Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Inaugural Northwest Golf Course Superintendents Association’s Turfgrass Expo

For the last six years, the fall season has always been a crazy traveling time for me. Colorado, Utah, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and the Inland Empire all having their annual meetings and fall conferences in October. It had been discussed several times over the years but three years ago, while sitting in the Peaks & Prairies board meeting in Billings, Dan Tolson, CGCS, and Jason Busch suggested it was time to combine Idaho, Inland Empire and Peaks & Prairies all in one meeting. Of course, in the back of my mind, I was thinking I could hit all meetings in one place and finally find time to make that elusive hunting trip. (Of course, that didn’t work out.) The idea seemed rather daunting, but Executive Director Lori Russell pressed on. As the idea was proposed to each board, the response was a resounding yes, so Lori started the wheels in motion.

The easy part was organizing the education. It wouldn’t be hard to seek out some of the country’s top presenters and invite them to beautiful Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, and to get members from all three chapter to attend. Headlining the event was GCSAA CEO Rhett Evans, Brian Horgan, Ph.D., from the University of Minnesota, Golf Course Architect, David McLay Kidd, Thomas Nikolai, PhD., from Michigan State, and Micah Woods, Ph.D., from the Asian Turfgrass Center in Thailand. The associations knew that if they could draw some of the top presenters, it would draw more to the event. They were right, the total attendance was just shy of 300!

The difficulty would be to find a legitimate way to monetize the event so each chapter would come out in the black. Since some vendors supported all three chapters and some only one, a step program had to be developed. If you were a member of all three chapters you paid more than those that were a member of only two and so on. Although the booth cost was more expensive at this trade show, it made total sense, the vendors realized that it was still cheaper than doing three separate shows.

As a side note, in talking with Lori after this event and learning all that went into the negotiation of the facility, the costs of every little item is sometimes a little mind-blowing. For instance, some may have complained about the chicken lunch, but what they don’t understand is that was one of the more affordable items on the menu at $45 per plate. Coffee doesn’t come cheap at these events either. How does $2400 a day sound? How about that beer at the trade show? It was only $1000 for two kegs! Everything adds up and Lori pulled this thing off single-handedly and did a remarkable job working with the resort to control the costs.
Lori won’t know how the event penciled out for each of the chapters until all the bills have come in. She honestly felt that some of the chapters may take a little hit financially over each hosting their own fall event, but that was communicated up front and each chapter was willing to take that risk. Overall, this was an incredibly successful event, especially in terms of member satisfaction. During the golf outing, members were paired with other members from other chapters which was uncomfortable for some, but by the end of the round they all had an incredible time. Many of the vendors were excited as well. The trade show was packed for three full hours and they were asking if this could become a regular event.

Chances are, this won’t happen every year or even every other year. But with that said, there is a darn good chance this may happen every four or five years. It will all boil down to the venue and whether the costs can be kept affordable. I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed, for sure!

Monday, October 9, 2017

Becoming bee friendly doesn’t just benefit the pollinators

While making site visits around the Northwest this summer, I had the opportunity to see so many great things that superintendents are doing to enhance the environment. When it comes to enhancing pollinator habitat, I saw quite a few great examples of how to get it done. Today, I would like to share some of the ideas that I have found, I hope this blog will inspire others to do the same thing.

First, let me start by asking a simple question: Why should we spend time and energy enhancing pollinator habitat? Here are a few reasons that I have seen and I will try to address each in this blog.
I’m pretty sure that we all understand the implications of the first two bullets so I would like to focus on the latter three and provide some examples how others have exemplified them on their property.

Increased pollinator habitat will help ensure both plant and bee species survival
Our food supply is dependent on pollinators
Pollinator habitat can beautify your property
Creating habitat can create opportunities for community outreach and education
Pollinator habitat can create opportunities for industry advocacy

Nothing can beat a big and blooming stand of wildflowers on a golf course. If your seed mix is properly sited for your climate, you can have blooms all summer. You can also plant just one variety such as out at Heron Lakes in Portland, Oregon. Jesse Goodling has planted a mono-stand of phacelia which is very popular with the black bumblebees.

Phacelia is popular with the bumblebees

Jesse has also started a few hives away from play and has found it very rewarding.
In Jackson, Wyoming, Mike Kitchen, CGCS of Teton Pines Resort & Country Club, has taken the beautification factor to the extreme. While there are programs through Bayer and Syngenta that can assist a golf course in establishing pollinator gardens, Kitchen has done this all within his own budget. While on a site visit in August, Mike toured me around the course and the wildflower plots just kept coming. We were fortunate to stop and visit with a few golfers and they even commented to Mike how much they have enjoyed the gardens. 

Wildflowers utilized as a buffer

Wildflowers utilized as a focal point next to a tee box 

Mike Kitchen, CGCS and Assistant Mark Lyon watching over their wildflower plot

As I mentioned earlier, Bayer and Syngenta both offer programs to help establish pollinator gardens on golf courses. Russell Vandehey, CGCS of The Oregon Golf Club in West Linn, Oregon worked with Syngenta's Operation Pollinator in sourcing a wildflower mix that was suitable for his region. Russel engaged some of the youth at his course to help plant the seeds which provided him with the opportunity to explain the benefits to the kids and give them a part in providing habitat. It was an excellent outreach activity for his Audubon certification.

Michael Greene at Downriver Golf Course in Spokane, Washington, applied for the Bayer Feed-a-Bee grant and was awarded $2500 to use at his course to promote pollination. Mike put the dollars to good use in planting a large wildflower meadow as well as a pumpkin patch. The pumpkin patch is located in the middle of the course next to the turf nursery. Mike also worked with a local apiarist who brought out a few of his hives for the season so the bees could take advantage of all the new habitat. Mike’s goal is to utilize the pumpkin patch and the bee boxes to educate the local school kids on our food chain and the role bees play. He children will be able to come out to the course and pick out their own pumpkin to take home for Halloween.

Michael Greene standing in what will be a productive pumpkin patch

Recent changes to the golf course created this large opportunity for a wildflower meadow. 

A local apiarist supplied these colorful bee boxes 

While writing this blog post I spoke to Douglas McCullen from Bayer and he told me that Michael Greene was one of only a very few that had actually applied for the grant from the golf industry. I was totally surprised by that and had thought more would have taken advantage. For more information, please visit the Bayer website.

Not every bee project has to be full of blooming flowers. You can also provide nesting habitat. When I was at Stone Creek Golf Club I realized that I had an area that was full of ground bees so I had a sign made that highlighted the area. Today Mike Turley and Tyler Gabriel see that the signs is still maintained and helps protect the small area of bare dirt that the bees like to dwell. This is just one example of how signage can help people recognize that fact that golf courses provide habitat for all kinds of species.

Signage used as education (sourced from archives)

Female sweat bee waiting for her suitor.

Every one of these examples can and will create opportunities for our industry advocacy. While spending time at each of these facilities, more times than not, a member or a golfer would make a comment on the flowers and how much they appreciated them. As word travels by mouth, the golf course will soon develop a reputation as an environmental stand-out. Now if you ask me, that’s not a bad reputation to have.

Also, please visit Oregon State University's PolliNation and listen to Andony Melathopoulos's interview of me back in August on golf and pollinators.

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!