An American Dream
As I was unwell at BTME, I finally met the other nine delegates at the airport, it was great to finally meet them all. We boarded our flight and arrived at JFK Airport in New York to see four inches of snow on the ground.
This led to the beginning of our epic 50-hour journey to San Antonio which involved us travelling to multiple airports and taking a coach from Houston to San Antonio. However, this did not dampen spirits and the journey actually brought us closer together as a group!
After navigating our way around the huge Henry B Gonzalez Convention Center we arrived at our first seminar ‘The Benefits of Oxygen and How to Maintain Oxygen Levels in our Root Zone’ hosted by David Doherty, President of the International Sports Turf Research Center in Kansas.
He spoke about the soil, the pore spaces within and how vital it is for aerification to introduce oxygen into the soil, before moving on to talk about drainage.
The seminar after lunch was ‘Optimise Soil Health to Enhance Turf Growth and Quality’ hosted by Cale Bigelow, Professor of Agronomy at Purdue University, and Dara Park, Assistant Professor at Clemson University. They spoke about soil exchange and amendments used and the pros and cons of the various materials we all use. They also went into some detail regarding organic and inorganic products and the concept of a more biological approach with the use of compost teas, and other products that increase the microbiology within the soil.
I found this very interesting as I am currently seeing a lot more from companies within the industry developing natural, biological products that are applied to increase the microbiology within the soil to actively control soil problems and disorders.
After our day of education we joined the team from Bernhards and headed to a sports bar. Three of the Delegates embarked on the 2lb Burger Challenge. This challenge consisted of a monster plate of fries, a 32oz burger, bun and a plate of onion rings. You had an hour to try and eat it all, and anyone succeeding would receive a t-shirt and be placed on the wall of fame. No-one managed it, but an honourable mention to Leigh Powell who came the closest!
Today was an all-day seminar called ‘Greens Aerification and Water Management by the Numbers’.
This was hosted by Erik Ervin, a Crop, Soil and Environmental Services Professor, Nelson Caron, Director of Golf Course Maintenance at The Ford Plantation and Troy Fink CGCS, Superintendent at the Country Club of Virginia.
They were so impressive. Both Nelson and Troy showed us how they carried out greens maintenance, and it was clear their resources allow them to take
greens maintenance to a whole new level.
They also went on to talk about their duties on the course and that they spend their time measuring moisture levels and monitoring the greens constantly so they can communicate the work needed to be done to their staff.
I left the seminar admiring their communication work, their efficiency and their attention to detail.
A busy night involved a BIGGA drinks reception, a breathtaking 750-foot trip up to the Tower of Americas to see the view across San Antonio and a Rodeo party hosted by Jacobsen.
We enjoyed watching some of the rodeo outside, even though it was bitterly cold that night. It was a great event that gave us an insight into the local culture.
Time to head to the GIS. I don’t think any of us were truly prepared for the grand scale of this event. We tracked down the BIGGA stand and created a plan for who would be manning the stand at what times. I manned the stand at around 4pm having the last shift of the day.
I felt proud to be representing BIGGA, and felt I was giving something back for all the support I have received since becoming a member in 2008.
After the show we attended a drinks reception hosted by Bernhard & Co. Again at this event we met many golf course Superintendents from across America and networked with other figures within the golf industry.
Afterwards, we found ourselves at a karaoke restaurant with the BIGGA and Bernhard teams.
Sam Evans was first to grab the mic and by the end of the night we were all up on the stage with Sam still singing and deafening the poor Americans in the bar. It was a fantastic night and everyone really enjoyed themselves.
The scale of the GIS meant I used today to try and spot everything I didn’t see yesterday!
The closing show we then attended resembled the BRITS or the BAFTAS!
It also introduced us to more important members of the GCSAA and golfing industry within America.
The final word was a hilarious performance from David Feherty.
After visiting a local golf club we headed to TPC San Antonio. Nothing could prepare us for what we would see.
The staff car park was larger than most of our clubs’ main car parks. The Maintenance Facility was absolutely huge and looked more like an army base!
The workshops were clean enough to eat your dinner of the floor with all the kit at hand to keep every bit of machinery maintained to the highest standard.
We then made our way across the yard, which again was vast, to the main machinery storage building. Inside was a giant fleet of John Deere, including around 25 Gators. Everything was immaculate.
The last building we entered was the chemical/spraying building which had state of the art sprayers and a professional wash down area.
We all then were shown around the course. We were lucky enough to get pictures on the 18th Green with our own flag on the pole - #takeleswithyou! The course was like nothing I had ever seen. It was beautifully presented and was being prepared for the Valero Texas Open. The greens were a dream, the sward was just perfect in every way and there were absolutely no imperfections of any kind anywhere.
After our tour we took a look around the Pro Shop and had some lunch together in the clubhouse. It was a real treat to see TPC and we greatly appreciate the day being organised for us, and for Steve and Kim’s wonderful driving.
Arriving back at the hotel we had time to begin packing and to change for our dinner together. The ten of us went out for dinner and we had a great time looking back at the week in photos and sharing all of our best bits. It was fantastic to see how close we had all become.
Time to leave…the trip was everything I wanted it to be and more. It opened my eyes to greenkeeping in America and the standards they work towards. It has also left me with a lot more contacts and connections within the industry.
Due to this trip being my first time properly in America I was so impressed by the hospitality I received where ever I went. Everyone was friendly and would take the time to chat to you. I’m still at the beginning of my career so it was great to share the journey with some Course Managers. I found it invaluable to talk to them, learn about their career journeys and what they’ve achieved.
To BIGGA, for the work they do for greenkeepers and the services they provide to us that allow us to be a part of events and experiences such as this. I urge anybody who reads this article that is not already a BIGGA member to join immediately and begin involving yourself with these opportunities.
To Bernhard & Co for the making this trip happen for the ten Delegates. I speak for all when I say how grateful we are and that the trip is one of the highlights of our careers and we look forward to seeing you all within the future at events such as BTME.
Special thanks go to Kim Furnell, who was fantastic throughout the whole trip.
Thanks to Steven, Lee (Dad!), Richard, Graeme, Sam, Simon, Kevin, Leigh and Miles for their friendship during the week and for making it such a memorable week for me. I now have nine great friends who helped make the week unforgettable.