Monday, June 5, 2017

Retiring on your own terms

In early May, while making site visits in Denver, two of the superintendents that I had intended on visiting had just retired. Jeff Danaher was the superintendent at Aurora Hills Golf Course for 27 years, and Barry Dunbar was at Springhill Golf Course for 44 years, 33 of those as the superintendent. This was music to my ears. Here are two superintendents who dedicated their careers to their properties, and when it came time to retire they did it on their own terms.

On the other side of the coin, I have seen a 30-year golf course superintendent who had given almost his entire career to one property be un-ceremoniously let go and told he had fifteen minutes to pack his belongings – all because a new management company was moving in.

I am pleased to announce that one of Oregon’s finest, Bob Senseman, CGCS, will be retiring sometime this month. Bob plans on sticking around just long enough to help make sure that Nolan Wenker, CGCS, is fully oriented and ready to take over the reins at Oswego Lake Country Club.

Bob Senseman, CGCS, and close friend Russell Vandehey, CGCS, at the Oregon GCSA annual meeting
This year the Oregon GCSA honored Bob with the Hall of Fame award. The Hall of Fame award was established to recognize and honor members’ lifetime work and service to our industry. Selecting the 35-year GCSAA member was a simple choice for the Oregon board.

After graduating in the early 80s, Bob stepped right into a superintendent role at the Rippling River Resort just below Mt Hood. From there he sought out warmer weather and moved to San Louis Obispo for a spell. Apparently, Bob hadn't gotten enough rain while he was in Oregon, so he moved back to manage Columbia Edgewater. We all thought this was Bob’s resting place, but he soon got the itch and was romanced by the USGA to take on the agronomist role in the Northeast region. Eighteen months later, Bob found himself back in Portland, where he finally settled down for good at Oswego Lake Country Club in 1995.

Bob served on the Oregon GCSA Board of Directors and was president in 1993-94. He also continues to serve on the board for the Oregon Turfgrass Foundation.

Bob has mentored many, including me. What impressed me most was his selfless attitude and willingness to help his peers. I can remember having an issue with one of my greens at Stone Creek, and when I called Bob to ask his advice, he didn’t hesitate to get in his car and come out and take a look.

Nothing thrills me more than to see a member retire on their own terms, and sending Bob off at the Oregon GCSA’s annual meeting could not have been a more fitting tribute. Thank you, Bob, for all your service and our continuing friendship. I wish you many bugs on your teeth as you spend time with your Harley and your friends on the many back roads of the West!

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

A sad situation at the Broadmoor's Mountain Course

If you ask The Broadmoor’s Mountain Course Superintendent Robert McKinney if he has any photos of his course on his phone, he would reply, "why would I want to remind myself of that?" The Arnold Palmer-designed mountain course opened in 1976, only to be closed due to landslide issues. The course reopened as a Jack Nicklaus designed course in 2006 and after a significant investment in slide mitigation, the problem resurfaced again and slid in 2013. Robert and a skeleton crew managed the portion of the course up until November 2016 when they finally had to call it quits. Reports say that a break in a municipal water line was the culprit but significant rainfall in the spring of 2013 and 2016 could have contributed.
Entry road below the starter shack
While I was in Colorado Springs last week visiting the Patty Jewett Golf Course’s First Green event, I also arranged to buy lunch for Zach Bauer’s crew at The Broadmoor as part of the GCSAA "Working for Me" campaign. After lunch, Zach offered to show me around the facility which included a tour of the Mountain Course.

As we rounded the corner, I was in disbelief. The first thing that came to my mind were the pictures that I have seen from the 1964 Alaskan earthquake. The entrance road had a five-foot drop that had been bridged with gravel, we turned into the maintenance facility and I could tell that the building had been compromised. Equipment is still being stored there, but only one door is working since the building has twisted so badly. I kept thinking to myself that this couldn't be safe but Zach assured me that this was a slow process.

Crack runs through the shop
We drove out to the driving range tee where Zach showed me more land movement. What appeared to be a two-level tee box was simply a twenty-foot drop from the slide. You could literally see the seam running right through the golf course where the earth gave way. Again, it simply looked as if this one part of the golf course suffered an 8.0 magnitude earthquake.
A crude graphic on what has shifted

  My heart just sank. I know what it means to build a golf course and all blood sweat and tears required to make it a success. I had seen the pictures of the Mountain Course in its glory and couldn’t imagine what Robert was feeling to have to see all his work simply slide away.

