Wednesday, December 19, 2007

McCain Will Gain

Early last year, Golfdom conducted an informal presidential poll listing candidates Hilary Clinton, John McCain, Barack Obama and Rudy Giuliani to vote for. Not surprisingly, Guiliani won our poll with 35 percent of the vote. McCain was second with 29 percent.

We didn’t list preacher-politician Mike Huckabee in the poll because we knew little about him. But Huckabee, a Baptist minister, has come out of nowhere as a GOP presidential contender.

We plan to conduct another poll soon, and Huckabee will surely be listed as one of the candidates. I have a feeling that some in our industry will latch onto to the former Arkansas governor. But Huckabee, who has been labeled as a closet liberal and has a few skeletons rattling in his closet, will fade and will not win over the golf course industry crowd.

Speaking of skeletons, they will do in Giuliani, and the prediction here is McCain will become the industry’s favorite and the GOP’s presidential nominee.

What's your take?

-- Larry Aylward

Thursday, December 06, 2007

The Smoking Gun ...

We've got a potentially landmark privacy-rights court case in our own little green industry. It began when The Scotts Co. fired Scott Rodrigues of Massachusetts after a urinalysis indicated he used nicotine at home.

Scotts says it’s trying to create a healthier workforce because it’s the right thing to do, and it hopes to lower its healthcare costs (because it’s the right thing to do for investors). Jim King, Scotts VP of communications and investor relations, told National Public Radio that the self-insured company decided that it cannot afford to underwrite the risk of smoking any longer.

So they initiated a policy of not hiring any smokers. That's fine. Many companies are doing that, and it appears the courts will continue to allow companies to set their own employment policies, which is the right thing to do.

This is where it gets interesting. Rodrigues was a new employee, fully aware that Scotts’ had a policy in place not to hire smokers. He applied anyway. Unfortunately for Scotts, they gave Rodrigues a truck and some chemicals before his initial urinalysis came back from the lab. He was hired to spray lawns before his employee-screening results were evaluated. So Scotts will argue that Rodrigues wasn't really fully hired, even though he was working. Rodrigues will argue that he was hired and then fired, even though he didn't complete his probationary period. I guess that’s why they need the lawyers.

Rodrigues, a certified pesticide applicator, is suing Scotts for violating his privacy and civil rights (he says he was chewing nicotine gum while trying to quit smoking). He now works for a competing company.

Should employers be allowed to restrict employee behavior during their personal time? Should Scotts’ right to set its own employment practices outweigh the rights of individual employees?

— David Frabotta

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

What Are You Doing About Those Dang Deer?

Nothing runs into your car and damages it more like a deer.

I’ve had several near misses over the years of hitting deer (or them hitting me), but I met my fate the other night. I buck ran smack in the side of my car as I was traveling 65 mph down the interstate.

If I was one second earlier, I would have missed him. But if I was one second later, he might have come through the windshield and crushed me.

So I guess I’m lucky that he only caused my car about $1,000 in damages.

The deer situation where I live in northeast Ohio seems out of control. They are everywhere!

I know many superintendents welcome wildlife on their golf courses. But what about an overabundance of deer? Are deer causing you and your course problems? If so, what are doing about it?

— Larry Aylward

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Global Warming: Fact or Fiction

Golfdom's October cover story is on global warming. I interviewed several people for the story, and I was surprised at the diverse opinions people shared about the topic. Global warming, whether you believe in it or not, could impact the golf course maintenance industry in several ways.

The Golf Course Superintendents Association of America takes neither a “yea” or “nay” stance on global warming, which it includes under the broader topic of climate change. But the GCSAA began studying the issue and its possible impact on the industry about a year ago. Carrie Riordan, the GCSAA director of information and public policy, says the GCSAA decided it needed to look into the matter on behalf of its 21,000 members. Riordan says the GCSAA doesn’t want to debate the topic because such a discussion would get nowhere with so many differing views among its members.

