2024 GCSAA Conference and Trade Show: News and buzz

Follow updates from the GCM team on the latest happenings in Phoenix.


GCSAA 2022 Conference Trade Show
The GCM staff is covering all the action at the 2024 GCSAA Conference and Trade Show as it unfolds. Check back often for the latest industry news, company announcements, highlights from the Education Conference, and more.

Thursday, February 1

Bernhard Academy has partnered with the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA) to create Links to Success United Kingdom 2025 and bring 10 GCSAA members to the annual BTME conference in the United Kingdom beginning in 2025. Read the full release at GCSAA.org.

Turf bowl champions
Purdue University's champion Turf Bowl team receives their first-place award from Rhett Evans and Kevin Breen. Photo by Montana Pritchard

Purdue University claimed top honors as students from 28 universities gathered in Phoenix at the 2024 GCSAA Conference and Trade Show for the 30th annual Turf Bowl. Winners were announced at the Send-Off Celebration this afternoon.

Purdue’s winning Team 51 includes Broden Piel, Jacob Winger, Hayden Flick and Eli Ziliak. Adviser is Cale Bigelow, Ph.D.

Second place went to Penn State University’s Team 1, with members Zack Newsome, Ryan Daub, Camden Macek and William Hilderhoff. Adviser is Benjamin McGraw, Ph.D.

Team 8 from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst placed third with members Jacob Zeliger, William Morris, Harrison Culhane and Patrick Armstrong. Adviser is Marvin Seaman.

A total of 63 teams competed with 245 participants. Purdue took first place in both 2022 and 2021 with Penn State University winning the 2023 competition.

Other results include:

  • Fourth: Penn State University Team 2, Hunter King, Simon Wattier, Diego Barandiaran, Evan Gerhard. Adviser is Benjamin McGraw, Ph.D.
  • Fifth: Penn State University Team 3, Kyler McGowan, Joseph Lofland, Tyler Houghton, Ian Bowes. Adviser Benjamin McGraw, Ph.D.
  • Sixth: University of Nebraska Team 35, Scout Allen, John Tines, Matt Boyd, Alex Uram. Adviser Anne Streich.
  • Seventh: Iowa State University Team 22, James Sprague, Robert Shepherd, Sam Hansen, Gage Mills. Adviser Adam Thoms, Ph.D.
  • Eighth: Colorado State University Team 40, Samantha Bradley, Kimberly Meza, Maxwell Nikkari, Parker Gaudreault. Adviser Anthony Koski, Ph.D.
  • Ninth: Cal Poly Pomona Team 62, Max Stillman, Kyle Brooks, Joshua Mendez, Helena Novak-Murano. Adviser Brian Fuentes.
  • Tenth: SUNY Delhi Team 15, Mason Wicks, Drew Romanski, Brenden Thompson, Justin Ace. Adviser Julia Ward.

Students identified turf, weed, turfgrass disease and insect samples in multiple-choice and sample-identification formats. Organizer Diana Kern, GCSAA’s senior manager of CTEM Certification and Certificate Programs, noted that this was the first year the test was taken by students and graded in a digital environment.

The competition is presented in partnership with John Deere.

The Turf Bowl began in 1995, with the first four Turf Bowls consisting of participants competing as individuals. The team competition format started in 1999.

Leah Brilman, Ph.D., director of Turfgrass Product Management and Technical Services-DLF, and Gwen Stahnke, Ph.D., retired instructor of turfgrass management at Walla Walla Community College, Wash., helped facilitate the competition.

Organizers thanked Reagan Hejl, Ph.D., Desalegn Serba, Ph.D., and Sharette Rockholt of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service in Maricopa, Ariz., for growing and delivering the turfgrass and weed samples.

GCSAA government affairs team on stage
GCSAA’s government affairs team, from left, Michael Lee, Bob Helland and Chava McKeel, and newly elected GCSAA Secretary-Treasurer Paul Carter, CGCS. Photo by Andrew Hartsock

• Limitations on chemical inputs, water, labor and forced adoption of zero-emission electric equipment are the hot-button topics the GCSAA government affairs team expects to tackle in 2024. And, oh, that little election coming up in November.

“It’s a hard time when you’re not inspired by the leadership of the country,” admitted Bob Helland, GCSAA’s director of congressional and federal affairs, who stressed that makes it even more important to vote. “Apathy gets you nowhere.”

The Government Affairs Session: State of Policy and Politics in 2024 on Thursday’s final day of the GCSAA Conference and Trade Show, gave the GA team — Helland, director Chava McKeel and Michael Lee, manager of government affairs — a chance to talk about a few of the most important topics they’ll address in the coming year in an effort to have golf’s voice heard.