Robert is now working on the West Course and is a huge asset to Zach and his crew. There is talk about developing a smaller par three course on the portion of the land that hasn’t moved, but there is uncertainty regarding the area that is moving.

I am happy to report, however, that the East and West courses at the Broadmoor are looking amazing and preparations are already under way for the upcoming 2018 USGA Senior Open.

Monday, May 15, 2017

A day at The Barn

A quick selfie with Natalie at the turn
I always look forward to my visits to Utah. The IGCSA members are such a fun and engaging group of individuals. Over the last five years, I have seen this group turn good events into amazing events. The boards have gone from reluctant to full steam ahead! Much of the success can be attributed to the hard work and organization of Natalie Barker. On top of managing three young boys at home, she manages to keep the IGCSA running smoothly.

May’s trip took me to Ogden where the group met at The Barn Golf Club for their annual spring event. The course is located under the majestic Ben Lomond Peak. Justin Woodland, The Barn’s superintendent, hosted the event. Justin’s family bought the golf course in 1987 and Justin began working there in 1988. He worked under his uncle Shon Woodland for 20 years before taking on the superintendent role in 2010, allowing his uncle to spend more time chasing the golf ball.

Ben Lomond Peak
The Barn’s first nine greens were planted to Penncross back in 1965 and the remaining nine in 1972. To my surprise, or should I say astonishment, they were still close to 90% Penncross. Where I’m from, we just don’t see that kind of longevity of any kind of bentgrass, let alone a variety as old as Penncross. Justin and his uncle have done a commendable job in maintaining the Penncross and keeping it clean.

Following golf, the group met under the pavilion for education. Justin Woodland provided a P.A.T (Peer Approved Training) talk on composting. He discussed how he has implemented compost in his daily operations and has seen benefits in a topdressing program as well as using it in the par 3 divot mix. The success of the program was evident by the condition of Justin’s par 3 tee boxes. The compost is doing its thing by helping to expedite the divot recovery. Dan Nelson, Ph.D., from the Soil Test Lab in Eastern Washington followed up with a more scientific presentation on the benefits of compost and how to begin a program at your own facility. I learned something new when I heard that when the pile of compost stops steaming, the composting process is complete. The pile temperature should be maintained at around 150 degrees and turned weekly. When all is said and done, the compost will provide valuable humates and food for microbial growth. I have included a short clip showing how Justin is screening the product once the composting process is complete. He is using a bunker sand sifter which works great for making the teebox mix. Just a note, you may want to turn your volume down on the video.

The First Green has landed in Colorado!

I just returned from Colorado Springs where the Patty Jewett Golf Course has held the first First Green field trip held in the Rocky Mountain state. Colorado Springs Golf Division Superintendent, Patrick Gentile, CGCS and Patty Jewett Superintendent Jeff Wichman, organized and hosted the Taylor Elementary third graders for a morning of STEM learning and fun. Taylor is right next door to the course so the entire class was able to simply walk to the course.

Taking full advantage of the First Green resources, Patrick downloaded the mathematics lesson plan on calculating square footage. The teachers stated that they had done a similar unit earlier in the year and were excited that they were going to be able to apply it in a real situation. The lesson was as simple as using irrigation flags to line out a rectangle in the grass then giving the groups of two kids a tape measure. The followed the instructions on the worksheet then came back to the table to calculate their findings. This may sound rather simple, but to a third grader this was their introduction to calculating the square footage of an area using length times height.

Jeff Wichman gave the students a taste of all the types of equipment used to maintain the golf course. He enlisted his crew to start up the various pieces of equipment and demonstrate how each one worked. The surprise was the three different piles of grass that he put on the table. A pile, each from a greens mower, fairway mower and a rough mower were placed on the table where the kids could reach out and touch. They were simple amazed by the pile of greens grass. Most of the kids thought that the grass was fake.

Bill and Jeff Martin
Every field trip needs to have a fun activity and that is where Patrick and Jeff enlisted the pro shop. Brothers Jeff and Bill Martin did an incredible job engaging the kids by showing them how to put. Just seeing the smiles on all the faces of those kids made my trip worthwhile. Not only were they having fun, but I even saw a few puts made outside of 10 feet!

Patty Jewett is a municipal facility and has a “Cheers” environment where the staff seemed to know the name of each golfer that walked by. It was nice to see the acceptance of the golfers to having the children running around the putting green. It was a true community atmosphere.

