Inside the Green Start Academy

Friday, October 26, 2012

Earlier this month, Bayer CropScience and John Deer Golf hosted the 7th Annual Green Start Academy in North Carolina. Since 2005, John Deere Golf and Bayer’s goal for this program has been to help assistant superintendents build a strong foundation for their careers, as well as support the future of our golf courses and the entire industry. The top 50 applicants were invited for a unique opportunity to expand their knowledge on key industry issues and trends, network with their peers, and collaborate with industry experts. From topics on career development to best practice exchanges, the Green Start Academy provide assistants with knowledge and tips that are essential to their professional growth.

One of the attendees, Eric Gifford, an assistant superintendent at Wood Ranch Golf Club in California chronicled his experience at this year’s Green Start Academy in Golf Course Management Magazine. We hope his story encourages and inspires golf course assistant superintendents to apply for next year’s conference. Enjoy!

Eric’s experience at the 2012 Green Start Academy:

At 11:45 p.m., in Los Angeles, Calif., my alarm sounds.

I drag myself out of bed, grab my bags, and head toward LAX. I arrive at the airport a few minutes after midnight to find nobody in the security lines. I make my way to the gate and board at 1:30 a.m. Fast-forward to 10:30 a.m., EST. I touched down at Raleigh-Durham airport, barely able to keep my eyes open. I checked into the hotel and hit the hay before the evening festivities.

After my nap, I was ready to roll ... a bowling ball that is ... and unleash my world-class skills I honed in Beginners Bowling at Oklahoma State University.

We arrived at Sparian’s Bowling Boutique & Bistro for some dinner, drinks and bowling. My team held our own, but were unable to bring home the victory, yet I had my own small victory in executing every "Big Lebowski" quote flawlessly.

On Thursday morning we got to “sleep in” (the bus was leaving at 7:30 a.m.!), which was nice, but it was down to business. We arrived at the Bayer Environmental Science Technical Training Center, where we had introductions and then started the presentations, including "2012 State of the Golf Industry" delivered by Greg Nathan of the National Golf Foundation. It was an eye-opening presentation filled with statistics (including play being up 7.7 percent nationally through August), as well as a discussion of possible future trends for our industry.

Next up was Bob Baldassari from the PGA of America, who presented "Growing the Game of Golf." Mr. Baldassari illustrated how the PGA is working on programs to try and grow the game, getting people out to the courses, and just playing golf. He explained that “playing golf,” could be as little as putting around on the putting green or even just playing two or three holes a night.

Following lunch we moved onto my favorite part: Group discussion. We had roundtable discussions with the superintendent panel that was made up of Pat Finlen, Bob Farren, Ken Mangum, and Paul Grogan. During the discussions we broke into smaller groups and had the opportunity to ask the panel our questions. We discussed everything from how to stand out in our jobs to preparations for the U.S. Open. This was a great opportunity to speak with some of the top minds in our industry.

We had a break, then heard a presentation by Greg Lyman from the GCSAA. He talked about sustainability in the golf industry, which is currently a hot topic. Later, after some finger-lickin’ southern BBQ and the best fried chicken I have ever had, Mr. Finlen gave a talk about hosting the U.S. Open. I was fortunate enough to be a volunteer at the U.S. Open this year and work for Mr. Finlen, alongside the great Olympic Club staff and numerous volunteers from all over the world.

After a 12-hour day, it was time to head back to the hotel to recharge and get ready for another fun-filled day on Friday.

On Friday morning, we hit the fields at Bayer’s research farm. We were given a tour of the facility and shown studies on turf stress and water conservation. After the tour, we headed inside to catch what was coming in the future for John Deere (including Final Tier 4). Following a quick break we headed back to the classroom for the "Gadgets & Gizmos"presentation from University of Arkansas Associate Professor Doug Karcher. Dr. Karcher discussed how moisture sensors and smartphone apps are being used in the field. I enjoyed the presentation, and even picked up a few apps to download for myself.

After lunch, we had the most entertaining presentation, in my opinion. Chris Carson, superintendent at Echo Lake Country Club in Westfield, N.J., presented us with 10 secrets when applying for jobs. He went over some of the usual stuff you would expect, but went in-depth on ways to stand out and get noticed ("It is who you know or who knows you," he told us). He kept everyone engaged with his fast pace and humor. I got a lot out of his presentation and will use some of the secrets he gave us.
We wrapped it up and headed to the airport. After six hours of travel time, I finally arrived back in L.A. just after midnight.

The Green Start Academy is a great program, and I would like to thank the folks from Bayer and John Deere for putting it on and letting me be a part of it. I met some great assistants from all over the country and learned things that will help me at my club now, as well as my future in the business. The Green Start Academy is a great education and networking opportunity, and I would recommend assistants enter next year's contest.


Eric Gifford
Assistant Superintendent
Wood Ranch Golf Club
Simi Valley, Calif.

Article originally published on Golf Course Management Magazine’s blog:

Thank you Eric, it was our pleasure having you at the Green Start Academy! Attendees, we’d love to hear what you thought of this year’s. or previous year’s events, send us a tweet @Bayer4CropsUS or leave a comment below!


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