Famous in ’15: Golf industry’s year in review

By |  December 4, 2015 0 Comments


A year of WOTUS woes, online tee times and alternative golf games: A look back at those who earned 15 minutes of fame in 2015.
With commentary by Seth Jones and Matt Neff

If you’re reading this article it means you made it through another year in the golf industry. Maybe you weren’t as successful as Jordan Spieth, but you made it.

With the end of the year we take time to look back at the year that was 2015. We celebrate guys like Spieth, Tommy Anderson and Peter McDonough, commemorate gentlemen such as Keith Happ and Arden Spaltenberger, Ph.D., and flat-out make fun of some guys we think might deserve it.

Who are we to judge? We’re nobody, really, just some golf nuts with a monthly magazine that published its first issue in 1927. It’s up to you to tell us who we forgot, who we were unfair to and important events we failed to mention. Don’t let us off the hook — email or tweet us.

And we look forward to recapping 2016 in a mere 12 months…


James R. Hansen’s book, “A Difficult Par: Robert Trent Jones Sr. and the Making of Modern Golf,” wins the USGA’s Herbert Warren Wind Book Award for 2014. The book contains multiple references to Golfdom and magazine founder Herb Graffis.
If only Mr. Graffis could see us now… Well, OK, he’d probably punch every contributor right in the stomach. Except for Joel Jackson, he’s too nice.


The Florida GCSA wins the GCSAA 2015 Excellence in Government Relations Award for its collaboration with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to establish best management practices for golf courses.

John O’Keefe, CGCS, is elected GCSAA’s 79th president at the annual meeting in San Antonio. Peter Grass, CGCS, is elected vice president and Bill H. Maynard, CGCS, is elected secretary/treasurer.
Prediction: Mr. Grass is named President for Life in 2016, for obvious reasons.

Matt Cowan claims the GCSAA National Championship, firing a 1-under-par 71 in cold, blustery conditions in Boerne, Texas, home of Cordillera Ranch Golf Club. Because of safety concerns brought on by a winter weather advisory for Boerne, the final round of the event is cancelled.
Of all the groups of golfers to freeze out, why, oh why, would the golf gods punish a bunch of overworked turf jockeys?


Tommy Anderson, retired superintendent of Broadmoor Golf Club, is given honorary lifetime memberships to the Rocky Mountain GCSA and GCSAA.

John Deere produces its 500,000th unit built at the company’s Fuquay-Varina, N.C. factory. The first mower rolled off the line at the facility in 1997.


Jordan Spieth wins the Masters in dominating fashion, tying the record of 18-under par held by Tiger Woods. He also sets a new record for the most birdies ever in the Masters, at 28, as well as new records for 36 holes and 54 holes, at -14 and -16.

National Golf Day is held in Washington, D.C. Golf’s leaders meet with politicians to discuss golf’s nearly $70 billion economy, $4 billion annual charitable impact and many environmental and fitness benefits. Participants share stories about the game’s nearly 15,000 diverse businesses, 2 million employees, tax revenue creation, tourism and ecological value.
The politicians acted interested, then immediately got back to fighting among themselves and fleecing American taxpayers.

The USGA accepts 9,882 entries for the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, the second-highest total in the championship’s history.
9,881 of them think Billy Horschel needs to cool it.

RISE (Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment) delivers its pollinator petition to the White House Council on Environmental Quality. The petition urges President Obama to protect pollinators by creating more habitat and forage areas and by considering all sources of information and possible contributors to the pollinator health issue.
In response, environmentalists the world over reaffirm their commitment to not let science stand in the way of protecting the environment.

The membership of the International Golf Course Equipment Managers Association (IGCEMA) votes to dissolve the association, with roughly 370 equipment managers being welcomed to GCSAA membership in 2015.
Rumored to be part of the deal: a handshake agreement that mechanics can never again complain about topdressing greens.


The Toro Co. establishes “The Toro Co.-David M. Lilly Faculty Chair” to honor the company’s fourth president and former dean of what now is the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management. The company officially dedicates the David M. Lilly Learning Center at its headquarters in Bloomington, Minn.

The USGA accepts a record 1,873 entries for the 2015 U.S. Women’s Open Championship at Lancaster (Pa.) Country Club, surpassing the previous mark of 1,702 set in 2014 at Pinehurst No. 2.
All 1,873 of them think Billy Horschel needs to cool it.


Jordan Spieth adds the second leg of a Grand Slam by winning the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay. He does it in dramatic fashion, with a birdie on the final hole. Dustin Johnson, with a chance for eagle to win, three-putts…
Don’t feel badly for DJ’s three-jack. He didn’t take home the U.S. Open trophy, but he did take home $877,000 and Paulina Gretzky.

Chambers Bay steals headlines when players blast the greens on the course, including the aforementioned Billy Horschel, who is caught on camera swinging his putter in frustration at a green. Gary Player calls it “the most unpleasant golf tournament I’ve seen in my life.”
Let’s keep things in perspective, Gary… your U.S. Open wasn’t nearly as bad as Robert Allenby’s Sony Open in Hawaii.

The National Golf Course Owners Association releases a set of guidelines for the online distribution of tee time reservations aimed at helping golf businesses leverage the benefits of online tee times. They are developed following research and experts’ input, including online agents and the PGA of America.
Rule No. 1 of online tee times: Selling a tee time for less than the cost of a Happy Meal might not be a sustainable practice.

