Wednesday, March 1, 2017

A call to action in Montana

When GCSAA enacted the Grassroots Ambassadors program, the idea was to engage our members and get them to become involved in local and national issues that can affect the way we do our jobs. It was a very large undertaking but today we are seeing the benefits all across the country. Most recently, in Montana, we saw success in a huge way.
After RISE contacted Lori Russell and informed her of the pending neonic legislation, Dane Gamble, Rick Hathaway and GCSAA Past President Pete Grass, CGCS, jumped into action. When I reflect on the activities that ensued, a few words come to mind: advocacy, mentorship, and leadership. Between the three, each of the individuals brought their strengths to the table and served their industry well. When it was all said and done, everything worked out in our favor. The following is a recap written by Pete Grass, CGCS, following the event.
Peter Grass, CGCS
On Thursday, February 23, Peaks & Prairies GCSA was notified by GCSAA Government Affairs Specialist Michael Lee of Senate Bill 247 in the Montana State Legislature. The bill called for an “Act Creating The Saving Montana’s Pollinators Act; Prohibiting The Outdoor Use Of Neonicotinoid Insecticides….”
Peaks & Prairies Executive Director Lori Russell reached out to her board and Montana’s GCSAA Grassroots Ambassadors along with myself as GCSAA's immediate past president, asking what should we do about this bill? The reaction was to try to educate ourselves and oppose the bill. We learned that a hearing on the bill would take place the following Tuesday in front of the Senate Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation Committee. With help from Dave Phipps, GCSAA Northwest Region Field Staff representative, industry information about the past pollinator issues and current status of research and regulations were shared to help prepare arguments against the bill.
Three superintendents, Rick Hathaway, Dane Gamble and I volunteered to attend the hearing and spoke in opposition to the bill in person at the State Capitol in Helena. During the hearing, there were five proponents and 20 opponents registered in the audience. The sponsor, Senator Phillips opened by speaking about his bill and why he felt it was a good thing. Those in the audience were able to give testimony, the committee members asked a few questions and then Sen. Phillips gave closing comments to the committee.
Pete Grass, CGCS. Rick Hathaway and Dane Gamble
We left that evening not knowing what may happen based on the testimony given and the issue this has been worldwide. The important thing was that those of us representing “golf” had our chance to speak to how we use that class in chemistry in doing our jobs, and what that means to our industry. Prior to the hearing, we were able to meet the Committee Chair and he shared that constituents showing up in person to testify does get noticed.

A couple days after, we learned that the bill was amended by the committee and retitled “Require a State Pollinator Report” with a few new points to be carried out and, most importantly to us, no neonic ban, by a 7-6 vote.

Last Friday night, we learned that the full Senate voted on the amended bill which failed to pass on a tie vote then was subsequently tabled indefinitely by a 31-19 vote. Most likely, this issue is done for the next two years, at least.
The main take-home from all of this is that taking action to stop something you believe is not good legislation is important and getting positive results such as this can be achieved if you show up and act. Having additional support from those who could not attend in person by letters and email was very helpful also.
I couldn’t have been more pleased with the way the members of the Peaks & Prairies GCSA jumped into action. When GCSAA set out to organize a Grassroots Ambassador network. This is exactly the outcome that we intended it to have. Dane, especially, stood out by bringing along Rick and Pete, who had never been to a committee hearing. In an email from Rick Hathaway to the group, Rick wrote:
Thanks for taking us newbies in the process under your wing and being such an invaluable mentor for Pete and I who had never attended any sort of legislative function at the Capitol.
Beyond the fact you are such an incredibly educated upstanding citizen and role model for how we can all make a difference, I appreciate the incredible asset you are to our industry and association.
Since I am writing personal accolades…  Pete’s commitment to our industry is humbling.  Thank you for your measured and eloquent leadership.
While everyone involved deserves a sincere thank you, it was my unique experience to watch these two in action in Helena.  Once again, humbling is the only word that comes to mind.
The group’s efforts were noticed by others as well. Frank Wong from Bayer Environmental wrote:
You all are THE BEST!!! I am humbled and appreciative that Doug and I can provide trusted information on this issue.
Coming from the University, the legislative arena is highly frustrating, science doesn’t always win – but persistent representation often does; so I really appreciate the time and efforts you spend above and beyond the 60+ hour work weeks.
Thank you again for all of your efforts,

