Thursday, April 9, 2015

Rolling Out the First Green in Florida

Recently, I had the pleasure to sit down with superintendent Charlie Butterbaugh and general manager John Cameron from the Daytona Beach Golf Club to discuss conducting a First Green environmental learning lab at their facility this fall. We discussed initial considerations of utilizing this program to expose students from an inner-city school to the many benefits of golf and get them excited about the practical science lessons involved. I was able to provide lesson plans supplied by the First Green that Cameron will use to pitch the program to the principal and hopefully get the ball rolling at his facility. 

Daytona Beach GC is part of ValleyCrest Golf, and they have expressed a keen interest in pursuing the program at their other facilities as well. Cameron and Butterbaugh said they would like to expand the program to other area schools after they get a feel for it with the initial offering. Both gentlemen were excited to have GCSAA involvement in this endeavor. I am looking forward to working with them as well, and I am hopeful that this will lead to a firestorm of interest in the First Green program here in Daytona and elsewhere around the state. 

First Green is an innovative environmental education outreach program using golf courses as environmental labs. Golf course superintendents host students on field trips where they test water quality, collect soil samples, identify plants, design plantings, and are involved in the ecology and environmental aspects of the golf course. The students are also introduced to many other aspects of golf.

I have discussed this program at chapter events and know that there are so many opportunities around the state to conduct the environmental labs and help young children gain an appreciation for the work you do every day on your golf courses. If you are interested in conducting a First Green field trip at your facility, please reach out to me at By hosting students, we can hopefully enlighten them to the numerous environmental benefits golf courses provide and get them excited about the game of golf.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Training, Training, and More Training

I was watching my boys practice for their flag football teams last weekend, and I noted how far they have come from their first involvement with the sport. They are beginning to understand the nuances of their pass routes, and they are getting much more adept at catching the football. It is amazing how their coaches have been able to hone the boys’ skills through the drills and training that they provide in practice. I am filled with anticipation for the upcoming season as I know their development will continue throughout.

In the same fashion that my boys’ coaches provide training for them, GCSAA provides training for our members to help them fine tune their skills. We have live and on-demand webcasts that can be utilized from the comfort and convenience of one’s office. Coming up in San Antonio in February, we have the Super Bowl of education events at the 2015 Golf Industry Show.

The GCSAA Education Conference at GIS is the largest education event in the industry and covers all aspects of golf course management, including agronomics, environmental management, communication and business management. In San Antonio, there will be 84 seminars, including 26 new seminars joining the line-up, as well as a variety of new education sessions and the always-popular education on the trade show floor: Answers on the Hour and Tech Tips on the Half.

Why is all this training so important? Just like my boys' flag football efforts, the GCSAA education that you or your assistants or your technicians participate in helps to build a more complete team. The stronger the individuals are, the better the team as a whole will function. On a number of occasions my boys have played against another team with one super stud player but the rest of the team is not of the same caliber, and the results typically end up with us defeating the other team. I've heard their coach say that if you can draft three or four key players that you can go a long way in the league.

The same is true for the golf course maintenance department. With a quality group of key individuals, you can go a long way to successfully achieving your goals. Obviously, the team needs a strong superintendent to lead them. But it is also critical to have well-trained and complimentary individuals supporting the superintendent in the positions of assistant superintendent, equipment manager and the other technicians on staff. If these key positions can come together as a cohesive unit and assist in training the rest of the individuals in the department, then you as the superintendent may well be on your way to success. Training, training, and more training at each level of your team helps ensure the quality standards you have set are met.

GCSAA can provide the educational offerings that will strengthen the team at your facilities. We are hopeful that you, the members, will see the benefit of being an inclusive association that provides for the training of all your key individuals and thus making your team solid at every position. 

Now let’s go out there and win one for the Gipper!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014


I can’t get the song “Deep in the Heart of Texas” out of my head: The stars at night are big and bright, deep in the heart of Texas. After having recently visited San Antonio, Texas, I have to tell you I am thrilled with the host city for the 2015 Golf Industry Show. 
San Antonio may well be one of the most delightful locations we visit. The area immediately surrounding the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center is welcoming and clean with the added allure of the city’s River Walk. I am convinced that the upcoming Golf Industry Show is most certainly a must-attend event. The convention center is conveniently located with great access from the surrounding hotels. There are a number of high-quality hotels within a 10-minute walk of the center, and the ability to access it from the street level or the River Walk provides attendees the opportunity to enjoy the best that San Antonio has to offer. 

Along the River Walk, attendees will find an abundance of dining opportunities, as well as shops and some amazing cypress trees and gardens. The entire River Walk area is truly unique and provides an exhilarating pathway to the convention center where attendees will have the opportunity to participate in a variety of educational seminars. 