“We’re right in the thick of this,” McKeel vowed. “We’re going to keep forging ahead.”

GCSAA 2024 Board of Directors
Jeff L. White, CGCS, officially takes over duties as GCSAA president from Kevin Breen at the GCSAA annual meeting. Photo by Abby Olcese

Jeff L. White, CGCS, is the 2024 president of GCSAA.

White was elected to the position at the GCSAA annual meeting this morning in Phoenix. He follows Kevin Breen, who served a rare two terms as president of the association. 

During the meeting, members instated the 2024 GCSAA Board of Directors, with T.A. Barker, CGCS, elected vice president and Paul L. Carter, CGCS, elected secretary-treasurer. Doug Dykstra, CGCS, and Marc E. Weston were elected to two-year terms as directors, with Gregory B. Jones, CGCS, joining the board for a one-year term.

Wednesday, January 31

Ladies Leading Turf panel
Panel moderator Brandon Bell, M.Ed. and panelists Hannah Johnson, Leah Withrow and Diana Clonch at the Ladies Leading Turf session on Wednesday afternoon. Photo by Abby Olcese

• First things first: Ladies Leading Turf is now Leading Turf Together. GCSAA’s Women’s Task Group decided to update the name of the initiative to reach out to underserved female turf professionals in an effort to expand its scope.

“We asked ourselves, ‘How do we let people know that it’s not just ladies leading turf?’” Women’s Task Group member Renee Geyer, superintendent at Canterwood Golf & Country Club in Gig Harbor, Wash., and 17-year GCSAA member, told the attendees at the Ladies Leading Turf session this afternoon. “We’re focused on the future of turf, and wrapping our arms around each other, and supporting each other. It’s a move toward diversity and inclusion, yes, but also a reminder that the journey isn’t over.”

The news came at the end of an inspiring session in which a panel of groundbreaking women in male-dominated fields talked about their professional experiences and leadership journeys. One panelist, Leah Withrow, the head groundskeeper at Greater Nevada Field in Reno, Nev., attended GCSAA’s inaugural Women’s Leadership Academy last year, and had glowing things to say about the experience.

“I don’t know if you know the impact you had on those women for the two days they were there, for women to go home and share what they learned and move that experience outwards,” she said.

The panel was presented in partnership with Syngenta, who are offering two scholarships for women who want to pursue Certified Golf Course Superintendent status. Interested applicants can visit Syngenta’s booth on the trade show floor to learn more.

GS3 ball on a piece of turf
The USGA's GS3 ball, which debuted at the 2023 GCSAA Conference and Trade Show, will be available for shipping and large-scale use in February. Photo by Andrew Hartsock

• Some might think the GS3 — the USGA’s golf-ball-sized data-collection wunderkind — is not even a toddler, but truth be told it’s more of a precocious preschooler.

The GS3 ball made its public debut at the 2023 GCSAA Trade Show in Orlando, but it has been in the USGA’s employ at its championship events the past five years. A select few golf courses have been putting it through its paces since its 2023 coming-out party, and results have been quite favorable.

“Once you start to get this data rolling in, you start to get a really good picture of your course,” said Bryan Stromme, GCSAA Class A superintendent and vice president of agronomy for Century Golf Partners, who has seen that process firsthand at PGA West and its collection of nine courses in La Quinta, Calif. “Then you’ll start to see the data really snowball.”

Used with the USGA’s Deacon app, the GS3 ball collects data superintendents can use to make agronomic decisions for their golf courses. The ball determines a green’s firmness, speed, smoothness and trueness, and it helps remove what Stromme calls the “human element” that can hinder accurate data collection from the tried-and-true Stimpmeter, which is limited to finding only green speed.

“Everybody in this convention center is looking for more data, more data, more data,” says Stromme, noting PGA West had three GS3’s last season and was doubling its fleet this year. “This is something to add to that dataset.”

Other early adopters included Atlanta Athletic Club, Bel-Air Country Club, Longboat Key Club, Merion Golf Club and Pinehurst Resort and Country Club. 

The USGA plans to use it at all 14 of its championship venues this season, and it went on sale on a larger scale today. Shipping is expected in February.

Michael Hoffman and Tamara Hoffman adding an A to a STEAM sign on the main stage of the GCSAA Conference and Trade Show at the Canyon on Third
Michael and Tamara Hoffman donated $1 million to add arts-based education to GCSAA's First Green education program. Photo by Abby Olcese

• Oh, what a difference an “A” makes. Michael Hoffman, former CEO of The Toro Co. and namesake of the Michael J. and Tamara Rae Hoffman Family Charitable Gift Fund, gave the GCSAA Foundation a million reasons to add arts curricula to the First Green, GCSAA’s science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics youth-outreach program that turns golf courses into hands-on learning labs.