Monday, February 20, 2017

The value of peer to peer education

When I think of GCSAA and its local chapters, the first thing that comes to my mind is excellent education. And when it comes to attendance, education is the driving force behind most meetings that I have attended over the last seventeen years of being a GCSAA member. It goes without saying that speakers like Rossi, Wong, Nikolai, and many more, have been bringing amazing presentations and continue to do so. But, in recent years, I have also seen a number of superintendents provide some highly informative presentations including Chris Tritabaugh from Hazeltine Golf Club, Thomas Bastis, CGCS, from the California Golf Club and Brian Nettz from the Presidio Golf Course. All three were hosted by Western Washington in 2013 and I came away thoroughly impressed with the value of information that each one offered. They later hosted Dan Meersman from the Philadelphia Cricket Club, Curtis Tyrell from Medina and Bill Maynard, CGCS, who was from Milburn Country Club at that time.

Chris Tritibaugh speaking to the Western Washington GCSA in 2012
Usually, for just the cost of a plane ticket and a hotel room, many of these guys are happy to come out and share their experiences. From my perspective, the group dynamics are much more interactive with these speakers as opposed to a more academic speaker. I believe superintendents are more inclined to ask questions and have an ongoing dialogue with peer type speakers.

I had a conversation with Western Washington’s Past President Jim Myers. Jim is a delegate and also enjoys the networking aspect of his job. When at the Golf Industry show, he meets members from all across the country and the world and then uses those contacts as potential speakers. That was, essentially, how he rounded up all those speakers I mentioned.

Last fall, I heard Chris Carson from Echo Lake Country Club in New Jersey speak at the Peaks & Prairies Fall meeting in Billings, Montana. You couldn’t get someone further from New Jersey than Billings, but Chris was incredible and was very well received. Dan Dinelli also presented in Montana and, earlier in 2015, in Idaho. When it comes to thinking outside of the box, Dan takes the prize. His homegrown research is on par with most university institutions. The difference: his research is downright applicable to day-to-day golf course conditions.
Other speakers that come to mind: Randy Samoff of Sweetwater Country Club, Steve Southard, CGCS, of the City of Loveland Golf Operations, and Brian Youell of Uplands Golf Club and Dean Pillar, both from Victoria, Canada. I would be remiss if I didn’t list Tim Hiers, CGCS, from The Club at Mediterra, in Naples, Florida. Tim has always been one of my role models since his early years at Old Collier and my early years at Stone Creek. I was finally able to bring him out to Oregon to speak on environmental stewardship and Tim was a class act.
I have yet to see a bad presentation put on by an industry peer, so if you are on an education committee and feel you have exhausted your speaker pool, look no further than your own peers. There are so many great stories out there to share.
On a side note, I attended an Intermountain GCSA event this January and Thomas Bastis, CGCS, from the Cal Club was presenting. When I got to town I learned that Thomas had already been in town for two days. His IGCSA hosts treated him to two days of powder skiing under bluebird Utah skies. You can pretty much guarantee Thomas will be back at the next invitation!

Friday, January 27, 2017

The Greenkeepers of Broken Top

By now, many of you have seen this video on YouTube. I first learned of it while visiting some members in Central Oregon, where Broken Top is located. I tweeted it after I saw it and the views increased to well over 1.000. Then, just recently, one of our industry magazines got wind of it and they put it out on their Facebook page and the views almost shot up to 3.000.

The owner of this video’s name is Ethan Erickson. I learned that Ethan worked for Scott Moffenbeier over the summer at Broken Top and had asked Scott permission if he could carry along his camera equipment while he did his daily chores. Scott didn’t mind and didn’t think much of it until Ethan showed the crew what he had been working on. Everyone’s jaw dropped when they saw how incredible his video was. I actually had the same reaction.

What's a visit without a selfie with Ethan?
My first thought was that this was quite a production and had to be put together by some local professional production company so I had to find out what the story was behind this video. Shelia Finney, GCSAA’s new senior director of member programs, was heading northwest to Portland to attend the local equipment managers meeting with me and were also planning on going over to Bend to attend the equipment manager gathering.  I figured that this was a good time to try to reach Ethan. I contacted Scott Moffenbeier to see if he could arrange a meeting and Scott did just that. The four of us met for dinner in Bend that evening and I had the pleasure of meeting the young man behind the camera whose talent had peaked the interest of so many across the country.

