How I spent my winter vacation: The 2015 Golfdom Summit

By and |  February 18, 2016 0 Comments

In honor of the fifth anniversary of the 2011 Golfdom Summit, we invite readers to join us on a written tour of the 2015 event.

Six years ago I flew to Cleveland for the first time to meet with the Golfdom staff. I had just accepted the job of editor-in-chief and felt confident that I knew what I was getting into.

But there was one thing on that first meeting agenda that I did not know about: the Golfdom Summit. I had never heard of it, and for good reason — the first one was still a year away from happening.

I was informed of the concept of the Summit, and realized I had stumbled into something that potentially was extremely cool. Take 40 to 50 superintendents, pay all their costs to attend a three-day meeting at some fancy golf resort (that first year was at Pinehurst Resort, about as good as it gets.) Add a maximum of 15 sponsors, networking receptions, one-on-one meetings, short boardroom presentations, golf, a big-name keynote speaker (that year was Rees Jones), and see what you get.

What we’ve gotten, for five years now, has been an amazing success. A Midwestern superintendent sent me an email after the most recent Summit saying, “As I told several of the sponsors, this was one of the best organized and informative meetings that I have attended. The breaking up of the time with different sponsors and the chance to spend time with each one independently was great. The smaller numbers gave a person the chance to spend time with many of the superintendents that I have not had the opportunity to meet before.”

There’s only one problem with which the Summit has to endure: With a guest list limited to a maximum of 50 superintendents, only 250 of our readers have had the opportunity so far to join us. At that rate, it will take us 300 years to host all our readers. Superintendents are a tough breed, but that’s asking a little much.

So in celebration of the fifth anniversary of the Summit, we hope you’ll allow us to give you a written retelling of the 2015 edition. It isn’t quite as good as being there in person at the Reunion Resort, but we hope it’s close.

Lewis reflects on 2015 U.S. Open

Josh Lewis, superintendent at Almaden G&CC, San Jose, Calif., was willing to step up and speak to the group about the 2015 U.S. Open.

Josh Lewis, superintendent at Almaden G&CC, San Jose, Calif., was willing to step up and speak to the group about the 2015 U.S. Open.

The setting: an open-air, rooftop resort restaurant in Orlando. Early morning fog slowly burning off the driving range. A schedule conflict prevents Golfdom research editor Karl Danneberger, Ph.D., from attending, and leaves an open speaker spot.

Josh Lewis, half of the superintendent combo that played host at the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, kindly agrees to stepping into that open speaker slot.

“You guys can hear me OK, right?” he asks. “What do you want to know?”

In more of a talk among friends than a formal presentation — no microphone, no PowerPoint — Lewis talked about the adventure of hosting the 2015 U.S. Open.

The first question: If you could go back in time, what would you have done differently?

“We probably should have put down a little iron and nitrogen about three weeks out,” Lewis said. “Our thought process was, let’s get as good a stand of grass as possible, then wean it down and ride it through. We were too far removed. If we had gotten a little closer (to tournament time) and then weaned it down, we could have ridden through the stress better.

“We couldn’t have forecast that in the Pacific Northwest in June, that it was going to be three weeks of 95 degrees,” Lewis continued. “It’s Seattle in June. Everyone figured it would be 55 and rainy! We got 95 and the wind blowing. It was a completely different weather scenario, something you wouldn’t plan for.”

Asked if he would do it all over again given the opportunity, without hesitation he said he would.

“Some of the experiences, I had to pinch myself,” Lewis said. “Walking down a fairway with (USGA Executive Director) Mike Davis and Robert Trent Jones Jr.? I said very little, I just listened.”
When asked how he handled criticism of the course from players, he said it was discouraging at first, but quickly chalked it up to human nature.

“(The players) are under pressure; I think it’s easy for them to make comments they might regret later,” he said. “It’s just like members — if Mr. Smith is a 3-handicap and shoots an 85, when you ask him how his day was he’s going to say, ‘The greens were terrible.’ It’s human nature to deflect these things.”

Annika: Course conditions “taken for granted”

A friend of superintendents everywhere, Annika Sorenstam took time for a meet and greet, as well as photos, with all attendees.

A friend of superintendents everywhere, Annika Sorenstam took time for a meet and greet, as well as photos, with all attendees.

For the second time in three years, Annika Sorenstam, “Ms. 59,” was the Golfdom Summit keynote speaker. A friend of the magazine’s and superintendents everywhere, Sorenstam again took the time for a meet and greet, as well as individual photos, with all attendees.

