The next upswing in the housing cycle is underway, which means a new generation of golf courses and communities will soon emerge. There’s no doubt that post-recession courses and communities must be more efficient and more sustainable than those that sprung up in golf’s boom days. But the question developers and builders must ask is how to integrate these new demands while continuing to attract homebuyers who are drawn to the property and aspirational value provided by golf.
What will be different in the upcoming cycle? We should look for three important changes in the priorities of next-generation homebuyers: women will influence purchase decisions more than men; buyers will seek financial stability and transparency; and environmental sustainability will be a priority.
Foremost, women seek a place that complements their interests in socialization. When buying property, women are alert to four Fs: friends, family, fun and fitness. When it comes to choosing real estate options, the most attractive elements for women are golf courses, long-view characteristics of the property, orientation to water edges (shores) and features (fountains and waterfalls) and socialization characteristics.
Accordingly, in the most recent housing boom, developers and homebuilders began to make community planning attractive to women.
Club leaders would be wise to prepare concise and easy-to-understand descriptions of the topic once thought to be confidential and which only arose from indiscreet questions. New members want to join a club that is both financially secure and transparent.
Golf’s defense should be a strong offense aimed at education of all stakeholders, starting with club members. Golf has the opportunity to demonstrate highly sustainable business practices. But club leaders and executives need to do a better job of articulating its case as a responsible environmental steward.
Prospective members should know how chemicals are handled and stored and how the staff monitors their use. The superintendent should publish a roster of inputs used so club members develop trust and confidence in the club’s environmental practices. Clubs might even post important aspects of its fertility program on its website and ask the superintendent to provide a description and explanation. Demonstrating a commitment to a reduction in water and chemical use not only helps educate and inform their members, but also encourages their support as ambassadors.
Golf communities have an opportunity to create market differentiation through effective environmental programs. But before breaking ground, developers should know the answers to four questions: What entity owns and controls water supply? How long is the secured-supply life cycle? What is the backup supply source? And how do you shop for water sources? In the previous development cycle, builders and lending institutions weren’t diligent enough in seeking answers to these questions. My bet is that we’ve learned our lessons.
Like a sleuth in an episode of the crime show “CSI”, David Phipps, a member of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America Field Staff, is keeping his sharp eyes and ears to the ground as he helps superintendents in their ongoing battle with turf pests.
His research during 2012, a time in which the country was hit by all sorts of weather calamities, from drought to hurricanes, shows that 2013 may be a difficult year to predict in terms of what pests will be the biggest problems and where. But early indications are that it might not be pretty.
“In the early days I could almost predict to the week when I was going to see an outbreak, whether it was bill bug or cranefly. Either way, they were predictable. Now it seems we are in the midst of changing weather conditions and year to year we never know what to expect. It has almost become a wait and see approach but we have to be proactive. I believe it will be more of the same but in greater populations.”
Phipps says, somewhat alarmingly for superintendents, that “pests are on the move” and it will be “imperative” that they be tracked. “Regions may start seeing increasing populations of seldom seen pests and superintendents will need to be vigilant at monitoring their surrounds.”
He says IPM and local scouting are the “tried and true method,” but adds a warning caveat, “We need to take it a step further and utilize and/or develop regional programs to provide a wide data base to track pests so we can be prepared.”
Superintendents around the country are also on the alert and ready to meet their enemy at the gates.
“Here in Atlanta, we had almost no winter last year which was good for rounds of golf but made for some interesting adjustments agronomically,” says Anthony Williams, director of grounds at Stone Mountain Golf Club by Marriott in Stone Mountain, Ga. He reported his area is 10 inches behind normal rainfall and it appears that many pests he does not generally see as issues are building populations way beyond IPM thresholds.
“I was at the putting green the day before Thanksgiving and a mole cricket crossed the sidewalk as I was evaluating the green. We seldom see mole crickets this far north. I utilized an effective biological control for this one mole cricket but it is a sign of the times. He adds, “Now more than ever the successful superintendent must be vigilant through active scouting and monitoring critical benchmarks as Mother Nature changes the scheduling and execution of our core programs.”
On Long Island, N.Y, an area hit hard by Superstorm Sandy in mid-autumn, Brian Benedict, superintendent at The Seawane Club in Hewlett Harbor, N.Y., is concerned with the annual bluegrass weevil. “Although it’s an older pest it seems like we are losing ground to resistance to selective insecticides. We had a huge infestation in 2012 and I attribute that to a mild 2011-12 winter. I am actually hoping for a big freeze this winter desiring to kill off the insects.”