Ethan is a graduate of Oregon State University and was working at Broken Top as a seasonal job. He majored in photography and digital communication and is aspiring to be a freelance photographer. Check out some of his work. You will see many of the projects that he has worked on including content from his internship with the Oregon State University Athletics, the Portland Timbers and much more. My friends know me as a (very) amateur photographer and Ethan's work just simply exceeds my ability beyond my comprehension.

Shelia and I both agreed that Ethan needs to use his talents in the golf industry because so many people were inspired just by watching his video. If you haven’t seen it yet, I have provided below for your viewing pleasure. This young man has quite a talent and it would be a shame if the word didn’t get out about him. I have already been contacted my some who would like to use his services. I’m sure that many more will be doing the same soon.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

The First Green Foundation celebrates 20 years of bringing STEM education to golf

Okay, let’s be honest with ourselves. How many times did you tell yourselves in 2016 that you really need to look into that First Green program and plan a field trip? Well, let’s make 2017 the year that you make it happen! Undoubtedly, if you have heard of the First Green Foundation, then you have heard great things about it and that is why hosting a middle school field trip seems sounds so interesting.

The First Green Foundation, led by Executive Director Karen Armstead, will be celebrating their twenty-year anniversary in 2017 and are encouraged by the increased level of interest in the program. Since partnering with GCSAA almost five years ago, the program expanded across the country with successful field trips in New Jersey, Maryland, California, Idaho and Oregon. There is currently interest in Illinois, Iowa, Montana, Pennsylvania, Georgia, the Carolina's, Colorado and Texas. Internationally, Canada is even holding First Green field trips and now Europe has taken a keen interest in the program.


GCSAA is happy to be partnering with The First Green Foundation. My fellow field staff and I are available to help you connect with the resources that you will need to get you started. If you are headed to Orlando next month, this year marks our third year that we will be offering a First Green seminar which will include a field trip to a local golf course. You will be taught by Steve Kealy, CGCS, and Jeff Gullikson, CGCS, on how to arrange and hold a successful field trip. Between the two of them, they have probably hosted over 10,000 kids at their courses over the last 20 years. You will even be able to see firsthand how a field trip works by traveling to a local golf course and actually assisting with a real field trip.

Last year in San Diego, the field trip was covered by a local news station and which brought a lot of great publicity to the event. The USGA has also been great about promoting the program. You probably even saw the segments during the 2015 U.S. Open. They have also been instrumental in the support of the program as well. Their financial commitment has been integral in the continuing success of the program.

Jeff Gullikson, CGCS, offers hands-on education at GIS in 2016

The First Green provides direct hands-on STEM education to middle school children who get an opportunity to experience a golf course in a real positive light.

When we speak of advocacy to the game of golf, we not only speak of our presence on Capitol Hill, we have to take into consideration of our impact on the local community. The First Green provides direct hands-on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education to middle school children who get an opportunity to experience a golf course in a real positive light. You never know, one of those kids that you meet may even be your future assistant superintendent. This is one way to help the younger generation become aware of what we do and stimulate interest in our profession and the game.

I urge you to take the challenge and commit yourself to hosting a field trip this year. Please follow @TheFirstGreen on Twitter so when you host your first field trip you can let the world know about it. The First Green Foundation is your one source for STEM learning at your golf course.

Find more information on "Launching a First Green Field Trip Program at Your Own Golf Course"

Monday, December 5, 2016

Who's your favorite team?

Let me start this blog post by asking a simple question: Who's your favorite team? Is it a sports team like the Seattle Seahawks or the Portland Trailblazers? What team did you think of? Did you come up with a sports team, or was there another team such as your crew, or your executive team at your job? My first thought was my crew at Stone Creek Golf Club.

I experienced some hard times and even went through a few bad eggs, but eventually, I learned how to build a team that would become a unit with a common goal. Trust me, I had no idea when I started, but I certainly had good mentors and was able to take some great classes at the Golf Industry Show.
The first thing that we all know is the key to a strong team is a strong leader. It’s cliché but true. A good leader is trusted by their team and that trust has to be earned. You cannot just assume that they are going to trust you because you have big ideas and you work harder than the rest. You have to show them that you value their work and you take the time to listen to their ideas. I hardly ever said no to an idea, I just simply put them in charge of their project. My role was to support what they were doing. I soon learned that even though some of their ideas may not have been what I would have done, I had some pretty talented individuals and their successes turned into confidence in my leadership.