Sorenstam told the group about a summer she spent in her native Sweden working on the maintenance crew at her local golf course. She raked bunkers, emptied trash and “got to ride around on a Cushman.”

On one ill-fated morning raking bunkers, she accidentally ripped the bunker liner out of the bunker. Panicked, she got on the radio and called for her co-workers, most of them fellow junior golfers, to help her repair the bunker. It was soon to be the end of her maintenance career.

“I realized I should stick to my skills (playing),” she laughed. “But I learned a lot. The guys I worked with were terrific. I loved being behind the scenes. Golfers take it for granted every morning, they get to the first tee and everything is mowed and perfect. I got to see it from behind.”
She ended talking about why she retired when she did.

“I had achieved everything I wanted to achieve in golf,” Sorenstam said. “When you reach the summit of a mountain, you look around and you see there are other mountains to climb. Winning another tournament wasn’t going to change my life. I wanted a new challenge.”

NGF speaker provides hope and advice for superintendents

Greg Nathan gave attendees a positive outlook on the state of golf.

Greg Nathan gave attendees a positive outlook on the state of golf.

Greg Nathan, senior vice president of the National Golf Foundation (NGF), presented information to attendees about the various studies the organization has completed that form a positive outlook for the game.

He noted that the national media doesn’t mention that between 3 million to 4 million of the 25 million golfers every year are players returning or new to the game. This figure of 25 million golfers has stayed consistent for years, and Nathan said that is because a different 3 million to 4 million players end up leaving the game.

Despite this consistent departure, Nathan still calls the game “stable” and “competitive.”

The NGF in 2011 started classifying people as more than just golfers and non-golfers. Three of the five categories are; “Nuts,” for whom people golf is their favorite recreational activity; “Hooked,” people who say golf is one of their favorite recreational activities; and “Casual,” people that say golf is one of several ways they like to spend their recreational time.

These three groups of people make up 21 million golfers and represent the ones that will be playing the game for the foreseeable future. That is the stable base golf needs to build from.
To increase participation, Nathan said that golf has to sell a positive experience to the group of people known as “latent golfers.”

How do you get on the guest list of the most exclusive event in golf maintenance? It’s not easy. But below are some tips that might help.
1. Go to and apply.
2. Host a Major championship.
3. Invite Golfdom to your local chapter meeting, or better yet, to play your course.
4. Help us score our next keynote speaker. (Anyone have Jack Nicklaus on speed dial?)
5. Win the EIFG auction.
Good old-fashioned bribery.

Nathan mentioned a survey that asked people who haven’t played golf in the last 12 months their interest in golf. The NGF found that 32 million non-golfers responded that they were “very interested” or “somewhat interested.”

So how does the golf industry make the experience positive? Nathan had an answer for that, too.

He said that commitment to continue playing the game year-after-year all comes back to having fun. Having fun on a golf course comes down to two factors, confidence and comfort.

Confidence comes from people playing well enough in their mind to “get around” the course. Without that confidence, a new or returning golfer will not commit their time and money to the game.

Comfort is where the intimidation factor comes in. New or returning golfers need to feel more welcomed to the game by everyone, from the people working at the golf course all the way to the people in the group playing behind them.

What Nathan liked about the two factors tied to fun is that they are fixable and are slowly getting better, but he added one piece of advice for the attendees.

“Think about how any business grows. It’s through innovation, sales and accountability,” Nathan said. “Those are the things that can change the landscape of golf in the future.”

Clark Talks Turf Live

Clark Throssell, Ph.D., talked about current and future research he finds valuable.

Clark Throssell, Ph.D., talked about current and future research he finds valuable.

Jumping from the pages of the magazine and into the spotlight of the Golfdom Summit, Clark Throssell, Ph.D., informed the attendees about two innovations he finds particularly exciting.

He began with fraze mowing, a cultivation technique originally from English sports fields, which skims off the surface of turf. Specifically, it takes off a little bit of the canopy, some thatch, and can go deep enough to take some soil. The range a superintendent can decide to remove is 1/15 inch to 4/10 inch.

Throssell said the reported benefits include leveling of the surface, thatch removal and weed seed removal. He said it works better on warm-season grasses like bermudagrass because those grasses recover quickly, while cool-season grasses like bluegrass and creeping bentgrass take more time to recover.

