GCM’s guide to the 2024 GCSAA Conference and Trade Show

After a 37-year absence, the GCSAA Conference and Trade Show returns to Phoenix, promising can’t-miss education, networking and new products.


A crowd of attendees at the 2023 GCSAA Conference and Trade Show in Orlando
The 2024 GCSAA Conference and Trade Show will bring an interactive experience complete with unmissable hands-on education and networking opportunities, to Phoenix, Ariz., January 29-Feb.1. Photo by Montana Pritchard

The last time GCSAA brought its annual Conference and Trade Show to Phoenix, Beverly Hills Cop II was the No. 1 movie at the box office, The Bangles’ “Walk Like an Egyptian” topped the Billboard charts, President Ronald Reagan delivered his famous “tear down this wall” speech in the shadow of the Berlin Wall, and the New York Giants won their first Super Bowl.

The year was 1987, and in the 37 years since, the annual conference and show has set up shop in a host of attractive destinations, from Orlando to New Orleans, Las Vegas to San Diego. What it hasn’t done is return to the Valley of the Sun.

Until this year. The 2024 edition of GCSAA’s Conference and Trade Show is set for Jan. 29-Feb. 1 at the Phoenix Convention Center, and the return to Arizona has made the event’s location one of the primary draws for attendees, earning equal footing with the event’s world-class education, unmatched networking opportunities and the one-of-a-kind exhibition of the best products and services in golf course management.

“I didn’t realize it had been so long since it had been out there, but knowing it was going to be in Phoenix definitely was interesting to me,” says Dean Vietti, the GCSAA Class A superintendent at Dykeman Park Golf Course in Logansport, Ind., and a 28-year GCSAA member who is making his first-ever trip to the conference and show.

To be fair, though, the location was probably a secondary motivation for Vietti to finally make his way to CTS. His municipal course has a series of projects and improvements planned for the coming years — from replacing aging tee signs and yardage markers to updating cart paths and, eventually, a new pump station — so time on the trade show floor will be invaluable for him.

But he’s also being pulled to Phoenix by family ties. His son, Tyler, is a sophomore in the turf program at Purdue University and attended the 2023 conference and show in Orlando as a member of the school’s turf bowl team. “He kept telling me, ‘Dad, you have to go.’ He had all these stories, was sending me pictures and texts all week last year. He was just so positive about the experience, that I made sure to budget for the trip this year,” Vietti says.

For Christopher Settles, his trip to Phoenix won’t be his first experience with the conference and trade show, but it will be his first in a long time. The GCSAA Class A superintendent at Sweetens Cove Golf Club in South Pittsburg, Tenn., and a 33-year association member, was an attendee in 1997 in Las Vegas and in 2002 in Orlando, but this year’s trip will be his first since then.

“I’ve never been to Phoenix, so that definitely appealed to me,” Settles says. “My wife wanted to tag along, too, so we’re going to make a trip out of it. I’m trying to retain my Class A status, so having all the education there, plus getting to see the trade show and spend some time with friends from around the industry made this one a pretty easy decision. We’re excited to get down there.”

— Scott Hollister, GCM Editor-in-Chief

A Turf Bowl student wearing a Purdue blazer at the 2023 GCSAA Conference and Trade Show
The 2024 GCSAA Conference and Trade Show will feature a week of quality, hands-on education, exciting networking events and more, including the 2024 Turf Bowl. Photo by Roger Billings

Four days in Phoenix

The 2024 GCSAA Conference and Trade Show in Phoenix presents a packed schedule of interactive tours, learning and networking opportunities, and chances to explore the latest industry products and services on the trade show floor. You can expect inspiring ideas and useful strategies to help you and your team operate at your best.

Want a more detailed look at what’s on tap from Jan. 29-Feb. 1? Here’s a day-by-day guide to the highlights of this year’s programming in Arizona. Get a look at this year’s themes, can’t-miss events and exciting activities. For more in-depth information about the 2024 event, visit https://bit.ly/3UAeJRu.

Monday, Jan. 29

Rise to Shine: Igniting Transformation

While events will just begin ramping up in and around the Phoenix Convention Center on Monday, another big event will be coming to a close, as the final day of the GCSAA Golf Championships, presented by Toro, takes place. Winners will be determined in the National Championship — contested at Camelback Golf Club — and across flighted play in the Golf Classic — which will be played at Talking Stick Golf Club, part of the Talking Stick Resort, the host hotel for the event. Whirlwind Golf Club in the foothills of the Sierra Estrella mountains will host Four-Ball and Scramble play earlier in the competition. For more information, go to https://bit.ly/3P2NVbB.

