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Recapping a super Golfdom Summit experience

By |  February 8, 2022 0 Comments
No. 7 at the Palmer Course is a beautiful drivable par 4, with a great view of Reunion Resort’s Grande Tower in the distance. (Photo courtesy of Reunion Resort)

No. 7 at the Palmer Course is a beautiful drivable par 4, with a great view of Reunion Resort’s Grande Tower in the distance. (Photo courtesy of Reunion Resort)

I had just gotten back to the shop after setting up for a late-season double shotgun when an unrecognized number popped up on my cell phone. Usually, I let those go to voicemail … too many robocalls. But this was a 785-number and I thought it might be GCSAA headquarters calling, so I took it.

To my surprise it was the familiar voice of Golfdom’s Seth Jones on the other end, personally inviting me to the 2021 Golfdom Summit. I quietly told him I’d check my calendar and get back to him, but who was I kidding? Unless there was some major surgery I didn’t know about in my future, I was going to accept that invitation and join the group at Reunion Resort in Orlando.

Here’s my account of what happened, as best as I can recall, and with help from my new friends at Golfdom.

Day one

After checking in at Reunion Resort, I was greeted by the Golfdom team and given directions on how the event worked. Right off the bat, boardroom presentations would take place, short five-minute welcome speeches from all the partners, while we superintendents sat and listened.

I thought this would drag on, but the quick-hit format was interesting. For example, the Hover Mower. I’m familiar with them, but it was my first exposure to Scott Sweeney, president and owner of Seago International, the company that manufactures the mower. It’s a family-owned company based in Hickory, N.C. (I was reminded of the movie Hoosiers, but yeah, I know — that was Indiana), and Scott is a proud military veteran (of course, it’s called the Air Force Hover Mower). The company makes smaller, lighter equipment and is working to make it even lighter … not something I typically would sit down and consider until now.

Another example, Justin Watts of Prime Source takes the stage, and I’m already looking to see who the next speaker is (sorry Justin), but then he starts talking about how the company was acquired by Albaugh recently and what that meant for the company … and also, their rewards program … and oh yeah, check out these six new products we’re releasing in 2022. And suddenly I find myself taking notes!

Bob Harper, superintendent, CC of Coral Springs (Fla.), lines up his putt during Sipcam Agro’s putting contest. He made it to the finals where he was narrowly defeated by Steve Shand. (Photo: Golfdom Staff)

Bob Harper, superintendent, CC of Coral Springs (Fla.), lines up his putt during Sipcam Agro’s putting contest. He made it to the finals where he was narrowly defeated by Steve Shand. (Photo: Golfdom Staff)

The boardroom presentations were broken up by a putting contest outdoors, hosted by Sipcam Agro USA. I’d like to tell you I made my putt and made it to the finals, but no. Steve Shand, superintendent at the Cliffs at Walnut Grove in Asheville, N.C. (I bet that’s near Hickory) took that honor. I hope he left all his putts short the next day in the four-man scramble, but I doubt it … That night, there was an awesome presentation of the Legends Initiative, as well as a dinner and reception where we got to meet each other. I was able to meet a bunch of superintendents, most of whom I had never encountered before, outside a few on social media.

At dinner, Tiffany Koss, director of sales and marketing for Kafka Granite, sat at our table. She told me about how the company really took off when 12 years ago or so, it started developing paving alternatives at Whistling Straits. She said it then culminated into a renovation at Erin Hills GC prior to the 2017 U.S. Open. Kafka was tasked with coming up with a formulation for a walking path alternative that looks and feels natural but that’s erosion-resistant and simple to install and maintain.

“We’re still relatively new to the industry, but we’ve tried to immerse ourselves in the golf industry, and it’s been great,” she told me. “We have been getting a lot of positive feedback on our erosion-resistant paving alternative. It’s saving a lot of time and solving a lot of problems for superintendents.”

Day two

Despite a busy day one, I woke on day two ready to see what else the Golfdom Summit had in store for me.
Before I even sat down to breakfast, I added to the stack of business cards in my wallet when I ran into John Ammons, vice president, Green Mountain International, who was at the Summit representing Klingstone.

Call it fate, but I ran into him at exactly the right time: I’d just finished reading an email from my club president about how several of our bunkers are in serious need of some TLC. Over coffee and eggs, he regaled me with tales of all the courses he’s played, including the story of his 6-year-old daughter sinking a 40-foot putt her first time playing the Cradle at Pinehurst Resort. I’m sure Bob Farren also got a kick out of that one.

Soon, everyone at our table was reflecting on their best — and worst — golf moments. Evan Parenti, golf and lawn market manager, at FMC Corp., Global Specialty Solutions, got us all nostalgic for some of the greatest moments in golf of all time and reflective on how many “legends” of golf were in attendance. “There are so many well-respected and top name courses here that we felt we got great exposure to leaders in the industry,” he said. “We’ve also seen some really great ‘community moments,’ reflecting how close-knit and passionate the golf community is about everything they do.”