What do you think about global warming. Are you concerned how it could impact your line of work? Blog here and let us know your thoughts.

-- Larry Aylward, Editor in Chief

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

A Template For Managing Expectations

Certified superintendent Ralph Kepple should be every superintendent’s role model. And it’s not for pulling off a miraculous recovery of East Lake Golf Club’s bentgrass greens for the PGA Tour Championship following weeks of searing Atlanta heat, humidity and drought, although he should be lauded for that, too.

No, his true genius resides in the way he managed golfer expectations. Thirty of the best golfers in the world arrived at East Lake expecting to play on dirt. The course was closed to practice rounds early in the week, and a couple greens were off limits even when practice rounds began.

But there was no complaining about the conditions. Golf’s elite players expected worse, so they were pleased with soft greens that rolled around 10 feet on the Stimpmeter for the first couple days.

In a world where firm and fast is the benchmark for good conditioning, the soft and slow East Lake greens allowed Zach Johnson to set the course record on Saturday with a 60, and Tiger Woods won with a total of 257 strokes, the third-lowest in PGA tournament history.

No one complained. It’s a perfect case study of how agronomic conditions must supersede golfers’ whimsical and unrealistic expectations.

If Kepple can make the case to the best golfers in the world, then who are your members to argue?

Do you think the East Lake example will help you moderate golfer expectations through newsletters and other member communications?

— David Frabotta

Thursday, September 06, 2007

What Playoffs?

No Phil at Cog Hill. Last week’s Deutsche Bank champion and FedExCup Points leader will sit out the third leg of the PGA Tour Playoffs to spend some time with his family.

In stark contrast to other playoffs where athletes play hurt, tired and homesick, golfers don’t have a team to let down. They’re not under any contractual obligation to play, and the uninspired abstention of the sport’s elite players undoubtedly will take its toll on public interest and enthusiasm in the fledgling competition.

In a sport where the four Majors are still the benchmark for success among peers and the public alike, it’s clear PGA professionals don’t have the buy-in necessary to create a groundswell. And if last week’s pseudo-match-play ending between Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson didn’t create a buzz, it’s unlikely much else will.

What are your thoughts on the PGA Playoffs? Are you disappointed that high-profile players — including Woods, Mickelson and Ernie Els — have skipped tournaments? Is the players’ ambivalence a result of the PGA’s failure to court their opinions?

— David Frabotta

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Important Enough To Tell The World

To me, most vanity license plates are just about the silliest and most self-absorbed thing you waste their money on. Oh sure, there are some clever and cute ones. A newlywed friend of my little brother has one that says TEACH4U (Mitsubishi Eclipse). She’s yet to find a job, but her exuberance is adorable.

Then there’s the minivan that says BILLPAYR. Ironically, they now have one extra bill to pay with the personalized plate. HAVEFUN or SUNGODSS on a convertible makes me smile (and my wife jealous for a drop-top). My favorite one donned STOP EPA on a rebuilt 1978 F-150 in response to Ohio’s mandatory emissions check (he had to write his congressman and present the letter to the BMV for that one.)

But it really annoys me when a vanity plate redundantly brags about the car.

MYPRSCHE from the movie “Office Space” epitomizes this redundancy quite well. If you drive a car, we already know the model and probably that it’s yours (even if your daddy bought it for you). LEXUS and S CLASS (Mercedes) are some of the least original. And it’s hard to go a day without seeing PONYGT or MSTNG on a … well, you know what. Why don’t you ever see FOCUS or TAURUS on other Fords? (Side note: What genius named the Aspire? Does it aspire to be a better car?)

So now it’s your turn to let me have it. How many out there have TRFGURU, GRNSPEED or TURFGUY? What are the coolest or lamest vanity plates that you see around town? I bet each state has a HOT2TROT and an ALLTHAT with a bag of chips magnet on the bumper.