Paul Brandenburg, superintendent at Furman University Golf Course in Greenville, S.C., reports several pest concerns as 2012 ended.
“We ultra dwarf guys, some of us dealt with pink snow mold last year and that was new and definitely weather related. Mini ring (a strain of rhizoctonia) is always a concern. Sod webworm is always a concern. Most of us spray preventively for spring dead spot and fairy ring.” In bent grass, dollar spot, brown patch and pythium remain the big concerns and pythium volutum seems to be on everyone’s radar, he adds, perhaps due to more prolonged heat and humidity in the area.
Dr. John Inguagiato, assistant professor of turfgrass pathology at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, takes a pragmatic approach to the issue.
“Predicting next year’s turf disease challenges can sometimes be about as accurate as a reading from a carnival psychic. As we all know, disease outbreaks, particularly foliar ones, are largely dependent on the weather conditions before and during infection. Therefore, it is difficult to accurately forecast what diseases are going to be problematic next year.”
Dr. Jim Kerns, turfgrass pathologist at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, concurs. “It is very difficult to predict what diseases or insects will be problematic next year,” Kerns says. “Diseases in particular are governed by the environment and we have no idea what next year will hold for us. Ultimately we continue to see issues with dollar spot, anthracnose and pyhtium root diseases. However, next year may hold a different set of problems.”
Says Dr. Gwen K. Stahnke, extension turfgrass specialist at Washington State University in Pullayup, believes that because it was so dry this past season in many areas of the country, if areas of a course were not watered, superintendents may have more problems with weeds in those areas where open areas were created. “It is an ideal place for annual bluegrass or moss to invade during the winter.” She reports that several areas of the country have entered microdochium patch weather,” and that disease will be popping up from now until the rain stops in July, most likely.
“I have seen a lot of adult crane flies on our research farm, so people should be monitoring areas where they have had problems in the past, or watch areas where they were watering in August through September and it remained wet. That is where the eggs were laid. Also monitor the feeding of birds. They actually cause more damage than the crane fly larvae themselves. The crane fly larvae will feed over the winter, so monitor and treat in February if there is a severe problem.
She adds that during late October, the state of Washington had its first outbreak of a disease called rapid blight that was first found in California in 1995 and identified at the University of Arizona in 2002. The causal agent was found to be an aquatic organism called labyrinthula terrestris. The organism is associated with saline irrigation water and an accumulation of salt in the soil. It is not temperature dependent and the symptoms look very much like microdochium patch.
Dr. Stahnke says, “As we use more recycled water with more salts for irrigation, we will need to be aware of the build-up of salts in the soil. Normally, the PNW gets at least one flush of rain to move the salts through the root zone naturally. This is not something to be alarmed about, just something we need to monitor. Rapid blight affects most grasses with the exception of creeping bentgrasses, slender creeping red fescues and alkaligrass. Irrigating with clean water before salts build up will solve the problem. There are several fungicides that will control this pest.”
Some cool season pythium outbreaks on greens during fall, Stahnke says.
“We have had this problem for the past three years, so superintendents know that when the temperatures cool off and the excess rainfall comes, that this could be a problem,” she says. “The first year we lost about $500,000 worth of greens. There are specific fungicides to apply for this water mold as a preventative and curative method.”
That excess shade over greens seems to be a key factor in promoting the disease, but excess moisture in the root zone, mowing too low, and a stressed plant also need to be present to get infection, Stahnke says.
Kerns: “There are a few new problems out there. John Kaminski is doing some nice work on a disease called thatch collapse, which is somewhat like a fairy ring disease. Of course bacterial diseases have been a hot topic lately, but most of the research right now clearly shows that this issue is related to extreme heat stress. Thus combating heat stress is probably the best way to combat this particular bacterial disease. Nematodes are a major issue because we have an extremely limited supply of effective nematicides. Nematode issues are not new, but they are becoming an emerging problem because we relied heavily in the past on conventional nematicides like Nemacur.”
Keith Happ, senior agronomist for the USGA’s Mid-Atlantic Region, is hoping for a “real” winter in the Mid-Atlantic Region. “Last year’s mild winter was a blessing for golf but resulted in a few issues that are not normally a problem for turf managers in our region. Scouting and testing this season will be very important,” he says.
He agrees turfgrass management issues are becoming bigger concerns for a majority of superintendents… everywhere.