Chris Zugel, CGCS, director of golf course maintenance for Kohler Co., recapped the successful 2021 Ryder Cup hosted at the Straits Course at Whistling Straits. (Photo: Golfdom Staff)

Chris Zugel, CGCS, director of golf course maintenance for Kohler Co., recapped the successful 2021 Ryder Cup hosted at the Straits Course at Whistling Straits. (Photo: Golfdom Staff)

Speaking of top-name courses and leaders in the industry, that morning, Chris Zugel, CGCS at Whistling Straits in Sheboygan, Wis., gave a talk on hosting the 2021 Ryder Cup. Zugel was a great speaker and one of the most interesting points he made about the televised tournament is just how happy everyone seemed to be that the event was taking place with fans in attendance. He doesn’t know if there was a single negative word spoken about the course. How great would it be if that became a tradition?

Now it was time for my first “one-on-one” meeting of the day, where a fellow superintendent and I would meet in a smaller group with just one of the partners, for 15 minutes. For us, our first meeting was with Carrie Bergman, senior director of marketing for PBI-Gordon Corp.

After hearing about the company’s product line, she and I discussed some of the difficulties we superintendents have in today’s age with having so much to do but so little time, especially with golf’s growing influence among younger audiences and women.

She summed it up pretty well when she said, “It’s about superintendents being able to be present and be there for their associates and also keep up with what’s going on in the industry.”

Redexim brought their Verticutter and Vertidrain to show attendees. “The labor shortage is the biggest trend in the industry,” Darren Powers (far right) eastern regional sales manager for the company, told us. “What manufacturers are doing to help alleviate this is coming up with products that are more efficient. Because I don’t know that the labor issue is going away any time soon.” (Photo: Golfdom Staff)

Redexim brought their Verticutter and Vertidrain to show attendees. “The labor shortage is the biggest trend in the industry,” Darren Powers (far right) eastern regional sales manager for the company, told us. “What manufacturers are doing to help alleviate this is coming up with products that are more efficient. Because I don’t know that the labor issue is going away any time soon.” (Photo: Golfdom Staff)

At our next meeting, I met with Dave Louttit, territory manager for The Andersons in the Great Lakes region. He brought us up to speed on The Andersons’ Contec DG lineup and the company’s line of humate products.

In creating its products, Louttit told me that The Andersons tries to help superintendents do more with less as fertilizer costs have gone up and supply chain issues have plagued the industry.

“The supply chain thing is for real,” he told us. “Some of us tried to downplay it, but in the industry, we’re in, we’re being hit a few different ways. One is the labor shortage, finding people to work in the fertilizer plant. Raw material pricing pressure has skyrocketed on us. Availability of certain product has become an issue and then there’s also a tremendous trucking shortage in the U.S.”

He encouraged me to order early to make sure I get whatever I need in on time.

After a handful of indoor meetings, it was time to go to the outdoor demo area. We headed over to see Harper Turf Equipment. Drew Gerber, vice president of product, was showing off the Harper Hawk (great name), a self-propelled sweeper concept to the golf market. As you can imagine, the Reunion Resort driving range was quite clean, so the Hawk couldn’t show off its full capabilities, but later I checked it out on YouTube, and it seems like quite a powerful tool.

As many other people said, he noted, “Trying to find enough people to get all the tasks done on the golf course is tough, so it often comes down to multiple uses with equipment and trying to get more things done and adding some versatility to products.”

It was Drew’s first time at the Summit as well, and he praised the overall relaxed atmosphere at the Summit, saying it’s so different from a traditional trade show where it’s just cycling people through and getting the generic same three or four questions and then moving on.

“Superintendents are under more strain, seeing an unprecedented amount of play,” said Scott Kinkead, executive vice president of Turfco. “How are we going to free up the superintendent’s time, because that’s one thing they can’t create … more time.” Here, the Turfco team is visited by the Legends Initiative superintendents in attendance: Bob Farren, Matt Shaffer and Shawn Emerson. (Photo: Golfdom Staff)

“Superintendents are under more strain, seeing an unprecedented amount of play,” said Scott Kinkead, executive vice president of Turfco. “How are we going to free up the superintendent’s time, because that’s one thing they can’t create … more time.” Here, the Turfco team is visited by the Legends Initiative superintendents in attendance: Bob Farren, Matt Shaffer and Shawn Emerson. (Photo: Golfdom Staff)

T.J. Shine, Winfield United sales rep., Southwest Florida, echoed that sentiment when I caught him in the hallway, later on, saying, “It’s a great setup, getting to know everyone a little bit, creating some new contacts, networking with many professionals in the industry and some legends.”

Next, we saw Frost, where I met Ken Rost, president and CEO. He gave me the rundown on the company’s Kubota-Powered Ninja GPS Sprayer and encouraged me to give it a spin. He also highlighted some of Frost’s other technologies such as its mixing systems or even drone spraying equipment.

With technology being such a touchpoint in the industry these days, we’ve actually been thinking about adding some drone technology at our course, so his insights on that were much appreciated.

