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 the Highlands 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 you...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.


(1)  http://www.propane.com/about-propane/#1
(2)  https://www.bpnews.com/index.php/publications/magazine/current-issue/712-tier-4-regulations-new-technology-make-propane-an-excellent-fuel-source-for-irrigation-engines

Friday, June 10, 2016

Mentoring our Class C members

Most all of us have been there. We know how hard we worked, and looking back at those we worked for, we now realize that they were incredible mentors. Of course, I’m talking about our time as an assistant superintendent. Ranking right up there with our equipment manager, the assistant superintendent in one of the most vital positions on the crew. In the hustle and bustle of everyday life on the course, I think we can lose track of our role as mentors. Sometimes it’s just taking that extra time to check in and ask how things are going. Most of all, we should make sure that we are setting a clear career path for our assistants and ensuring their success of becoming a superintendent.

Over lunch, he told me that someday he would like to even have my job!

Part of that success is making sure your assistants are connected to the local superintendent’s association as well as GCSAA. It’s not necessarily about creating chances for them to be away from the course by attending meetings with you, but it’s more about creating networking opportunities. There are many opportunities within the local chapter to become involved as a Class C member. Whether it’s just serving on a committee or even as a board liaison, the time involved can weigh heavily on determining the success of your legacy.

I would like to recognize a few individuals within the Northwest region who, as Class C members, have taken on an impactful role. Not only for their local chapter but for the GCSAA as well. These are Grassroots Ambassadors, Jeffrey Jensen, Mitch Savage, and Seth Swanson.

Senator Barrasso and Jeffrey Jensen

Jeffrey recently attended National Golf Day in Washington D.C., but just a few days prior he informed me that he became the superintendent at Jackson Hole Golf and Tennis! I was able to accompany him while meeting Wyoming Senators Enzi and Barrasso. Jeffrey happened to major in political science and he was right at home talking the talk.

I met Mitch Savage of Green Valley Ranch Golf Club at Colorado’s Golf Day in April and was able to spend some time with him at the event as well as on a couple site visits in the area. Mitch struck me as an individual that had a plan for his career and advocacy was a large part of it. Over lunch, he told me that someday he would like to even have my job! After getting to know him, I don’t doubt that he could.

Seth Swanson and Mitch are close friends and were college roommates. Seth is the assistant at Littleton Golf and Tennis Club. I haven’t had the opportunity to meet Seth yet but from his correspondences, I can tell that he will be a future leader.

In my opinion, behind each of these assistants is a great superintendent that see’s the value of their involvement and I would like to commend each of them for their support. I know one thing is for sure, and that is Gary Leaper, RMGCSA’s executive director, couldn’t be more pleased to see his future leaders taking shape.

Remembering Walter Mattison, CGCS

There have been just a few that have come into my life and have had a significant impact on the direction of my career and have left this world way before their time. One in particular was Walter Mattison, CGCS. Walter moved to Central Oregon with his wife Nancy, and his two sons Brent and Sean. Previous to the move, he was the superintendent of Makena Beach and Golf Resort on the island of Maui. His new job was the construction and grow-in of what is now called Widgi Creek Golf Course in Bend, Oregon. The construction was complete in 1991. It didn’t take Walter long to fit into the Oregon GCSA. He became active in the chapter and was the chapter president by 1997. Shortly thereafter, Walter’s life was cut short by cancer, and he passed in December 2000 at the age of 44.

..."if he were still alive today, he would have been President of GCSAA well before me."

My first run-in with Walter was when I was working for Farwest Turf Equipment as a supply truck driver and salesperson. My route would take me through Central Oregon. Walter always told me to make his stop the last of the day so we could play nine holes. Looking back at those times I spent with him, it made me look forward to the day that I could become a superintendent and manage a construction project such as his. Little did I know that I would eventually be hired to be the construction manager at Stone Creek Golf Club and I would be able to tell Walter the great news just before his passing.

Walter was a man of great ambitions. His foremost was to serve his Lord, and by doing so, be the best father that he could be. This spilled over into his professional life. He garnered so much respect and adoration by the way he interacted with his employees and his peers. Past President Sean Hoolehan, CGCS, was one of Walter’s closest friends. Sean said that if he were still alive today, he would have been president of GCSAA well before him.