Each day of CTS 2024 will offer a unique, unifying theme, and Monday in Phoenix will celebrate transformation, whether during the myriad educational opportunities at the convention center or during the full slate of Interactive Facility Tours. Sessions cover topics such as networking, transitioning to leadership, budgeting, water use and more. The off-site tours feature equipment management innovation, groundbreaking agronomic strategies and water management solutions. 

Attendees can plan education ahead of time at the CTS website (https://bit.ly/3UAeJRu), with specialized looks at offerings grouped by day, speaker, area of interest and more. The website breaks down education sessions into tracks to help attendees tailor their conference and trade show experiences to their specific needs.

As Monday wraps up, CTS 2024 officially kicks off at the GCSAA Welcome Reception at The Canyon on Third, an event being presented in partnership with Syngenta. The area outside the Phoenix Convention Center will transform into a vibrant area filled with entertainment, food, drinks and more. It’s the perfect opportunity to connect with colleagues, make new friends, relax, and celebrate another year of great achievements in the golf course management industry.

Tuesday, Jan. 30

Rise to Shine: Expanding Horizons

Education, partnerships and networking top the agenda for Tuesday, including the second day of the Interactive Facility Tours, which offer a First Green field trip and info session, opportunities to explore new equipment innovations and more. 

There are also a host of seminars and Power Hours highlighting the schedule on Tuesday. Free to all conference registrants, the eight Power Hours on Tuesday will focus on a wide array of topics important to all turfgrass professionals, from communications and agronomy to water and equipment management. The popular Lightning Round Learning session helps process several topics into bite-size portions, along with advice on getting the most out of your CTS experience.

Wednesday, Jan. 31

Rise to Shine: Exploring What is New

Wednesday starts with a bang at the GCSAA Sunrise Celebration, presented in partnership with Syngenta. Returning host Lauren Thompson will help recognize award winners — most notably Old Tom Morris Award winner Dottie Pepper — and celebrate members’ achievements over the last year. 

The 2023 GCSAA Board of Directors will be introduced during the Sunrise Celebration, as well as the recipient of another of GCSAA’s top honors, the Outstanding Contribution Award. GCSAA CEO Rhett Evans and GCSAA President Kevin P. Breen, CGCS, will also present a state of the association address.

Immediately following the Sunrise Celebration, the official opening of the trade show will take place at Canyon on Third before attendees take to the main exhibit hall. This year’s trade show offers attendees chances to explore golf course management innovations and solutions, as well as interactive education. 

Wednesday concludes with networking opportunities ranging from the Ladies Leading Turf Program and Reception to sessions for equipment managers and GCSAA’s government affairs team and partners. The day caps off with chapter events at locations all around downtown Phoenix. 

Thursday, Feb. 1

Rise to Shine: The Ultimate Celebration of You

On Thursday, the trade show floor offers a full day of interactive experiences you won’t find anywhere else. Attendees can try out the latest products and services from exhibitors, learn best practices and get hands-on instruction in the latest industry innovations. 

Golf’s Sustainability Showcase, presented in partnership with Syngenta, is a collaboration between GCSAA, the Golf Course Builders Association of America, the American Society of Golf Course Architects and the USGA that shares the innovative sustainability practices of superintendents, architects and builders. The interactive space, located at Canyon on Third, features best practices for attendees to learn from and take back to their facilities. 

The Send-off Celebration caps off the 2024 GCSAA Conference and Trade Show and is presented in partnership with John Deere. The event will feature GCSAA’s newly elected Board of Directors, and the winners of the 30th annual GCSAA Collegiate Turf Bowl will be recognized. Retired superintendent Bill Murray will be recognized as the winner of the Col. John Morley Award during the Send-off Celebration, as will Wayne Mills, winner of the President’s Award for Environmental Stewardship, and the winner of the Emerging Leader Award. Stick around for additional giveaways, entertainment, and inspiring words from Kyle Maynard, speaker, best-selling author and focus of the ESPN documentary “A Fighting Chance.”

— Abby Olcese, GCMOnline.com editor

Attendees at an interactive facility tour during the 2023 GCSAA Conference and Trade Show
Interactive Facility Tours allow attendees to get a hands-on look at tools and techniques at work on the course. Photo by Montana Pritchard

A hands-on happening

Educational opportunities at the 2024 GCSAA Conference and Trade Show Jan. 29-Feb. 1 in Phoenix will offer extensive, hands-on, interactive sessions for participants that again will include on-site collaboration at golf courses.