“Annual bluegrass weevil, for example, used to be a problem only in the Northeast. Now it is a concern in the Mid-Atlantic and North Central region. Same for nematodes. It was something you would read about on warm season grass down South. We have turfgrass management issues that overlap regions now. We deal with many of the same maladies that other region do. As the saying goes, if it is going to occur, it will happen in the Mid-Atlantic region.
Okay, enough of this doom and gloom. There are ways to combat any pests that may cause problems in the future.
Says Happ, “Control procedures and products applications are becoming much more specific. While this is a BMP there is also the concern of resistance. We already have documentation/confirmation of weevil resistance to pyrethroid insecticides. We had our first confirmation in the Mid-Atlantic region of grey leaf spot on tall fescue. Ryegrasses have been developed and selected for tolerance to the grey leaf spot fungus but they are not resistant. Sustainability is going to hinge on research and continued development of grasses that will perform under wide ranging environmental conditions.”
He advises superintendents to “test, scout and sample,” adding, “Be preventative but don’t act before you are sure what the issue is. For weevil control, for example, we have great growing degree models that help target product applications. We have a number of phenotypic indicators as well that help get the most from control procedures. We can’t just put the intended application on the calendar anymore and assume that the date selected for treatment will provide the expected result. Site specific applications may be more the norm rather than blanketing the property with an application for insect control.”
The best approach to predicting what diseases are going to be problematic in the future is to reassess the disease history on a course, Dr. Inguagiato says.
“Recall what diseases were most prevalent and where on your course over the past few years. Consider site factors such as poor drainage and air movement or soil pH that may predispose those locations to a particular disease. If those conditions have remained the same, or worsened, chances are you will likely see disease in those same spots next year.”
Fungicide resistance continues to be an important factor influencing fungal pathogens’ ability to cause disease. Dollar spot, anthracnose, gray leaf spot, and microdochium patch (in the Pacific Northwest) are all diseases where the causal agent has been found to be resistant to single-site mode of action fungicides. Rotating among these materials and tank mixing with multi-site fungicides remains an important strategy to delay further resistance issues.
Many improvements to correct site conditions can be made during the offseason. Soil testing and adding amendments, installing drainage, removing trees and other actions now will help minimize conditions favorable for disease development next summer.
The offseason also provides an opportunity to re-evaluate fungicide programs and make adjustments for next year. Regional 30-year weather averages can be helpful for developing a baseline fungicide program. Select fungicides to cover more than one disease and be sure to rotate and tank mix modes of action. Several new fungicides, including a new multi-site fungicide, have recently become available, with more coming soon.
Kerns adds, “The most important thing is to focus on plant health. In order to make your plants more tolerant of stresses don’t limit nitrogen, manage the water using soil moisture meters, conduct the key cultural practices such as light, frequent topdressing and venting.”
With regard to nematodes and bacterial diseases, these problems are related to physiological stress, he says. Consequently, anything to limit stress will limit problems associated with these two organisms. “Things like light, frequent topdressing, venting, alternating mowing and rolling, raising mowing heights slightly, maintaining a consistent supply of nitrogen, etc. will all help to limit stress and in turn limit problems associated with nematodes, bacteria and other fungal pathogens as well.”
He concludes, “I take a very simplistic approach to turf grass management. What does the plant need? Basically light, food, water and air, so how can we ensure that the plant has access to these necessities? By employing the cultural practices listed above and potentially evaluating the microclimate too.”
John Torsiello is a freelance writer and a frequent GCI contributor.
Chances are still excellent that you’re reading these words right now on lignocellulosic fibrous material made by chemically or mechanically separating cellulose fibers from wood, fiber crops or waste product that’s been processed, pressed and dried into a flexible sheet. (Thanks Wikipedia!)
In short, you’re holding the cold, dead corpse of what was a nondescript tree at some point. It was probably planted and grown specifically for the purpose of making paper somewhere in Georgia or maybe Washington State. No treasured California Giant Redwoods or thousand-year-old Baobabs were harmed in the writing of this column.
Many super-genius experts predicted a few years ago that you would not be reading a dead-tree magazine in 2013. If video killed the radio star, digital would certainly kill print, they proclaimed. People would reject this clunky, outdated format for the sexier (and cheaper) version they could get on the Internet.
Well, to quote another super-genius, Mr. Lee Corso: “Not so fast, my friend.”
Our research shows that nearly 90 percent of you still highly value getting a print magazine. Only about 10 percent of you don’t want us to send you one. Most of those folks aren’t environmental nuts or anything…they just prefer reading the magazine on their computer or tablet.
