Make yourself at home: Major turf companies continue to host superintendents

By |  November 13, 2015 0 Comments

By hosting superintendents on their corporate turf, companies hope to build relationships that will last a lifetime.

Fifty assistant superintendents from the U.S. and Canada travel to Raleigh, N.C., for the Green Start Academy. The event recently celebrated its 10th anniversary.

Fifty assistant superintendents from the U.S. and Canada travel to Raleigh, N.C., for the Green Start Academy. The event recently celebrated its 10th anniversary.

Companies hosting superintendents on their corporate turf is nothing new. A look back at the Golfdom archive shows an event hosted by The Toro Co. featured in the “News of the Industry” section of the January 1975 issue. Toro was offering free tuition for classes ranging from two to nine days about turf equipment maintenance and operation, held at its new training center in the Minneapolis suburb of Eden Prairie.

In recent years, these events seem to have become even more important. The major companies in the business, both iron and chemical, don’t want to just meet at neutral locations like at the Golf Industry Show or a local chapter meeting.

No, they want customers to visit them on their home turf.

“Hosting folks like future turf managers, current and potential customers and dealers, industry association representatives, technicians and others in our home city of Charlotte, N.C., is a critical part of our focus on building relationships,” says David Withers, president of Jacobsen. “When people get a firsthand look at our products being made and get to meet the talented people that work here, they feel an instant connection to our brand and what we stand for.”
 

“They are trying to prepare us for the next level  and get us into that superintendent position,” says Nick Alley, assistant superintendent at Baltusrol.

“They are trying to prepare us for the next level
and get us into that superintendent position,” says Nick Alley, assistant superintendent at Baltusrol.

Learning solutions

The Pinehurst Experience, hosted by BASF, boasts the site of back-to-back U.S. Opens as its home turf. Located at Pinehurst Resort in the Village of Pinehurst, N.C., in the middle of BASF country (the company has several locations in the state), the event now includes research test plots co-hosted by the company and North Carolina State University.

Gary Myers, a former certified superintendent, left the duties of maintaining his own course behind in order to lead the new event. Now wrapping up his second year hosting the event full-time, Myers hosts 34 groups a year, meeting with about 425 superintendents at Pinehurst Resort annually.

“I really enjoy spending time with other superintendents, and I’ve always been intrigued with trying new products,” Myers says. “Being a former superintendent, I feel like I do relate to a lot of these guys. I relate to what they’re going through and the day-to-day frustrations that they may have. It’s a great opportunity for me to meet new people, but also just talk turf.”

Ren Wilkes

Ren Wilkes

It doesn’t hurt that the group also gets to play Pinehurst No. 2, one of the top courses in America. But perhaps as exciting to this group of turf pros is the presentation from one of the most well known superintendents in the country, Bob Farren, CGCS, director of golf courses maintenance and grounds for Pinehurst.

“(The best part of the Pinehurst Experience) varies from group to group, but everyone always enjoys listening to Bob’s presentation,” Myers says. “And hopefully while they’re here, they’re also learning some solutions to problems, and also networking with guys who might not be from their territory.”
 

Up-and-comers

It’s not only grizzled veterans of the turf industry who are getting these invites. Companies also are looking to the young guns, the up-and-coming assistant superintendents in the industry.

Take, for example, the Green Start Academy. The event, hosted by John Deere and Bayer, brings in 50 assistants from around the country every year.

John Deere has made multiple visits this year with superintendents off-site to Pursell Farms, Sylacauga, Ala., to demo products on its FarmLinks  Golf Club.

John Deere has made multiple visits this year with superintendents off-site to Pursell Farms, Sylacauga, Ala., to demo products on its FarmLinks Golf Club.

“These assistants are the best in the business and they also get to spend time with each other,” says Ren Wilkes, tactical marketing manager, John Deere. “We had former attendees, Dave (Delsandro, director of U.S. Open operations and projects, Oakmont Country Club) and Tyler (Otero, superintendent, North Jersey Country Club), back this year and they told me they still talk to some of the guys they attended with. Which I truly think is the best part of the event.”

The event isn’t a sales pitch, but a chance to teach the young turf pros and make a good impression for the future.

“The presentations on résumés or how to interact with your members, I think that’s what surprises attendees the most about the Green Start Academy,” Wilkes says. “It’s not a lesson on diseases or how to manage the soil. It gives them a whole different idea how to manage the other side of the business. Topics that I think the turf schools are coming around to, but the Green Start Academy teaches them everyday instruction on how to run a golf course.”

“The Green Start Academy is a great experience because you get everything here,” Nick Alley, assistant superintendent at Baltusrol GC, says. “You learn about the business from some of the top guys in the industry, you get to network with your peers and you have a lot of fun.”

“They are trying to prepare us for the next level and get us into that superintendent position,” says Nick Alley, assistant superintendent at Baltusrol.

“They are trying to prepare us for the next level and get us into that superintendent position,” says Nick Alley, assistant superintendent at Baltusrol.

Another event looking for youth is the Jacobsen Future Turf Managers event. Each year, 50 students recommended by their professors converge in Charlotte for lectures, a tour of the Jacobsen plant and a ride and drive event. The event has been going on for 30 years, and like others now brings back successful alumni of the event.

“Speaking at the event brought me back to when I was there (as a student) in 2007,” Steven Loughran, superintendent at Rock Ridge CC in Newtown, Conn., recalls. “It was nice to see a lot of young faces and pass along a little of my experiences as an assistant and now a superintendent.”
 

Apply yourself

So how do turf professionals get invited to these events?

It helps to apply online and to be available to take a few days away from the course. Most events are seeking willing participants.

“A lot of people get invited by their local sales rep,” Myers says. “But really, anybody can be invited — we’re open to everybody.”

Photo Courtesy: John Deere(top)/ Photos by: Seth Jones | Grant B. Gannon

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