James Karl Huntoon of Heritage Club, center, moderates a research panel at the Carolinas GCSA Conference and Show in Myrtle Beach.

Walking out of the Myrtle Beach Convention Center last month, it was hard to think that everything about another Carolinas GCSA Conference and Show was anything other than perfect.

The weather was perfect, for a change, with highs approaching 70 and skies clear of rain. Every round of golf was perfect, no matter how any of us played. The conversations were perfect, too, because how could conversations not be perfect after nearly two years (and counting) of conversations only over the phone or on our screens?

Everything felt almost normal.

We are still in a global pandemic, of course, and we will be for a while, but we are, collectively, in a better place both physically and mentally than we were a year ago, when Myrtle Beach did not fill up with superintendents, assistants, equipment managers, technicians, marketers, sales folks, researchers, professors, students and legends. We are out and about, catching up with old friends, meeting new friends, swapping stories, celebrating the best of us.

“What was really good,” said Charles Granger, the chair of engineering technologies and golf and sports turf management, and a professor in golf and sports turf management at Horry Georgetown Technical College, “was that we finally got to do this again.”

Granger was talking specifically about the Carolinas Student Turf Bowl — which his Fighting Mole Crickets rallied to win for the 10th time since 2000 — but he might as well have been talking about the whole week. Nearly 200 companies exhibited on the trade show floor, more than 360 folks participated in either the golf outing or the sporting clays competition, nearly 400 booths filled the convention center, and more than 1,400 seats were occupied at the various education sessions. The Carolinas GCSA provided those numbers but there is no need to take them with a grain of salt. They feel accurate. They reflect a week’s worth of energy and enthusiasm.

For a change, we here at Golf Course Industry opted for a booth on the floor, which provided us with a central location for all those conversations rather than just wandering up and down aisles (though we did that, too). If you stopped by and talked with us, thank you, it was great to catch up. And if you didn’t, how about next year?

Beyond the convention center and the variety of outside events, the city of Myrtle Beach felt pretty normal, too — offseason normal, at least. Across four days, the handful of breakfast spots where we munched omelettes and French toast were staffed and open, and our dinner spots were no more affected by supply chain shortages than anywhere else. (Running out of crab makes more sense, even with the Atlantic Ocean in view, when you consider costs have tripled over the last year.) Anecdotal evidence, to be sure, but still good indicators.

Corteva’s Phil Bruner

The best indicator, though, was the camaraderie of the week. Backs were clapped, photos were snapped, smiles were exchanged. What had we all missed over the last two years? Plenty, and this was the time for catching up. From the assistants’ gathering on Sunday night all the way through trucks carting off booth displays on Wednesday afternoon — and the informal rounds and dinners that followed — it felt like old times.

The morning after he officially became the next Carolinas GCSA president, Callawassie Island director of agronomy Billy Bagwell summed up four days in just 25 words when he tweeted that “The @CarolinasGCSA is made up of many incredible people & we saw this week what happens when people work together to chase the same dream.” Bagwell included a few photos with the tweet — one of him with Carolinas GCSA executive director Tim Kreger, Smithfields Country Club superintendent Chuck Connolly and Highlands Country Club superintendent Brian Stiehler; one of him with his wife, Amanda, and their sons, Brantley and William; and one of the Myrtle Beach skyline at sunset. But what sticks with me is a couple comments beneath that tweet.

“Congratulations Billy!” Carolina Golf Club superintendent Matthew Wharton responded. “So proud of you!”

“Always there for you!” Stiehler followed.

It takes seconds to send out a tweet, of course, but for Wharton and Stiehler, the two immediate past presidents of the Carolinas GCSA, to take that moment to support their friend, to build him up even more during a career high, is indicative of the region and the industry.

It celebrates the best of us. It feels almost normal.

Matt LaWell is Golf Course Industry’s managing editor.

© Ashley DavidoVICH (2)

Literary lunches

At Royal Mayfair Golf Club, the crew is unexpectedly bonding through books, beverages and brilliant conversations. Assistant-in-training Neal Neigel shares how it all began and how it’s going.

Interview by Lee Carr

Q: How did the book club get started?

A: Alberta (Canada) was experiencing a wave of COVID-19 that had us on lockdown. Several overwinter staff expressed an interest because reading would be a good reprieve from all of the Zoom meetings and group chats. A monthly meeting would be a social thing we could participate in remotely or in person, as restrictions allowed. We met in May, giving the seasonal staff time to settle in, and have been meeting on the last Friday of the month ever since.