The afternoon of fresh air continued with a round of golf on the Watson Course. Hats off to Scott Scamehorn, CGCS, and his entire crew for maintaining such a beautiful course. Though I didn’t play as well as I’d hoped I would at such a beautiful course, I still had fun and enjoyed playing with Lee Frie, product manager for Jacobsen and Textron, and Mike Thurow, president, CEO and founder of Spectrum Technologies.

Between holes, we got on the hot topic of industry trends, especially when it comes to technology. Frie said that he’s seeing more movement toward electrification and autonomous equipment.

Steven Johnson (right), regional sales manager, Smithco, gave us a look at the company’s Spray Star. Emil Miller, marketing manager, Smithco, said, “Our orders are through the roof, and we are doing well, but that means we need to buy more stuff, and it’s getting tougher and tougher to find.” (Photo: Golfdom Staff)

Steven Johnson (right), regional sales manager, Smithco, gave us a look at the company’s Spray Star. Emil Miller, marketing manager, Smithco, said, “Our orders are through the roof, and we are doing well, but that means we need to buy more stuff, and it’s getting tougher and tougher to find.” (Photo: Golfdom Staff)

“I think you’re going to see more autonomous mowers in the future to reduce cost and to have a consistent and repeatable product,” he said. “On the electrification side, a lot of guys are wanting to use a quieter machine, where they can be closer to homes earlier in the morning, and then for environmental purposes, so they’re not having the carbon footprint that they’re having with the gas or diesel equipment.”

He said a lot of it comes down to allowing the superintendent to use resources better and to put people in positions where they have more value in what they’re doing.

Thurow jumped in to say, “We’ve heard consistently that the recovery and rounds of golf are great. The flipside of that is that it’s put more challenges on the superintendents for their daily activities because the tee times are going throughout the day. They aren’t getting the breaks to do hand watering or that kind of stuff.”

He noted that Spectrum’s soil moisture meters and other data tools aim to help superintendents do what they do more effectively with less time. All in all, it was a good round of golf.

Day three

The last day of the Summit had already arrived. After an insightful (and hilarious, and sometimes blue) morning lecture by Penn State’s Ben McGraw, Ph.D., we went back outside on the Reunion Resort driving range.

Ben McGraw, Ph.D., associate professor of turfgrass science at Penn State University, spoke to the group about developing sustainable turf pest management practices. (Photo: Golfdom Staff)

Ben McGraw, Ph.D., associate professor of turfgrass science at Penn State University, spoke to the group about developing sustainable turf pest management practices. (Photo: Golfdom Staff)

Like Ricky Bobby said in Talladega Nights, “if you’re not first, you’re last.” I was thrilled to be among the first superintendents to see the new Steel Green’s SGXL, a 120-gallon zero-turn sprayer that can be converted to a 350-pound spreader that can store an additional 10 bags of fertilizer (five bags each side) for the field.

“After we launched Steel Green, we noticed a large number of courses were buying our current models, and superintendents were asking for a larger hopper size,” Steel Green co-founder Matt Smith told m. “We’ve gone through a bunch of changes, which is what we’re known for — listening to customers and making changes until they’re completely satisfied.”

Smith and his team used the Golfdom Summit as a testing site for the machine, hopeful to learn more about what superintendents like and don’t like about the machine. Smith said the sprayer wouldn’t be seen at the 2022 GCSAA Conference & Show, so this really was an exclusive demo for us at the Summit. Very cool.

At the Quali-Pro meeting, we sat down with Paul Fox, key account manager, turf and ornamental. He wanted to make sure we knew about Quali-Pro’s new product called Suprado, an insect growth regulator targeting annual bluegrass weevil (ABW).

Tommy Hewitt, superintendent, Windermere GC, Cumming, Ga., hops on the Steel Green SGXL 120-gallon zero-turn sprayer. It made its industry debut at the Golfdom Summit. (Photo: Golfdom Staff)

Tommy Hewitt, superintendent, Windermere GC, Cumming, Ga., hops on the Steel Green SGXL 120-gallon zero-turn sprayer. It made its industry debut at the Golfdom Summit. (Photo: Golfdom Staff)

The “growth regulator” part is what makes this product interesting. It can have an impact on ABW in multiple parts of its life cycle, making it flexible with timing. It can control ABW in all larvae stages, inside or outside the plant. For adults, it can inhibit the ability to lay eggs and prevent them from shedding their exoskeleton.

From there, we then met with Carmen Magro, president of Pogo Turf Pro. We said hello to Carmen the day before when we saw him out on the golf course taking measurements on one of the greens, that he could then show us this morning.

“We don’t have the luxury of making mistakes with irrigation management, cultural management or even in communication to our members and those we report to,” Magro said. “The importance of having information to make the decisions we were trained to do is higher today than ever.”

He continued to say that the overall trend of practitioners in the golf industry is anything that increases superintendents’ confidence to make the best decisions they can. While it may be intimidating at first, superintendents really want to embrace that technology and use it.

And that kind of sums up my Golfdom Summit experience in a nutshell … from intimidation at first to a new way of meeting with folks in the industry that I really learned to embrace.

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