Reflections from over the Pond

20000 miles, 56 days, 14 flights, 8 destinations, 250 hours of lectures temperatures of - 40°C to 27°C and life out of a suitcase.

Sound surreal? That’s the opportunity of a lifetime that awaits the 2004 Toro Student Greenkeeper of the Year. Well it certainly was for me as the 2003 winner.

From the moment that Ken Richardson reads out the winner for 2004 life will become surreal, if my experience is anything to go by, for the winner. Although the trip doesn’t begin until the January following the final at the end of September, the months in between are full of planning, activities and packing.

In the immediate two weeks that followed me winning the award Christine Wilson of Lely UK Ltd has sent me my flight itinerary, which was a total of 14 flights, taking in places such as Washington, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Chicago, San Diego, Minneapolis, Denver and Ontario California. Along with the flight information is the mountain of paper work the must accompany the registration for university, hotel accommodation and not forgetting the Visa application form.

Due to the potential for terrorist attack at any time throughout the United States I was requested by the US embassy to apply, in person, at the embassy in London, to obtain a J –1 Visa to stay in the US as a student. This was a first for the winner of the award due to a tightening up on regulation in September 2003. There can be very little room for argument bearing in mind 9/11.

The tone for the forth-coming trip to America was established on my trip to London. Toro were only too keen to pay for the trip, sending me first class by train and arranging for a day pass on the London underground. After taking all sorts of documentation to satisfy the embassy that I was a terrorist and I would be returning to England, they approved my Visa application.

A week prior to Christmas Peter Mansfield of Lely UK came to Colne golf Club to hand over all of the flight tickets, a final agenda, a medical insurance card and $ 3500 in travellers cheques. The final part of the trip was a huge shock, as money had not been talked of. All that was left to do following the meeting was to fly out on January 4th.

After packing over the Christmas period I received a phone call from Murray Long the 2002 winner, wishing me all the best and answering some of the minor questions that I had. The information that Murray passed on was invaluable to me as it smoothed over any of the concerns I had with the trip and gave the final reassurance that all would be fine.

The real trip began at 3.30 am on the morning of the 4th of January with a trip to Manchester airport for the first of 3 flights that day. Prior to all of was the worst part of the trip, having to sneak around the house and kiss goodbye to the boys. As they were lying fast asleep it was hard to believe that it would be two months before I would see them again. The faces fast asleep were with me all the way to America and for next 8 weeks. First up was the shuttle to Heathrow followed by a flight to Washington and finally a connecting light to Hartford in Connecticut and a transfer to the Quality inn in Hadley Massachusetts. The whole process to 23 hours and left me feeling disorientated and tired.

My introduction to America was a little harsh. After going through the immigration section where we had to have our index finger prints taken as well as a photo. This was causing quite a fuss in various countries around the world as you do feel you have to prove that you are not a terrorist. Following the baggage collection was the procedure of scanning the bags for the connecting flight. Every 10 minutes there are announcement in airports about not leaving baggage unlocked or untended. However when you check your bags in you got to leave them unlocked. I was unaware of this and did not fancy leaving my suitcases unlocked, they could inspect them if they desired but I would prefer to lock them when out of my sight. The baggage handler was having none of it; he called for a police officer to come. I tried to explain my reasons, whilst the officer tapped his gun. After standing my ground he unclipped his holster. He probably believed sliding his gun in and out of its holster would intimidate me. He was right. I declined an invitation to spend the evening with him and got on the flight leaving my bags unlocked.

On landing in Hartford a cold wind whistled through me and I was greeted by ice rain. After panicking about the cab driver being on the “wrong” side of the road I reached my new home for the next 7 weeks, room 236 of the Quality Inn.

The university course started on the following day at 9.30. So it was important to meet people who could give me a lift there or find out the bus times. Following the good advice from Murray I hit the breakfast room early. In the room were at least 20 people that were all doing the winter school at UMASS; a lift was soon fixed up. It is amazing at how greenkeepers even from different continents can mix together so easily with the golf course providing the level playing field. Naturally everyone become intrigued with the guy from England and a some what celebrity status is endowed upon you by the others, as I am a novelty.

When we arrived at UMASS the scale of the campus is unbelievable we have a 25 minute walk from the parking lot to the first class room, which is not the far side of the campus. In the campus is a 20,000 all seated hockey stadium, a 20,000 open-air football field, 10,000-basketball area, a hotel, 3 churches and enough classroom space to accommodate the 28,000 students that attend the university. It resembles a town rather than a campus. Even at the end of the 7 weeks there were huge expanses of the campus that I never went to. The campus is a walking campus, so a walk from the parking lot to class began every day.


