Pomme on Tour

Martin Gunn, Course Manager at Temple Golf Club represented BIGGA at the recent Australian Conference.

Unusually for me (and much more like Duncan McGilvray!) I was sitting in the office when the phone rang one wet winter afternoon.
"Martin it's Neil Thomas how are you?"
"Yeah, very well thanks (thinks this is unusual). What can I do for you?" 

"Martin, I'm going to make you an offer you can't refuse."

At this point I prepare myself for some mind numbingly menial task that the association is struggling to get anyone else to do!
"Oh yes," I said, (trying to sound as interested as possible).
"How do you fancy representing the Association at the Australian Turfgrass Conference in Brisbane next June... Martin are you there?"

Well as you can imagine, I was dumbfounded and spent the next few minutes bouncing off the walls of my office. When I finally calmed down, I think I agreed to go before even finding out what I had to do when I got there. Anyway, agree I did (of course after seeking employer endorsement) and on rationalising decided that the prospect for vocational development was one which couldn't be refused.

I've been told that I then spent the next few weeks annoying fellow workmates, local greenkeepers, relatives and friends by repeating: "Oh... did I tell you that I'm off to Brisbane next June?" Personally, I find that hard to believe. Anyhow, time marched ever on and before I knew it I had completed my preparations, had notification of travel and hotel arrangements, liased with fellow 'keepers' from Oz, arrived and was ready to begin.

For those of you who have visited the Brisbane Convention Centre I'm sure you would agree that it is a pretty impressive building. Similar in stature to Birmingham's NEC, its outstanding architecture and wall-to-wall power point suites set an expectation of excellence. The accompanying programme gave general information on all lectures and workshops, splitting delegates into two main groups, greenkeepers and groundsmen. Even with 600 expectant 'turfies' it was easy to find your way round and locate which workshop you wanted to attend.

As for singing for my supper, I had to present one paper on golf course ecology 'British style' and to take part in two one hour open forums. The first of these forums was on golf course preparation and the other on construction. What I didn't realise was that these forums were interactive sessions and as part of a distinguished panel of scientists and greenkeepers, I would take part in answering questions from the floor, for the entire session! As you can imagine, this proved both enlightening and challenging. After all, there is little you can prepare if you don't know what you're going to be asked. However, I believe this was one of the most important sessions of the entire conference and with the clever and accomplished chairmanship of John Neylan (AGCSA tech dept) this session more than met its objectives of providing a 'World of Ideas'.

Of course what the Aussies do very well (apart from winning the Ashes) is socialise. After arriving at 01 :30hrs and with jet lag still trying to get the better of me, I spent my first day in Brisbane acclimatising and getting my bearings. Towards the end of the day I wandered over to the Convention Centre and literally bumped into Euan Laird, Chief Executive Officer for the Australian Golf Course Superintendents Association. Euan made me very welcome and pointed me in the direction of his team who were already in place and busy preparing for the show. He also very kindly asked me if I would like to take part in the AGCSA National Golfing Tournament, which was due to leave the hotel at 06:00hrs next morning. I humbly declined, as at that point my body clock had not quite realigned itself. However, I did manage to make the welcome cocktail party (Hawaiian style) that evening. With hindsight, an invaluable experience as I managed to meet many of the ACCSA staff and delegates. The ice was quickly broken with stories of great cricketing and rugby prowess all of which, quite rightly, were bias. On reflection this had been an excellent start to my trip, I was settled in and reassured that 'these guys were no different from us'.

Next day and still slightly bleary eyed it was time to start the conference proper.
Looking through the conference programme gave you an idea of the calibre of information to be disseminated over the next few days. The list of speakers included: Dr Joe Vargas, Michigan State University; Dr Richard Gibbs, New Zealand Sports Turf Institute; Dr Earl EIsner, Georgia Seed Development Commission; Dr David Huff, Penn State University, and Professor Peter Martin, University of Sydney, to name but a few.
Further augmenting this heavy weight list of speakers were representatives of the AGCSA including: John Neylan, AGCSA Tech. Dept; Mark Couchman, President AGCSA; David Warwick, Avondale GC; John Well, Royal Sydney CC; Jim Porter, Royal Melbourne GC, and several others of Australia's leading golf course superintendents.

Papers presented at the conference included, new and emerging turf diseases; new hybrid couch grasses; pests; negotiating skills; maximising performance; quotes and tenders; data and information collection; irrigation; seed evaluation; root zone composition and topdressing; and black layer development. There were also several representatives from industry, speaking on issues such as sustainability, quality and performance standards, all in all a thoroughly diverse and very interesting agenda.
So what did I learn? Obviously there was an enormous amount of information to assimilate throughout the conference, but what struck me most was how alike our industries are, even if they are on opposing sides of the globe. Of course the issues are different, such as temperatures, pests, diseases and disorders. However, the core problems faced by Superintendents are very similar, namely realistic expectations, committee interference and political uncertainty. This was adequately demonstrated in a conversation with Martin 'Blacky' Black, one of the leading lights of their Association. He told me that during one high profile nationally televised tournament that he was running, a golfer commented that the greens had been over watered. I can't actually print Martin's rather typical Aussie reply, but I will tell you that all this happened during temperatures reaching 42 degrees C!

In conclusion, taking part in the Brisbane conference was an experience that I would recommend anyone. I found it invaluable and will benefit from what I learned for many years to come. Personally, I would like to see the two Associations working even more closely together and perhaps developing initiatives such as exchange programmes. This could benefit particularly younger greenkeepers who, after all, are the future of this industry.

Towards the end of the convention there was the usual flurry of socialising and farewells. An excellent post conference banquet wrapped up proceedings during which I was especially privileged to witness Dr Joe Vargas as Elvis. Time for a reality check and to head home!

Finally, I can't finish without thanking both BIGGA and AGCSA for their time and effort in helping me achieve this ambition. For the cynics among us, it just shows how far we have come as an Association and I hope aptly demonstrates the professional capabilities and passion that the majority of greenkeepers the world over have for their chosen vocation.