— David Frabotta

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Chrysler Steps Up Warranty

With so many car manufacturers claiming to be the industry leader in something, Chrysler is trying to shed its dubious distinction of recall leader (2006) by offering a lifetime powertrain warranty.

Chrysler has had a tumultuous few years. It overhauled most of its products following the buyout by Daimler-Benz, and now a new owner appears to be restoring drivers’ confidence with the industry’s first lifetime powertrain guarantee.

The warranty covers all parts and labor as long as the owner brings the car to a Chrysler dealer at least once every five years for a free powertrain inspection. Another caveat is that the new warranty applies to the original owner and is not transferable. If the car is sold within the first three years, the warranty reverts to the previous three-year/36,000 mile coverage for subsequent owners.

Will this automotive milestone coax other car companies to follow suit? Will you be more likely to buy a Chrysler because of the new guarantee?

— David Frabotta

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Taking One for the Team

Poor Bud Selig. He must follow Barry Bonds in his stretch run to break Hank Aaron’s all-time home run record. Having to witness Bonds hit No. 756 and cheer as he is rounding the bases is cruel and unusual punishment. But it comes with the territory. But Selig must do his job as baseball’s commissioner.

We’ve all done things we don’t want to do because we've been thrust into highly volatile political situations. We’ve had to take one for the team, so to speak.

As superintendents, I’m sure you experience this all the time. We want to hear some of your I-took-one-for-the-team stories. Tell us what you had to do and how you garnered the strength to do it. Feel free to blog here.

— Larry Aylward

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Manufacturing Transparency Hard To See

It began with chemicals in toothpaste and tainted dog food. Then children’s toys were found with lead paint. Now, Chinese-made tires are raising the ire of the automotive industry and its subsequent consumers.

U.S. officials have told Foreign Tire Sales of Union, a small New Jersey importer, to recall 450,000 radial tires for pickup trucks, sport utility vehicles and vans after the company disclosed that its Chinese manufacturer had stopped including a safety feature that prevented the tires from separating. Tread separation is the same defect that led to the recall of millions of Firestone tires in 2000.

The company first suspected problems in October 2005. Almost a year later, in September 2006, the Chinese manufacturer, Hangzhou Zhongce Rubber, a former state-owned company based in eastern China, acknowledged that a gum strip that prevents the tread from separating was left out of the manufacturing process.

In the burgeoning era of globalization, it’s increasingly difficult to determine subtleties in the supply chain. I remember the scorn from my father when I was shopping for foreign cars. I was fresh out of school, and I needed a good deal. He guilted me into buying a Ford, which I later found out was built in Mexico with mostly Japanese parts.

Do you know where your products are made?
Would you be able to detect a manufacturing defect if you found one?

— David Frabotta

Media Relations? What Media Relations? USGA Needs to Get Its Head Out of the Bunker Sand

If you're a tournament golf fan, you probably know of Tim Moraghan. He was the United States Golf Association's long-time director of championship agronomy who participated in 21 U.S. Opens. He no longer holds that title. Moraghan either quit or was fired. Nobody knows for sure because nobody is saying for sure.

I called the USGA the other day to see if the association was ready to issue a statement on Moraghan's departure. The media person I spoke with obviously had a gag order placed on him. He answered none of my questions.

Meanwhile, rumors circulate of what might have happened. This has been brewing, some say. Something happened at Oakmont, others say. This goes back to what happened at Shinnecock in 2004, others say.

I hate rumors. They damage credibility and rob people of their dignity.

The USGA needs to get its head out of the bunker sand and come clean on this matter by issuing a statement. The USGA needs to shut down the rumor mill.

— Larry Aylward

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Is Golf A Sport?

Chalk one up for the … well … out-of-shape people in this world.

Angel Cabrera’s U.S. Open win over Tiger Woods Sunday was a victory for all of us who aren’t in fine fettle.