© Ashley DavidoVICH (2)

Q: Are there participation guidelines?

A: We strongly encourage all participants to read the book but there are no requirements. We have had people with no knowledge of the book join our discussion, then read the book afterward, having been swayed by our opinions or compelling plot points. Reading is great and helps us get to know each other even better. We haven’t had any guests join us yet but we’re open to that!

Q: How many people meet?

A: We’ve had as few as six during the shoulder season and as many as 14, for a book that garnered a lot of interest from people who previously hadn’t participated in the book club. The Royal Mayfair turf department has around 30 staff in total, which includes a mix of seasonal and leadership staff, so attendance has been good.

Q: What is a typical meeting like?

A: We meet after our shift. There is usually a theme for beverages and food, related to the story and inspired by the “Finer Things” club in the TV show “The Office”. For example, a book with a winter setting had minty beverages and desserts; a book featuring a superfood salesperson and a “secret family recipe” called “Broc-o-Glop” was reflected with a vegetable spread and cranberry juice. We get creative with it. One person is in charge of directing conversation about the book and there are a lot of great resources online to help with how to do that. We start with what we like and what we don’t about the novel, what the theme might be and what it meant to us, things like that.

Q: Has there been a favorite book?

A: Our books have been “Crow” by Amy Spurway, “Fifteen Dogs” by André Alexis, “Moon of the Crusted Snow” by Waubgeshig Rice, “Hench” by Natalie Zina Walschots, “The Midnight Bargain” by C. L. Polk and “Gutter Child” by Jael Richardson. All the books have been regarded well but there isn’t a standout favorite given our very diverse opinions. That said, literary themes are often universal and, so far, our books have covered mortality, social justice, colonialism and racism. Who can’t relate to these themes? Plot points aside, no one should be excluded from these conversations and fiction is a safe way to approach them.

Q: How are the books chosen?

A: Each month, people can suggest a book for the group to read the following month. We try to read contemporary Canadian authors but leave it open in regard to themes and genres. Everyone votes anonymously on the interest they have for reading a book from the list (from “not interested at all” to “very interested”) and the book with the most interest is selected.

Q: How is the club doing?

A: With autumn and a diminishing seasonal staff, we have seen a slight decrease in participation. Several staff that have returned to school have asked to be kept informed of the book we are currently reading as well as the date of the meeting so that they can continue to participate as schedules allow.

Q: Is there anything else you want to share?

A: We were surprised at the amount of interest the book club had! We were fully prepared for it to be just the three of us that originally had the idea of reading a book each month without much fanfare. We hope this inspires others to start their own book clubs … the interest is probably there!

© Courtesy of John Deere (2)

Amazed and enthused

An assistant superintendent recaps his experience at the 2021 Green Start Academy and urges his peers to aggressively pursue opportunities the industry presents.

By Chad Allen

Imagine a place where knowledge and ideas flow freely. A place where you get to connect with industry leaders and consultants willing to grow you as a person and professional. Imagine it’s not just you there, but also 49 other high-achieving assistant superintendents similarly encouraged and excited about this opportunity. Then, have all this facilitated at one of the most iconic golf facilities in the world. Sounds impossible, doesn’t it?

Well, I’m here to tell you I have lived this dream. The event is called Green Start Academy and it’s held at the famed Pinehurst Resort. I recently completed the 2021 edition of the event and I can say, without a doubt, it represented the greatest professional development experience of my career.

Bayer Turf and Ornamental, Rain Bird and John Deere brought together superintendents, general managers, COOs and leading consultants to provide attendees with insight to stabilize and improve their business acumen. The group sharing insight with us included:

© Courtesy of John Deere (2)
  • John Cunningham, Grandfather Golf and Country Club
  • Bob Farren, Pinehurst Resort
  • Matt Fauerbach, Indigo Golf Partners
  • Pat Finlen, Winchester Country Club
  • Shelia Finney, GCSAA
  • Lukus Harvey, Atlanta Athletic Club
  • Robert Hertzing, Lakeside Golf Club
  • John Jeffreys, Pinehurst Resort
  • Dan Meersman, Philadelphia Cricket Club
  • Seth Miller, Troon Country Club
  • Carol Rau, PHR Career Expert
  • Stephen Tucker, Four Seasons Orlando

The industry leaders discussed a variety of topics, including budgeting basics, getting the best from your team, cultivating business relationships, what they wish they had known when working as assistant superintendents, how to maximize a GCSAA membership, the digital transformation of the industry, the next five to 10 years in the business, and the importance of diversity and inclusion. A full day was devoted to career advancement led by Rau.