The announcement was made — in style — Wednesday at the trade show’s grand opening at the Canyon on Third. The grand opening started (and finished) with native dancers and was punctuated with the announcement of Hoffman’s $1 million gift for the STEAM Ahead campaign.

The announcement was highlighted by Hoffman and his wife unfurling, while descending on a giant boom lift, a massive banner down the Phoenix Convention Center’s outside wall.

Minutes later, Mike Hoffman was onstage as part of the GCSAA CEO Session: Addressing Labor Needs with Innovative Programming and Workforce Development Initiatives.

“Tami and I are working on our next chapter,” Mike Hoffman said in explaining their motivation, “and we want to do some things to create some opportunities and goodness. We have a particular passion for working on initiatives with kids.”

First Green certainly checks that box, and the Hoffmans’ gift is sure to expand its reach — in more ways than one. Putting the A in STEAM will increase its broad appeal — “This is all about stimulating curiosity,” Hoffman said — and the gift also will help First Green increase its available resources available for older students, too, reaching into the high school ranks.

While First Green traditionally has been geared toward younger students, by working with high schools and programs like the Jobs for America’s Graduates (JAG) program, there should be more immediate impacts on the golf industry.

As GCSAA CEO Rhett Evans noted, it’s not uncommon for superintendents to pass out business cards to high school-aged golf course visitors, encouraging them to come work at the golf course.

“The practicality of this,” Evans said of its various youth-outreach efforts, “is real. It’s working.”

Tuesday, January 30

Group gathered at Camelback Golf Club
Superintendents gather to learn about implementing BMPs during an interactive facility learning tour at Marriott’s Camelback Golf Club. Photo by Darrell J. Pehr

• As superintendents consider the best ways to follow their best management practices, several speakers provided valuable insights during the interactive facility learning tour – “The Technology of Implementing BMPs” – this morning at Marriott’s Camelback Golf Club.

Among the speakers, Greg Brandriet, superintendent at the Ambiente Course at Camelback Golf Club, outlined how the club approached minimal management and native areas. With an intermittent waterway running through the course, attention to water running onto and off the course was critical. A decision was made in 2012 to turn almost half of the course’s 200 acres of manicured turf to native or minimal management vegetation areas.

Brandriet said native plants were selected for areas where grass was removed, and the club gained its Audubon certification. Since then, some 40 different species of birds have been identified and resident coyotes, bobcats and rabbits are regularly sighted.

Water savings have been dramatic, with non-turf areas either never watered or only watered when new plants were brought in and established. Work has been done to establish pollinator areas and fish habitat in the pond.

Gaining a bird’s eye view of the native and managed areas was discussed in another of the six stations offered during the tour. A team from the University of Arkansas outlined the initial planning, possible equipment purchases and other steps superintendents may consider before getting into drones at their golf courses. Graduate research assistant Daniel O’Brien said it is never too late to make a decision to use drone, as their use is constantly evolving.

“We’re still growing into the way we’re using these things,” he said. The Arkansas researchers have three drones that are regularly flown to gather data for studies. A major benefit for superintendents, he said, is in the potential for labor cost savings, especially when scouting the golf course.

University of Arkansas graduate student Samuel Kreinberg demonstrated the basics of drone flight, noting the ease of control and practical steps to take during each flight. Attendees were able to follow along on tablets that were linked to the flight controls.

The interactive facility learning tour was presented by Helena. Helena senior product manager Chris Williams walked attendees through the latest information regarding the company’s Accupoint Rx360, which can provide soil testing and GPS property mapping to ensure superintendents know the precise nutrient needs of their fairways and greens.

• The three presenters to speak at the two-hour Power Hour “Labor Solutions Unveiled: Cutting-edge Approaches to Tackle Staffing Issues” didn’t collaborate, but they nonetheless shared a few common themes. One of the biggest was the idea of visibility.

Bill Ackerley, executive director of the Western Washington GCSA and former co-president and COO of the sports/entertainment company The Ackerley Group, noted many golf course superintendents are content to work in the shadows. They shouldn’t be.

“It’s a mantra to not be seen,” he said. “But you need to find a way to be seen.”

Ackerley tag-teamed the first half of the session with Carol Rau, a longtime GCSAA consultant and speaker and GCM Career columnist.

Lee Strutt, CGCS, MG, and director of agronomy at Cabot Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, filled the session’s second half with his story of his growth as a manager. He, too, stressed the importance of visibility of the crew, to the golfers on the course and to one another. One of the first steps he took at an early stop in his career was to fill the walls of the maintenance facility with photos — black and white, signed and framed — of the crew, displayed in order of tenure, from longest serving to newest.