During the introduction class, given by Trudie Goodchild explanations of what the students will be doing, lecture times, subjects, books and the standards we had to work to were given out. Trudie has ran the winter school for the past 14 years and has taken care of all of Toro’s winning students, so it came as no surprise when Trudie pulled me to one side to give me contact numbers and a point of reference for any problem that may crop up whilst I was in America. Her assistant will look after the 2004 winner as Trudie is retiring from the university. Then at 10.00 am the first lecture was started,

Classes ran Monday to Friday, starting at 8.00 am and finishing a 5.30 pm, with an hour break for lunch. Lectures on Monday start at 10.00 and Friday lectures finish at noon. 4 lectures were given each day from a total of 11 different topics. The subjects were: -
Irrigation
Soil science
Turf grass management
Weed management
Arboriculture
Mathematics of turf grass management
Advanced topics in turf grass management
Personnel management
Architecture
Entomology
Pathology

The vast majority of the teachers had their doctorate in their specific fields.

As for the students a total of 56 attended the winter school at UMASS. The vast majority were from the northeastern states, Vermont, Massachusetts, Maine, New York and Connecticut. However other parts of the US were represented people had travelled from Detroit, North Carolina, Texas and Pennsylvania. Allied to the US contingent there were a number of international students present. These consisted mainly of 8 Canadians, 1 Australian woman working in Canada, Banff. 1 Brazilian, working in America, and an Englishman. Quite a cosmopolitan feel to the place.

There was a wide range of ages and backgrounds to the students. Ages went from 20 – 45, with people from a lifetime of turf management to relative new comers having 2- 3 years experience. Out of the 56 only 3 came from groundsman positions not at golf clubs. Despite all of the variations in origins, background and ages everyone got on well with each other and all forms a great camaraderie. The information sharing is quite remarkable to say the least.

There were some cultural aspects of being a Brit that took some explaining. We don’t all work on links courses and the rules of cricket do take some explaining, as does the whereabouts of Blackburn. Fortunately soccer is catching on in the US and numerous people had heard of the world famous Blackburn Rovers, although most, sadly, only new of Man United. Explaining the peculiarities of where you are from is one of the great things about travel. With all of us being involved in turf care we all had a common denominator to start from.

The reason for the great popularity of the winter school course at UMASS is that it is one of the most respected turf courses in the whole of the US. Over the years it has help the careers of greenkeepers throughout the US, with many of them becoming superintendents at the top course in America, such as Pine Valley, Pinehurst and the Congressional to name but a few. The winter school course is also the longest running turf education programme in America. It pre dates The STRI and has been a pioneer of turf education throughout America, its success has spurned numerous other educational institutions to run similar turf courses, specifically Penn State and Ohio.

Through my conversations with Murray I had quite a few tips on how to get through all of the hours of study and lecture, however my expectations of the course were undefined before the start of the course. Having completed the course I have to say that it was very similar to the HND Turf Science award that I took at Myerscough, but with an American twist to it all. It is great credit to the staff at Myerscough that I was able to keep pace with the work, as there was very little time to spare in each class. It was very difficult to cram subjects that usually get taught over a 16-week period into just 7 weeks. Full time student have to cope with 4 – 5 modules per annum, we get all 11. For all of the subjects that are taught have to be completed in the 250 hours that is allocated to the delivery of the winter school.

With the demand on time at a premium additional study back at the hotel is a must just to keep up with the speed of the course. The HND braced me very well, for the demand that winter school placed on me. As a result of the combined teachings of Myerscough and UMASS I was able to help out some of the others. This would be the only complaint regarding the course, that too much was crammed in to too short a time period. This affected the level of understanding in some subjects.

My day started at 6.00 am, due to a combination of jet lag that woke me up at 3.00 am every day, and the fact that I had to revise for a test almost every day. The 6.00 am start allowed me an hour of study prior to breakfast. For breakfast the Quality Inn was taken over by up 30 greenkeepers chewing the fat over the day to come. After a 20-minute car ride into the campus with my regular study group, Glen DeRadder an American from Detroit, whose family fled the German occupation of Holland during the Second World War. John Zuniga a “good old southern boy” from Texas, who has Hispanic origins and did refer to a collective group as “yall”. Finally the only girl on the course Lisa Guest, Lisa is an Australian with Canadian citizenship working at Banff. As you can imagine a cosmopolitan group.

Dependant upon the particular topics that were allocated for that day tests could either be for every subject or even none for the day, however for the 17 weekly sessions expect to take at least 7 –10 tests. There was a sporadic nature to the testing, some subjects had no tests at all while other had tests for every session, which could mean 3 - 4 on the same subject per week. The manner of tests varied too, apart from the session tests there were mid term test, end term tests, home work assignments or a combination of all of them.

After class finished every day at 5.30 we would head to the supermarket for a bite to eat before hitting our rooms. With the dark nights and cold temperature there was little to do at night, apart from study for the next day. With so many greenkeepers in one place study groups are a regular thing. Everyone was prepared to help others with their weak subjects and visa versa. Usually bed beckoned at around 10.00 – midnight. Channel hopping through the 78 channels does get tiresome trying to find something interesting to watch.