After a short walk to the pump house where Patrick and Jeff told the kids about their use of effluent water (since 1950), they gathered on the deck and enjoyed a hot dog and chips, complements of the restaurant purveyor.

Following the field trip, I asked Patrick and Jeff to do a short video for me recapping the event in their own words. As you can tell, they had a great time!

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Eastern Washington and Oregon site visits

My schedule opened for the third week of April so I decided to head toward Tri-Cities and Walla Walla, Washington. Since I missed the Inland Empire Spring Meeting in Walla Walla due to the Chapter Leaders Symposium, I thought it would be a good idea to check in with a few of the members in the area.

Elk Meadows at Carson Hot Springs
Along the way, I stopped in the Columbia Gorge and visited with Michael Combs, CGCS at Carson Hot Springs, now Elk Meadows. It had been some time since I had been up there and was pleasantly surprised how the property has come along. With Michael's touch, this piece of property is well on its way to becoming a gem of the Columbia Gorge.

It was a long drive out to the Tri-Cities area but I had enough time to stop in and visit with Shane Hughes at Tri-City Country Club. Bo Lacy, CGCS, was the previous superintendent at Tri-City Country Club and recently took a position with Barrenbrug Seed Company in Tangent, Oregon. Bo had hired Shane just prior to his departure and the club had enough confidence in Shane that they gave him the nod to take the superintendent position. After visiting with Shane, I can see why he was selected. Shane and I discussed his path to Class A in which he anxious to achieve, and from what I could see he will only need to put in his three years and he will be done. We also discussed his CGCS. I encouraged him to send for his CGCS packet and to start working on it as soon as he feels up to it. I could tell that this young man wants to get the most out of his GCSAA membership and will be an asset to his local chapter.

The next morning, I drove out to Horn Rapids Golf Course to visit with 22-year member Nicholas Rodrigues. Nic hasn't been a very active member but it is great to see that he still values his membership. We had a very nice visit and he expressed interest in getting his Class A status back in which he had lost back in 2003.  I reached out to Scott Woodhead Associate Director of Member Relations, and he promptly replied with a road map for Nic to get back on board. Nic informed me that his son Ryan was the superintendent of the course but had not expressed interest in becoming a member. After our visit, I drove out to his shop and had a visit. I caught up with Ryan as he was loading his cart to go out and work on one of his ponds. We discussed the benefits of a GCSAA membership and he said that he had been thinking of becoming a member and desires furthering his education. Ryan has been working on the golf course since he was thirteen when he started out working in the cart barn. Now that he is thirty six, he knows that he needs to step up his game and become more educated. I sent Ryan a membership application and anticipate him joining soon.

One of my main reasons for coming out to this region was to try to secure the Grassroots Ambassador position for this district. Michael Lee sent me a note and told me that Congressman Newhouse was in a key leadership position and if we had an ambassador tied to him it would be most beneficial for us. I sent a few emails out to some key superintendents in the area including Carl Thompson, CGCS. I never did hear back from Carl so I wanted to be sure to stop by and talk to him. Carl called me while I was in town and told me that he would not be available for a visit but, I did let him know why I wanted to see him. The funny thing was, he told me that he responded immediately to my email and told me that he was very interested in becoming the Grassroots Ambassador for Newhouse, but for some reason, unknown to both of us, I never received the email.  I am now happy to say that Washington State is just two slots away from having all of their positions covered.

My next stop was at Columbia Park Golf Course. This property is situated right along the Columbia River, right next to where the boat races occur each year. I was looking for Lee Ann Marcotte whose membership had lapsed back in 2009. As I drove up, I just happened to catch her loading her Jacobsen topdresser with sand. I didn’t want to take too much of her time since she was in the middle of a project down at the driving range. I introduced myself and we had a great conversation about GCSAA and the local chapter. She finally expressed that she would like to join back up and would like some information on becoming a Class A once again. I then sent her info to Scott Woodhead and again, he promptly replied with a road map to her goal. I can’t thank Scott enough for the supporting role that he provides me while I am out in the field. I was able to get right back to Lee Ann and give her the information that she needed for reinstatement.

My last stop in the Tri-Cities area was at Meadow Springs Golf Club. I caught Mark Dalton, CGCS, in his shop and enjoyed a wonderful visit. I thanked Mark for his support by allowing his EM and assistant to each be members. Mark truly believes in GCSAA and is a big promoter.

Walla Walla was my next destination so I swung into Wine Valley Golf Club as I approached town. They were in the midst of a WGA Senior Championship and Tyler Daniels had already gone home for the day. I met with his equipment manager for a short time and gave him some information on membership.

Jeff Blanc, CGCS, and his girl Gracie
The timing worked out perfectly when I swung by Walla Walla Country Club and caught Jeff Blanc, CGCS, getting ready to head out to lunch. Jeff took me up on my lunch offer so we had a great visit, catching up on friends and family. Pictured here is a photo of Jeff and his longtime friend, Gracie. She is fourteen and not doing so well. I actually had to help her into the cart for this picture. My heart was heavy when Jeff told me that he may be taking her to the vet soon. She has been with Jeff every day at work since she was a pup and will be missed terribly.

Since I was in Walla Walla, I stopped by to see Gwen Stahnke at Walla Walla Community College. Gwen was between labs which gave her time to give me a tour of her facility. Gwen told me that she currently has five on campus students and around 20 online students. She says the online students seem to take most of her time. It was great to see how Walla Walla is still a thriving educational institution for turfgrass management.

Beaver lying just under the sticks at Pendleton Country Club
Following my visit with Gwen, I made my way down to Pendleton where Sean Hoolehan, CGCS, was kind enough to set me up with a hotel room in the Wildhorse Casino tower. That night. Sean and I met with Pendleton Country Club’s Troy Alderson at our favorite pizza place where I bought dinner for the group. The next day, I spent the morning with Troy helping him change cups. We had a great time. It was good to get my hands in a green again. While we drove around I noticed how alive Troy's ponds were with wildlife. He actually had a beaver lodge in one of his ponds and we could actually see it inside. He also had a tremendous amount of pond turtles. They were almost as prevalent as I have seen bull frogs in other ponds.

It was a good two days, visiting with eight members and two non-members.

Colorado Golf Day

Michael Lee, Manager, Government Affairs
On April 12, Michael Lee and I attended the Colorado Golf Day. Prior to the event, I reached out to all of Colorado’s Grassroots Ambassadors to encourage their engagement at the state level. This also created an opportunity for Michael to interact with Colorado’s Grassroots Ambassadors in person.
Colorado’s golf day began with a morning coffee reception in the capitol foyer where the RMGCSA, CPGA, CGA, and the CWGA each set up their own display to provide information to the mingling legislators. In Colorado, water is always an issue, so the RMGCSA displayed irrigation tools in which stimulated much conversation. The legislative traffic was great. Lobbyist Jennifer Cassell was helpful in bringing the legislators around to meet everyone.

Colorado State’s Tony Koski, Ph.D., attended. Recently, Colorado State did a study called the Hidden Value of Landscapes: Implications for Drought Planning. As far as a green industry piece that support what we do and shows the value of our industry, this hits the nail on the head. It was determined that only 3 percent of Colorado’s water is used by the landscape industry. The Colorado golf industry can certainly utilize this piece for much of their future lobbying.

Many conversations occurred throughout the morning among RMGCSA members but what I was excited to hear was the vibe around completing the BMPs. It is evident that this is important to the RMGCSA and this group will work hard to get it completed.  Dr. Koski also agreed to help throughout the process.

Following the morning reception, we all went into the senate chambers where the group was introduced by Representative Polly Lawrence and then we listened to a resolution eulogizing State Representative Richard Gebhardt.

After the activities ended, Michael Lee and I invited the Colorado Grassroots Ambassadors in attendance out for brunch where we could discuss the issues and help answer any questions that they may have. Joining us was Dan Hawkins, Seth Swanson, and Kyle Merritt. Much of our discussion was on H2B and the State BMP’s.

Michael Lee and I later made a couple of site visits. I hadn't seen Dennis Lyons in some time to I called him and he met us at Murphy Creek. Dennis is doing great. He is as busy as ever, still volunteering his time all over the city.  While at Murphy, we stopped in to visit with Eric Strasheim. Eric will be the incoming RMGCSA president this fall and like everyone else in Denver, he is hoping for a little moisture. It’s been a record dry winter in the Denver area but thankfully there’s a good snow pack in the hills.

