Jennifer Torres was nearly 30 years old when she decided to make the turf industry her career and enrolled in the two-year program at Rutgers University. Today, she’s the superintendent at Westlake Golf and Country Club, a private club situated in a 55-and-over community in Jackson Township, New Jersey, about an hour outside New York City.
She’s also a staunch advocate for her profession and the people who work in it. She has given her time and energy to the National Golf Day initiative, traveling to Washington, D.C. to meet with lawmakers. Torres got involved in the effort at the encouragement of Cece Peabody, the former executive director of the GCSANJ and current executive director/CEO of the New Jersey Turfgrass Association.
“She said ‘If you want to make this a full-fledged career, you need to get out there, you need to network, you need to get involved’” Torres recalls. “And she pointed me toward the Grass Roots Ambassadors Program through the GCSAA. They’re the ones that work with We Are Golf, who has National Golf Day.”
Torres made her first trip to the nation’s capital for the National Golf Day in 2018. She was accompanied by her son Ricardo, who worked for her and was considering going into the turf industry himself, then and now. Torres recently discussed the trip and her advocacy work on the Wonderful Women of Golf podcast hosted by Rick Woelfel.
“We went down and actually got to aerate the National Mall,” she says, “so every time I see pictures of that sacred area, it brings tears to my eyes and chills to my spine, knowing that I was there and had a part of making it a better place.”
The heart of the trip was the opportunity for turf professionals to meet with members of Congress and make them aware of their concerns — specifically, of how government regulations impact the turf industry.
“The key thing was educating our lawmakers,” Torres says. “They don’t always understand what it takes for us to do our jobs. So getting down there and talking to them (was important), expressing our concerns and things that we need, help from them to do our jobs.”
Torres’s credibility was enhanced by her serving four years in the Army before enrolling at Rutgers. She relished the opportunity for face-to-face interactions with lawmakers.
Torres believes the relationships that she and her peers established with federal lawmakers were especially valuable in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“If we hadn’t had those relationships prior to the pandemic hitting, I don’t think our industry would have done as well as it did,” she says. “We were able to reach out to the lawmakers and say ‘These are the things that we can do to make golf safe.’ Since we had that relationship, they understood us.”
Last year’s National Golf Day was cancelled because of the pandemic, but this year there are plans for a virtual event May 10-12. Torres says it’s important for lawmakers to understand how committed turf professional are to being good environmental stewards.
If we hadn’t had those relationships prior to the pandemic hitting, I don’t think our industry would have done as well as it did.”
“If we don’t take care of the environment, we won’t have a business to be in,” she says. “If we didn’t love what we did, we wouldn’t be getting up at 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning to make sure that we’re here to provide a golf course for everyone to play on.
“There is just so much stigma that has been brought to the golf industry by many that want to pull everything — that we want to fertilize everything and we want to spray chemicals for no reason.
“It’s the exact opposite. We use our education, we use the testing, we use the university studies to help us make our decisions. What chemicals are we going to put down? How much are we going to put down? How much needs to be put down at a certain time?
“If we didn’t love what we did, we definitely wouldn’t be in this business.”