GCI editors don’t mind taking notes and sifting through research like post-graduate students. In fact, we enjoy reliving the academic portions of our college days.
On a perfect mid-August day, we visited Columbus, Ohio, for the Turfgrass Research Field Day presented by The Ohio State University and Ohio Turfgrass Foundation. We weren’t alone. The event attracted more than 250 industry professionals to the OTF Research and Education Facility and university research plots. Ohio Stadium, home of the inaugural College Football Playoff champion Ohio State Buckeyes, lurks in the skyline. GCI, though, isn’t a fan of artificial surfaces and we will never publicly announce an allegiance to any college program.
We do profess an admiration for turfgrass research, and we saw some fascinating things in Columbus. Highlights included:
- A demonstration by the United States Department of Agriculture’s Barry Allred and Luis Martinez on using ground penetrating radar to determine subsurface features and map soil water content. The USDA has a soil drainage research unit on Ohio State’s campus. GPR trials have been conducted on multiple Columbus-area golf courses.
- An update on Dr. Karl Danneberger’s USGA-funded greens brushing study. This marks the second summer of the study, and Danneberger has observed improvements in leaf texture and reductions in morning dew and leaf clippings through brushing five times per week. “For us brushing continues to be an effective method to improve turf quality,” he says.
- Results of a USGA-funded Bermudagrass in Northern climates study. Four cultivars – Patriot, Northbridge, Riviera and Latitude 36 – are being examined for adaptability. The winter of 2014-15 was mild by Central Ohio standards, but the plots needed to be reestablished via sprigs in July because of damaged caused when temperatures dipped below 32 degrees on consecutive days last November. The plots weren’t covered on either day. Researchers will now use covers whenever overnight lows are expected to dip below 35 degrees.
During a hands-on part of the field day, attendees passed around annual bluegrass weevil samples found at a Northeast Ohio course. We asked Dr. David Shetlar, the witty “BugDoc,” about the spread of the pest. We turned our conversation into an entertaining Superintendent Radio Network episode. Listen to it by typing bit.ly/1TRDKS8 into your web browser.
Here’s a daring try-this-at-your-course idea courtesy of Great Parks of Hamilton County: Free golf.
Put your balance sheets away before chuckling. Great Parks, the subject of our cover story about municipal golf, celebrated its 85th anniversary on Aug. 1 by offering a slew of free activities, including free green fees on all seven of its courses. From a golf perspective, the event, which also offered free range balls, FootGolf and miniature golf, was gutsy. Aug. 1 was a beautiful Saturday in Southwestern Ohio. The idea stemmed from departmental planning meetings held in March, and represented the first time PGA golf manager Doug Stultz, who has worked in the industry since 1987, heard of a municipal system attempting such a wide-scale free golf event.
Filled tee sheets defined the day. Great Parks attracted 1,700 golfers to its seven courses. An average summer Saturday attracts 1,200-1,300 golfers, according to Stultz. “It was a busy day,” he says. “It was a typical Saturday up until 2 p.m. and then after 2 is when we saw a lot of new faces or maybe people that didn’t come out and play golf that much, or it may have been a reason to come out and try the game because it was free.”
Stultz entered the day with three major concerns: revenue losses, dismal pace of play and alienating loyal customers. The Great Parks Foundation sponsored the 85th anniversary celebration. Stultz says food and beverage and merchandise purchases were “definitely up” and cart revenue increased by $4,500 compared to a typical summer Saturday.
Stultz visited all seven courses throughout the day, and he didn’t observe six-hour rounds. “Surprisingly, the pace of play was pretty good for the day, which I can’t figure out,” he says. “We had no issues.” Advance notice and frequent reminders from golf shop personnel helped Great Parks communicate logistics to loyal customers. “I wanted to take care of core golfers as a thank you to them in addition to bringing maybe some new people out,” Stultz says.
Inside the maps
A former TV weatherman and PGA Tour caddie finding fulfillment — and a business niche — by establishing relationships with superintendents.
By Guy Cipriano
He has an Edward Murrow-like voice, stories from inside the PGA Tour ropes and the swing of a former college golfer. Herb Stevens also possesses a skill to help superintendents prepare for a major part of the job they will never control.
Even when he leaves his Rhode Island home for an industry event like he did for the annual Golf Builders Association of America summer meetings in Colorado Springs, Stevens spends significant time analyzing climatic data. Stevens is the founder of Grass Roots Weather, a forecasting service for superintendents.
Stevens, who caddied on the PGA Tour and played on the Penn State golf team, might be the only former TV meteorologist with a client list that includes Baltusrol, Congressional, Medinah, Merion, National Golf Links of America, Oakmont and Winged Foot. Using a meteorological background that helped him become one of The Weather Channel’s first on-air personalities, Stevens provides superintendents with advanced forecasts, videos and podcasts designed to aid agronomic decisions.
His entry into golf’s underbelly stemmed from his experiences at Potowomut (R.I.) Golf Club. The desire to land the club a quality superintendent in 2003 resulted in Stevens plugging into the Paul Latshaw network. The search ended with Oakmont assistant Brent Palich accepting the head job at Potowomut. It didn’t take long for members to realize they hired the ideal person. “Brent came to work with us and quickly rescued a very sad golf course in short order,” Stevens says. “He did a fantastic job.”
Palich received personal and technical support from Stevens, perhaps the only greens chairman who provided his superintendent with advance weather forecasts. Palich, though, didn’t reach his two-year anniversary at Potowomut. He returned to his native Ohio as the leader of the golf course maintenance operations at the Sand Ridge Golf Club in suburban Cleveland.
Before he left Rhode Island, Palich asked Stevens if he had considered offering his services to superintendents. The goodbye lunch ended with Palich becoming Stevens’ first client. Palich referred Stevens to other superintendents, and Grass Roots Weather now has nearly 100 clients. “We’re just about maxed out,” Stevens says. “I love working with superintendents. I have said this 100 times, but I don’t know how they weed out the jerks, but they seem to be very effective at doing that.” Stevens says he strives to “simplify” the information he provides clients, the majority of whom maintain courses in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic.
“I have attempted to educate the guys on how the weather works,” he says. “The more I know about what they are trying to do, that helps. The more they know about how the atmosphere works, that helps as well. It’s been a symbiotic relationship where I have learned a lot about turf management, which I find interesting. It wasn’t my chosen field, but I have been in the game so much I have an interest in it. They are in a business that’s heavily sensitive to weather, and I would like to think they have learned some weather stuff from me along the way. So it’s been mutually beneficial.”
From the Feed
The start of the high school and college sports seasons make August a challenging month for superintendents with athletic crews. Instead of moping over personnel losses, we asked our followers what athletes are best equipped to work on a crew. We received numerous sporty answers.
Eric Bice @e_bice
I have had amazing luck with wrestlers. Once you have wrestled everything else in life is easy. #DanGable
Five Oaks Agronomy @VATurfAG
Did have an o-lineman/wrestler that bear hugged and squatted a 25 hp pump so we didn’t have to take roof off #handy
Albert Bancroft @alban3074
Hands down female v-ball. Esp former high school/college. Great attention to detail-teamwork+speed. Good mix of employee=best.
Roy Mundy @roymundy77
Hockey player’s up here in Canada, awesome with a rake and tough.
Brian Woods @BWoodsTurf
Aug 14 Wrestlers! I wish I had known to apply during my years, talk about cutting weight, staying slim and fit.
North Jersey CC @NorthJerseyCC
Anyone that can wake up at 3 am on a daily basis! =)
Andy O’Haver @andyohaver
Hockey players. Strong, good hands, and easily tricked into heavy lifting.
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