Scott Bordner received direct messages before the event even ended: His colleagues, peers, friends and former co-workers were already seeking to participate in the second edition of a career development and training program his massive club debuted earlier this month.
Bordner is the director of agronomy for The Union League of Philadelphia, a 160-year-old club that included zero golf courses less than a decade ago. A three-course operation today, the Union League is the country’s fastest-growing private golf operation.
Supporting the rapid growth — the club purchased its third golf course last March and will unveil all 27 holes at much-ballyhooed Union League National Golf Club in southern New Jersey this summer — requires talented and committed employees. Finding and retaining those employees in 2022 requires investing in people. Investing in people requires providing continuing education and career advancement opportunities.
Enter Union League University.
The two-day event brought more than 70 industry professionals to Union League Liberty Hill, a suburban Philadelphia lodge and conference center with an 18-hole golf course. Nearly half of the attendees were employees on the three turf teams Bordner oversees. Bordner handpicked outside attendees, purposely trying to avoid overcrowding the room with industry professionals from similar clubs or backgrounds. Bordner urged attendees to sit next to different people during meals and educational sessions. Union League University represented a rare event where a horticulturist, assistant superintendent, equipment technician, vendor and established superintendent exchanged stories at same table.
And to think, Bordner didn’t start the process of organizing the event until mid-December. Hectic might be a mild way of describing the Union League’s current golf pace, thus the accelerated planning process.
“I knew what I wanted,” Bordner says. “I knew the speakers that I wanted, I knew the differences in personalities I wanted, and I wanted all levels of clubs represented. I handpicked Year 1 and I had to text some of my friends to tell them, ‘Don’t be offended. You’re on the invite list, just not for this year.’ I want different perspectives each year and I want different bloodlines here. I didn’t want all the superintendents I worked with at Merion here hanging out together because they hadn’t seen each other. Go do that somewhere else.
“This was my social experiment to see who I can invite and how I can make sure there are enough vocal and loud people combined with those ‘silent assassins,’ the real quiet people who when they ask a question, it’s a really good question. How can you mix that with the people who are more outgoing and make it all work?”
It worked beautifully.
Because the event wasn’t affiliated with an association or a presenting sponsor, discussions were candid, with attendees receiving inside info and guidance from respected internal and external voices, including Union League CEO Jeff McFadden and director of golf Sean Palmer, Club Thinking Partners president Dan Denehy, Manufacturers’ Golf & Country Club green chairman Jeff Jones, former superintendent-turned-sales professional Jamie Kapes, and industry consultants Steve McDonald and Tyler Bloom. McFadden’s and Palmer’s macro-level presentations about the Union League and its golf operation combined with breakout sessions led by the club’s three course superintendents — Pat Haughey, John Canavan and Andrew Dooley — localized the program for club employees.
Union League National irrigation technician Herb Phillips led one of the most engaging presentations, using practical concepts, hands-on visuals and a zest for his craft to describe the transition from PVC to HDPE pipe and satellite to 2-wire. Phillips, a former superintendent who temporarily worked as a carnival game operator before returning to the industry in 2019, interjected dry wit into descriptions, inciting laughter from all generations in attendance. “I tell everybody with irrigation that you have to use your 95 senses which you were born with,” he deadpanned at one point.
Union League University resembled a turf retreat. Every educational session, meal and networking event was held at The Lodge at Liberty. Bordner quickly found companies to sponsor meals and an evening networking event. “I looked across our financials and said, ‘Who do we spend the most money with?’” he says. “I went to the top five and they all said yes right away.”
Massive scale and tremendous facilities make it difficult for most clubs to emulate Union League University. But as education needs evolve and the emphasis on employee well-being expands, it might be time to consider bringing structured programming and different personalities to your facility for a day or two.
It doesn’t take 95 senses to understand the need for employee growth.Guy Cipriano is Golf Course Industry’s editor-in-chief.
Tartan Talks 67
Big play and financial numbers at golf facilities are producing abundant opportunities for course architects.
Tripp Davis of Tripp Davis & Associates, Tom Marzolf of Fazio Design and Bill Bergin of Bergin Golf Designs joined the Tartan Talks podcast to provide a human perspective to complement the encouraging findings in the fourth annual “Golf Market Facility Market Trend Watch” report commissioned by the ASGCA and executed by the Sports & Leisure Research Group. The survey indicated 89 percent of architects expect renovation revenue to increase or remain even over the next 24 months. “It’s a super exciting time for the golf industry right now,” Marzolf says. “We’re in a growth spurt right now that might be generational growth. If you think about when things started slowing down in 2006, I think we are now at a point with the game where there’s real growth and it could be an opportunity for a growth spurt like we haven’t seen in our lifetimes yet.”