On the other end of the spectrum, 10 percent of you are the “luddites” who say you never visit our website or open an email from us. You want to kick back (usually in the comfort of the maintenance facility crapper) and read us in old skool style. That’s cool too.
(Side note: I consider finding copies of my magazine in a stall at a golf course maintenance facility a major sign of success. How weird is that?)
The other 80 percent of y’all want everything we can give you to one extent or another. That’s why we’ve invested so much time, effort and money to give you cool, non-dead-tree options like our digital edition, website, e-newsletters and our mobile app.
Many folks who’ve always loved the printed edition cite the ability to carry it around and read it whenever as a major benefit. That’s a big advantage, too, for the GCI mobile app. You can read it on your iPad or even your phone, access past issues, email a story to a friend or even post something directly to Facebook or Twitter from the app. It’s pretty awesome.
Well, awesome isn’t good enough for us.
Next month, we’re launching Version 2 of the GCI mobile app. We really need a fancier name than “Version 2” because it’s not just a little upgrade with a few new bells and whistles. It’s a whole new dimension in publishing. I kid you not.
The new app will, essentially, bring the “flat” pages of the magazine to life. We’ll be able to animate stories. We can incorporate video or sound seamlessly to a story. We can make a mole cricket march across the page or give you 15 pictures of a course renovation project where only one would fit before. The content can link to anything, including live social-media feeds or blogs about the topic.
Even the ads will come to life. We’re working right now with our industry partners to recreate their ads with movement, sound and even geolocation. That’s a fancy way of saying that if you see an ad for a product you’re interested in, you can touch one hotspot on the page and instantly see a map pinpointing local distributors who carry that product.
I think it will, as Timothy Leary famously said, blow your mind.
What blows my mind is that we did it ourselves. Our little company – which also produces incredible publications in the lawn care, nursery, greenhouse and garden center markets – created this new app by ourselves. And we’re building apps and other digital goodies for some leading companies, too. More on that soon. I love my team.
Here’s the bottom line: If you have an iPhone, a Droid or an iPad and you haven’t already downloaded our app, go do it right now. We’ll be sending you a little post-Christmas present that I think you’ll really like. Happy Holidays to all…
At the end of September USA Today published a “Nation’s water costs rushing higher” (To read the article, enter usat.ly/QtNya6 into your web browser)
The article discussed the results of a survey undertaken with 100 municipalities regarding their water costs. The survey showed water costs had doubled or more in 29 locations and tripled in three locations over the last 12 years. The study looked at a city in at least every state and the District of Columbia. Where do you think the three U.S cities are where water costs increased the most? I’ll reveal those locations a little later in this column.
If you own, operate, manage or maintain a golf course facility that utilizes utility-provided water including treated effluent, rising costs are certainly a concern. However, you should also be concerned if you are using any other type of water as an irrigation source. Why? Because rising water rates will put pressure on large users of utility-provided water to look for alternative sources of water. This, in turn will place pressure on other large users of water regardless of the type water they use. The pressure will be both from a water source availability standpoint as well as a public perception standpoint.
Even locations that are considered flush with water had large increases in rates. What are causing these increases in pricing?
According to the article there are a number of factors, including:
Keep in mind that you don’t pay for water. Instead, you pay for the costs to deliver the water and maintain the treatment and delivery infrastructure. In maintaining infrastructure, water agency debt per customer has risen from $1,012 in 2006 to $1,611 in 2011.
Something else that is happening, as counter intuitive as it may seem, is that the price of water is increasing as its use decreases. Residential water use in 2008 was 13.2 percent less than water use in 1978. Thus, you would think less use, less cost. But since the water is essentially free and all you’re paying for is infrastructure and delivery costs, then there really is no change in those costs even with reduced use. The same infrastructure needs to be maintained and even though it is flowing less water, its size and maintenance requirements do not decrease.
Water conservation or reduced water use has, however, put off resizing of some delivery and treatment systems and it has allowed the population to grow in some cities without having to add more or larger infrastructure.
For some reason, while people accept rising energy prices and fuel prices they look differently at rising water rates. But the price of water is rising and that will put even more eyes (like we don’t have enough already) looking at large water users like golf courses in a community no matter what their source of water is.