“One of the biggest problems we have is that we’re not seen and not heard,” said Strutt, a 23-year GCSAA member. “I wondered how long this culture had gone on that they felt invisible.”

Monday, January 29

Desert highlands golf course aerial view
A picturesque drone shot of Desert Highlands. Photo by Chase Skrubis

• During the sold-out interactive facility tour to Desert Highlands Golf Course, presenter Frank Rossi, Ph.D., and host superintendent Curtis Tyrrell, CGCS, MG, took 50 superintendents on a walking tour of the course, a high-end Jack Nicklaus Signature Course with Pinnacle Peak as a striking backdrop.

Among the facts shared by Tyrrell, the course’s director of agronomy and 33-year association member:

  • The course has 62.5 total turf acres.
  • It applies 450 acre-feet (146,610,000) gallons of irrigation annually.
  • The operations budget is $4,000,000, of which $3,000,000 goes to the golf course. The rest is spent on 14 tennis course (four grass, six clay, four hardcourt), four pickleball courts, two bocce courts and landscaping.
  • Tyrrell has budgeted for 38.5 full-time equivalents on his staff, but he usually can only fill 34 FTEs.

Tyrrell said a major greens overall is slated for 2025, which will add an acre of greens. The membership also will consider installing zoysiagrass fairways, which would obviate the need for expensive and thirsty overseeding and which, Tyrrell says, would cut 25% of his water usage.

Attendees also learned that USGA research has shown that facilities spend roughly as much money per acre on bunker maintenance as on greens maintenance.

“That’s a little scary,” Rossi says, “and that’s where you get the most complaints.”

Turfbusters session

• In this industry, who you gonna call? Turfbusters, of course!

Established in 2019, Turfbusters is hosted by Gina Rizzi, president of ARCUS Marketing Group. This Power Hour episode held Monday at the Phoenix Convention Center featured Brian Horgan, Ph.D., Michigan State University, along with Desert Mountain in Scottsdale Ariz.’s Todd Bohn, director of agronomy, and superintendents Paul Dawson and Logan Murphy.

The group's attempts to confirm or debunk popular turfgrass myths started off with the discovery that painted dormant bermudagrass is a more sustainable and less expensive approach to winter grass maintenance than overseeded bermudagrass. Next, the panel confirmed that Australian style bunker raking was a better option over traditional style, both for playability and in terms of labor cost. Finally, the crew used pancakes, syrup some help from two club chefs to explore a myth about water infiltration and aerification methods. Ultimately, the team debunked the myth that deep tine aerification tops the core method.

Follow Turfbusters on social media for more information on how to watch the new episode and catch up on previous ones.

Armen Suny

Armen Suny was 27 when he was the youngest superintendent to host a major, the 1985 PGA Championship at Cherry Hills CC in Colorado. Today in his presentation Managing Up-Mastering General Manager Relations, the search and consulting executive with Kopplin Kuebler & Wallace offered tips. They include: having the GM be involved in onboarding with your new employees; asking your GM for a formal review of you; and walking the practice tees with the GM on a Saturday.

Donald Roberts

Donald Roberts, equipment manager at Settlers Bay Golf Course in Wasilla, Alaska, at the Innovation in Equipment Management Facility Tour. Photo by Howard Richman

• It may not get any better — or warmer — than this for a while for first-time GCSAA Conference and Show participant Donald Roberts, who attended the Innovation in Equipment Management Facility Tour on Monday at Phoenix Country Club. The eight-year GCSAA member who is equipment manager at Settlers Bay Golf Course in Wasilla, Alaska, also participated this past weekend on a warm and sunny day in the GCSAA Golf Championships. “This would’ve been a choice day at home,” says Roberts, whose facility has received 90 inches of snow since October and where the bentgrass greens are covered for several months. “Seventy-five (degrees) in the sun would be a record day.” Roberts applauded the Arizona courses he played at Whirlwind GC (Devil’s Claw and Cattail) in Chandler. “The greens were perfect,” says Roberts, native of Staten Island, N.Y., who's been in Alaska since 1979.

The Valent Professional Products and Nufarm teams are converging in Phoenix to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of Valent-Nufarm's Turf & Ornamnetal distribution relationship. The two teams will meet to discuss the pursuit of innovative portfolio opportunities, with the joint purpose of delivering a growing range of golf turf management solutions that add value and advantage. GSCAA CTS attendees are invited to join a “10-Year Celebration” reception in Nufarm Booth 3546 on January 31 from 2:00-3:00 p.m.