For superintendents worried about spring dead spot in bermudagrass or large patch in zoysia, Throssell said to look for future research with fraze mowing from Lee Miller, turf pathologist at the University of Missouri. Miller is using the technique while applying fungicides to get the product down to the soil and achieve better control.

“Will it work?” Throssell asked. “I don’t know. It’s probably too early in the process but it’s something that’s out there and you will read about it.”

Next Throssell brought up research by Glen Obear, Ph.D. candidate at the University of Nebraska, and Doug Soldat, Ph.D., turfgrass scientist at the University of Wisconsin, on how sodium affects infiltration and drainage in high sand-content root zones. The pair wondered if dispersal problems seen in high-content clay soil also apply to sand-based root zones.

To test this, they took sand-based root zone mixes in a lab and packed them in columns. They created clay contents that ranged from .5 percent to 4.8 percent and exposed them to water that contained a sodium absorption ratio (SAR) ranging from 0 to 35.

“They found that if you have a sand-based root zone clay content less than 3 percent you don’t need soil amendments,” Throssell said. “Superintendents can use that water with an SAR that might be undesirable in situations with high clay content.”

For more about fraze mowing, see “Chop the Top” in the September 2015 Golfdom. To read the full Obear and Soldat research article, “Sand greens and sodium,” check out the November 2015 Golfdom.

Magic carpet ride

Woody Moriarty, superintendent at Blue Hills CC, Kansas City, Mo. (left), and Bill Irving, superintendent at Lawrence (Kan.) CC, get close with the Pogo soil monitoring tool. (Editor's note: Irving will be the new superintendent at Wolf Creek GC in Olathe, Kan., starting March 1.)

Woody Moriarty, superintendent at Blue Hills CC, Kansas City, Mo. (left), and Bill Irving, superintendent at Lawrence (Kan.) CC, get close with the Pogo soil monitoring tool. (Editor’s note: Irving will be the new superintendent at Wolf Creek GC in Olathe, Kan., starting March 1.)

Along with the speakers, the golf and the networking, a major component of the Summit is the one-on-one meetings with sponsors. These pre-arranged meetings last 15 minutes and allow sponsors an opportunity to discuss challenges and solutions with superintendents they might not otherwise get a chance to meet with.

Some of these meetings happen inside the resort. Others happen in a demo area on the driving range. And this year, the practice putting green at Reunion Resort was a center of attention.
That’s because two sponsors — Air2G2 and Pogo — were giving demonstrations.

The Air2G2 aerator injects a probe into the green and then shoots out a blast of air to relieve compaction. The machine leaves behind no surface disruption, allowing golfers to continue playing immediately after aeration. The Pogo is a soil moisture meter that also charts salinity and temperature, is GPS enabled and captures data for easy recordkeeping. (Further information on both products is available at

What was supposed to be one-on-one meetings on the practice putting green often became group demonstrations.

2015 Golfdom Summit sponsors
Air-O-Lator Corporation Jacobsen
BASF Nufarm
Cushman Quali-Pro
GT Air Inject SipcamAdvan
Healthy Grow Smithco Inc.
Holganix Stevens Water Monitoring
Intelligro Turfco

“The first thing the guys would do is apologize for crashing someone else’s meeting, and then they’d ask if they could sit in on the demonstration,” laughs Corey Kimball, president of NuGreen by Corey, an Air2G2 distributor. “Some guys already had their demo, but they’d want to see it again. One of the other vendors came over and said to me, ‘What is going on over here? You’ve got a constant crowd!’”

Representing Pogo was Dario Pascua-Ponce, superintendent at the Polo Club of Boca Raton, Fla. He also enjoyed getting to talk to so many superintendents in a short time.

“Sometimes we had one guy, sometimes we had two guys, and you have to explain everything in 15 minutes,” Pascua-Ponce says. “Other guys would want to come in and say, ‘I’m not supposed to meet with you right now, but can I also see it?’”

Pascua-Ponce says the main point of his demonstration was to show fellow superintendents how easy the tool is to use, for both iPhones and Android phones.

“I enjoyed (the Summit), it was fun. Any time I can help a fellow superintendent, I want to do it,” he says. “I invited every (attendee) to come see my course. I’ve been lucky enough to get a lot from this tool. I’m happy I got to share some of my knowledge.”

Photos: Golfdom

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About the Author: Seth Jones

Seth Jones, a 25-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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