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."

Monday, October 3, 2016

Preserving golf's history

In early September, I had the privilege to visit the World Golf Hall of Fame in St. Augustine, Fla., with my fellow field staff colleagues. This was our annual department meeting in which we get together as a team for a strategic planning session. Tony Parker, Ph.D., the WGHOF historian, gave us a personal tour of the museum. The first thing we saw as we walked in was Jim Furyk's score card from the Travelers Championship depicting his record 58.

Over the years, I have been lucky to view a few private collections including Waverley Country Club's collection of its steeped history in Portland, Ore., and the collection at Ganton Golf Club in North Yorkshire, England, which contained items from the 1949 Ryder Cup and the legendary Harry Vardon.

When I worked at Stone Creek Golf Club, I had the privilege to view one of the largest private golf collections in the U.S., one that rivals that of the USGA and the World Golf Hall of Fame. Our PGA Pro, Ted Westling had told me about Dick Estey's golf collection and he managed to arrange a tour. No words can describe everything that I saw. I attempted to blog about the experience.

...we need to keep an eye on where we came from in order to keep our compass pointed correctly to our future.

I believe the preservation of golf history is one of the most important components of the game. Especially today as many courses start renovation projects and look back to the original design for inspiration. Such was the case with superintendent Joel Kachmarek and Tacoma Country Club. Joel was able to dig through his clubs archives to find some old aerial photos that depicted the original layout and design of the course. Working alongside the late John Harbottle, they were able to perform a complete renovation which brought back the original romantic design of the club. Read Joel's blogs on his club's history.

Tacoma CC's 1923 irrigation as built was useful in their renovation 

As superintendents, we can play a large role in our club's history. Many of you are already doing so in the form of blogs, but if that's not your thing, keeping a secure archive of photos that document major modifications would be the next best thing. Is your pro shop keeping old score cards and items that have been updated? Are you displaying photos and trophies in a case that members and patrons can look at? All of these things are important: it's like keeping a living time capsule at your club.

I truly believe that we need to keep an eye on where we came from in order to keep our compass pointed correctly to our future. It doesn't matter if you are at a daily fee, municipal, resort or private club; keeping some account of where your club has been will be appreciated by those well after our time.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Where's the propane?

As I'm driving along a road in Portland, I happen to notice a landscape truck towing a load of John Deere commercial rotary mowers with propane tanks attached to them. The company happens to be Pacific Landscape Maintenance which belongs to an old college friend of mine from Oregon State. Bob Grover and I both worked together at a large commercial landscape firm in the late 80’s. He has since started his own very successful business on his own. My thought has always been that the golf industry has been cutting edge when it came to mowing technology but it dawned on me that the propane-powered mowing equipment hasn’t necessarily broken through. I became a little set back when I realized that the landscape industry has somehow found the way to cut emissions by over half and also cut the maintenance of their equipment by over half. I wondered when the “big three” were going to jump in and offer a viable option to the golf industry to save money and cut emissions?

I gave Bob a call and asked him how the propane power was working for him. He had nothing but high marks for the performance and the cost savings. The propane was completely accessible and easy to set up. He simply has an inventory of propane tanks which he replaces on each piece of equipment as the gas is depleted. The propane company just comes to his shop every few days and fills the empty tanks. It’s that simple, there is no hassle of having to fill your own tanks, it’s just a matter of using a wrench to unhook and reattach a new tank. Bob said that one tank will generally last a whole day in the field.

More than 130 models of propane-powered commercial lawn mowers are available today from 18 industry-leading brands, including walk-behind, stand-on, and zero-turn-rider options. Some landscape contractors choose to convert existing equipment to propane using EPA- and CARB-certified conversion kits. (1)  If the landscape industry is so far along, then what is holding back the golf industry?

For years the Ag industry has used diesel-powered engines to run their irrigation systems but since EPA has mandated a 90 percent emission reduction on all non-road diesel engines the one way they have found to improve emissions is to switch from engines fueled by diesel to those powered by propane. While diesel has long been the fuel of choice for many farmers, increasingly strict emissions regulations and new propane equipment technology are making propane-powered engines a more cost-effective, convenient, and efficient choice for farm irrigation. (2) Instead of making the transition to propane, the golf equipment manufacturers simply started using the new tier IV technology and passed the ever-so-slightly increased costs along to the end users.

I have yet to hear of a legitimate reason why propane isn’t offered outside of R&R Products. How can we get the other equipment manufacturers to step up and deliver us a product that we can use? I have heard that propane isn’t available in all areas of our country, but I have a hard time believing that. If that were the case, then why does Home Depot sell so many propane BBQ grills across the country?

If our industry desires a change, then let’s start asking for it. I still believe that the golf industry is on the cutting edge and I am confident that this too will evolve. Talk to your local rep or send letters to their development teams. I really think there is a place for propane in our industry.

On March 23, GCSAA held a webcast called the Plusses of Propane-Powered Equipment. If you are interested in learning more, you can watch the entirety at your own leisure. Find additional information on propane-powered mowing equipment here.