Another one of Walter’s ambitions was to create a giant flag assembled out of golf flags from golf courses around the world. It would be called the Brotherhood Flag. Walter would eventually accumulate 750 flags from around the world, all to support his brave battle against cancer. This was his way to show his appreciation and commemorate 75 years of GCSAA’s brotherhood. He worked on this adventure clear through to his last days. Below is a picture of a poster of the flag which can only give you the relative size of it.

The flag was displayed at the Dallas Golf Industry Show and now resides with his wife Nancy. Nancy would love to find a permanent home for the flag, where it could be displayed every once in a while and people could appreciate who Walter was and what he meant to our industry.

In May, at the Oregon Golf Course Superintendents Association’s annual meeting, Walter was inducted into the Oregon Golf Course Superintendents Hall of Fame. Nancy and her boys were able to attend and receive the award. Now in their 30’s, Brent and Sean have grown into outstanding men and spoke eloquently of their time with their father. Since Walter’s passing, Nancy had been unable to even consider playing golf again. She's now met a wonderful new husband who has brought her back to the game, which is exactly what Walter would have wanted. Also in attendance at the ceremony was Bill Dierdorff, Walter’s assistant who is now the superintendent at Loomis Trail Golf Club in Blaine, Wash., and Russell Dooge, CGCS from Kahului, Hawaii. Russell and Walter were very close and once it was known that Walter was to be inducted, Sean Hoolehan, CGCS, called him and he immediately booked his plane ticket. Nancy was taken by the outpouring of support from the association and his close friends which lead to not a dry eye in the room.

Monday, May 23, 2016

National Golf Day highlights golf's charitable impact

Last week, while I was in Washington, D.C., I received an email from Grassroots Ambassador and Class C member Mitch Savage of Green Valley Ranch in Colorado. He wanted to wish me a happy National Golf Day. He felt that it seemed fitting, I assumed because we were all in DC celebrating the game of golf but it was much more than that. Green Valley Ranch was hosting the NCAA Division II Men’s Golf National Championships. The flags were flown on each green in conjunction with the NCAA and the Folded Flag Foundation. There were pictures and bios of fallen soldiers on each tee box honoring their sacrifice. As Mitch said, it was “pretty powerful stuff.”

This was my first visit to D.C. and I really didn’t know what to expect. Admittedly, I was a tad nervous...

I just think this is fitting. What other industry, or sport for that matter, has the ability to generate charitable monies the way the game of golf can? The numbers are still ringing in my ear from repeating them in the seven Capitol Hill meetings that I attended: “Golf raises more money for charity than all other sports combined. Annually, the game generates $3.9 billion for philanthropic causes, almost all of which are unrelated to the golf industry.” This comes straight from We Are Golf's "benefits of golf" card. If you don’t have one, let me know, I will do my best to get one in your hands. Knowing the information on this card will empower you to become a better golf advocate.

This was my first visit to D.C. and I really didn’t know what to expect. Admittedly, I was a tad nervous about my scheduled meetings. That all went away as soon as Senator Daines from Montana walked up to me and introduced himself and we began to talk. It was as simple as that. From that point on, I had the time of my life. I ended up meeting four state senators and seven staffers that day, each as equally pleasant to talk to.

Senator Barrasso (WY) and Jeffrey Jensen, Jackson Hole Golf
and Tennis Club

By now, most of you have probably already read about how well GCSAA was represented at National Golf Day (NGD). A lot of that credit has to go to Chava McKeel and her team. Kaelyn Seymour has been instrumental in gathering and training all of our grassroots ambassadors, many of which decided to come to NGD on their own dime. One, in particular, that I am very proud of is Jeffrey Jensen of Jackson Hole Golf and Tennis Club in Jackson Hole, Wyo. Jeffrey became a grassroots ambassador as a Class C member and just recently became superintendent on May 12. Jeffrey actually received his bachelors in political science and had no problem taking vacation and spending his own money to make a difference. After watching him in action, I can tell that he will do great things for his association. He got right in there and met Senator Barrasso and Enzi and spelled out everything that he needed to do. It was a joy to watch him in action.

I didn’t have much time to see the sights but what inspired me most was how lucky we are as citizens of the United States to have direct access to the leaders of our government. Mitch's email that day was timely. This wouldn’t at all be possible without the sacrifices of our soldiers and their families. If your chapter is looking for a charity to support, I hope you will look no further than the Folded Flag Foundation. In recognition of our fallen heroes, the Folded Flag Foundation awards educational grants and scholarships to families of the U.S. military and employees of the U.S. government who have lost their lives while deployed in combat. Certainly a charity worth supporting.