Visit the Superintendent Radio Network page on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and other popular podcast distributions platforms to learn more about how Davis, Marzolf and Bergin are handling the increased demand for their services.
The Michigan Turfgrass Foundation gifted $1 million to the Michigan State University College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, launching a $5 million campaign to endow the Dr. Joe Vargas Chair in Turfgrass Pathology. The endowment honors Vargas, who has dedicated his 51-year career to improving the quality of turf on six continents and is a member of the Michigan Golf Hall of Fame. … The ASGCA has added past president Jeff Brauer to its staff as director of outreach. The new position is designed to advance the goals, benefits and positive impact of the ASGCA and its members, develop deeper partnerships with allied associations and others, organize educational events; and expand the influence of ASGCA in the golf world. … The 1,800-member Carolinas GCSA awarded $165,000 worth of grants to three projects using money raised in the annual Rounds 4 Research online auction. The grants to scientists at Clemson University and NC State University increase the association’s cumulative giving from Rounds 4 Research to more than $565,000. … RISE joined more than 350 pesticide user organizations, sending a letter to all members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives voicing support for the pesticide regulatory system currently in place under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act. … Nufarm Americas recently announced a cooperation arrangement with Lier Chemical Company to supply glufosinate serving the turf and ornamental market.
Elevated standing for U.S. Women’s Open
The U.S. Women’s Open is operating on a higher level — figuratively and also quite literally — thanks to a new long-term partnership between the USGA and ProMedica that includes presenting partner rights, a $10 million purse, increased charitable support and some of the country’s more prominent courses opening their doors to host.
In an effort to retain and enhance the U.S. Women’s Open’s standing, the purse for the 2022 championship — June 2-5 at Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club in Southern Pines, North Carolina — will nearly double from $5.5 million to $10 million, the highest in women’s golf and among the leaders in all of women’s sports. The USGA also announced a commitment to raise the Women’s Open purse to $11 million and then $12 million over the next five years.
Key to the partnership is a joint commitment by the organizations to highlight the importance of addressing health inequities across the United States, which will include sharing the personal stories of golfers and USGA competitors nationwide who have used golf as a means to a healthier lifestyle.
ProMedica will also utilize the global stage the U.S. Women’s Open provides to generate charitable dollars for its ProMedica Impact Fund, which will become the official charity of the U.S. Women’s Open. The ProMedica Impact Fund is committed to raising more than $1 billion over eight years to strategically invest in grants, impact investments, and research and learning activities.
The USGA also named five additional U.S. Women’s Open host sites: The Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, California (2026); Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio (2027); Pinehurst Resort & Country Club in Village of Pinehurst, North Carolina (2029); Interlachen Country Club in Edina, Minnesota (2030); and Oakland Hills Country Club in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan (2031 and 2042).
The Tuxedo Club in Tuxedo Park, New York, recently launched a multimillion-dollar renovation of its Robert Trent Jones Sr.-designed golf course. Slated for completion in May, the project includes the creation of a new short game practice area, a new ninth hole, renovation of all fairway and greenside bunkers, and re-grassing of all necessary green surrounds. The club selected Rees Jones to lead the renovation. … Terravita Golf & Country Club in Scottsdale, Arizona, will undergo a seven-month golf course renovation and enhancement project led by Phil Smith. The project will begin on April 1 and will be focused on the irrigation system, bunkers, green complexes and turf improvements on the 28-year-old course. … Members at BallenIsles Country Club in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, recently approved a multimillion-dollar renovation of the club’s East Course and golf practice facility. Nicklaus Design was selected last year for a strategic design partnership to lead the course enhancements. Construction is expected to start in April and be completed by December. Renovations will include modernization of the design, bunkering, greens complexes and strategy, a complete re-grassing of the course, and improvements of playing options. … Robert McNeil recently completed the reintroduction of Donald Ross-designed features at Kernwood Country Club in Salem, Massachusetts. The work included recapturing and restoring the Ross bunker styling throughout the property, which involved constructing 44 new bunkers, removing a few, bringing back original grassing lines in the fairways, expanding green perimeters to their intended edges and introducing grass catchment and tightly mown pitch areas. More than 800 trees were removed to open sight lines through the property. … KemperSports has been selected by the not-for-profit Evanston Wilmette Golf Course Association to manage the 100-plus-year-old Canal Shores Golf Course in Evanston, Illinois. Canal Shores, which winds along the Chicago River, was designed by Tom Bendelow and opened in 1919.