At weekends the Quality Inn fell considerably quieter, with all those within driving distance heading home. Of the 30 or so greenkeepers only 5 remained for the weekends throughout, with a further 2 – 3 on certain weekends. It is these people that help you to kill the time, which hangs heavy at the weekend. Close friendships were made with these people as you spend most of the time with them. Of course it’s not all work, the weekends give you time to explore, well the local bars in Amherst any way. With the inclusion of a true Canadian, Greg Austin, who has a deadpan sense of humour, the hours quickly flew by. A variety of means were employed to make the time pass by, trips to the cinema, ice skating, particularly good if you’re a Texan who’s never seen snow or ice. One of the things that I got introduced to was ice hockey. Staff members, to the games on either Friday or Saturday nights, gave out free tickets. The stadium was nearly full for the games and a unique atmosphere is present. Allied to this free basketball tickets are available. The most common pass time was in the bars around Amherst and going for evening meals. The nightlife in Amherst was on the quiet side, until the 28,000 students returned, then every Friday and Saturday the bars were full of students drinking cheap Budweiser beer. There appeared to be a 2:1 ratio of girls to boys in Amherst and it wasn’t too long before the girls took an interest in the Texan, simply walking up to John handing him their phone number and saying call me. Quite a few of the inhabitants of the bars, male or female, were intrigued by my funny accent, unfortunately most of them believed I was Australian. During the weekends studying was to be done, copying up notes, studying for tests or doing assignments. During one weekend we enjoyed a party for Glens 40th, not that he wanted to celebrate, but we did. An oriental soriety party was gate crashed, never have 5 white people stood out more. All of the nights out provided much humour, great memories and the opportunity to let off some steam.

The weekend gave me the opportunity to phone home and talk to Louise to find out how the boys were doing. Matthew came on the phone every time asking if I had got him his presents yet. Joshua had started to crawl, but he did wait for daddy’s return before getting his first tooth. Louise was consoling herself through the virtues of retail therapy, she manage to buy a leather suite, a new lamp and more clothes than ever. As for the rovers, they were loosing games like they were going out of fashion, nothing new there then.

One such memorable trip was to be taken to Boston by one of our fellow students, Michael Broza, who used to work in Boston. Mike gave Lisa and I a grand tour of the city including Harvard, China town and a meal at a gothic bar, where his daughter worked. One of the great things was the view of the Boston skyline from the freeway. It’s a view that most people have seen but breathtaking to see it for real, especially when you’re driving around them. The river that runs through the city had frozen over, from bank to bank. This, according to the locals, was the first time in over 50 years, proving just how cold it was. With mike acting as our tour guide for the day historic site were also taken in. He took me to the bridge where the first British soldier was shot as the Americans rose up against the British. Thankfully a re-enactment was not suggested. Mike also took us around small towns that had that distinct colonial feel to them. Every house had the look of the Brooklyn clubhouse.

Winston Churchill described Britain as having a special relationship with America, after being there for 8 weeks I can say its true. All of the people that I met were very gracious to me, because I’m a Brit. By the end of the 2nd week I had invitations to spend weekends in Boston, with Mike and is family, a weekend in Vermont, a weekend at Cape Cod and a weekend in Maine. None of the Americans expected anything from me in return. For their generosity and warm welcome, customs officer aside, I am extremely great full. The success of the trip, and its enjoyment, is largely down to the people that I met.

The weather, such a prominent thing on the mind of the British, was something I was unprepared for. One pearl of wisdom that Murray passed on was to take a warm coat and warm gloves, he was not kidding. Temperatures in the first 2 weeks were not so bad; they were cold, around – 10, during the day. Whilst this will seam low, the atmosphere is very dry so it does feel warmer than –10 would do here. During these temperatures the air is so dry that nothing gets any frost on it. However during weeks 3 and 4 things went quite silly. A cold from drifted down from Canada, which took temperatures down to – 24, if this wasn’t bad enough 20mph winds blew taking the wind chill to – 40. The local news station gave out warnings that 10 –15 minutes exposure to skin could result in frostbite. This weather even the Americans could not stand, it called for all of the thick clothing to be worn. The 15-minute walk across the campus from room to room was numbing. The moisture in my breath has iced up on the outside of my scarf on numerous occasions. Throw in a couple of “light” snowfalls of 12 inch and the scene was set, Antarctica. The snows were powdery, and despite the volume that fell the roads were always clear, traffic never stopped and normal life continued. Weeks 4 and 5 returned to the –10 range, which after the – 40 almost felt tropical.