There was the beefy, cigarette-sucking Cabrera hoisting the 2007 U.S. Open trophy on national TV after defeating the sculpted and sinewy Woods by one stroke at Oakmont Country Club to gain the nation’s championship. It was kind of like Luciano Pavarotti putting the hurt on Hulk Hogan in a steel-cage match.

Seriously, though, what does Cabrera’s win over Woods say for the argument that golfers don’t have to be athletic to succeed? With that out in the open, I'll bring up the age-old question: Is golf a sport or a skill.

We want to know what you think.

— Larry Aylward

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Here's to LeBron Leading the Cavs

Let’s talk NBA basketball for a minute. In case you didn't know, Golfdom is based in downtown Cleveland, home to some fantastic golf courses, including Canterbury Golf Club on the old-course end and Sand Ridge Golf Club on the new-course end.

And Cleveland is home to the beloved Cavaliers, a team that has never appeared in the NBA finals until now. The Cavs, of course, are led by LeBron James, who went to high school at Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary High School, about 30 miles down the road from Cleveland.

I attended Archbishop Hoban High School, the cross-town archrival of St. Vincent-St. Mary. The two schools have had a heated rivalry for years.

The first time I saw LeBron play was when he was a senior in high school. His team, the Fighting Irish, was playing my alma mater in the state tournament. Hoban was 22-1 at the time and was enjoying one of its best seasons ever.

But LeBron and company (his team was the best high school team I’ve ever seen) dismantled Hoban by about 30 points. And LeBron did about five things in the game that were purely beyond those of what normal and even above-normal players that age can do. He had "No. 1 pick in the NBA draft" written all over him.

Now, four years later, LeBron has amazed most basketball fans with his skills. Here’s to him doing the same thing to the San Antonio Spurs that he did to the Hoban Knights.

- Larry Aylward

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

It's Time to Conserve. What Are You Doing?

On my way to work this morning, I saw this personalized bumper sticker pasted in large green capital letters on the back of a small car.

“Slow Down. Reduce Oil Use. Save Human Lives.”

With spring sprung and the weather getting warmer throughout the country, people have increased their driving (so the "experts" say). And because there’s more of a demand for oil, gas prices have skyrocketed. It’s $3 or more a gallon where I live. (Funny thing, they were saying a few months ago that we probably wouldn’t see $3 a gallon this summer.)

Which brings me back to the guy’s man-made bumper sticker. Are you doing anything to reduce your reliance on gas this summer to save money in your maintenance budget?

We’d love to hear how you’re doing it. Please drop us a line at this blog.

By the way, I’m not going to touch the meaning of the last line in the bumper sticker. But if you have a view on global warming, I’d love to hear it, too.

— Larry Aylward

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Would You Like Fries With That?

About 9,500 more Americans will lose their jobs to foreign workers. They weren’t making plastic toys, vacuum cleaners or even automobiles. They were white-collar workers at Citibank, and the financial monstrosity announced today it will be nixing 5 percent of its workforce to boost its stock price. Yes, investors are greedy, boards are sycophants, and executives will do anything necessary to keep their seven-figure jobs.

How can these guys rationalize keeping their multi-million-dollar paychecks if they’ve run the company so poorly that they need to cut 5 percent of their workers? Apparently in today’s analyst-impressing world, telling your home country that you’re sending at least 9,500 jobs overseas is a good thing, probably deserving of a bonus.

It seems as though money is the only American value we really cherish. It gives new meaning to the “green industry.”

Less than a decade ago, politicians and business leaders were still advising the American workforce to retrain themselves in technology and business. Manufacturing was long gone, but intellectual occupations were thought to be secure. Few are talking about it, but that’s rapidly proving to be false. I guess even ideas are cheaper in China.

I’m just thankful the multi-national golf course management companies haven’t figured out a way to outsource agronomy. But I bet they would if they could.

— David Frabotta

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Redstone Highlights Superintendents Everywhere

It’s overshadowed by a little invitational in Augusta, Ga., but the condition of Redstone Golf Club during the Shell Houston Invitational (March 29-April 1) had announcers Johnny Miller and Dan Hicks doling out the accolades.