Presenters profoundly changed my life with insights and information they freely provided during discussion panels and individual breakout sessions. Breakout sessions featured mentor/mentee groups consisting of four or five assistant superintendents and a mentor. The small-group discussions developed into one of my favorite parts of the event. We were able to break down topics on a micro level and dive into the details of how and why these ideas and concepts worked.

My goals entering Green Start Academy consisted of increasing my networking footprint and obtaining greater insight on how top-level general managers and COOs construct and implement budgets. Tucker served as my mentor for the event and he has been amazing. He presented the “Basics of Building a Budget and Managing Large Equipment Purchase Deal” lectures that included some of the most beneficial information I received.

Having the ability to pick my mentor’s brain has already paid dividends. I told him I need to become more familiar with budgeting and how to construct a budget, and he encouraged me to format a budget and send it over to him so he could look it over. The feedback I have already received from him is priceless. His business acumen is impressive and his ability to explain and relate it to what turf mangers do is incredible. Here’s the best part: I can get this type of connection with any of the mentors/presenters who participated in the conference. They freely gave all of us their contact information, sometimes even their personal phone number. As if things couldn’t get any better, the whole experience was hosted at Pinehurst Resort. We stayed at the Holly Inn and were shuttled to the Carolina Hotel for our meetings and meals. The Pinehurst staff is first class. The level of hospitality and service is unmatched in any experience I have ever had. They treat everyone with respect and grace. You can see the passion and pride each employee takes in being part of this iconic destination. I don’t think I ever met a group of nicer people. The food was amazing. The Holly Inn and Carolina Hotel were amazing. The staff was amazing. The seminars, mentors and breakout groups were amazing.

You would think, “This can’t get any better, right?” Well, all attendees were given the opportunity to play The Cradle, the resort’s 9-hole short course. We broke down into our mentor/mentee groups and played these exhilarating holes. I think this is where the personal relationships really started to take shape. In this industry, we tend to be a quiet bunch of people. Introverts dominate, especially at the assistant superintendent position.

Sometimes we are tight-lipped and afraid to step out of our comfort zones, but something magical happens when you play golf. Those tight lips start to loosen, shoulders start to drop, scowls turn to smiles and laughter begins to permeate the air. Golf can be a great lubricator into the world of communication. Add that to the fact that this round of golf was being played at Pinehurst and you now have an unmatched melting pot of excitement and enthusiasm.

We were only there for a few days, but the relationships that were forged will last a lifetime. Before Green Start Academy, I sometimes felt like I was on an island. My passion for turf and the turf industry grows every day, and while I have people in my life who have this same passion, I sometimes feel like my drive is on a different level. I now know that I am not on an island, but part of a community of eager, driven, motived assistant superintendents who have just as much passion and commitment to the turf industry as I do. This would have never been possible without my experience at the Green Start Academy.

If you are an assistant looking to take your career to the next level, Green Start Academy is for you. This program will help separate you from the crowd and give you the tools and avenues needed to expand your turf career. Nothing is handed to you. You are still responsible for these connections and must reach out to those you meet. But if you are up to the challenge and are ready to take the next step, applying for Green Start Academy is the right choice.

Be Bold. Be intentional. Don’t wait for opportunities to come to you. Differentiate yourself from the masses and go to the opportunities. I promise, the payoff is well worth the time.

Chad Allen is an assistant superintendent at The Club at Chatham Hills in Westfield, Indiana. His Turfheads Take Over article is on page 34.

El Caballero Country Club
© El Caballero Country Club

Course news

El Caballero Country Club in Tarzana, California, recently celebrated its official relaunch following a three-year, $10 million renovation guided by Rees Jones. The course has been lengthened to 7,019 yards, with all turfgrass replaced with a drought-tolerant hybrid Bermudagrass blend. Along with native landscaping, the new course design will use 35 percent less water and save more than 35 million gallons per year.