As the end of the 7 weeks drew to an end the intensity of testing increased, as did the homework assignments. This began to put a strain on everyone as we all began to dream of home, wherever it home was, I had to keep reminding myself of the fact that I had an additional week flying around America before I could go home. The final week brought the final tests, exams and thankfully the results of our endeavours. To my relief and surprise I had acquitted myself well and all but one of the graded subjects I managed to get into the 90% and above range, soils was 85%. The end of the course brought with it the graduation meal. This was held at the top of the campus hotel in a restaurant that gave panoramic views of the campus and Amherst. During the meal, which is paid by the University, we received our certificates with a photo of all of the winter school class of ’04. All of the teachers that took winter school were present as was the guest speakers such as Bill Dest. Unfortunately one of the most popular guest speakers was not there Geoffrey Cornish. Geoff is into his 90’s and is one of the most influential golf course architects in the US. He was the founder of one of the largest golf course architectural firms, Cornish and De Silva. Geoff has been accredited with designing the back nine at Banff among some of his work. Geoff has only ever missed addressing the winter school on 3 occasions, the reason being drafted for the Second World War. Quite an achievement bearing in mind the 60 plus year history of winter school. Geoff made a lasting impression on the class of ’04.

After the meal there was one last opportunity for a drink with the people I had met, a pose for photos and then people started to filter away, preparing for their homeward journey. I had to wait a further 2 days to begin my next leg of the American adventure in Minneapolis.
THE TORO TRIPS

“All work and no play make Jack a dull boy”, or so the saying goes. Apart from the academic side to the prize Toro gives an invaluable insight into the workings of the American greenkeeper movement and the work of the Toro Company.

Toro graciously arranged a total of 3 trips for me to attend, the first being the USGAA Golf Show in San Diego, California. The timing of this trip fell in the last 2 weeks of my course at UMASS, so a hectic schedule of flying to and from San Diego was arranged by Christine Wilson of Lely (UK). In order for me to get any length of time in San Diego, and to get back for class on Monday early flights were arranged. A 3.00am start began the trip to California, a 45-minute drive to the airport, a 2-hour flight to Chicago, flying over Lake Superior, followed by a 4-hour flight to San Diego. Throw in a 2-hour time difference and I was completely lost. However, due to Christine’s’ efficiency, every thing went smoothly. Somehow it’s hard to imagine that you can fly for 4 hours and still be in the same country.

As soon as I landed in San Diego the difference hit me; warm breeze, 19 degrees, T shirts and shorts being worn, it felt like a holiday, especially coming from the – 40’s in the North. The pace of life is completely different too. All is hustle and bustle in North East America, California is so relaxed and easy going it’s half asleep. After a relaxed transfer to the hotel, the cab driver was not in any rush at all on another sunny day in San Diego I arrived at the Wyndham Emerald Plaza, a very posh hotel. This is where the BIGGA delegation were staying along with Wayne Roberts of Myerscough College. Part of the trip is to take the tutor who originally puts you forward to the show. With Messer’s Roberts, Sami Collins and Chairman Andy Campbell in tow its no wonder a big hotel was selected.

After checking in and changing I had been told to go to the conference and report to Toro. The USGAA put on coaches to take people from certain hotels to the conference, and back, free of charge. Once there the scale of corporate America was evident. Security guards were visible at every entrance access was through passes only. To obtain a pass one has to register, just as at BTME, the only difference is that at BTME they don’t charge $350 to get in, this came as quite a shock. After a quick phone call to Toro in the hall a pass was arranged, free of charge. I was to be a Toro exhibitor from Clone for the next 48 hours and had the pass to prove it. The whole scale of the show is huge, well everything in America is meant to be bigger. When you’re in a large hall trying to negotiate round the largest golf show on the planet what do you look for? The only person wearing a bright red blazer, Chairman Andy Campbell. After a brief conversation with Andy and John Pemberton Of BIGGA they headed off for another round of talks with our sister organisations from around the world. I them met up with Wayne Roberts who showed me around the full show.

It is surprising how similar BTME to the USGAA show, there are the vast amount of exhibitors carrying the same message, of course there are more of them, but its very much of a much ness. One of the prominent themes of the show appeared to be the environmental stewardship of golf course management. There were numerous examples throughout the 2 days that I was present to illustrate the responsible management of the environment that is coming from American greenkeepers, this rings true for the UK.

Whilst wandering around the show at my leisure a man stopped me with the words “Hey, you work for Toro?” I bumbled some response, remembering my badge. He then wanted to know where Colne was in America, and what I did for Toro. After explaining that Colne is the centre of Toro operations in the UK and that I make the tea and sweep the floor for them. He replied, “Gee, what a company”. Another, satisfied customer.

After that awkward moment I turned the pass around and headed for the Toro stand. The first thing that caught my eye was not a new piece of equipment, as John Deere and Jacobsen had, but a rather large cheque was at the front. This cheque for over $200,000 was from the Toro Company to the environment agency of America. Naturally Toro had their new products too. On show was the new pedestrian aerator, the new shape workman, the electric workman and the 800 series of gear driven sprinklers. Both Peter Mansfield and Andy Brown took me through all of the equipment and concerned themselves with my well-being and how I was doing at the University, after which I was invited to the Toro reception along with Wayne.

