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A review of the 2021 Virtual GIS

By |  March 8, 2021 0 Comments
Scenes from the virtual Golf Industry Show: (clockwise from top left) GCSAA CEO Rhett Evans hosting a panel with some of golf’s most influential people; GCSAA President John Fulling, CGCS, presenting Jim Nantz with the Old Tom Morris Award; and Golf Channel’s Lauren Thompson addressing the “live” audience. (Photos: Golfdom Staff)

Scenes from the virtual Golf Industry Show: (clockwise from top left) GCSAA CEO Rhett Evans hosting a panel with some of golf’s most influential people; GCSAA President John Fulling, CGCS, presenting Jim Nantz with the Old Tom Morris Award; and Golf Channel’s Lauren Thompson addressing the “live” audience. (Photos: Golfdom Staff)

In a typical year when the Golf Industry Show rolls around, the team packs an array of Golfdom-branded clothes, a stack of business cards, our voice recorders and digital cameras. This year? We met in early February to discuss what a virtual show entailed, what were our responsibilities and what we should expect. The phrase, “I don’t know” was a common response as we entered the uncharted waters.

Adding to our anxiety, once the show “opened,” when virtual GIS attendees clicked on the Golfdom booth, they were greeted with signage from an unrelated sprayer company. Surprise! The first several hours of the show was us answering the question, “did you know your booth has the wrong signage?”

But, there were also highlights, like Jim Nantz accepting the Old Tom Morris Award and the Ladies Leading Turf event.

Hello, friends

Viewers of the Opening Session were rewarded with a familiar face — and voice — when the Old Tom Morris Award was presented to Jim Nantz, longtime CBS sports broadcaster who regularly calls sports mega-events like the Masters, the Final Four and the Super Bowl.

Nantz shared personal stories about what golf means to him and even name checked a few of his superintendent friends on the Monterey Peninsula. He thanked the association for the recognition and then spoke on the appreciation he has for the superintendent community.

“Giving back to kids, giving back to the community, all these things are a daily part of what everyone out there does,” Nantz said. “All the people involved in the GCSAA, they all give back their time; they’re honorable people. They work crazy hours and often don’t get the recognition. To me, that lines up symmetrically with what the game is about. It’s a game of honor. Everybody that’s a part of this group embodies that better than anyone that’s associated with the game.”

A live crowd shot of the 2021 Virtual GIS gave a look into how others were taking in the event. (Screenshot: Golfdom Staff)

A live crowd shot of the 2021 Virtual GIS gave a look into how others were taking in the event. (Screenshot: Golfdom Staff)

Other sessions included similar heavyweights of the game. Tom Watson, Annika Sorenstam and Gary Player all made appearances. Brandel Chamblee somehow snuck in. A panel discussion with USGA CEO Mike Davis, PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan, PGA of America CEO Seth Waugh and LPGA Commissioner Michael Whan, moderated by GCSAA CEO Rhett Evans, was good enough to warrant throwing a bag of popcorn in the microwave.

The Ladies Leading Turf discussion again garnered a strong turnout and some moving motivational speakers. “Be persistent; don’t give up,” said Nancy Miller, CGCS-Retired, Maple Leaf G&CC, Port Charlotte, Fla. “And, when that door opens, stick your foot in it and follow through.”

Education in the break room

For superintendent attendees of the Golf Industry Show, the world-class educational seminars GCSAA offers are always a highlight of the show. Many of the superintendents I spoke with raved about the ease of viewing the GIS from their offices or break rooms.

“We all got together at the Black Wolf Run clubhouse and fired it up on the TV and got lunch,” Chris Zugel of Whistling Straits, Kohler, Wis., told me. “I think it’s a good idea. It’s an interesting way to bring a lot more people into it without having to cover the cost to get down there. And, it was all-inclusive, so we signed up for things we might not have signed up for in the past.”

“The education was the same quality we’ve all been used to — very good,” said another superintendent, before sharing a lament. “I know this is a business, and I’m familiar with how things work, but had I known the amount of preshow emails I would receive, I would have waited and signed up on the first day of the conference.”

One virtual GIS email, with the subject line “Are you feeling lucky?” hit attendee inboxes three times on the same day, making many of us feel unlucky that day. On the exhibitor side, booth representatives heard a doorbell sound and then received an automated email every time someone entered their virtual booth. With a gamification element awarding prizes for frequent booth visits, a deluge of emails and doorbells followed.

Best thing available

The exhibitors I spoke to told me that despite a few stumbles early on and having to turn the volume off on their computers, they were happy with the virtual GIS.

“It’s not going to replace an in-person trade show, but it was the best that was available during a global pandemic,” said Scott Kinkead, executive vice president of Turfco. “It was difficult for us to figure out how to make it work and for everybody. It was challenging, but I think it was a tremendous effort by the GCSAA to make something work.”

“There were a lot of unknowns going into the show. We were asked, how will we gauge success? We’ve never done this,” said Abbey Barry, communications senior specialist for PBI-Gordon. “After we got through the first afternoon of it, it was good. The guys got into a groove and figured out how the platform worked.”

PBI-Gordon chose GIS 2021 to launch a new turf training site. The first two classes, on the new EW formulation of SpeedZone and an overview of Union Fungicide SC, are already up on the site with more classes to follow. Barry said the virtual GIS was ideal for launching something like the training site and less than ideal for the sales reps to discuss product with end users.

“I don’t think it could have gone better for us to have launched a virtual/digital platform with a virtual show; that was perfect,” Barry said. “It wasn’t set up for intimate interactions, but it was set up to get people signed up for an online platform.”

Andy Eick, director of facilities and grounds at Mohawk GC, Schenectady, N.Y., said the virtual trade show was disappointing.

“The information was difficult to navigate through. Some vendors put the time in and did a nice job of embedding videos of new products. Others just put links up to information and seemed to not put in any effort,” Eick said. “The trade show floor is one of my favorite things to do at GIS, as you have an opportunity to network. You also have an opportunity to touch, feel and see new products. They did their best to provide a normal trade show feeling, but it would never be that way, so, in my opinion, it was set up for failure.”

But, another superintendent loved it. “The trade show was great,” he told me. “I very much enjoyed browsing through the virtual booths and chatting with old friends and virtually meeting others. I had a great chat with a Rain Bird representative who was looking for some specific insights.”

And yet, that same superintendent reiterated a common obstacle to being involved with the virtual GIS: He was trying to attend a show while still being at work.

“I was at work, in my office, for the most part. It was a regular day for everyone else,” he said. “So, I got the same amount of questions and texts that I do in a normal day. When I’m physically at the show, everyone knows I’m not available.”

Here’s to not being available in 2022.

This is posted in COVID-19, Featured, From the Magazine

About the Author: Seth Jones

Seth Jones, a 18-year veteran of the golf industry media, is Editor-in-Chief of Golfdom magazine and Athletic Turf. A graduate of the University of Kansas School of Journalism and Mass Communications, Jones began working for Golf Course Management in 1999 as an intern. In his professional career he has won numerous awards, including a Turf and Ornamental Communicators Association (TOCA) first place general feature writing award for his profile of World Golf Hall of Famer Greg Norman and a TOCA first place photography award for his work covering the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In his career, Jones has accumulated an impressive list of interviews, including such names as George H.W. Bush, Samuel L. Jackson, Lance Armstrong and Charles Barkley. Jones has also done in-depth interviews with such golfing luminaries as Norman, Gary Player, Nick Price and Lorena Ochoa, to name only a few. Jones is a member of both the Golf Writers Association of America and the Turf and Ornamental Communicators Association. Jones can be reached at

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