All in the family: Turfco celebrates 100 years

By |  August 28, 2019 1 Comments
Brothers George and Scott Kinkead (Photo: Jim Henderson)

Brothers George (right) and Scott Kinkead are following a path in the turf industry pioneered by their father and grandfather. (Photo: Jim Henderson)

Any company that’s been in the golf course maintenance business for more than 50 years is a modern golf industry pioneer. Heck, 50 years ago, golf barely had the attention of a large television audience and was not yet poised to become the sport and economic force it is today.

But the number of companies 50 years ago that already had 50 years of turf industry experience when it reached for the gold ring in golf? That number is small.

Blaine, Minn.-based Turfco Manufacturing and its legacy companies are members of that exclusive club and celebrate 100 years of turf industry involvement this year. Turfco President George Kinkead and brother and Executive Vice President Scott Kinkead now run the company, which evolved from the National Mower Co., founded in 1919 by grandfather Robert Standard Kinkead. National Mower was acquired by Ariens in 2006.

Robert Standard Kinkead started National Mower in 1919 after returning home from World War I. (Photo: Turfco)

Robert Standard Kinkead started National Mower in 1919 after returning home from World War I. (Photo: Turfco)

The brothers’ father, John Kinkead, while still working at National Mower, was the driving force behind Turfco’s evolution from National’s commercial-grade mowing products to the 1961 introduction of the first mechanized topdresser, a revolution that all but ended the sand-slinging with shovels formerly necessary for the practice.
George and Scott Kinkead discussed the family’s rich turf history with Golfdom’s Editor-at-Large Ed Hiscock.

A company and family intertwined

Scott Kinkead (SK): Our grandfather started National Mower. He came back from World War I. The National 68-(inch) and the National 84-(inch) were what he was most well-known for, the rough mowers, the sickle-bar mowers. The originals were horse drawn. Then he started to work with the early combustion engines.

Our father started working in ’53 at National Mower. He bought SodMaster, saw it as an opportunity, and turned it into Turfco. So, John was still working at National Mower but spearheading his ideas and innovations at Turfco. They started making drop spreaders, a kind of staple of the industry. Our father was incredibly innovative.

Turfco and its legacy companies are 100 years old this year, and the Kinkead brothers attribute a great deal of their success to the Turfco team, past and present. (Photo: Turfco)

Turfco and its legacy companies are 100 years old this year, and the Kinkead brothers attribute a great deal of their success to the Turfco team, past and present. (Photo: Turfco)

George Kinkead (GK): One unique thing with Scott and me and our father was that our roles were reversed. Normally, the kids’ role — the younger person’s role — is to be the crazy innovator, always thinking about what we’re going to make next, with the older guy saying, “Slow down.” But most of our careers, Scott and I spent talking to our father, saying “You gotta slow down.” (Laughs)

From the time he first bought Turfco, it was always about what we were going to make next, what problem were we going to solve. During his early years, it really drove us to keep innovation in the forefront. Also, his point was, “I’m going to figure out how to do this, because we’re making something new.” Our fiber is to be constantly innovating, I think that has a lot to do with why we currently have 36 patents. That comes from our father.

SK: My father used to load up the back of a station wagon with a 68-inch National mower, and he would head out for six weeks — by himself — and at each stop, he’d have to pull the mower out of the station wagon and reassemble the reels to do a demonstration or talk to a new dealer. I grew up, and George, riding around on one of the original mowers — no mower on it — that was our go-kart.

An early topdresser featured a wooden hopper and slats. (Photo: Turfco)

An early topdresser featured a wooden hopper and slats. (Photo: Turfco)

Our dad worked with superintendents to come up with a way of topdressing that was better than a shovel, which is what everyone was using at the time. The original topdresser had wooden slats for a conveyor and wooden hoppers. We don’t make flammable topdressers anymore. (Laughs)

When George started working for Turfco, he was dragging a 20-foot trailer with equipment on it and traveling around the country. When I started working at Turfco, you’d head out for two weeks at a time. I worked at the factory, I worked at a golf course, then spent time out and would demo the equipment. Everything we made in the ’90s, I had assembled.

Keeping in touch

A galvanized hopper on the CR-15 large-area topdresser. (Photo: Turfco)

A galvanized hopper on the CR-15 large-area topdresser. (Photo: Turfco)

GK: My father wanted to make sure that we really understood the products and our customers. I jokingly say they wanted to get rid of me because they gave me a truck and trailer and said, “Go around the country,” and when I got done with it, they said “Go again.” (Laughs)

But that was the fundamental building block to getting what we do, to understanding what we do, understanding the problems we’re helping people solve. It’s really, frankly, why we’re a third-generation business. We know the people closely who are using our equipment, and we talk to them all the time. How does a small company like ours survive in an industry when there are billion-dollar companies? You have to know your customer very, very well. We like to go out and actually watch how jobs are being done on golf courses, what are the issues and what happens when nobody’s around and the guy’s out there on his own.

Superintendents and the company

GK: The thing that’s great about our industry is that you’re not a golf course superintendent unless you love it. There’s easier ways in the world to make a living. From early on, Scott and I started to appreciate the jobs superintendents do, and they’re amazingly welcoming to the industry. If you show you care, they are amazingly open to talking to you and sharing their problems.

SK: Of course, when you’re young and you go to these iconic courses, they can seem intimidating. But often they are some of the most gracious people, and those are guys looking to create the most beautiful, most playable — or unplayable, I suppose — facility possible.

The Kinkeads show off the TriWave 45 overseeder, with increased hopper size they say saves time and labor. (Photo: Jim Henderson)

The Kinkeads show off the TriWave 45 overseeder, with increased hopper size they say saves time and labor. (Photo: Jim Henderson)

GK: Our brand — the type of products we make — is such that the superintendent kinda needs them to get to that next level, since we’ve always been on the cutting edge. The idea that we show up with technology that will help them fulfill their passion, it makes it like you’re part of the team. Scott and I will tell each other when we call in from the field, “I’m just gonna stay out here, because I like it better than the office.”

Adapting

SK: In the ’90s, they’re building golf courses left and right, labor was not an issue, people’s budgets were booming. If you needed more help, you just got more people.
Then the recession hit. It was a fundamental shift for us. Nobody’s got a bigger budget, but everybody’s trying to produce the same great product. We asked how we were going to help the superintendents be able to produce the same product with fewer people and less of a budget. All the products we’ve made from that point on have been about how we help make their staffs more productive. How do we help them with the current labor challenge?

GK: We always say that if we can solve problems, keep feeding superintendents ideas — and we’ve increased our research budget significantly — there will always be a place for a company like ours.

A thank you

To express its thanks to the industry for 100 years of success, Turfco has launched a “100 Years of Thanks” giveaway for its customers, with the grand prize being a WideSpin 1550 broadcast topdresser. It’s also giving away five GoPro Hero7 Silver cameras. For a chance to win, go to TurfcoDirect.com/100years before Sept. 30.

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1 Comment on "All in the family: Turfco celebrates 100 years"

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  1. Congratulations on your success!

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