We then stopped to see Grassroots Ambassador Mitch Savage. He was unable to attend the golf day but we stopped by Green Valley Ranch to visit with Mitch and superintendent Barry Kendall. Mitch has been doing some great things in terms of reaching out to Representative DeGette. He has become one of my region's most successful Grassroots Ambassadors. He was just recently contacted by DeGette’s office and invited to attend a roundtable meeting/discussion on the April 19 with Representative DeGette and other individuals from the state of Colorado to discuss immigration reform, including H2B. Mitch would not have had this opportunity if he hadn’t reached out to DeGette and made his presence known. Mitch reached out to both Michael Lee and myself to let us know of the opportunity and Michael provided him with all the talking points that he could need.

This was a huge opportunity for Mitch as well as the entire golf industry. This is exactly why we established the grassroots ambassadors program: to give us this very opportunity to present our issues directly to our lawmakers. Here is a tweet from Representative DeGette. Notice where Mitch was sitting, he says he’s a front row kind of guy. He told me that he will be writing a recap of the event and hopes to be invited to more roundtables in the future.

Instead of flying home that evening, I decided to stay an extra day to do some more site visits. There were a couple of courses in the Aurora area that I had not met the superintendents so I thought it would be a good time to stop in. As it turned out, both just recently retired within the last couple of weeks, so I was able to meet with the new incoming superintendents.

Jeff Danaher was the superintendent at Aurora Hills Golf Course for 27 years and Barry Dunbar was at Springhill Golf Course for 44 years, 33 as the superintendent! I wish them all the best in their retirement.

The new superintendent at Aurora Hills is Kevin Kallas. We had met at previous RMGCSA meetings and he was also the assistant liaison to the RMGCSA board. Unfortunately, Kevin had to step down from his role but Mitch Savage gladly stepped in. However, the first thing Kevin told me was that he now wants to run for the board of directors. The assistant liaison position gave him such a good taste of serving the membership, he wants to stay involved.  

Chet Wilmes is the new superintendent at Springhill Golf Course. I had not met Chet earlier but he is looking forward to attending future RMGSA meetings and being able to go to the Golf Industry Show.

My last stop was at the Broken Tee Golf Club where I met with Superintendent Tim Davis and his guest from the Englewood School District. Bill Gilmore is the District STEM Coordinator for the entire Englewood school district and was anxious to learn all about the First Green program. We discuss the opportunity of hosting his school’s classes at Broken Tee and setting up learning labs that would coincide with what the teachers are teaching. This ended up being an incredible visit. If all goes as planned, this will be put Colorado firmly on the First Green track. I will report as more information becomes available. 

Friday, April 7, 2017

Everyone needs an elevator speech

I know we’ve all heard about it, but how many times have you needed to use it? I’m talking about your elevator speech. Google defines an elevator speech as a clear, brief message or “commercial” about you. It communicates who you are, what you're looking for and how you can benefit a company or organization. It's typically about 30 seconds, the time it takes people to ride from the top to the bottom of a building in an elevator. If you are a superintendent or someone working in our industry, being prepared for that one time when someone asks you what you do can make a big difference in how that person perceives you. This can also have a huge impact in how you relate to your lawmakers as many of us will be attending our state golf days as well as National Golf Day.
Image by
We all have our own elevator speech and are probably not even aware of it. Let’s say you run into an old friend and they ask you, “How’s the family?” For the next 30 seconds, you will probably give them a brief update on the kids and your spouse and then you’re off to the next subject. This morning after my swim at the gym, I was enjoying the sauna for a few minutes and started a light conversation with a gentleman sitting across from me. He proceeded to ask me what I did for a living so I explained that I was a golf course superintendent by trade and am now currently working for the golf course superintendent's national association (GCSAA). I knew right away that this guy wasn’t a golfer when he asked me how we keep the grass so green. I went into my elevator speech and told him how superintendents are always in the quest for knowledge and how we constantly work to reduce our inputs. Then I gave him my favorite analogy, which worked out great since I wasn’t wearing my shirt. As I patted my tummy, I said, "turfgrass is like you and me, if we overfeed it and give it too much to drink, it becomes unhealthy." Right then, I saw that look in his eye. It was either the fact that he instantly got the point or he was repulsed by my budding spare tire. I would like to think that it was the prior.
My point is: I gathered enough information in that short period to give him the golf course superintendents perspective on fertilizer and pesticide use. I feel like he left enlightened on our position and could probably tell someone else the same story. It’s all about one victory at a time. We may not be able to change the masses in one fell swoop, but if we all work as individuals with a common message, or our elevator speech, we may be able make a difference just one encounter at a time.