Congratulations to certified golf course superintendent Roger Goettsch and assistant superintendent Randy Samoff for a successful Shell Houston Open.

After a little rain early in the tournament, players were able to go for the pin on most approach shots thanks to immaculate course conditions, and the announcers made mention of the fact several times. They called some camera angles “Augusta-like” and repeatedly talked about how the flawless conditions made for a very exciting and enjoyable tournament.

When Johnny Miller spoke to superintendents during the GCSAA opening session in February, he said tour players once talked about the course conditions as small talk before the tournament. Practice rounds were critical to determine the idiosyncrasies of turf managers. But those conversations don’t exist anymore because superintendents do such a good job maintaining consistent turf throughout the profession.

“You guys have it down to an art form,” Miller said. “You guys are good. You guys are almost too good.”

As spring begins to reclaim Northern courses, I’m filled with all the hope and promise the season represents. It makes me wonder if superintendents are eager for the new season, too, or are you dreading the full swing of golf course operations?

— David Frabotta

Friday, March 16, 2007

March Madness Has Made Me Crazy

I went 15-1 in my game predictions on the opening day of March Madness last week. Since then, I've gone in the tank. (Duke and Notre Dame, you are worthless!)

I'm angry, too. I hate to be wrong when it comes to sports picks, and I hate to lose money (yes, another 10 bucks wasted in an office pool).

Isn't it strange how we make March Madness about ourselves? We carry our filled-out bracket sheets everywhere -- on the plane, to the restaurant, to the bathroom, etc. We are mad, really. Here are these wonderful college athletes, most who will never play in the pros, giving their all on the floor to get to the Nirvana of college basketball ... the Final Four.

And here we are, sitting in our recliners, slugging beers, munching on Cheetos and looking at our bracket sheets during every time out.

We are despicable.

So, who do you have going to the Final Four?

I say Memphis, Kansas, Georgetown and North Carolina.

Enjoy! And don't get that Cheetoh grease all over the furniture.

-- Larry Aylward

Friday, February 09, 2007

Savings? What Savings?

It’s hard to make ends meet. But is it Great-Depression-like hard?

Personal savings fell to its lowest level in 74 years in 2006 — negative 1 percent, according to a Commerce Department report. That means Americans spend 101 percent of their income, up from 100.4 percent in 2005 and the most since 101.5 percent in 1933.

Only four years in American history have seen a negative savings rate for the entire year: 1932, 1933, 2005 and 2006.

There are numerous reasons for the 21-consecutive-month slide into the red, economists say. But the most widely acknowledged is lifestyle. That is, we’re living beyond our means.

The rich want to live like the super rich; the super rich want to live like the Sultan of Brunei, and everyone else watches them on TV. Common folk like you and me want just a little more than we can afford, too. Wages have not kept pace with inflation, but the middle class has refused to scale back on lifestyle.

Another mistake, according to financial consultants, is trying to live without a budget. You wouldn’t run a golf course without a budget, so how can you run a successful household without one?

Superintendents always have a contingency plan for golf course cuts if push comes to shove. The real question is: What’s your personal contingency plan? What would you cut if you need to shrink total expenses — by oh, say, 10 percent — tomorrow?

— David Frabotta, Senior Editor

Monday, February 05, 2007

Selling Out

Several months ago I downloaded the Kansas song “Dust in the Wind” to my new iPod. That 1980s spiritual anthem, with its nifty and meditative violin-based groove, always stopped and made me contemplate the status of the world. Yeah, it dripped a little sap, but it was still a cool tune to me.

So it was good to hear the song again on my iPod after all these years. It took me back, and it still made me think. That is, until I heard it on TV. A few days after downloading “Dust in the Wind,” I was watching TV and the song was played on a car commercial.