Before the reception Wayne persuaded me for a few drinks in the hotel bar, which he paid for. It must have been the heat. Wayne gave me brief walking tour of the streets of San Diego and which bars he was going to take me in later. The reception was held in a very classy bar/restaurant opposite the conference centre. The people attending were all given the VIP treatment and the list read as a who’s who in golf course management. I got briefly introduced to Chris Kennedy of Wentworth before being whisked away to meet architects, designers, prominent authors such as Dr Turgeon and superintendents from all over the world. The list was unbelievable. The food and wine certainly reflected the standard of guest, Wayne and I excluded. Wayne and I sat outside, under a patio heater, drinking expensive red wine and eating oysters, lobster, mussels and all sorts of food trying to look like we belonged with them. Wayne is very business orientated and took every opportunity to introduce himself and the college to new people, while I struggled with the tea boy theory. In one effort of networking Wayne introduced himself to an important Japanese man, reeling off the college ethos and goals. This lasted for 5 minutes. Business cards were exchanged. Only when the man managed to get a word in did Wayne realise he did not have clue what Wayne was going on about.

After having a drink with Sami, john and Andy I was introduced to the people who would be looking after me in Minneapolis, Barry Beckett, and Riverside, California with Kenny James. We departed afterwards to be given a leaving present from Toro and a red rose by a strange looking man who worked for Toro in Lyndale.

Wayne showed me around a few of the bars, including his favourite, Hooters. Whilst having a beer in their Andy McMahon of Rigby Taylor came over for a chat. It is a small world. Andy had taken Las Vegas in en route to San Diego, which made it more surprising to see that he still had a shirt to cover his back.

After this the jet lag and the red wine combined to take their toll on my weary body and we headed back to the hotel for a few G & T’s. This time Wayne made me pay, back to reality.

The Saturday started of with a slight commotion in the hotel one of the porters had damaged his back. This due to vast amount of valentine’s cards delivered to one Sami Collins of BIGGA.

After a working breakfast with Wayne it was off to the show once again for a walk through and a look around all of the exhibitors before helping Wayne dismantle the Myerscough stand. After this we headed to the shopping mall where Wayne was looking for a cot, as Amanda, his wife was expecting their first child. I however had received instructions for my nearest and dearest to get a camcorder. With lunch in between the after noon was taken care of. This felt like my first weekend off since being in America.

We hardly had enough time to get changed in time to meet up with the BIGGA delegation for the GCSAA Presidents dinner. The whole of the evening was dealt with in a thoroughly professional manner with scriptwriters doing the speeches for all of the talkers. The event was sponsors of the evening were Bayer chemicals, their CEO talked of the increasing pressure of chemical legislation in the US and what Bayer are doing to be more eco-friendly. Another mirror image of the situation in the UK.

During the evening John Pemberton spoke of Neil Thomas’ battle against his illness. Just a few weeks later Neil lost his battle. I never had the opportunity to meet Neil, but perhaps I have benefited from Neil leadership of the association more than others. During my redundancy situation, 18 months ago, the strength of the association helped me receive a scholarship, to continue in my final years studies, a legal team to fight for unfair redundancy and every effort was made to help me back into greenkeeping. These things would not have been possible if it has not been for Neil’s leadership of BIGGA. Sir David Frost once answered a question of how he’d like to be remembered; his reply was “to be remembered is enough.” With the association going from strength to strength Neil will always be remembered to lighting the first match and fanning the flames.

The evening ended at midnight, for me anyway, Sami and Wayne hit the San Diego bars while I headed for a 3-hour sleep before flying back to Massachusetts.

The taste of the GCSAA show was a hugely beneficial experience seeing similarities to BTME and subtle differences. The experience was made all the more pleasant with the company of the BIGGA staff and Wayne Roberts, all sharing in English humour.

MINNEAPLOLIS

After the completion of the university course, as others departed for home, my trip was far from over. I had a further 4 flights to take before I could think of the 3 flights home.

My first destination was to Minneapolis in Minnesota, via Chicago. This is the home of Toro machinery, where every machine id designed, manufactured, built, tested and then shipped all over the world. For this and the subsequent leg of the trip I was the special guest of Toro and Toro certain know how to entertain. To my surprise Minneapolis was warmer than Amherst, not by much it was still in the minus 10 – 15 range but warmer than expected. Toro had put me up in the Radisson hotel near to the airport; upon arrival I received my itinerary for the next 3 days, which included trips to the manufacturing plant at Shakopee, the assembly plant in Tomah and to the main office and design facilities in Lindale.