At street level, you will find a city rich in historic significance that is well maintained with, perhaps, some of the friendliest people I have encountered. For those of you who know me well this will not come as a surprise, but there was more than one occasion that I found myself turned around. In each instance, without even asking, somebody offered me assistance. Yes, it is that obvious when I am lost!

Once at the convention center, attendees will be just as impressed with the facilities here. The ballrooms are well equipped to facilitate our large event sessions. The classrooms and lobby areas are as striking as the rest of the city. When the trade show floor is open, attendees and exhibitors alike will be impressed with the spaciousness provided.

During my visit to San Antonio, I did not have the chance to make it out to the golf courses hosting the GCSAA Golf Championships, but I have reviewed the facilities on our Golf Industry Show website. In speaking with Brian Cloud, field staff representative for the South Central region, he noted that the courses are just as impressive in person as they are on the website. If you haven’t already taken the opportunity to check out the website, I would encourage you to visit Registration for the GCSAA Golf Championships and Golf Industry Show opens Nov. 4, 2014, for GCSAA members. 

I know I probably sound like I am taking a pay check from the San Antonio visitors’ bureau, but my experience there truly heightened my eagerness to return for the Golf Industry Show Feb. 21 – 26, 2015. I know I am fixin' to be “Where Big Things Happen,” but more importantly will I be seeing you deep in the heart of Texas? I surely hope you don’t miss out on this great city and the numerous offerings GCSAA has in store for you!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

“It’s July and I am a superintendent in Florida…..”

As I have traveled around the state this month, a common theme has persisted. Mother Nature has not cooperated with maintenance practices in the “Sunshine State.” As a matter of fact, it seems that she has gone out of her way to be rather troublesome. 

From the southeast to southwest and central parts of the state, superintendents have been working around rainfall and lightning as they attempt to get midsummer work completed. I spoke with a few superintendents, and one relayed that he had received 15 inches of rain over a seven-day period that coincided with his aerification program. Another superintendent indicated that this has been the third wettest summer in his 15 years at his facility.

What has really caught my attention isn’t the weather itself but rather the way GCSAA members persevere through the hardships it has created. I have yet to speak to an individual who has said that Mother Nature has gotten the best of them. Everybody has come up with a plan B and C, and sometimes D, to work around the inconveniences thrown at them. As one superintendent put it when I asked how he was doing, “It’s July and I am a superintendent in Florida. I am making the best of it!” It seems like the individuals in this industry truly shine when the deck is most stacked against them.

There may be some tired faces around the state, but nobody has been defeated. It is because of this mentality that it is a pleasure to associate with the men and women who hold the position of golf course superintendent. In these times, it is also important to know that GCSAA is by your side with resources to help you communicate the issues with which you are dealing. If I can be of any assistance please do not hesitate to contact me!!

Ralph Dain

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Proposed “Waters of the United States” Rule imposes massive costs and restrictions on golf course operations

In my travels, I have spoken to chapters regarding the proposed expansion of the Clean Waters Act by the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers. I thought this information from GCSAA's government relations department may be helpful to members. It is my hope that after reading this information you will visit the government relations section of the website (found under the community tab on the home page) where you can request that Congress allows for an additional 90 days for public comment on this issue. The following summary was provided by Chava McKeel, GCSAA associate director, government relations:

Proposed “Waters of the United States” Rule imposes massive
costs and restrictions on golf course operations
I.  Overview:  The Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) and Army Corps of Engineers (“Corps”) have proposed a rule that would bring nearly every river, stream, creek, wetland, pond, ditch and ephemeral (land that looks like a small stream during heavy rain but isn’t wet most of the time) in the United States under the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act (“CWA”).  Under the rule, all tributaries and adjacent waters, including adjacent wetlands, would be categorically subject to federal oversight, with no additional analysis required.  Additionally, the EPA is proposing a sweeping “other waters” category that could include almost everything else.  Golf courses that have these waters on them or near them will likely be required to obtain costly, federal permits for any land management activities or land use decisions made. 

An attempt to clarify vague congressional language…The intent of the EPA and the Corps was to end 40 years of debate as to what Congress meant by the term “waters of the United States” (WOTUS) under Section 502 of the CWA.  But to accomplish this, EPA and the Corp took the non-binding “significant nexus” test proposed by Justice Kennedy in the case of Rapanos v. United States and made it the basis of a rule that would add three new categories of water under the CWA’s jurisdiction. 
1.     Tributaries of waters traditionally regulated under the CWA (defined for first time to include ditches and any feature that carries flow, regardless of volume).
2.     Waters adjacent to the newly-defined tributaries or any water traditionally regulated under the CWA, including adjacent ponds, ditches and wetlands. 
3.     So-called “other waters”, a catch-all term that’s deliberately vague and uses undefined terms such as similarly situated and the concept of aggregation.

