hours each Wednesday throughout the 10-week duration of the program and lessons will be recorded and archived for on-demand viewing for those who want to review the information or are unable to attend the live event. Cost of the program is $395. Those interested in attending can click here to register. Deadline to register is Feb. 28.
"By presenting it live, but recording each session, participants can view the class at their convenience, or watch it again," said Soldat.
"The program will not simply be 20 hours of webinars. The 10 instructors have been meeting regularly to ensure that we provide an interactive experience for the students. While the delivery method has changed, the goal of the Great Lakes School of Turfgrass Science will be to provide a foundation of knowledge for those who are new to the field and as a refresher for those who have been in the industry for quite some time."
Students will be given regular reading assignments and quizzes will be administered weekly. Graduates will receive a certificate upon completion of the program.
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Not everything in plant health is about new fungicides. In fact, some factors that influence plant health are more readily controlled by superintendents..."
That includes selecting turf plants that are adapted to the geographic area in which they will be grown and managed and altering cultural practices such as mowing height and frequency, aerification timing and depth, and managing air movement and shade. "You probably inherit what you have. That is more typical. You manage it the best you can," Rutledge said. "Then, the turf is more reliant on cultural management." Cultural practices aren't always enough when producing a healthy plant. Often, because of limitations associated with such factors as weather, wind, shade and more, it is necessary to use a fungicide with plant health qualities. "That's the final piece," Rutledge said. "That is where we fit in and tie into the other pieces."
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A 2006 graduate of North Carolina State University's turfgrass management program, Thompson is the head groundskeeper at Duke University, one of the Wolfpack's most hated rivals. A mere 25 miles separate Williams Hall, home base for NCSU's crop science program in Raleigh, and Duke's Wallace Wade Stadium in Durham. But that is way too close for fans who root on each school's respective athletic teams.
For Thompson, 29, Duke fits like a comfortable pair of jeans.
"Most of the people (in sports turf) around here are NC State guys," Thompson said.
"Duke has been great. I enjoy the people here most. Working with the field crews and also being able to interact with different athletic programs and staffs. This position also combines my love of athletics and turfgrass maintenance."
Thompson is in charge of maintaining 70 acres of athletic fields for seven sports teams as well as 150 additional acres of campus grounds, including Krzyzewskiville, the area around Cameron Indoor Stadium, home to the school's four-time national championship men's basketball team coached by Mike Krzyzewski.
In fact, many probably equate Duke athletics with men's basketball team, but the Blue Devils have a long legacy in other sports, including national championships in men's soccer and lacrosse. Even the school's football team has enjoyed recent success under coach David Cutcliffe, including a spot in the Chick-fil-A Bowl on New Year's Eve.
A native of Fremont, N.C., Thompson never envisioned a career in sports turf management during his days at NCSU. Instead, he majored in turfgrass management with his sights set on being a golf course superintendent. He even worked at Carolina Country Club in Raleigh and Wilson Country Club before focusing his career on sports turf management.
When Thompson and wife Kristen married six years ago, he soon realized the time dedication required to be a successful superintendent was not conducive to starting a new family, and that it was time to explore other career options in turf management if the couple wanted to see each other on a regular basis.
"It was just the timing. I never looked to get into sports. It just happened," Thompson said. "I had been a golfer. I wasn't looking for a chance to get out, but the opportunity presented itself.
"I'd just been married for a few months, and it was an opportunity to get away from that schedule of working on a golf course."
Managing turf at a Division I athletic program has its challenges as well.
Duke's natural grass fields include Wallace Wade Stadium (football) and an outdoor football practice facility, game and practice fields for men's and women's soccer and game and practice fields for men's and women's lacrosse. Duke also has synthetic turf on two lacrosse practice fields, an indoor practice field at the Yoh Football Center, at Jack Katz Stadium for field hockey, Jack Coombs Stadium for baseball and two practice fields for lacrosse.
A hands-on manager, Thompson says his first responsibility is to provide safe and aesthetically pleasing playing surfaces for Duke's student athletes. And he can't do that until he motivates members of his crew to help him.