To my surprise I was to be shown around with the Canadian winner of the Toro Future Superintendents award, Kendal Costain. Kendall was also staying at the Radisson. It was a pleasure to meet up with Kendall to exchange views on the trips we had, Kendall’s trip was to Scotland, where he studied at Elmwood College and worked at Kingsbarn golf course and on the Old Course at St Andrews.
First up was a trip to Tomah. After a good breakfast Jace Bertsch picked us up and took us for the 3-hour drive to Tomah. Jace was to be an extremely good and entertaining guide for the 3 days, particularly his after work excursions.
Tomah is in Wisconsin, so we had to cross the state line, on the way Jace pointed out a place called Chippewa falls, not well know apart from the fact that this is where Leonardo Di Caprios character in Titanic did his ice fishing. Unfortunately the lake is man made and did not exist when Titanic sunk. The reason for Toro being in Tomah is due to the local economy, Tomah is historically an agricultural town and during winter unemployment was high, particularly in the early 20th century. When Toro selected the site it knew it could depend upon available labour throughout winter for manufacturing equipment. So a successful marriage was born.
Tomah is the assembly plant for all of Toro fleet of equipment. The working system is developed from that of Toyota in Japan. It’s the “just in time” method. That each part or component arrives at the next step of the production line just in time for the next fitter to do his or her job. The efficiency was staggering. From the parts arriving in Tomah there a re 4 days before it leaves the plant as a machine, when you see the start point its amazing how this is achieved, it really is like doing a huge jigsaw.

Day one starts with each delivery being logged onto the system and quality control measures are set in place. As a general rule 15% of all deliveries are tested for deformities and quality. New suppliers go through more extensive testing. After this has been done it parts are allocated to each division. Regular testing is carried out on all 4 days to ensure quality. The 100th piece of anything tested as well as the first of the day and the first new set up. I f a fault is found the testing procedure is amplified, both during assembly and on arrival.

On day 2 the welders have it, which take various part of apparent metal and some how turn them into frames, roll bars, panels or rotary decks. Day 3 is when all of the parts are marked up for painting. Any colour is available, as long as its black or red. Every painted part goes through a 14-stage process to cover it with the required 1.6mm of paint and have the necessary gloss finish. Day 4 is for assembly; day 4 is for testing too, to make sure it meets Toro’s tolerance levels

On the day that we arrived we saw 7 bat winged rotary mowers assembled, 14 greens masters, 25 pedestrian mowers, 14 fairway mowers, 14 workman’s, 14 spray vehicles (workman’s with a built on sprayer) 14 sidewinders and a whole host of cylinder units assembled. I will leave it to you to do the math, but this is normal production. Down each assembly line you could see each level of assembly from the basic frame to the working machine at the end.

Toro take their role in the local environment very seriously indeed. 5 years ago Wisconsin state was lobbying for tighter restriction on wastewater pollution for industry. Rather than wait for legislation to come into effect Toro put in place a water treatment facility at Tomah at a cost of nearly $2 million dollars. This screens out phosphates from the water and heavy metals. As a result of this Tomah water from Toro is treated to far higher levels than state legislation requires.

Another interesting point was of the attitude of management towards staff; this too may be modelled on the Japanese. There are in-numerable incentives for the employee to do well for the company. All receive slightly higher than average wages for the area, Toro provide health care for all employees, this in a country where health care is not free, pension schemes are given to all employees as well as other incentives. If an employee can think of any way in which it can speed up efficiency, or save money, Toro pay the employee a percentage of the savings accrued for 5 years, this could be as high as $15,000 per annum. Allied to this every employee get shares in the company, so the employees own the company, as a net result of this if Toro are profitable then the employee receives their annual dividend. This equated to over $1000 per person last year. Not a bad package at all. These may be the reasons for Tomah remaining non-unionised.

The trip around the plant took almost 5 hours with our guide only too willing to answer questions, go over points or expand on items. In fact we asked too many questions, as we were late for our dinner reservation at a very plush Italian restaurant and we had no time to change for it. The aroma of Parmesan cheese may just have drowned the smell of a factory out.

After enjoying the meal, a delightful bottle of red wine and the company, Jake dropped Kendall and I off at the Mall of America. This is the largest shopping mall in the US. It so big it has a roller coaster and amusement park in the middle of it, but all under cover. Thanks to Kendall I was able to find numerous animals, of America, to go into Matthews farm.

The next day following breakfast we headed to Shakopee. This is the plant that produces all of the panelled components for assembly at Tomah. Of particular importance to Shakopee is the fact that all of the cylinders are made here. We were allowed to watch the whole process from start to finish. This involved seeing rod being turned into shafts, the creation of the spiders that support the blades the twisting of the blades and the welding of the parts into the cylinder. The metal that is used to manufacture the cylinders is imported from Britain. It’s nice to know that a British product is still at the heart of an American company, this despite the huge import levy on steel product from abroad to the US. Once the cylinder is made each blade is super heated to give it additional strength, this makes the metal glow white hot, prior to cooling. Also on this section of the tour was the manufacture of the bottom blades, where over 80% of the production id for service rather than for new machines.

Common to both plants was the high degree of testing and quality control. Every new panel that is laser cut is tested to make sure that every hole and curve is in the right place, the right size and shape. After this the evaluation takes place on both the last one and on the hundredth part.