President Obama sneaks in a quick 18 holes in Rancho Mirage, Calif., drawing the ire of environmentalists, who complain that teeing it up in the golfing paradise “sends the wrong message” to a state suffering through its fourth consecutive year of drought.
Catching hell for sneaking in a quick 18? For the first time in a long time, golfers around the country actually relate to the Commander in Chief.


The year’s third major, the Open Championship, puts major stress on the players and the golf course maintenance crew as brutal weather causes multiple stoppages of play and unusual flooding on St. Andrews Links.
St. Andrews locals still haven’t figured out what all the fuss was about.

In pursuit of the third leg of the Grand Slam, Jordan Spieth finishes one shot out of a playoff for the Claret Jug. That barely does justice to the play of Zach Johnson, who overcomes the weather.

Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer are named honorary co-chairmen of the 116th U.S. Open Championship at Oakmont (Pa.) Country Club. The duo made golf history at the course in 1962, when Nicklaus, 22, defeated Palmer in an 18-hole playoff to win his first major championship, and the first of four U.S. Open Championships.
Let’s cut to Gary Player and get his take on this… No?

The USGA names The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., The Los Angeles Country Club and Pinehurst Resort & Country Club as the host sites for the 2022, 2023 and 2024 U.S. Open Championships, respectively.
You mean, golf is still going to be around in 2024?


In a return to Whistling Straits, the PGA Championship serves up more high drama as Jason Day emerges as the player of the month, winning by three over Spieth, who calls it, “…my best loss ever.” Spieth finishes Major season with two wins, one shot out of a playoff in the third and three back in the fourth.

Jacobsen counts down the days until August of 2016, when the company will outfit golf’s return to the Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro with 35 of its mowers.

The Toro Co. names Richard M. Olson president and chief operating officer. He’s served the company in various roles throughout his 29-year tenure, most recently as group vice president of its international and micro-irrigation businesses.

GCSAA names Herbert V. Kohler Jr. as the recipient of the 2016 Old Tom Morris Award. He will receive the award at the opening session of the 2016 Golf Industry Show in San Diego.
Among Kohler’s qualifications for GCSAA’s highest award: his uncanny resemblance to Old Tom Morris himself.


Despite Spieth’s amazing season, Jason Day’s run of six tournaments with four wins has people talking about him as Player of the Year. Spieth puts an end to the talk by winning the Tour Championship by four strokes.

The Golf Course Builders Association of America names Jim Moore the recipient of the Don A. Rossi Award. Moore is director of the USGA Green Section Education Program. He’s also the originator of one of the best quotes in turf management, “The three best fungicides are Stihl, Poulan and McCullogh.”
Husqvarna reps immediately dismiss this claim and demand to see the results from university trials.

Jay Karen begins his new position as CEO of the NGCOA, replacing Mike Hughes, who announced in January he was stepping down. Karen is returning to the NGCOA, where he was director of partner relations and membership from 1997 to 2007. Mike Tinkey resigns as the deputy chief executive officer of NGCOA, where he served for 24 years.


Arden Albert Baltensperger, Ph.D., emeritus professor of New Mexico State University, dies Oct. 6. Among other achievements, his efforts led to the release of NuMex Sahara, the first improved seed-propagated turf-type bermudagrass. Over the course of the next 15 years he produced six additional seeded varieties, including Princess 77.

The Presidents Cup is held in Korea for the first time. When Team USA jumps out to a 4-to-1 lead in the opening session it looks like the cup won’t be any more interesting than recent editions. But the International Team puts on a comeback, and the USA Team only manages to win one-up when the captain’s son and captain’s pick, Bill Haas, pulls out a win on the 18th hole.
It was either that or be removed from the will entirely.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit temporarily blocks the Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers Clean Water Rule, or “WOTUS.” The decision has put a nationwide hold on the rule while the case continues.
Mainly due to the fact that regulators need to decide if water cooler stations fall under WOTUS jurisdiction.

Move over FootGolf. FlingGolf, which combines lacrosse with golf, is introduced to the masses by a Boston-based sports innovator whose great uncle invented the tiebreaker in tennis. Two-time NBA champion M.L. Carr is one of the game’s advocates.
Take our advice: There’s nothing more embarrassing than showing up to a FlingGolf tournament with a soccer ball… Or to a FootGolf match with a FlingGolf stick… or admitting to your regular golfing foursome that you attended either event in the first place.

Keith Happ, a former superintendent and longtime agronomist with the USGA Green Section, passes away at age 58.
A true giant in this industry and tireless advocate for superintendents who will be sorely missed.


Peter McDonough, superintendent at the Keswick Hall and Golf Club in Keswick, Va., is selected to receive the 2016 President’s Award for Environmental Stewardship by the GCSAA Board of Directors.

Front-runner Republican presidential candidate and multi-course owner Donald Trump promises to American voters to deport 11 million illegal immigrants, but will allow the “good ones” to return.
Trump’s definition of “good ones” is still unclear, but probably includes a willingness to get up at 4 a.m. to work their tails off for $10 an hour.

The 2015 Golfdom Summit is held at Reunion Resort in Orlando, bringing in 50 superintendents from around the country for the event, now in its fifth year. Annika Sorenstam delivers the keynote, with Clark Throssell, Ph.D., and Greg Nathan of the National Golf Foundation rounding out the list of speakers.

It’s announced that the first-ever Topgolf location, built 10 years ago in Alexandria, Va., will probably close in 2017, not because of lack of business, but because it has outgrown its current location and must rebuild a larger facility in a new location to meet customer demand.
Welcome to the next boom in golf: replacing outdated Topgolf facilities.

Photo: Golfdom

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