Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Montana site visit, day two

In my previous blog post, I talked about day one of my Western Montana trip with Bob Lee who sales for Simplot Partners. He had asked me if I would like to tag along with him while he made his sales calls in the area. Since I haven’t yet had a chance to visit this area, I thought it would be a good opportunity to get the guided tour.

On day two, Bob promised me that we would see a golf course like none other so I really didn’t know what to expect. When he told me that no one plays this course, I just figured it would be so remote that the course hardly ever got play. Part of that statement was right. It was, in fact, remote, but then again, this is in Western Montana and most courses are fairly remote. I found out that the owner, Jim Smith, is an eccentric fella who invented a remarkable medical device and made a fortune. After he purchased the golf course, he decided that he didn’t want to deal with the public, so in 1995, he decided to only allow he and his closest friends to play. We turned off the highway onto a nondescript road that had no signs what so ever to tell us that we were approaching a golf course. After meandering down the road, we came up to the course. As the name would imply, there were at least six beautiful lakes on the property.

Crystal Lakes Golf Course is a full-length course with a vacant pro shop and even a fleet of carts. What I didn’t know, was that this property is also a fish hatchery, an airport, and an air museum. What really surprised me was that Mr. Smith had built a full-size and almost identical replica of the Stonehenge right in the middle of the golf course. It was constructed right down to the 13-degree adjustment to make up for the latitude so it would line up correctly during the equinox.

The fish hatchery is known as the only disease-free fish hatchery in the country. They raise all kinds of trout species which they supply to the state of Montana. The mile-long airstrip dissects the golf course in half and sitting at the end of the runway is a collection of aircraft from WWI through today. Each one, in pristine condition and still able to fly. Mr. Smith no longer flies, but his first superintendent, Robert LeBlanc is his personal pilot and takes him where he needs to go. The day to day operations of the golf course are now handled by Joe Joliff.


We didn’t get too much time to spend on the golf course since there were so many other attractions to check out. One part of the course that was unique, in my eyes, was the island putting green. This wasn’t your typical island green, like perhaps the floating island of Coeur d’Alene that has a boat as a shuttle. This one had a bridge constructed just inches below the surface so it would appear as if the carts were driving on top of the water.  All I can say is I hope you manage to keep it between the lines or you’ll be swimming!

Here are a few more pictures from Crystal Lakes Golf Course









Thursday, August 24, 2017

Montana site visits, day one

Since serving the Northwest Region as the GCSAA field staff representative, I have learned that certain times of the year are busier than others. For the most part, everything seems to run together with the exception of the three summer months. This is normally when members are up to their necks in the middle of the season but it is also a good time for me to hit the road and make a few site visits. For the month of August, I decided to give the Peaks & Prairies a visit.

For the first leg of my journey, I was invited by Bob Lee of Simplot Partners to tag along and ride with him to Western Wyoming. Bob lives in Hayden Lake, Idaho, and serves Montana and Eastern Washington. Bob and his trusty traveling companion CB picked me up in Spokane where we made a quick stop at Gonzaga University to visit their field manager and previous golf course superintendent, Tom Brown. I had once considered a job in the athletic field industry and, if you ask me, it looks fun. Tom had some of the most incredible Kentucky bluegrass that I have ever seen. CB was surely impressed.

As we made our way across the Idaho panhandle, we made a quick stop to visit with Tim Heeney at The Idaho Club. The Idaho Club is managed by a small management company providing a high-end product on a pretty limited budget.

We finally made our way to our first destination which was at The Wilderness Club, just eight miles south of the Canadian border, near Eureka, Montana. I was thrilled when we drove up and met Mike Turner, CGCS. Mike was previously at The Reserve Vineyard in Aloha, Oregon, and had decided to take the assistant position under Larry Newlin so he could be closer to his and his wife’s family. Mike and Larry had worked together before and their working chemistry was evident. We had time for a quick nine-hole turf inspection before we headed off to dinner.

Just to explain how tinder dry the forests are in Montana, we were having dinner and a small system blew through which contained a couple lightning strikes in the hills above us. When we walked out of the restaurant we could see a fire starting just above us. The trees were literally exploding as we saw it start to grow.  By morning, the blaze had spread to over 1000 acres. We never seemed to get out of the smoke for the rest of the trip. Today, there are currently thirty wildfires burning across Montana including the Lolo Peak fire which displaced Lori and Tom Russel from their home for a couple days. Lori explained to me that most of these blazes will not be controlled until the snow begins to fall in October/November.


The next day we woke up to a smoky morning which gave the effect of an amber-colored light filter. It provided an interesting light for photos but I would have preferred to see the mountains.