Among the extensive educational offerings that include many new course titles, the Interactive Facility Tours are scheduled Monday and Tuesday, Jan. 29 and 30. Six tours will be offered Monday. A highlight will be a session at Cottonwood Country Club in Sun Lakes that will outline the ease of launching a First Green field trip, presented by Par West.

Guiding the session will be Leann Cooper, senior manager of First Green and workforce development for GCSAA; David Phipps, GCSAA’s field staff representative in the Northwest U.S., who has considerable experience with the First Green program; Steve Kealy, CGCS, golf course superintendent at Glendale Country Club in Bellevue, Wash., since 1990 who has been actively involved with First Green since 1998; and Jeff Gullikson, CGCS, golf course superintendent at Kalispel Golf and Country Club in Spokane, Wash., who has worked with hundreds of high school teachers to help develop the First Green program.

Participants will learn how to implement First Green programs at their own golf courses. First Green is a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) environmental outreach program that uses golf courses as a learning laboratory. K-12 students participate in hands-on, outdoor learning stations that include lessons on wildlife habitat, soil science, environmental sustainability, mathematics, water quality, water conservation, career exploration and more. GCSAA offers lesson plans that correlate to each learning station. Scott Anderson is the GCSAA Class A host superintendent at Cottonwood CC.

Also planned Monday are interactive tours on innovations in equipment management, presented by Foley Co., and water management solutions, presented by Toro.

Course renovation will be discussed at tours Monday and Tuesday. Frank Rossi, Ph.D., associate professor at Cornell University, will lead the discussion during the Monday afternoon presentation on the latest in golf turf management at Desert Highlands Golf Club in Scottsdale. Rossi and host superintendent Curtis Tyrrell, CGCS, MG, will go through plans for renovation of the course under the guidance of Jack Nicklaus, who was the original architect of the course in 1983 and since 2021 has been involved in the master plan process.

“Our membership will be voting on that master plan in April 2024 for construction in the summer of 2025,” says Tyrrell, a 27-year GCSAA member. “We’re not doing a lot of design changes. This is a unique and special design.” Tyrrell said it would be an infrastructure project, so plans are to core greens, restore putting surfaces to proper elevations and contours, add tees, turn one green to provide more visibility, and work on bunkers and the fairway on the 18th hole.

“It’s meant to restore and reclaim,” Tyrrell says, and Nicklaus will ensure the original design remains in place. Turfgrass changes also will be made. Desert Highlands originally had bentgrass greens but in 2011 changed to bermudagrass. Part of the plan is to return to bentgrass. 

The renovation also may add zoysiagrass in some areas. Desert Highlands has been conducting a zoysiagrass trial since 2020, starting with a two-variety trial on 4,000 square feet and continuing with a focus on Stadium zoysiagrass.

“Stadium is a very dark green, fine-textured and highly recuperative cultivar,” Tyrrell says. The trial was expanded to 1 acre in a short game practice area in 2021 and across the remaining 5 acres of the driving range in 2022.

“It performed exceptionally on all measurable metrics,” he says. With agreement from the membership, the trial was expanded last summer to the entire fairway of the first hole along with part of the 18th hole. The zoysiagrass trial has been reviewed by Rossi as well as faculty from leading turfgrass programs at universities around the country. Tyrrell says the project is an effort to provide even better golfing conditions while also achieving water savings from elimination of overseeding and other benefits. The change in turf also will be part of the renovation proposal to members.

Rossi notes that underlying the course renovation plan is the desire to follow best management practices, with water reduction strategies, golf management in the desert under arid conditions and executing a master plan under Nicklaus as key takeaways.

Attendees at an interactive facility tour during the 2023 GCSAA Conference and Trade Show
One of the Interactive Facility Tour options at the 2024 GCSAA Conference and Trade Show takes participants through the ins and outs of hosting a First Green field trip. Photo by Montana Pritchard

Course renovation also will be discussed during morning and afternoon tours Tuesday at the Arizona Biltmore Golf Club. This tour, presented by Capillary Flow, will be led by Todd Eden, CEO and principal of HCT LLC in Scottsdale. He and superintendent Jason Snyder will offer insights into new irrigation and pump systems, bunker renovation and the secrets behind TifTuf bermudagrass conversion as a way to explore the latest in golf course revitalization. They’ll cover grading and lengthening projects, navigate ADA-compliant golf course renovation and outline analytics related to water, soil and biology.

Other tours Tuesday will focus on tournament preparations, presented by John Deere, and the technology of implementing best management practices, presented by Helena.

David H. Robinson, CGCS, senior director of golf grounds with Marriott Golf, will lead the discussion of BMPs, along with J. