Tuesday, June 16, 2015

First Green initiatives highlighted during U.S. Open week


As soon as I heard the U.S. Open was coming to the Northwest, I knew I would soon be able to check off the top item on my bucket list.  I could not be happier for Eric Johnson, Josh Lewis and their crew for how the week is shaping up as they prepare the course to championship specifications. It is early in the week and I have already met so many wonderful people from around the world who have made the trip to be part of this historic event.

While golf is in the national spotlight, the USGA and First Green Foundation decided to use the opportunity to promote a new campaign, highlighting the First Green Foundation. As a part of the campaign, a 30-second tv spot will air on Fox during the U.S. Open.




The First Green was also invited to participate in the U.S. Open community celebration event. Over 500 children participated in the five learning lab booths, learning about bugs, water, soils and mathematics.

The entire First Green board also participated, including Steve Kealy, Jeff Gullikson, CGCS, Karen Armstead, Cathy Relyea, Lynn McKay, Jeff and Annie Shelley and myself. I also invited some superintendent volunteers who were in town to help the agronomy team, including Scot Dey of Mission Viejo Country Club, Andrew McDaniel of Keya Golf Club in Japan and Masaru Shimizu of Kasumigaseki Country Club in Japan, as well. Steve Kealy's assistants, Kyle Young and Nick Magnuson, also joined and did an outstanding job teaching the soils lab.  Dey, McDaniel and Masaru manned the hitting cage. We could not have pulled off the entire day without their help. The entire day was a success.

McDaniel, Dey and Shimizu helping a young player hit balls into the net

Jeff Gullikson uses balls of tape to demonstrate how attraction between molecules of water
Steve Kealy covers mathematical calculations


I've got just a short window to write this post as the 3 a.m. wake-up call comes early. I will provide the day two and three recap tomorrow as my time allows.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Chapter all-stars

In my travels, so much of the conversation revolves around how to get members engaged at the chapter level and attending local meetings. If you are reading this, you are probably more engaged than most, simply because you are taking an interest in what is happening in your region. Many times, members ask me what GCSAA or their local chapter has done for them lately. The answers are pretty obvious, but I like to respond with a question that asks, what have you done for GCSAA or your local chapter lately? In my personal experience, I seemed to get the most from my associations by serving as board members or committee members. But, you don’t have to serve as a board or committee members to give back to your association. Two members in the Northwest region that have found a way to continue to give in their own way come to my mind.

Tom Baty
Tom Baty, a 29-year member and superintendent at the Bend Golf and Country Club in Central Oregon has always stayed connected to the industry outside of his own job. This winter, he traveled to China with Thom Nickolai, PhD, and taught Chinese students how to operate turf equipment. Aside from being a great experience, it was a different way that he could contribute to the turf industry. Tom also served on the OGCSA board of directors back in the early 2000s, but has always managed to stay connected to members outside of his club. Bend Country Club is located in central Oregon and four hours from most of the OGCSA meetings. Tom understands the value of staying connected with local superintendents and likes to organize small social gatherings as well as a winter roundtable meeting each year. This provides a way for the central Oregon superintendents to get together and talk over issues. 

Tom got tired of the local rental yards price gouging for air compressor rentals each fall  those of you that blow out your irrigation system understand. To remedy the problem, he now drives over to Eugene and rents a machine for a month each year. Once he's finished, he takes it to each course in the area and rents it out for a fair price. It’s a win-win for everyone. I can tell that Tom does all of these things for the good of the membership. Nothing has ever been self-serving.

Andy Nikkary

Andy Nikkari, a 19-year member and superintendent at The Golf Club at Redlands Mesa in Grand Junction, Colorado, served on the RMGCSA board about eight years ago. Prior to Andy’s service, the RMGCSA had not held a chapter meeting on the Western Slope. Once he started on the board, the meetings began to happen. Today, Andy continues to organize the event. He does everything from setting up the education to overseeing the proshop collection fees for the event to distributes funds. RMGCSA President Zach Bauer says, “if we didn’t have Andy over [at Western Slope], who knows where we’d be. He’s a wonderful asset to the state of Colorado superintendents.” I can vouch for his drive to serve. Earlier this year, he took the time to detail a handwritten note thanking me for taking the time to attend his meeting.

These are just two individuals amongst the many across the country. I can name at least one individual in each chapter in the Northwest region that continues to serve. I hope to highlight their service in later blog posts. If you know of anyone who fits the bill, please feel free to let me know. I always enjoy highlighting great ways to serve the industry.

I can be reached at dphipps@gcsaa.org.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Make every day Earth Day

Wednesday marked the 45th annual celebration of Earth Day and Twitter feeds and Facebook pages were buzzing with facts about golf and the environment. You would almost wonder how anyone could not understand the relationship between the two.

In my home state of Oregon, the Golf Alliance of Oregon (GAO) just completed their second economic impact study through the Stanford Research Institute. The numbers look good for just coming out of the recession. The GAO decided that in addition to hosting an “Oregon Golf Day” reception, they would request that Governor Kate Brown declares the month of May as Oregon Golf Month. Since I am on the GAO committee, I was able to help craft the recommended declaration. Of course, I felt that an environmental statement was imperative.

The following proclamation is what was officially declared by the governor:


The GAO couldn't have been more excited when we received the proclamation, then I took a closer look and noticed something missing. The one statement that superintendents are most passionate about and a statement that I took care to include in the proposal, for some reason, was not included by the governor's office in the official declaration:

WHEREAS: Golf courses are responsible users of green space, providing wildlife habitat, a filter for runoff and a cooling effect on developed areas

I had extracted the statement directly from the WE ARE GOLF's "Benefits of Golf" card. It was obvious that the environmental statement was left off because someone in the governor's office felt that the statement was somehow too political and not factual. Some of the members of the GAO even felt the same way. Only after providing evidence of research that backed the statement was I able to convince the other members of the GAO to understand the truth of the statement.

This story should only reinforce the need for GCSAA members to be proactive in communicating the environmental benefits of golf, not only to our lawmakers, but to our own allies as well. Many allied associations understand golf's positive environmental impact, but not all do. Just on the heels of Earth Day, we should ask ourselves what have we done lately to promote golf's environmental benefits.

Many of us are now looking toward social media to convey the message. If you blog or tweet about the great things you are doing, keep it up. I don't believe we can all rest on the good work of others. We all need to step up and treat every day like Earth Day to keep the positive message moving.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Chapter leaders assemble in Lawrence

The 2015 Chapter Leaders Symposium just concluded in Lawrence, Kan., and I am proud to say the NW was well represented this year. Chapter leaders from Idaho, Peaks & Prairies, Inland Empire, Rocky Mountain and the Intermountain were all in attendance.

Besides the opportunity to network with chapter leaders from across the country, participants were treated to first-class hospitality and a full day and a half of education and updates on GCSAA programs. Attending this year from the NW were Wade Altschwager of Peaks & Prairies, James Curdy of Inland Empire, and Gerald Flaherty, CGCS of Idaho, all arriving with Lori Russell. Intermountain’s executive, Natalie Barker, attended, as did Joe Putnam, along with Gary Leeper of the Rocky Mountain GCSA.

Michael Bostian from Waverly Woods Golf Club in Westminster, Md., wrote the following to Leann Cooper, GCSAA's senior manager of chapter services: "I gained exposure to several areas that will help our association in the near future…it was first class from start to finish."

I can personally attest that being with the rising leaders of my region provided me the opportunity to get to know each a little better. It forged lines of communication between me and other GCSAA staff and these chapter leaders as they guide their associations.

Reflecting back to my first visit to Lawrence as a superintendent, I remember the sense of how strong our association is and the level at which I was being represented. If you have ever considered becoming more involved at the chapter level, I would strongly encourage you to seek a board position and work to become a representative from your chapter to attend the Chapter Leaders Symposium. It is a rewarding experience and will help you get the most from your membership.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Is chapter participation on the rise?

A common topic of conversation I have with many boards is how to increase attendance and participation at local events.

I hear that it's often the time commitment. Too many members have to juggle time between their families and work. Between little league or soccer and other family commitments, there just doesn't seem to be time to attend a conference.

Some say it's a generational issue. The younger generation just doesn't seem to want to engage -- they get all the education and networking they need from their iPhones in the palms of their hands.

Then there are those that simply don't have support from their facilities to attend the meetings. Some can't attend because they are running such a tight crew and the course couldn't manage without them, and some simply don't have the budget.

Trust me, I don't have the golden answer that is going to solve all of these scenarios, but somehow, chapters are seeing a change. I'm seeing a few success stories lately, and hopefully this is a trend that continues into the future.


Last week I had the privilege of attending the Idaho GCSA Spring Meeting in Boise, Idaho. I started hearing the buzz about the meeting weeks prior to the event, so I knew there could be a good crowd. In an association that has close to 57 Class A and SM members, there were 115 attendees at the day-and-a-half conference.

Idaho typically has two meetings a year. The Spring Meeting is always in Boise at the Red Lion Inn, and the Fall Meeting moves around the state. Many times the venue will dictate the success of an event. I'm not saying the Red Lion is not a good venue, but it's not a five-star facility, so that discounts the venue excuse.

However, the educational line-up was pretty good. The Gem State has always lured some great speakers, and this meeting was no exception. There were four speakers at this event providing solid and relevant education. They included Thomas Nikolai, Ph.D.; Rob Golembiewski, Ph.D.; John Sorochan, Ph.D.; and Terry Buchan, CGCS, MG. The highlight of the meeting was the Turfgrass Talk Show hosted by Nikolai. It really seemed to create two-way exchange of information between the speakers and the attendees. I heard from various members that the information they learned was valuable and will be put to use when they return to their courses.


There were at least five members who were first-time attendees at the meeting -- a great thing! Over all, it was estimated that close to 62% of the Idaho membership attended this meeting.

Just south of the State of Idaho, the Intermountain GCSA has experienced similar success in its meeting attendance. Just last month, on Jan. 29,the chapter held its winter conference at Fox Hollow Golf Club in American Fork, Utah. I attended this event last year, and there were 100 attendees. This year wasn’t too far off the mark with 90 attendees.

Last year, Pat Finlen, CGCS, presented, along with The First Green Foundation at Riverside Country Club in Provo. This year the subject was on course renovation, and speakers included Steve Wolfard from Weibring – Wolfard Golf Design, Jim Ruelle from GPS Golf As-Built Design and Rex Hanson from Rainbird Golf Services. What stood out to me here was the offer of five hours of education (.5 CEU’s) for only $30. The IGCSA has kept the price affordable, which has attracted not only superintendents but assistants as well. In this case, the IGCSA has roughly 50 As and SMs, but they attracted over twice that in attendance, which is very similar to Idaho.

Like I said, I really don’t have the golden answer, but from what I see, we are experiencing a positive trend among chapters so far this year. There are all kinds of ways to increase the attendance at local meetings, the secret is finding the right recipe that fits your demographic. There is a lot to be said if boards reach out to other boards and share ideas. GCSAA field staff representatives can also help communicate BMPs amongst chapters as well.

Let’s continue to support the local chapter in 2015. If you haven’t been to a meeting in some time, perhaps it is time to make a change. The networking alone is invaluable, not to mention the quality of education that is offered at such an affordable price.

Monday, December 22, 2014

A time to be thankful

In my very first blog post on Oct. 14, 2013, I talked about Tracy Richard, the superintendent at Common Ground Golf Course in Aurora Colo. Tracy suffered a major heart attack on Sept. 12, 2013. Since that day Tracy has beat all the odds and is well on the road to recovery.

This year at the Rocky Mountain Regional Turfgrass Conference, I saw Tracy walking the trade show floor and had an opportunity to catch up with him. Tracy was so grateful for everyone's prayers and support. Later I discovered that Tracy wrote a note to the members of the RMGCSA to express his gratitude. I would just like to share this with everyone as well. Without a doubt the Richard family has so much to be thankful for this Christmas. 

By Tracy Richard
In September of 2013 I had a sudden cardiac arrest that nearly took my life; 14 months later I am still recovering. I know many of you may have followed my recovery on Caring Bridge, but when I was asked to write an article with an update, I said yes. The main reason for writing is to say thank you to all those who have supported me in one way or another through this event . . . GCSAA, Rocky Mountain chapter of GCSAA, GFOC, Wee One Foundation, CCGO, CGA and so many individuals, too many to name, you know who you are -- you all have made a difference to me and my family. Thank you. 

I have been doing three types of therapy about once every two weeks for the last 12 months. It is slow recovering from a brain injury. I was without oxygen for a very short time; it is amazing to me how quickly all can be lost and how long it takes to get it back. Thankfully I have no paralysis; I am relearning to do things I once took for granted, like typing . . . going better than I thought it might actually. Truth be known, I was never very good. I hope to return to gainful employment sometime but am still focused on my recovery.

It has been a big adjustment to my family. I didn't ask for or want this to happen, but now that it has, we all have to deal with our "new" reality. They have been so understanding, loving and caring, it has honestly kept me going, especially my wife, Gretchen! Some days are better than others for all of us, but we have a new appreciation for our time together. That would be the one thing I would leave you with: Enjoy your time with those who mean the most to you while you can. You never know when that time will end, and you don’t usually get a second chance. As for me, I intend to make the most of mine. See you all very soon.

I would like to specifically recognize the members of the RMGCSA and its board for their efforts in supporting Tracy and his family. When their brother was down, these chapter members stepped up right away.  This holiday season, may each and every one of you take time to appreciate those around you. Like Tracy said, ". . . enjoy your time with those who mean the most" because that is what really counts.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Golf in Alaska: Part Three of the Alaska Adventure

For the last leg of my trip, Marty Baumann and I planned on heading up to Wasilla and Palmer to visit a few of the courses I saw during my last trip. Marty had some chores to do first thing, so I took the time to meet with Matt Leseman at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson’s Moose Run Golf Course. 

Matt is a 17 year GCSAA member and has worked his way up the ladder to become superintendent. Joint Base Elmendorf- Richardson had three golf courses on site. Eagleglen, which was 18 holes, belonged to Elmendorf AFB and was contained inside the base. Moose Run is 36 holes and belonged to Richardson Army Base. It is located just outside the perimeter of the base. Due to budgeting, one of the courses had to be shut down, and the decision came to shut down Eagleglen. They chose to keep Moose Run since it had 36 holes and was located outside the boarder of the base, which made it easier for the general public to access.

As I mentioned in part one of this series, equipment is always hard to get, so Moose Run had a windfall and inherited another complete set of equipment from Eagleglen. Whatever Matt decided he didn't need, they auctioned off to the public. Matt’s maintenance facility rivals any I have ever seen. He even had a D-7 Caterpillar. Storage wasn't an issue. He had created structures using cargo boxes and roofing trusses, seen in the lower right of the collage above. Each box was dedicated to certain materials. One was for blowers and string trimmers; another was just for surplus rain gear; and another for golf course accessories.

Matt had to get to a meeting regarding Eagleglen, but he managed to make time for a tour of his course. For some reason the architect must have not liked the Army because he made one of the most difficult courses I have seen. There was a 640-yard par five! I’ve seen this in Colorado before, but then you’re over a mile high and the ball travels considerably further. This course was at sea level. The black tees were rated 140, and the blue was 134.
Amos Stephens, Marty Baumann, John Krull, John Bayne
I drove back to Anchorage Golf Course and picked up Marty and his assistant John Krull. Marty asked if John could tag along to see some of the other golf courses in the area since he is fairly new to the job.

We drove to Wasilla first to visit with Amos Stevens at Settlers Bay Golf Club. Amos is a 16-year GCSAA member and serves as the clubs superintendent and general manager. Amos was eager to learn and asked tons of questions with note pad in hand. We spent a good part of the morning touring his course and discussed everything form covering the greens in the winter to helping him find a good pump guy that can service his pump station. As we looked at the greens I noticed they were in much better condition than when I visited two years ago. He explained that the winter makes all the difference. These were the first greens that I have seen in Alaska that were cut at 1/8”. I asked him what he had done differently, and he said he learned a new fertilization technique at the conference in San Diego; and it has helped him tremendously. That was music to my ears of course.

One of the things we discussed was coming up with a webcast/forum on winterizing your putting greens. Many areas in the NW, including Utah, Idaho, Colorado, Montana and Alaska have a tremendous amount of snow and ice. He said he would love the opportunity to discuss, in a live online format, issues with other superintendents who share the same experience and how they deal with their greens each year. I told him I would discuss it with Lisa (GCSAA's senior manager of e-learning programs) and see what we could do. I really think it could be helpful to many superintendents. I have found that supers learn best from each other and this would be the perfect format to do so.

Our next stop was at a small family run golf course called Fish Hook Golf Club. Two years ago we stopped to visit with the owner, Skip Pellitier, but were unable to meet with him. His son Ryan met us and informed us that his dad suffered a massive heart attack last year and passed away. The course is now run by Ryan and his sister.  Their father built the 9-hole course three holes at a time from what was once a pasture. There would be no insult if you were to refer to this course as a pasture golf course. As a matter of fact there is even a website called PastureGolf.com, and Fish Hook was featured.

Ryan Pellitier (left)
The greens were cut as low as they needed to differentiate from the fairways, and the fairways were cut just enough to be different from the rough. Grass survival is the key to success in Alaska, and Ryan happened to have a couple greens with fine fescue on them. These greens were coming out of the winter without any damage, so Ryan was thinking he may try to convert all of his greens to fine fescue. As I drove through the course I couldn't help but think of what golf courses must have looked like 100 years ago. I bet if I could go back in time this course would be right there. What I found most gratifying was that there were lots of people pulling their buggy and golf clubs and were having a terrific time. To me this was almost golf in its purest form.

Finally we stopped in to visit with George Collum and Dirk Sture at Palmer Golf Course. Due to their exposure to the elements and the proximity to glacial winds, this course normally doesn't fare so well after the winter. But this winter was unusual in that the snow stuck on the ground here where it didn't in other parts of the Anchorage area, and they never really had the ice accumulation. The greens were in outstanding condition, and they were reaping the benefits of lots of play. We had a quick visit with George and Dirk, catching up since my last visit, then headed back to Anchorage.

After this year and my previous visit to Alaska, I have developed an appreciation for what these guys are doing each and every year to bring the game of golf to the Alaskan population. I am happy to report that golf is alive and well in Alaska. You could almost call Alaska the Vegas of golf, where you can play a round of golf 24/7 during the peak of the season.