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John Reitman

By John Reitman

Up-and-coming Union League launches Philly area career-development program


The ever-changing Union League of Philadelphia will host its first career-development program for superintendents, assistants and mechanics Jan. 18-19. Photo by Scott Bordner via Twitter

Since its inception during the early days of the Civil War, The Union League of Philadelphia has been all about improving the lives of others.

More than 150 years later, Union League director of agronomy Scott Bordner is upholding that tradition by implementing a career-development program that will help provide turf-specific education to dozens of superintendents, assistants and mechanics in what is called Union League University.

"We're just doing it to add something extra for their education," Bordner said. "We have 40 Union League employees that will be here for the event. We can't pay to send them somewhere else. We can't put them on a plane and put them in a hotel, so we're going to bring the conference to us."

The event is scheduled for Jan. 18-19 at The Lodge at Union League Liberty Hill in Lafayette Hill, Pennsylvania. The Union League, a downtown Philadelphia social club founded in 1862 on the principles of Abraham Lincoln, bought the former Ace Club complete with a hotel last year. 

"Once we had a hotel available and conference space, I decided we have to utilize this," Bordner said. "That's when we decided to have something educational for assistants and mechanics, because that is where our industry is lacking most."

Topics to be addressed will include sprayer calibration and nozzle selection, effects of abiotic stress, roundtable discussion on irrigation system issues, staying current in a changing industry, financial management, interviewing tips, mower reel set-up and lessons learned in 2021. Vendors who are helping sponsor the program that runs attendees $150 for two days of education, plus room and board in the Liberty Hill hotel including Genesis Turfgrass, Turf Equipment and Supply Co., Pocono Turf, Turf Disease Solutions, Noble Turf and Finch Turf.

The Union League has undergone a great deal of growth since it got into the golf business in 2014 with the purchase of what is now Union League Golf Club Torresdale and since Bordner arrived there in 2019 after a successful run at Chicago Golf Club. Founded in 1862 as a patriotic society that upholds the principles of Lincoln and the Union, the club has hosted U.S. presidents, foreign heads of state, business leaders and entertainers from around the world.

Once we had a hotel available and conference space, I decided we have to utilize this. That's when we decided to have something educational for assistants and mechanics, because that is where our industry is lacking most.

The club now owns three golf facilities, including Liberty Hill and Union League National Golf Club, the former 27-hole Sand Barrens Golf Club in Swainton, New Jersey that is set to reopen this year after a Fry-Straka renovation. Bordner oversees conditions at all three properties as director of agronomy.

Union League superintendents Pat Haughey (Union League National), Andrew Dooley (Union League Torresdale) and John Canavan, the longtime superintendent at Liberty Hill, will help with the upcoming ULU program as will equipment manager Mike Elliott, who Bordner hired from Pine Valley to oversee equipment maintenance at all three courses. 

Bordner, who plans to continue ULU in the future, said he carefully handpicked invitees to avoid having a room filled with people who already know each other. He will do the same for future events, and with good reason.

"I'm trying to bring in people who don't know each other," he said. "When they know each other, they get into their own cliques and they don't get out of them. I want to force the networking end of it, too."

Bordner also has worked with consultant Tyler Bloom to establish an apprenticeship program throughout the Union League operation. 

Bordner, Haughey and Dooley worked together at Merion under Matt Shaffer, and Bloom interned there early in his career.

"He has helped us with hiring people and setting up a training program," Bordner said. "He is helping us give young people a career in turf or mechanics."

When Bloom had a chance to help Bordner develop his team at the Union League he jumped at the opportunity.

"The first time I walked into the Union League, I said to myself 'I don't belong here,' but if I ever had a chance to be associated with it, I would do anything," Bloom said. "Now, to be associated with Scott, those guys are as close to being my turf brothers as you could find.

"What they do as a company is aligned with everything I am doing. They are all about professional development. They are doing everything I try to emulate in my business, and that is important to me. To go there and talk to young people and launch them into their careers, that's not work, that's fun. And it's fun to work with people who share that philosophy and want to share that information."

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