Walk, talk and listen

Departments - Notebook

A California superintendent with a zest for fitness finds an active way to connect with members.

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October 9, 2020

Woodbridge Golf and Country Club superintendent Kurtis Wolford shares the whats, whys and hows of course maintenance on Wednesday morning course walks.
© courtesy of KURTIS WOLFORD, WOODDBRIDGE GOLF & COUNTRY CLUB

Woodbridge Golf and Country Club in Woodbridge, California, was ready to open its new fitness facility when COVID-19 emerged and the ensuing restrictions kept it shuttered. Kurtis Wolford, superintendent and self-professed fitness nut and triathlete, collaborated with the general manager and the fitness director about how to keep members active, engaged and spending time with one another.

“We have a lot of walkers at our club and we felt guided golf course walks were worth trying,” Wolford says. “They are great for exercise and even better for communication.”

Led by Wolford, the walks start at 7 a.m. every Wednesday and last about an hour. Tee times start at 8 a.m. Woodbridge is a 27-hole facility and the members choose which nine they would like to explore, or the nines are rotated. Wolford has been with Woodbridge for about 18 months (following the 32-year tenure of Jim Husting) and the walks represent a nice way to become more familiar with the members.

“I see the walks as a really good opportunity,” Wolford says. “Where there is verbal communication and people can also see what you’re talking about, that’s the most effective communication.” Members can bring guests on the walks. The numbers started small but have grown to almost 20. Attendance can reflect the weather as there have been some extremely hot days, very humid days and days with poor air quality due to nearby fires. After two months, there is a steady crowd.

The walkers are usually playing members. “It’s my opportunity to talk agronomy with the group and have them see what we are doing before they play,” Wolford says. “I am communicating our philosophy, how we do things agronomically and things we are going to do. These walks give members firsthand knowledge and the opportunity to understand it all.”

Every walk addresses a variety of topics, including renovation projects. Woodbridge is creating some new tee complexes, renovating others and removing several trees. “Trees are a regular topic,” Wolford says. “I have an arborist background and this is an Audubon-certified course, so conversation includes coyotes, red-tailed hawks and other wildlife.” Other topics include horticulture, the environment, club events, golf rules or recent news inspired by local and professional tours. “My father was an agriculture teacher for 35-plus years and my wife is a teacher,” Wolford says. “I’m comfortable teaching.”

Wolford has good experience with grow-ins, being part of course construction crews and working with shapers and architects. He understands what architects are trying to accomplish with the placement of bunkers and mounds, right and wrong places to put trees and more. “It’s morphed into more of an educational experience for members,” Wolford says. “I’ve always learned a lot by asking questions. It’s the best way to learn and these walks give members that chance.”

Whatever is discussed, it’s important to dispel ill-conceived notions and cultivate good information. Members often share what they have learned with those they play with, which has a positive effect. Another benefit to the walks is that Wolford has learned to communicate more effectively with groups and as a manager.

“A tool that is underutilized in our trade is a laser pointer,” Wolford says. It’s essential during walks to point specifically to what he’s referring to and it makes it easier for the group to concentrate. For instance, to discuss a specific tree branch, the laser can bring everyone’s focus to the same place in an instant without a lengthy description.

The only drawback is securing Wolford’s time. Mornings are normally a challenge. “I had to thoughtfully determine what is worth more, my ability to communicate effectively with the membership or me losing 90 minutes once a week,” he says. “The communication far outweighs the loss of the hour and a half.”

Another popular form of communication with agronomy is Twitter. Wolford (@KurtisWolford) has picked up turf tricks from Twitter users and he doesn’t hesitate to share his own good ideas. Wolford sent a single tweet about the walks that has 20,565 views and counting. From that exposure, Wolford received calls from superintendents and general managers wanting to know more.