It seems you can’t turn the channel these days without coming across a commercial that sports a rock or pop song as its jingle. It doesn’t matter what a song’s lyrics entail — “Dust in the Wind” flaunts a Biblically based message — just as long as the song is a good fit metaphorically. And, yes, as long as the song’s artist is cashing in on its corporate use.

So I pose a question to you. If you were John Mellencamp and Chevy offered you enough money to buy a small town for your song to be used in a car commercial, would you take the money and run? Why or why not? And, by the way, if Titleist offers you 10 grand to paint an advertisement on your course's 18th green, are you going to accept?

— Larry Aylward

Monday, January 22, 2007

Work Like Hell

Long-serving U.S. Congresspersons were asked for advice they would give new members in a story by Andrea Seabrook on National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition” last week.

I figured words of wisdom from legislators could very well have some applicability to superintendents, whose daily routines are often fraught with politics as well.

Rep. Al Green of Texas says it’s imperative to pick a good staff: “While a congressperson can get a lot done, the staff can get a lot more done. Get a capable, competent, qualified staff, and I assure you: You’ll do well.”

Rep. John Dingell of Michigan simply said, “Work like hell.”

And Rep. Jeff Flake of Arizona says, “You spend time away from family; it’s not a particularly high-paying job, and if you can’t have fun pushing what you want to push, then it’s not worth it.”

What pearls of wisdom would you give newbie superintendents?

— David Frabotta, Senior Editor

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

What Do You Think of Global Warming?

Right now, as I write this, people in Golfdom's downtown Cleveland office building are looking out the window and marveling mournfully about the snow falling. Yes, I said “marveling mournfully.” People can’t believe it’s snowing, and they’re downright troubled that the white stuff is flying from the skies.

Wait a minute, folks, but this is January in Cleveland. It’s supposed to snow. But the people around here have gotten so accustomed to the balmy late-fall and early-winter weather that they have it in their heads they’re living in North Carolina. That said, enough people have been playing golf the past month that it seems like it is North Carolina.

So what about this global warming business? Are you buying into it?

I say there’s something to it. What are your views?

— Larry Aylward

Monday, January 08, 2007

Sour Grapes Won't Spoil Oprah's Generosity

Philanthropists should be celebrated; 89 percent of American households contribute to charity, according to the National Philanthropic Trust (NPT). That’s a good thing.

America’s fascination with the uber-rich makes much of their life media events, including their charitable donations.
So when Oprah Winfrey announced she opened a $40-million school for girls in South Africa, headlines were abound.

Not surprising, it was met with some criticism from some Americans who would have liked to see the gift in our backyards.

My response: Lashing out at Oprah is merely a symptom of the frustration many working-class families feel about the growing divide between the rich and poor. In case you haven’t noticed, the rich are getting very rich.

Record bonuses were awarded this year for top Wall Street brokers, yet media pundits have yet to hold their feet to the fire about where their philanthropic efforts might go.

Star athletes receive food stipends during away games, as if they can’t squeeze lunch money out of their $100-million contracts. High-paid executives, movie stars, athletes and trust-fund babies can insulate their families from work for centuries, but what should they owe the society that allowed them to amass their fortunes?

Granted, there are many generous givers in this stratosphere. Still, there are many Americans with enough disposable income to fix America’s ills. Unfortunately for Oprah, we single out those who give the most because we disagree with their motives and agendas. We’re jealous of their gifts, even if it’s to some of the world’s poorest children who are stricken with the fallout from decades of inequitable social policies.

Oprah doesn’t deserve one disparaging word until we as a society ask ourselves: How much money is enough? What is the role for the super-rich for the betterment of all men?

I know many are doing their part. But for the first time in American history, the richest 100 people in the country are all billionaires. Their combined wealth rivals the gross domestic product of all but the 50 most prosperous countries of the world. Seriously, let that sink in.

Andrew Carnegie furnished our country with libraries. What will the legacy of today’s super-rich be? What should it be?

— David Frabotta, Senior Editor