Now let me fast forward to today. I’m on a new team now and am part of a group of nine individuals that have the best interest of you, our members, at hand. We’re a different team, not one that meets regularly in person, but a team that, for the most part, works independently, but yet relies on one another at the drop of a hat.

I’m of course I’m talking about the GCSAA field staff. They need no introduction but I’m going to do it anyway. Kevin Doyle covers the Northeast including the providence of Ontario, Chase Rogan covers the Mid-Atlantic, Ron Wright covers the entire Southeast with the exception of the State of Florida which is covered by Ralph Dain. Brian Cloud takes care of the South Central region and Jeff Jensen covers the entire Southwest, including Hawaii. Shane Conroy is our newest member of the team and he covers the Great Lake region. I cover the Northwest region from Alaska to Colorado, and finally, Steve Randall covers the Central Region and is also in charge of keeping this geographically challenged team working together.

What makes us such a strong team, is that we all come from assorted backgrounds. We range from golf industry management and marketing to state golf association management. We are Class A superintendents and assistant superintendents and some even have master’s degrees. We utilize our diversity to our advantage and have been able to cross-present on topics that we excel in for each other.

You have to wonder how a team can stay on the right path when they are spread across the country in about as far reaching corners as they can be. Obviously, technology is very helpful, utilizing Google Chat, conference calling or even Skype has been great for those quick meetings or even one on one video calls. If you follow any one of us on Twitter, you will see where we are and usually you will find Steve Randall out visiting with one of us in our region and helping us do strategic plans with our chapters. When he’s visiting, it’s not like the boss is in town, but more like a coach who works with you and helps you be the best you can be.

Steve recently attended the Inland Empire’s fall meeting with me. We did a strategic plan with the board then he did a phenomenal job speaking on communication to the entire membership the next day. In the time he spoke, he referenced my name four times, making sure the members knew that I was their go-to for all things concerning GCSAA. The last thing he would do would come in and relinquish my role as their field staff representative. He was there in a supporting role and conveyed a message that we were a team and were there to serve the members together. I would consider Steve a hands-off leader. He has built a team of diverse individuals and has confidence in their abilities. In return, every one of us trusts his judgment and will do whatever he asks of us.

I would be remorse if I didn’t mention the remaining GCSAA staff. Without their support there wouldn’t be a field staff program. I could write another blog post simply on how the remote staff and the in-house staff have interacted in a symbiotic way. Altogether, our team has elevated the level of service to the membership that has never been seen before. 

This is my favorite team now. Granted, I enjoy watching the Seahawks and the Trailblazers, but it’s a much greater feeling when I can be part of a team that is making such a significant difference. If you happen to be part of a great team, please comment below and tell me what makes it so great. I’m always looking for great ideas to share.

On a side note: In March, I wrote a blog post about a superintendent and his head pro that became quite a team in their own right. The pair ended up started a small business adventure together out of their relationship and I am happy to report that Gerald Flaherty, CGCS, will be receiving the Leo Feser Award this year at the Golf Industry Show. Read my post about Gerald Flaherty, CGCS, and Jamie Sharp, PGA.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Increased foot traffic is a good thing at Juniper Golf Course

Every once in a while, I come across a best management practice that stands out and this case is no exception. Kurt Noonan, CGCS, is the superintendent at Juniper Golf Club in Central Oregon. He has always taken an active role in his community including hosting First Green field trips and working with local birding groups to enhance Kestrel habitat. During a site visit earlier this Fall, Kurt told me about a running race that the club hosted so I asked him if he would share what he did in the form of a story. The following is a recap of the event that Kurt provided me. This is just another way that a golf course can be used as a community asset. Check it out!

In 2016, Juniper Golf Course was host to several community events that fit in line perfectly with the CourseCo management companies’ vision of community outreach. Golf courses are a living and breathing entity and there is great potential for golf courses to be used for things other than golf. We have seen a big push over the past several years to introduce other concepts to the grounds formally reserved for only golf. Activities such as FootGolf, FlingGolf, frisbee golf, Easter egg hunts, cross country running events, drive-in movie night, camping, block parties and other events are taking place on golf courses.

