Back together again

Judd Spicer explores what the return of a national face-to-face event meant to those who made the trip to San Diego for the GCSAA Conference and Show.

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Back were the familiar blazers over button-downs, the reuniting backslaps, the eyeing of nametags at navel-level to reconfirm monikers and the pleasing, constant undercurrent of golf-speak across the 114,000-square-feet of showroom floor.

Following a pandemic-driven remote conference last year, the GCSAA Conference and Trade Show returned in-person for 2022, hosted by the idyllic weather and friendly, familiar confines of the San Diego Convention Center.

From exhibitors and superintendents to researchers and hosts, all parties appeared akin in the benefits of seeing colleagues face-to-face again.

“We wanted to get everybody back here; get everybody a chance to network again, give our vendors a chance to showcase their products again, get our members the chance to go back to their education systems again,” GCSAA Southwest field representative Jeff Jensen said. “Superintendents are super excited to get back together and learn about the new trends in the industry.”

While acknowledging the function of virtual learning, the vast majority of the 6,500 in attendance appeared enthused to return to interpersonal exchanges.

“For me, I like to be in the classes in-person, to have those interactions and meet the other people in that class,” said Christopher Bien, head superintendent at Desert Willow Golf Resort in Palm Desert, California, and regional agronomist for KemperSports. “If you’re there (at a class), you probably have something in common with the other people who attend, and that evolves into discussions and interactions and you just don’t get the same with a virtual class.”

Across the showroom of better than 300 exhibitors, both turf enthusiast and beast also enjoyed interaction anew.

“I think it’s great (to be back in person), and normal as can be, I guess,” said Josh Gibson of Flyaway Geese out of North Carolina, manning the booth alongside Tom, a two-year-old border collie.  “Everybody has been jovial, and it seems like old times.  We see a lot of guys who have bought dogs from us, and everybody likes to come by the booth and tell stories about the dogs.”

Between head scratches from a constant flow of booth visitors, Tom and his bloodline seemingly shared the opinion.

“It’s our fourth year here, and it’s been really good,” Gibson said. “My wife (owner Rebecca Gibson) and I, we started out with just a small booth, and it’s grown to what you see now. The GCSAA has been great for us, and superintendents with their support and buying dogs for goose control.”

From fowl control to quality control, the USGA booth was also abuzz with guests.

“It seems like the show is spread out a bit more, but we’re seeing lots of traffic.  I can’t say how it is for everybody, but it’s been good for us,” said David Pierce, research director with the USGA. “After a lot of talking with folks on the phone or exchanging emails, it’s been great to see people face-to-face.  There’s no substitute for in-person conversations.  And then out in the street afterwards, different restaurants and bars, there’s a lot of energy out there.  People are still wearing their badges, having conversations and having fun.”

Though some attendees found issue with a reworked slate of show and education in 2022, criticisms were washed-down via after-hours fellowship.

“You can tell; people are happy to get back out and see one another again,” Bien said. “For a lot of people, this is the only opportunity to get together in-person for the whole year.  The social aspect is a big part of it.  Every conference for anything in the world should be held in San Diego. It’s been great.  And, yeah, it may be a little slower, but they also opened-up it up to do virtual, too (following the in-person conference); so, some people are getting classes from home.”

A proper introduction, toast or handshake simply isn’t the same over a screen.

“There’s a great vibe going into the Gaslamp Quarter, seeing people you know walk around and having drinks and dinner,” Jensen said. “The networking aspect of this is immense for our industry. See old friends, meeting new people. It may be the most underappreciated part of the show. Yes, people are here to get educated, see new products, play in our golf event – but you can come here, chat with people on how to better run your facility and meet people who can help foster your career.”

Judd Spicer is a Palm Desert-California based writer and frequent Golf Course Industry contributor.

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