"My biggest responsibility is to make sure my staff my staff is motivated and encouraged to be the best they can be," he said. "By doing so, they are able to perform at the highest level and maintain the fields and facilities at the same level."
Among his greatest challenges was getting acclimated to the differences between managing creeping bentgrass greens mowed at one-eighth-inch and Bermudagrass fields maintained at a half-inch.
"It was a huge learning curve," he said. "The fields are built like a golf course; grass over sand over gravel, so the concept is kind of the same. In this part of the country, you have to be on your toes. There is a lot of disease and insect pressure."
Although the same disease pressures don't exist on high-cut Bermuda, Duke's 419 is susceptible to dollar spot, pythium after turf covers are used. Even brown patch is an occasional visitor on Duke's 419 Bermudagrass soccer fields after they are overseeded with perennial ryegrass.
"We do have some disease pressure," he said.
"It isn't remotely like what the golf guys see on bentgrass."
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In that time, Carter has undertaken a variety of projects, all with local wildlife and the environment in mind. His work includes renovating the Jack Nicklaus Signature course on the banks of the Tennessee River near Chattanooga, as well as achieving status as an Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary and becoming the first course in Tennessee to be named as a Groundwater Guardian Green Site by the Groundwater Foundation. Last year, he converted to an all-electric fleet of mechanized equipment. The TurfNet 2011 Superintendent of the Year Award winner, Carter recently was named the public and overall winner of the GCSAA's Environmental Leaders in Golf Award. Other winners were Scott Bower of Martis Camp in Truckee, Calif. in the private category; Chad Corp, CGCS at Mountain Ridge in Thompsonville, Mich. (resort category); and Andrew Hardy of Pheasant Run Golf Club in Sharon, Ontario (international category). Carter's work began to grab national attention with Harrison Bay's Eagle Cam, that showed the world the nesting and parenting habits of bald eagles that were named Elliott and Eloise by Carter's daughter, Hannah. Bower was recognized for his work at managing the ecologically sensitive Martis Camp property in the Sierra Nevada. His water quality management program, which includes minimal pesticide applications, has won the praise of several local environmental groups. Sustainability also is a goal at Mountain Ridge, where Corp was recognized for his development of compost tea as an organic fertilizer. The organic amendment also helps reduce the dependency on fungicide and growth regulators. His management program also incorporates the use of bio-diesel in rolling stock. Spraying for control of pests of any kind is a last resort for Sharon Golf Club's Hardy. With an eye on water use, he has been able to cut consumption by as much as 23 percent through a program that includes regular use of growth regulators and surfactants. His work also was recognized by the East Gwillimbury Chamber of Commerce with its Environmental Business of the Year Award and the Town of East Gwillimbury Award for Excellence. Chapter winners in the public category were: Paul Grogan, CGCS, TPC Deere Run, Moline, Ill.; Gary Ingram, CGCS, Metropolitan Golf Links, Oakland, Calif.; Scott Spooner, Leslie Park and Huron Hills Golf Courses, Clinton, Mich. Chapter winners in the private category were: Steve Britton, TPC Potomac at Avenel, Potomac, Md.; Tim Connolly, TPC Jasna Polana, Princeton, N.J.; Mike Crawford, CGCS, TPC Sugarloaf, Duluth, Ga.; Tom DeGrandi, TPC River Highlands, Manchester, Conn.; Dave Faucher, CGCS, TPC Rivers Bend, Maineville, Ohio; Charles Robertson, CGCS, TPC Craig Ranch, McKinney, Texas; Jim Thomas, CGCS, TPC Southwind, Memphis, Tenn.; Russell Vandehey, CGCS, Oregon Golf Club, Oregon City; Matt Weitz, Victoria National Golf Club, Newburgh, Ind. Chapter winner in the resort category was Tom Vlach, CGCS, TPC at Sawgrass, Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. Dave Davies, CGCS at Stonebrae in Hayward, Calif., was named a winner in the merit category. The Environmental Leaders in Golf Awards recognize superintendents and their courses for overall course management excellence in the areas of water conservation, water quality management, integrated pest management, energy conservation, pollution prevention, waste management, wildlife and habitat conservation, communication and outreach, and leadership.
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