Bob informed me that he was going to take me to a golf course that day that is probably unlike anything I had ever seen. Check back for my next blog post for a recap on that visit.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Just “Bee”cause

I like to keep tabs on the superintendent industry by letting Google send me alerts every day on anything that has to do with the phrase “golf course superintendent.” I get all sorts of interesting stories, but one that caught my eye in June was a story out of my own region up in Spokane, Washington. The title of the story was, “Bees among the tees: Golf course embarks on honeybee restoration effort”. I read further and discovered that Michael Greene, superintendent at Downriver Golf Course, a city-owned property, was being recognized for his work on promoting pollinators by the local paper. I knew right away that this would be a must-stop-and-visit for me the next time I visit the area.

I made my way there on July 11 after getting in from the event in Colorado Springs. I was on my way to The Club at Rock Creek off of Coeur d’Alene Lake for the Inland Empire summer golf outing. I met Mike and he said he had just a few minutes because he was on his way to the same event as well. He actually gave me more time than I thought and took me around to show me what he was doing to promote the bees. First of all, I was impressed with the condition of his course. I had read that Mike had cut his fungicide use by 60 percent, but from what I saw, you would have never guessed. The course was in amazing shape.

We drove up to a garden plot where he had planted pumpkins and some wild flowers. He explained that he applied for a grant with Bayer under the Feed a Bee program and was awarded $2,500. That money went to good use in preparing the garden plot by importing some soil amendment and purchasing the seeds. Mike also contacted a local beekeeper who was providing a couple hives for him to help pollinate the pumpkins and utilize the wildflowers. Mike explained that he is planning on hosting a local grade school this fall so the kids can come out and pick their own pumpkins. He feels that this will help them understand that food and produce doesn’t just come from a grocery store.

I thought this was everything that he had done but then he took me across the course and showed me an area of the golf course that was vacated due to a hole that had been re-routed. It was simply stunning. He had removed the turf and planted probably close to two acres of flowers instead. As we stood there looking at it a group of ladies drove by on their cart and commented how excited they were to see the flowers taking off. It was a win-win for Mike. It made me feel so wonderful seeing this kind of effort being done. Mike was taken back by the amount of attention that he had received. He said that once the word got out, he got all kinds of calls. The best part was reading a few of the comments that followed the Spokesman Review story!



I would like to recognize Doug McCullen and Bayer Crop Science for providing the funds for Mike to do this. Doug told me that he was surprised how few courses applied for grants. He believed that Downriver was one of two courses that were awarded the grant. If you’ve considered doing some pollinator habitat, fall is great time to get it done. Learn more about the Bayer Feed a Bee program.

Staying connected

It’s those long dreary winter months that seem to never end but now that the season is in full swing, July has come and gone just like that. As the Northwest region field staff representative, I have the pleasure of visiting individual courses and seeing all the great work that is being done around the region. Sometimes, I am lucky enough to be able to play a few of these courses. On July 10, I joined the RMGCSA at their annual tournament at the Country Club of Colorado in Colorado Springs. Glenn Samuelson and his staff had done a wonderful job preparing the course.

Prior to teeing off, I had the honor and privilege to meet Stan Metzger. Stan was the grow-in superintendent at The Country Club of Colorado, but more importantly, he has mentored more superintendents than I can imagine. When someone like Dennis Lyon, CGCS, regards Stan as a mentor, then you know this guy is special. Upon Stan’s retirement, the club had offered him a lifetime membership. It was so great to see him still hanging out with the guys. Speaking of Dennis Lyon, it was great to see him at the event, as well as his longtime friend, and also GCSAA Past President, Steve Cadenelli, CGCS. Steve was in town visiting Dennis and joined us all for the day’s event.

I stopped to wonder how often do you see such pillars in the industry, two of whom were GCSAA past presidents, at a chapter event? It may happen more often than I am aware, but in my circles, this seemed special. It was great to see these three individuals making their way around visiting with many of the members attending. When I look back at my career, there were certain individuals that I crossed paths with that took the time to get to know me and spend time talking with me. Dennis Lyon was one of those guys. I was a member of the Chapter Relations Committee from 2007 to 2009 and remember hanging around O’Hare airport waiting to fly home from one of our meetings. Dennis and I sat and talked about everything you could imagine until I almost missed my flight home. I remember how cool that was that someone of his stature would do that. To this day, I know that Dennis was one of those guys that had an effect on my career. It’s probable they were doing the same thing that very day.

My point: If you are one of those members that perhaps have served your chapter well over the years and have even retired, you may not see the point of attending your local chapter meetings regularly. I urge you to please reconsider. You are such a valuable resource and have the opportunity to continue to mentor young superintendents and assistants well into and beyond your career.

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.