After lunch we were taken to Lindale the headquarters of Toro. This impressive building houses the marketing, design and sales section of Toro as well as the testing facilities. We were lucky enough to sit in on a mechanics course that Toro frequently run for golf course mechanics. During this session the design team were taking about how they bring about the production of a new product from the original concept up to building the prototype. For this state of the art CAD is used to design each part and simulate the stresses that will be placed on that part. Each part is pushed to snapping to see if it can cope with unexpected loads, if necessary the part is beefed up or a new part manufactured. All of this happens with out actually building a part. The CAD system allows the designed to see the part in motion from every angle. Once this system has been passed, naturally to Toro’s high standards, a prototype is made; it is then passed over to the testing facility.

All of the mechanics plus Kendall and I were allowed access to Toro’s test facilities. The remit of the testing facility is simple. Break the machine. To do this in a controlled fashion the team try to simulate all of the conditions that Toro equipment will be faced with. Some of the facilities were continuous start –stopping of machines, using machines at minus 30 and at plus 45. One test running was determining the life expectancy of cylinder components whilst operating in chlorine, salt and sand. For this a cylinder was being run in a bath of chlorine, salt and with an inch of coarse sand until it broke. All of Toro’s equipment is tested against its competitors to compare. Sound emissions are conducted in a very unusual room, a sound proof room. A bay has been decked out with what appears to be polystyrene spike coming from the wall and ceiling. Once the door and window are shut a deathly silence falls in the room, at one point when everyone was still and quiet I could hear my own heartbeat, total silence. A similar experience can be had at a Burnley home game. Unfortunately Toro haven’t been able to develop a stress test that an 18-year-old apprentice can some how place on a machine.

After a brief tour of the offices, a meeting with Barry Beckett we were taken out for an evening meal at one of Minneapolis’ best, Mannys. This was a wonderful way to end this leg of my trip. The restaurant shows you each cut of meat prior to ordering to allow the customer to get it right including the live lobster routine. The meal and the company were wonderful. The bill for the meal for 6 was way in excess of $600. Jace made the mistake of allowing me to pick a bottle of red wine. I selected a Californian, the price of which was over $120 for the bottle. Jace told me this at the end; I sat in stunned silence and said, nervously, worth every penny. To my shock his response was would I like to order another. I declined.

The next day was the start of the final leg to Riverside in California. Another 4 am start took me to Minneapolis airport, where I caught a flight to Denver and then on to Ontario, California. Two things to note the flight over the American Rockies and the Sierra Nevada mountains were breathtaking. The second point, for next years winner, when boarding the flight to Ontario make sure it’s to California. One unlucky passenger got on a flight to Ontario, Canada.

After checking in at the riverside Marriott and with my wife, I got to sample the laid back Californian lifestyle, which is quite intoxicating. I had the pleasure of meeting Steve Snow who is the head of marketing of Toro’s irrigation products for golf courses. This was the point of going to California to give me an insight into the design, production and manufacture of Toro’s irrigation line. After being entertained for a meal with Steve and being given a run down on the irrigation line it was time for bed. All these time differences do catch up with you.

The following day I was picked up at 9 am by the head of marketing and taken to the Riverside plant. Toro have been making irrigation products for golf courses since the 60’s. The irrigation side of Toro’s portfolio is growing at a slightly quicker rate that the other facets, this no doubt a result of the huge emphasis being placed upon water users, potable water sources and environmental concerns. To reflect this trend Toro has just extended and redeveloped their main office in Jasmine Street, Riverside. The final phase of the moving and restructure was well under way when I visited. The irrigation section has been structured in a way to respond to the 3 main users of irrigation products; domestic, commercial and professional. Each of these divisions has their own department, sales and marketing team and product line to meet customer demands and after care. After a quick tour of the departments I was put into the capable hands of Chad McCormick, aka Mr Nozzle. Chad is the sprinkler man, after the need for a new sprinkler has been identified; it is Chad’s responsibility to make it work. To do this Chad utilises the CAD system to project the flow of water through the sprinkler head at given pressures, from here he has to develop the correct nozzle or range of nozzles to make the sprinkler perform as required. Chad was responsible for the manufacture of Toro’s new 800 series of sprinkler nozzle. In fact if you use any of Toro’s sprinkler it’s a fair bet to say that Chad has somewhere along the line worked on the head. In order to get the 800 series just right Chad was designing and then redesigning up to 5 nozzles per day to get it right. For each nozzle a computer analysis is done to take into account of all of the flow dynamics of the sprinkler, the CAD system illustrates the flow of water, where water hammer is taken place and where uneven distribution from the nozzle is taking place. Then it’s back to the drawing board and refining the nozzle and more tests.

As part of the evaluation process Riverside has its own test facility as part of the new building. In here the sprinkler runs for a prescribed amount of time and water is collected in containers along the entire length of the arc. This is to identify the distribution of water from the nozzle. Data is down loaded straight to Chad. Other factors are tested in this facility such as water hammer. Sprinkler heads were being repeatedly blasted with water of 120 psi every minute to determine how long they would last. Once again different water was tested; salt water, de-salinised water, chlorinated, soft and hard water to see if these affect performance and the life of the sprinkler. Different water pressures, pressurised air was being pushed through as well as water filled with debris such as sand to determine performance and durability. All components of the Toro sprinkler system go through these tests, including pipes, joins and valves.