The Olympic Club’s board of directors approved plans to enhance golf facilities in collaboration with golf course architect Gil Hanse. Construction is expected to begin in the second half of 2022. The plans include improvements to short-game practice facilities, a San Francisco-themed Lombard Putting Course and restoration of the Lake Course.

Tripp Davis and Associates is nearing completion of its redesign work at BraeBurn Country Club in Houston, with a planned reopening of the front nine this month. Davis and his team have rebuilt and reshaped all the greens, rebuilt and shifted tees, and rebuilt bunkers in a more classic style. New Northbridge Bermudagrass was also installed along with a new irrigation system and upgraded drainage.

TPC Louisiana, host of the PGA Tour’s Zurich Classic of New Orleans, reopened after damage from Hurricane Ida forced the club to close on Aug. 31. The Category 4 hurricane resulted in the toppling and snapping of hundreds of trees, including a 105-foot Bald Cypress tree in the 11th fairway that stood 90 yards in front of the green.

Troon added a quartet of properties to its management portfolio in November: Bay Creek, which sits on the Chesapeake Bay and includes both Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus signature courses; the Tom Vardon- and Charles Ramsdell-designed Eau Claire Golf & Country Club in Altoona, Wisconsin; Bowie Golf Club, a municipal course in Bowie, Maryland; and Seminole Legacy Golf Club in Tallahassee, Florida, which hosted a 2021 NCAA men’s regional championship and recently wrapped up a $10 million renovation, all inked deals with the course management company.

Royal Golf de Marrakech, the second-oldest course in Morocco, and the Joe Lee-designed Big Canoe GC in the north Georgia mountains both recently completed bunker projects with Capillary Bunkers. Over in England, Skylark Golf & Country Club in Hampshire opted for EcoBunkers for their bunker overhaul.


Tartan Talks No. 65

Dana Fry embraces a day of the week others loathe.

“The love I have for building golf courses has never changed, and it’s to the point of an obsession,” he says. “I have never had a job in my life. I hear people say they look forward the weekends. I have always looked forward to Monday mornings because I love being on the road and building golf courses.”

Fry, a partner in Fry/Straka Global Golf Design, joined the Tartan Talks podcast to describe 38 of years of being immersed in golf course construction in the United States and beyond. Like many things involving Fry, the conversation took numerous passionate and creative turns. From stories about working with Andy Banfield, Tom Fazio, Mike Strantz, Dr. Michael Hurdzan, Jason Straka and others to candor about the competitive pressures of trying to land new course opportunities overseas, Fry seemingly has a lesson from nearly every situation a modern golf course architect might encounter. On the podcast, he also goes inside his firm’s multi-year work at Union League National, a gargantuan 27-hole project in southern New Jersey featured as part of Golf Course Industry’s November cover package. “We were fortunate to get a job of this scope and magantitude,” Fry says.

Available on the Superintendent Radio Network page of Apple Podcasts, Spotify and wherever else you listen to podcasts — as well as on the Golf Course Industry website at https://www.golfcourseindustry.com/videos/category/superintendent-radio-network/ — the conversation makes for engaging winter listening and is the ideal way to end the fifth full season of Tartan Talks.

Industry buzz

Marion Hollins, a golf industry trailblazer and one of the first female golf course architects, was named an Honorary Member of the American Society of Golf Course Architects. Honorary Membership is a rare designation seldom given to anyone besides ASGCA Donald Ross Award recipients. A 2021 World Golf Hall of Fame honoree, Hollins entered golf course development in 1923 when she and others created the Women’s National Golf & Tennis Club in Glen Head, New York. The following year she approached developer Samuel Morse with a concept for an elite private club in Pebble Beach, California. Morse reserved 150 acres and put Hollins in charge of what became Cypress Point Club. … The ASGCA also added Gary Browning, Kipp Schulties and Joel Weiman as new members. ... North Carolina State University’s Turfgrass Breeding and Genetics program, under the direction of Dr. Susana Milla-Lewis, released Lobo Zoysiagrass — experimental name XZ 14069. Lobo Zoysia will be exclusively licensed through Sod Solutions for commercial production and marketing. … Kendall Murphy was recently hired as the first director of diversity, equity and inclusion for Troon. A former PGA career consultant, PGA pro and assistant college golf coach, Murphy is the co-founder and co-chair of the Black PGA Professionals Caucus and currently serves on the PGA National Education Committee.