…goes much further.  For every new body of water to be included under the CWA there has to be a significant nexus between it and the bodies of waters traditionally regulated under the CWA.  The connection must be so that the water impacts the “chemical, physical or biological integrity” of the traditionally regulated water.  If allowed to stand, this would include almost every water body in the U.S., except those that are geographically isolated.  If finalized without significant change, the rule will subject more activities on golf courses to additional permitting requirements, environmental impact analyses, costly mitigation and citizen lawsuits.
II. Points to raise with federal decision makers:  
A.  Access to water is vital for the health, beauty, and economic viability of golf courses.  Subjecting golf courses to an expensive and unpredictable permitting process will threaten all of this.  According to GCSAA’s Property Profile and Environmental Stewardship of Golf Courses – Volume I from the Golf Course Environmental Profile, an average 18-hole golf course comprises 150 acres.  Of those 150 acres, 11 acres are comprised of streams, ponds, lakes, and/or wetlands for a total footprint of 161,183 acres nationwide. Golf courses have been designed to take advantage of the availability of these waters to both enhance the golf experience and provide much needed water for course activities.  In many instances, golf courses have been designed to collect runoff from adjacent properties for flood control and pollution prevention. Courses use this runoff as an irrigation source as well. In many cases, courses use reclaimed water to help water purveyors handle excess recycled water. The course irrigates with this water providing filtration and an economical solution. The proposed rule could limit and possibly end golf course operations with superintendents required to get costly federal permits that would now apply to their operations, including: 
Sections 402 of the CWA impact golf courses. Section 402 establishes the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination (NPDES) permitting program, in which EPA or states (with EPA oversight) can issue permits for discharges of pollutants into WOTUS. If almost all water bodies on a golf course are deemed WOTUS, many routine golf course management activities (such as fertilizer and pesticide applications) will be deemed to result in a “discharge” to those so-called WOTUS. Activities that result in a “discharge” cannot legally go forward without a required permit. Most important, there is no legal right to a permit to “discharge” into WOTUS —or any deadline on an agency’s process to issue a permit. Permitting may take months or even years, or permits may simply be unavailable.

Sections 404 of the CWA impact golf courses. Section 404 allows the Corps to issue permits for discharges of “dredge and fill” material into WOTUS. This includes discharges that would result from moving soil, such as planting trees, installing drainage, dredging ponds/wetlands, and fixing stream alignments or banks below the ordinary high water mark including rip rap for erosion protection. Under federal authority, proposed golf course construction or renovation projects within jurisdictional areas may require an individual, regional or nationwide permit. The rule would give much greater authority for the federal government rather than the state to approve or deny these projects.

Costly permits, burdensome paperwork and citizen action lawsuits are of concern. If permit coverage is obtained, permits often include paperwork and reporting requirements in addition to any requirements aimed at protecting water quality. Violations of these paperwork or reporting obligations carry the same potential penalties as unlawful “discharges”—up to $37,500 per violation per day —and may be enforced by EPA, the state or even interested citizens groups. Citizen-suit traps can disrupt operations & jeopardize businesses.

Drain on state resources. The rule doesn’t address effects on state-federal resources of permitting, oversight and enforcement. States have agencies and departments that are in charge of environmental protection and water quality, and state-led programs that promote BMP implementation should be strengthened.

B.  Golf course superintendents are environmental stewards who work to protect the environment. GCSAA supports water quality protection laws and regulations that are based on sound science and credible data and promote the values of turfgrass and professionally managed landscapes.  Golf course pesticide applicators are trained in the safe and proper use of pesticides within an integrated pest management (IPM) system. Golf course superintendents follow BMPs for proper pesticide management of the course. IPM is key to healthy turfgrass and is part of the agronomic and environmental BMPs. Golf courses incorporating physical (swales, wetlands, etc.), agronomic and environmental BMPs help to ensure water quality protection. Cultural/agronomic practices (aerification, correct mowing, etc.), IPM/nutrient management and environmental practices (equipment washing to chemical storage) provide healthy turf and help golf courses provide healthy greenspace in the watershed.  The ability to provide a healthy turfgrass stand depends on being able to use the types of BMPs that would be prohibited if EPA denies a permit for them. 

C.  Properly maintained turfgrass provides many community benefits.  This includes critical "greenspaces”, habitat for birds and other wildlife, recreational opportunities, capture of run-off pollutants in stormwater, carbon sequestration, and oxygen production. In addition, many entities both public and private rely on healthy turfgrass as a key component in maintaining financial revenues. Healthy turfgrass acts to reduce the velocity of runoff and filters particulates and contaminants from water bodies.

III.  Conclusion:  GCSAA does not support the EPA or the Army Corps of Engineers expanding the jurisdictional reach of the federal Clean Water Act. This would be an unprecedented expansion of the regulatory authority of the federal government. Expanded federal jurisdiction would pre-empt traditional state and local government authority over land and water use decisions and alter the balance of federal and state authority.