After the test facility was the manufacturing side where a run down of the components and materials are tested foe their suitability for sprinklers and how the moulding of the heads are done to Toro standards. The vast majority of the plastics parts are built up layer after layer in 0.5mm increments to get the right product, including nozzles.

After lunch at Appleby’s I met up with John Fuller. John is a product manager for the golf course side; his responsibility is in the electrical components, particularly the controllers. John took me around the electrical side of Riverside. Once again the testing was imaginative to say the least. Each electrical component is tested for lightning, or as near as possible. All electrical boards are put through similar test to see where the y will burn out. This helps the maintenance people predict what can go wrong so speedier diagnostics can be done and system can be up again as quickly as possible. Finally were the PC set-ups for the Trident, Gemini and Site pro. These I found quite amazing. The computer down loads weather info and automatically adjust irrigation run time. The user can alter the setting to adjust for site variations. The computer monitors the operation of watering throughout and adjusts the flow, rate and pressure of water to maintain constant performance even if there is a leak or blockage. A full diagnostic is performed on the system and a read out of water totals for each zone and for each head can be taken.

One interesting part of the irrigation side is the future. A team of Toro’s irrigation experts are given the task of developing technology for 5 years in the future. One such project is to fit mowers with infrared sensors to scan the areas that the mower cuts. The infrared image is downloaded to the PC where it detects turf grass stress levels before they are visible to the human eye. If this is done then heat stress will be detected prior to the dry patch being seen so the computer will add additional water to this area by increasing the flow or run time to one head if need be. A similar scenario will be done to detect turf disorders such as diseases before the turf manager can see them. The benefits of this are to make better use of water chemicals and future water restrictions.

John was also kind enough to take me shopping to buy a camera for Louise before taking me back to my hotel in preparation for a meal with Gary Caplan, Director of customer care.

The meal with Gary was one of the most enjoyable of the whole visit. The restaurant was excellent, Gary introduced me to the delights of ostrich and another bottle of wine was consumed. The topic of conversation was of American life and politics. The politics of America and of the UK are topics I find interesting. During my visit to the US the country was trying to elect a democratic candidate to run for the White House against George W Bush, the news from the primaries filled the news for the whole 8 weeks. Gary was interested in the British system; differences and comparisons were made on either system.

After the meal Gary took me over the road to the Mission Inn. This is a historic building, now a hotel. Its roots lie in the18th century when missionaries used it during the Americas independence struggle. In the bar area the walls are adorned with pictures of every US President that has visited the Inn. Whilst at the bar I found another thing in common with Gary a mutual love of whiskey. Gary ordered a round of whiskey that was over 100 years old not surprisingly this cost $20 per shot, but extremely well on the palate. After the Mission Inn it was time to go home.

My last full day in America was a relaxing affair. Leonard Doup joined me for breakfast, from product design of Toro’s irrigation department. After a substantial American breakfast Leonard took me off for days golf on an Arnold Palmer designed golf course, one that is used for the secondary PGA tour. The golf was erratic, by me, but the company was once again good. It’s hard to imagine playing golf in a t-shirt in February. The course was in excellent condition with lightning fast greens. One consoling point is that Poa annua dominated the sward. After the golf Leonard took me to a seafood restaurant when Leonard introduced me to shark and mia-mia, a local fish. After that the sun was starting to set not just on another full day but on my American adventure.

The day after it was time to go home. The journey to Ontario airport started at 10 am, following a precarious flight to Los Angeles in a twin prop plane that was bumpy A 6 pm flight to London was to follow. The flight to London was a 10-hour flight. During the breakfast meal I was served with the same pastry that had cased a mild dose of food poisoning from San Diego, I opted to give it to the gentlemen next to me who responded by thanking me in German. For the next 2 hours a broad smile was to be seen on my face. A time adjustment was done in London during a long 2-hour wait for a flight to Manchester. Once at Manchester, I naturally got stopped by customs, which always seems to happen to me. I was met by a rather surprised 3-year old boy shocked to see daddy home. During my absence Matthew had been brain washed, he was wearing a Bolton Wanderers top, not a Rovers top; the cruel work of Uncle Lee. After being reunited with the family it was hard to believe what had taken place in the last 2 months. Jet lag got the better of me and an early night was taken in preparation for my first day at work since December 19th.

For my first day back I was greeted with a thick frost and a cold east wind plus the approach to the 4th green needed finishing off, stupid reality.

After the dust has settled on an amazing trip I would like to take this opportunity to thank Peter Mansfield and Lely UK, Andy Brown of Toro, and all at BIGGA for helping to make this dream come true. A special thanks to all those people that were kind enough to look after the English man abroad, to the people of UMASS, Toro in Minneapolis and Toro in California for looking after me so well and giving me remarkable stories to tell for years to come.