Almost normal
Guy Cipriano (2)

Almost normal

The Carolinas GCSA Conference and Show resembled a family reunion when it returned to Myrtle Beach after a virtual year.

November 23, 2021

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. — Walking out of the Myrtle Beach Convention Center last Wednesday afternoon, 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, 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 filled 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 omelets 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.

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 and 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.