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.

Monday, April 28, 2014

The Car Carriers Are Here!!

For those of you in other parts of the country the announcement of spring may come in a variety of ways; the new blooms on trees and plants, Punxsutawney Phil not seeing his shadow, or the ability to wear shorts on one day and the need for hats and gloves on the next. But here in Florida, we can tell that spring has sprung when one observes the migration of car carriers in a north bound direction on I-95 or I-75.

For those of us in the golf industry, it means that the opportunity to begin cultural practices and projects has arrived. In my travels I have witnessed the joy on superintendents’ faces as they speak about the dates that they have scheduled for their first course aerifications. They seem giddy with anticipation as though expecting the birth of their first child. There are no details left out as they discuss the preparation of equipment and tine sizes they will utilize. The details of their specific nuances are shared with pride. It is captivating to me as I have the opportunity to hear so many variations to accomplish basically the identical tasks.

With as much enthusiasm as our members have for tearing things up on the golf course to help in the recovery from the winter season, the golfers have an equal amount of malevolence. How many times have the words “The greens are perfect as they are. I don’t understand why you are doing this” been uttered? The key to overcome this diversity of opinions has always been and will continue to be the ability to communicate the benefits to the golfer.

To this end, I wanted to remind our members that GCSAA has a plethora of resources to help communicate with golfers that can be posted in locker rooms or pro shops. On our website, in GCM, and our other communication pieces there are articles on all types of agronomic issues including aerification. Also there is an expansive library available under the TGIF section as well.

I share your enthusiasm for this time of year and when asked what I miss about being a superintendent this is on my list. I wish all of you the best of weather and great results in your endeavors. Remember to utilize the resources available to you through your membership including me if the need arises.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Funding research, advocacy and education through Rounds 4 Research

Are nematodes giving you headaches? Is the fear of fertilizer bans keeping you up at night? If only there was an opportunity that could facilitate answers to these questions, but wait a minute, there is an answer.

That answer is Rounds 4 Research. I have discussed the basics of the GCSAA/EIFG program and the great opportunity we have in Florida to raise some much needed money. I want to illustrate ways that these funds can provide real solutions to the issues you are facing. The rewards will benefit the entire industry not just one segment. Golfer expectations are still very high, and solutions to today’s challenges can go a long way to maintaining their enjoyment of the game and, subsequently, your enjoyment of the profession.

As an industry we enjoy a great relationship with our universities. They are willing and able to conduct research on issues like nematode control, finding alternatives for MSMA and Methyl Bromide, as well as field studies on new chemistries. Unfortunately there are limited resources to conduct the necessary research. In exchange for foursomes of golf at local facilities, funds could be generated to help garner these necessary resources through R4R.

The fear of fertilizer bans and water regulations definitely keep me up at night. Just when you think you are winning, a new issue arises somewhere in the state. Right now the issue of fertilizer ordinances containing restrictive blackout periods is ongoing in Brevard County as well as the city of Stuart and a number of other locations around the state. I am also aware that in Naples there is a movement to increase the amount of money that courses pay to take on reclaimed water. The price of a few foursomes of golf seems very little to pay to fight these issues, right?

Wouldn’t it be nice to attend a meeting with an authority on any issue with which you are currently dealing. Again, the funds generated from our Rounds 4 Research program can be directed for chapter education. One of the primary functions of the chapter is to educate their members and help them advance in their careers. Since launching Rounds 4 Research in July of 2012, nearly $150,000 has been raised for turfgrass research, advocacy, scholarships, or education.

Now, here is what I ask of you. Please take a moment and visit the website at http://www.rounds4research.com/. Review the R4R information, and if you have any questions contact me. The first auction this year is June 9-22. We ask that you submit your donations prior to April 15. Our second auction is August 1-10. Please consider making a donation of at least a foursome or becoming a fundraising partner to this very worthwhile cause. YOUR donation is an investment in YOUR future success.

Ralph Dain – GCSAA Regional Representative (FL)

Friday, February 21, 2014

Keeping the Appropriate Life Balance

I had written this piece for the Winter Issue of The Florida Green and received an outpouring of positive responses. One of the calls I received suggested that I should get this word out beyond Florida and to our members across the country. After kicking it around in my mind for awhile I decided to take his advice.

I have had something that I have wanted to address, and I hope it is not too personal. I am going to write this with the desire that it causes at least one person to pause and think about the things that are the most important in life.

Throughout my career I have run around like my hair is on fire and tried to be everything to everybody, especially at work. From my time as a superintendent, I know how easy it is to focus primarily on the job at hand and lose touch with the other aspects of your life. I did this on a regular basis, and it was a contributing factor in the failure of my first marriage. One of my biggest regrets is that I did not get to see my three oldest boys grow up. They relocated to Ohio as I continued to work in Florida. I know a number of my colleagues who have endured similar circumstances. Through the years, summertime visits and holidays were not enough to replace what should have been an everyday dad.

In August 2012 I was driving to conduct a strategic planning session with the North Florida GCSA. I thought about my sons and was going to call but thought better of it because it was raining during my drive, and I needed to pay attention to the road. The rain continued on the drive home so I never placed the call.