The power of direct communication can’t be underestimated and face-to-face communication is even more appreciated due to the pandemic. Walking with members and enjoying the course together “is worth its weight in gold to communicate why we are doing what we are doing,” Wolford says. “We get to answer their questions and members become advocates when we empower them with information.”

Lee Carr is a Northeast Ohio-based writer, and frequent Golf Course Industry contributor.

© usga/Darron Carroll

USGA establishing southern home

The USGA announced it will establish “Golf House Pinehurst” in North Carolina, to include a new equipment-testing facility, innovation hub, museum/visitor center and offices by 2023, and host five U.S. Open Championships in the golf-rich state by 2047.

The announcement adds four U.S. Open Championships to be contested on Pinehurst No. 2 — in 2029, 2035, 2041 and 2047 — to the already-scheduled 2024 event. Pinehurst Resort & Country Club will serve as the USGA’s first anchor site for the U.S. Open.

The plan came to fruition through a comprehensive economic development effort that involved representatives from the North Carolina General Assembly, the Office of the Governor, the Department of Commerce, Moore County, the Village of Pinehurst and economic development experts. The total $25 million investment includes the construction of two buildings to be located near the clubhouse on the historic Pinehurst Resort property, housing 50 full-time USGA staff members.

The campus will feature the USGA’s Equipment Standards Test Center — a laboratory dedicated to testing golf balls and clubs for conformance to the Rules of Golf. It will replace the current facility on the USGA’s Liberty Corner campus and enable new investment in advanced tech required to perform global governance.

Pinehurst will also serve as the USGA’s base for its work to advance the game through innovation, research and science, in collaboration with some of the state’s leading universities. USGA staffers based in Pinehurst will include members of the championship operations, Research and Test Center and Green Section teams.

Industry buzz

The Carolinas GCSA has solidified plans for its “Conference Comes to You” online education program. Nearly three dozen golf course superintendent associations across the United States and the British International Golf Greenkeepers Association are partnering in the event beginning Nov. 2. The online conference, which has a week off over Thanksgiving, replaces the Carolinas GCSA’s annual conference and trade show in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. As official partners in Conference Comes to You, participating chapters earn discounted pricing for members — a break from $70 per seminar to $40 — and will receive a share of each member registration fee. Visit www.conferencecomestoyou.org to register.

Textron Specialized Vehicles announced it will relocate all manufacturing of Jacobsen professional turf equipment to its facility in Ipswich, United Kingdom. The move will begin this fall and be completed in stages over the next several months. The plant, which currently builds Jacobsen and Ransomes mowers, is the oldest manufacturer of motorized lawn mowers in the world, in operation for more than 187 years. The facility will produce mowers for all regions, including North America. Jacobsen will maintain its sales, parts, and customer care teams in North America, and its network of North American distributors, to serve its customers in the United States and Canada.

Prime Source has announced the registration of Azoxy D Select and AzProp G Select fungicides and Flumioxazin 51 WDG Select herbicide. Azoxy D Select contains the active ingredients azoxystrobin and difenconazole, with two modes of action to provide broad-spectrum disease control in golf course turf. AzProp G Select granular fungicide contains the two active ingredients azoxystrobin and propiconazole, and is recommended for the control of certain pathogens causing foliar, stem, and root diseases, including leaf and stem blights, leaf spots, patch diseases, mildews, anthracnose, fairy rings, molds and rusts of turfgrass plants. Flumioxazin 51 WDG Select contains the active ingredient flumioxazin and provides both pre-emergent and early post-emergent control of more than 100 weeds.

Graze — a new start-up bringing intelligence, automation and sustainable solutions to commercial landscaping — introduced a new autonomous, electric mower model set to hit markets by 2021. Graze introduced an initial prototype model to address challenges, applying artificial intelligence and robotics to create a fully autonomous commercial lawn mower. The early design proved to attract investor interest from major operators and also individual investors on the crowdfunding platform SeedInvest. The new model will expand the design with new optimized features and incorporate in-the-field feedback from industry leaders.