Juniper GC is doing some of the events listed above, but I would like to focus on three in particular that are occurring here and are starting to take a positive foothold in our community: cross country running events, block parties and drive-in movie night. Two years ago, Juniper Golf Course hosted its first block party which brings the community out to Juniper for an afternoon of games, food, bouncy houses, dunk tanks, face painting and other fun activities at no cost to the community. Golf can go on during these activities with some advanced planning. Last year, the golf course did a drive-in movie night on our driving range in conjunction with the close of the block party. People were allowed to bring chairs, blankets and the like to sit out on the range and watch the movie on a big screen. Some folks even rented golf carts to make the effect of a “drive in” more realistic. It was well attended and well received and is scheduled to happen again in 2017.

The third event is one that is near and dear to me and that is 5k cross country running events. In February 2016, my wife and I organized the first annual “For the Love of Running” event at Juniper. The goal of this run is to raise money for a local organization. This will be an annual event with a new charitable cause picked each year. Juniper was also host to two 5k high school cross country events including the Central Oregon High School districts meet. Each of these events had about 250-300 kids running. The first high school event also included a community race before the kids went out. There were a lot of people involved with making these events happen and golf was able to be played either during, after or before each of these runs.

Golf courses are great places for many of the activities I mentioned above and lots more. Working together with staff, decision-makers and management can lead to some fun events that benefit more than just golfers. These events are great ways to show off facilities and showcase the diversity that golf courses can offer.

Friday, October 28, 2016

The Tolson legacy at Peaks & Prairies GCSA

This year marked the 40-year anniversary of the Peaks & Prairies Golf Course Superintendents Association. From what I have seen from my five years on the job with GCSAA, the Peaks & Prairies GCSA is a proud association, one of the best in education and networking that I have had the pleasure of working with. Much of it ties back to its founding fathers and how the group was formed. One of those founding fathers, still working today after 44 years in the business, is Don Tolson of the Stock Farm in Hamilton, Mont.
In recognition of the anniversary, the group celebrated Don's 40-year service with a very well done tribute from superintendents Dane Gamble and Don's son Dan Tolson, CGCS. I videoed the last portion of the presentation, but what was really touching was Dan's comments toward his own father. I was in the front row, but I know there wasn't a dry eye in the house. Being able to celebrate your own father's career in front of all of your own peers is quite an honor and Dan hit it out of the park. With Dan's permission, I am posting his comments below this video. I hope you enjoy the moment as did all that were in attendance.
"I am honored to present this award today to a special man whose vision and leadership are largely to thank for us being here today.
Don Tolson began his career at Lake Hills Country Club as the night waterer in 1970. Six years later, as the superintendent at Hilands Golf Club, he stepped out courageously along with a few of his peers to launch Peaks and Prairies GCSA. Serving as the first president of the then Wy-Mont GCSA, he charted a course and set the tone for what has become something that our guest speakers regularly claim to be the best association in the country.
For 40 years since, he has been an industry leader, setting benchmarks seemingly on everything he touched. After 13 years of renovations at Yellowstone Country Club he relocated to Denver in 1990 to build the award winning 27-hole public gem Fox Hollow. While there, he garnished the first ever GCSAA ELGA award for environmental excellence in golf course construction practices and served on the first Rain Bird advisory council.
Back in Montana and at the Stock Farm for the last 18 years, he has set the standard many others hope to achieve for premium playing conditions and Poa free playing surfaces.
Over a dozen trend-setting superintendents across the country have been the result of Don's caring mentoring. Wherever you go, people will say, "I wish I could be more like Don."  His members all want to be like him. His crew wants to be more like him.  His friends want to be more like him. And I've always wanted to be just like him.  His consistency of character and high level of respect for all people are as rare as they are magnetic.
Recently I asked my 10-year-old son what he wanted to be when he grew up. He said he wants to be a golf course superintendent. I was pretty excited. My son wants to be like me. Sensing my pride he said, "no dad. Not like gramps."
So, dad, thank you for setting a great example for us to follow. Thank you for your courage to step out and start Peaks and Prairies. Thank you for modeling an attitude of service. Thank you for giving of yourself time and again to develop new leaders. And thank you for 40 years of committed service to our Peaks and Prairies.
As a representative of the next generation of turf professionals, my hope is that we can continue to walk in your shoes and serve with excellence like you have.
WHENEVER you decide to retire, you will be missed. Here's to a career well-played."