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John Reitman

By John Reitman

Virtual GIS draws mixed reactions, some see potential for long-term change


Click the image to listen to GCSAA president John Fulling explain more about a virtual Golf Industry Show.

The worst-kept secret in the turf business was leaked Wednesday when the GCSAA announced via video that next year's Golf Industry Show would be held in a virtual format.

Originally scheduled for the first week of February in Las Vegas, the show now will take place in offices and homes across the country and around the world.

"This was not an easy decision to make," GCSAA president John Fulling, CGCS, said in the video announcement. "We considered global health concerns, travel bans, restrictions on large gatherings, social distancing requirements, adjustments other shows were making and the state of the economy. We listened to members, engaged exhibitors and consulted our industry partners, and it became clear a virtual event would afford the best opportunity to offer you a safe and quality GIS experience."

Tabbed "Your Space. Your Place. All in One Place." the online show will include education, informational videos and downloads on new products as well virtual networking opportunities in what the GCSAA promises will be an engaging platform.

"Don't worry," Fulling said in the video, "this won't be a week of video calls."

The decision has been met with understanding, if not disappointment.

"We fully support  their decision and continue to support GCSAA as a gold level sponsor and look forward to GIS in this new virtual format," said Tripp Trotter, head of marketing for Syngenta turf and ornamental. "We believe this will be a great opportunity to engage across the industry virtually with many of our customers and are excited to showcase many of our new products,  which we are in the process of launching now for the early order period."

Scott Ramsay, CGCS at The Country Club of Farmington in Connecticut, does not attend the show every year. He often can be found when the show rotates through Orlando and its middle-America destination. He was looking forward to attending the event in Las Vegas, but understands why he cannot.

"The only decision that made sense," Ramsay said. "But I am old school and need the interpersonal touch. That's my first impression. 

"I have missed too many shows and was looking forward to being in a position to go this year. Canceling the trip today to The Masters, also."


The 2021 Golf Industry Show will bring a new meaning to a virtual trade show experience.

Rick Tegtmeier, CGCS at Des Moines Golf and Country Club in Iowa, has been attending the GIS and its previous iterations since 1980 with few interruptions. Like Ramsay, he also had his bags all but packed for Vegas.

When asked if he would have attended the show had it gone on in person, Tegtmeier didn't hesitate in his response.

"Yes!" he said adamantly. "I would have flown, and I would have flown with a mask on. I would have had no qualms about that at all."

To Tegtmeier, the show is about in-person education and networking.

"I always get something out of it. It's my time to listen to researchers talk about new products and chemicals and their trials. I hate to try anything new on the golf course until I see data I know I can trust."

The online education will be conducted live. For those unable to attend live sessions or who want to watch one again, they also will be available on-demand, but interaction with the presenter is lost.

"I'm the guy who goes to an all-day, eight-hour session and asks a lot of questions all day long," Tegtmeier said. "I don't like a 20-minute Zoom call, let alone an hour-long talk online.

"This virtual thing is great, but for me, education is a two-way street. If I can't ask questions, what good is it?"

Getting to GIS either on the West Coast or East Coast, or somewhere in between is no small feat for Matt DiMase, superintendent at The Abaco Club on Winding Bay in The Bahamas. Despite the challenges often associated with international travel, during a health crisis no less, DiMase, was looking forward to the 2021 show. He also understands why he won't be able to attend.

"I was hopeful GIS was going to happen, but at the same time I also knew in the back of my mind we have many persons in the industry who travel from all over the world, so, I was not surprised," DiMase said. "I also knew it wasn't an easy decision but it was the right decision in my mind.  

"Given everything going on, yes, I would have attended. I'm not discrediting the virus, or what's going on, but I also believe it is up to each person to do their part and be safe and smart."

Two years ago, Carlos Arraya, CGCS at Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis, was named TurfNet's Superintendent of the Year. Today, he is the club's assistant general manager. He believes there are opportunities for long-term change in the switch to a virtual format. Namely, he would like to see more education focused on helping superintendents promote their business acumen. 

Earlier this year, rather than send senior members of his greens staff to GIS in Orlando, he sent them to the Club Managers Association of America conference, where, as first-time attendees, they received free education focused on improving their management and leadership skills.

"From my perspective, it had become a little antiquated and needed to be refreshed," Arraya said. "I think this is going to separate those who really want education and those who look at this primarily as a social function.

"The CMAA was a better platform for business and leadership. I told my guys, 'I'm not sending you to a wetting agent class, I want you to learn how to be better leaders and build a team."

The cost savings realized by not traveling to next year's GIS (the fate of next year's CMAA conference has not yet been decided) will allow Arraya to focus more resources on educating his team and completing his certification through CMAA.

"Education is a value proposition," he said. "It's not only what you have, but it's also about how you go there. It's about value; it's about information, education and communication."

DiMase is all-in for GIS education this year, even if it is not in person.

"I'll look at the schedule and see what classes are being offered and sign up for ones that pertain to me," he said. "As long as Internet is good on the island, which it hasn't been for the past 11 months, I'll take advantage.

"I have taken classes every year, and I love not only the classes themselves but I look forward to the the people I meet in them. I even thought about possibly teaching a class in hurricane preparedness or disaster management, but that will maybe wait until 2022."

Although the primary functions of the GIS are education, professional development and conducting business with industry partners, the significance of the social component cannot be ignored. The virtual event promises opportunities for personal networking, but in an industry that prides itself on being about relationships, nothing takes the place of face-to-face interaction.

For many, GIS represents the only time throughout the year that friendships forged through a fraternal vocation are renewed in person. And that makes Tegtmeier sad.

"I've been going to this show since 1980, and to not see my friends is going to be tough," he said. "I've already had people call and say: 'We're not going to get a chance to see each other. What are we going to do?' "

His answer was simple.

"I don't know."

Edited by John Reitman

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