Expect in the future that you will paying more for utility driven water but also for other sources of water including groundwater and surface waters. To date they are disguised as permit fees or registration costs but at some point it will be for the water itself, not the infrastructure, as you already own that. This is already occurring in parts of Pennsylvania and New Jersey. In the 17 western states that have “prior appropriation” water law it will be more difficult to charge for the non-utility water, but as the legal system attacks western water law, it will change with time.
As a large water user, keep your eyes and ears open, have a backup plan for your water supply and be a good steward of water. As I always say, track you water use so you can document what you need to maintain the golf course as opposed to someone telling you what you need and therefore what you can use. Be diligent and stay informed.
And the largest rate increase winners: Atlanta, Georgia (233 percent), San Francisco, California (211 percent) and Wilmington, Delaware (200 percent).
When I was in journalism school, I once included a line in an article that stated something stupidly obvious (e.g., “The ice was very cold”). My professor struck it out and wrote “NSS” next to it and gave me a D or something. I asked him the next day what NSS meant and he explained I’d written a “No Sh*t Statement.” In short, it’s something you read or hear that makes you say, “No sh*t.”
Well, here’s a NSS: Things today are not what they once were in our happy little industry.
We are collectively paying the price for the big party we had for about 20 years when we all blithely bought into the idea that golf would grow forever. Now, we find ourselves slightly screwed in so many ways.
I’ll offer two more NSSs as proof:
• There are far too many courses. There are still nearly 15,500-plus courses competing for about the same number of rounds (and less revenue) despite 150-200 closings a year. If I found a magic lamp and the genie inside offered to grant me three wishes, I would ask him to make about 2,500 of the worst-run, worst-conceived and worst-financed courses vanish and solve this problem instantly. (Then I’d ask for $1 billion and infinite supply of Ben & Jerry’s “Chunky Monkey”). But, since there doesn’t appear to be a magic solution to the oversupply problem, it’s something we’ll need to live with and manage through for at least another decade.
• There are way more potential superintendents than there are jobs. The churn rate on jobs is, by my estimation, lower than it’s been in decades. In the good-old, bad-old days, idiots were building courses as fast as possible and people left good jobs for better jobs with some frequency. Now, a super is likely to be in the same position for 10 years. That’s partly because there aren’t any new jobs, partly because fewer supers seem to get fired on whims these days, and partly because you are hunkering down and sticking with a mediocre or bad job.
But that means, at best, maybe 1,200 real superintendent jobs a year come open at any type of facility (by my estimation, about a quarter of all courses are family-run, pitch-and-putt type deals, or others operated without a turf pro). And only maybe a third of those are really good jobs that pay well and offer some measure of career reward. That means there are about 400 real jobs a year in play. If you’re trying to stay local – as most are – the number of opportunities gets very small, very quickly.
And then there’s the delicate matter of age. I turned 50 this year and many of the guys that I “grew up with” in this industry are about that age now, too. They’ve largely been successful, moved up the ladder and many have even been in their “dream job” for 10-15 years. They’re comfortable, making six-figures and well-established at their facility. Maybe too well-established.
Unfortunately, dream jobs turn into nightmares when the boss utters those dreadful words, “We’ve decided to make a change.” It may be money. It may be stupidity. It may be because the super has simply worn out his welcome. Could be lousy weather, lousy communications skills, lousy politics, lousy new GM…it’s just a lousy deal.
It seems to happen most often to my friends in the 50-something category. Too often, they never hear the bullet. It comes out of the blue for them even if others around them sensed it for months. You get comfortable or you just choose to ignore the warning signs. Either way, you’re unprepared.
I’ve asked tons of “mature” superintendents about the fear factor lately. Are they running scared? Some will smile quickly and say, “Nope…I’m good.” I worry about those guys.
Others will admit they are…and they’re not taking anything for granted. They stay around the club more. They pay attention to little things to make sure small stuff doesn’t turn into big problems. They manage budgets to the penny. They keep their ear to the ground to listen for the muffled jungle drums of member discontent.
Either way, it sucks. Either you’re compartmentalizing and ignoring the risk or you’re doing your job from a position of fear.
This isn’t me writing about some big megatrend in golf. This is me telling you to be very self-aware right now. Measure your strengths and weaknesses carefully. Honestly assess your position with your employer. Here’s one more NSS: Unless you have naked pictures of your boss with a sheep, you cannot assume you have total job security in today’s climate.
But, all that said, running scared is no way to go through life. If you believe you bring value to your position, act like it. Making decisions based on fear is no way to make decisions. Don’t let that dictate how you work and live. The safe thing is not always the right thing.