The next day I completed my notes and sent them back to the board of the North Florida GCSA and conducted my typical day. I got so invested in work that I forgot all about the call I did not make the previous day.

That evening the phone rang at 8:04, and I answered to hear my oldest son on the phone. I heard his mother asking if I had picked up. My son handed the phone to her, and she immediately blurted out that our son Hunter had been found dead in his bedroom. The words hit me like a gunshot, and I fell to the floor. I could not move as the words ricocheted in my head. I was going to call him yesterday, and I did not!

Over the next several days, weeks, and even months, I was pretty numb and could not get a handle on everything that had happened. My 15-year-old son, Hunter, had passed away from an accidental drug overdose. I still ask myself if I had called that day would things be different? I don’t have the answer to that question, but I ask it to myself very frequently.

I know this is the extreme, and I hope that nobody ever experiences anything like this. I wanted to share my story so that maybe if you are reading this article, you will take the time and examine your own situation to determine if you have the appropriate life balance. There will always be greens that need attention or irrigation repairs that need to be made and reports to be filed, but remember your family needs you with them more than the job does. In the year and a half that has gone by since my son passed away, I believe I have found a better life balance. God is first, my family is second, and I am third. I have this written inside my notebook in case I let my priorities get confused. With the business of the golf season upon us, I just wanted to remind you to take time to spend with your family, the issues on the golf course, or on any job for that matter, will be there to be tackled tomorrow.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

1 in 1,000 Year Storm a Real Duck Hook as The Golf Season Tees Off..

As I was traveling on the west coast of Florida, I heard the news of nearly 2 feet of rain falling in the Palm Beach Area on Feb. 10. The storm is being described as a once-in-a-thousand-year event. For GCSAA members and golf facilities in this area, the timing of this deluge could not be worse.

Typically Florida's golf season commences full throttle after the holidays. This latest curve ball that Mother Nature has thrown comes on the heals of one of the wettest summers in a number of years. Also, I have learned from several superintendents in the area that not only the rain, but the constant cloudy days are taking their toll on turf conditions as leaf spot diseases are finding the conditions favorable for development.

Beyond the turf conditions, there is the cost of repairing irrigation equipment as satellite controllers and pump stations were immersed underwater. These costs can potentially sky rocket as the damages are assessed. There will be a direct impact on budgets as the repairs will need to be made.

It has been a difficult year to say the least in this part of the state. My hope is that golfers at these facilities will be understanding long after the flood waters recede. There will be season-long ramifications that may be difficult to overcome and will be compounded if golfer expectations are not modified while superintendents undertake the arduous task of putting everything back in place.

My intention for blogging about this is to shed some light on a situation that will no doubt take some time from which to recover. GCSAA has resources that can help our members communicate to their golfers the very real impact that this latest weather event has had, and will continue to have, on their courses. If there is anything that we can provide to help you in your recovery plan and communications please do not hesitate to reach out to me as your GCSAA Regional Representative.

My thoughts are with you!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Looking forward.....Looking back

I love this time of year when you can reflect on the accomplishments and lessons of 2013 and look forward to new challenges and opportunities in 2014.

As always, it is immensely gratifying to work with the chapter leaders as well as individual members assisting them in reaching their goals. This relationship is the essence of what we do at GCSAA. It makes for an enjoyable work situation when you are dealing with professionals on a daily basis. I truly consider myself blessed to represent GCSAA and the Florida region.

All of the chapters can point to a multitude of successes in 2013, from fundraising events to membership retention or even growth, and most importantly the camaraderie we all enjoy at functions. This networking is vital to the success of any association, and it is ever present across the region. 

I know the new year is a time for resolutions, so I will share with you my desires for 2014:

I would love to engage local chapters in either first-time strategic planning sessions or follow up on sessions that have already been conducted. We have enjoyed some great success with these planning sessions and believe there are benefits for all of us to participate in the process.

I see opportunities to assist chapters in their efforts to retain or grow membership. I have continued the pursuit of facility visits and look to aggressively participate in this form of communication in 2014. Also, by working closely with chapter boards, I am hopeful that we can positively impact attendance at meetings and provide assistance in developing educational formats.

I want to take more opportunities to highlight accomplishments of members/chapters through the various vehicles we are utilizing at GCSAA such as GCM, GCSAA This Week, this blog, and Twitter feeds. You are doing so many wonderful things throughout the year, and I want to help you tell your story.

Finally, I will continue to advocate on behalf of industry when it comes to legislative issues that impact your ability to reach your professional best. Water quality issues will continue in 2014, and along with them will be restrictive fertilizer ordinances across the region. My goals are to keep you informed and represent you in the best manner possible. In addition, participation in the FGCSA BMP Certification program should be a goal on everyone’s list. You are the environmental stewards, and this program helps highlight your efforts. My personal goal for the program would be to see 50% of FGCSA members certified by the end of 2014, or as Todd Lowe says, “50 by 15.”

I wish all of you and your families the very best as we conclude 2013, and I look forward to working with you as we embark into 2014. Stay safe and enjoy the season!!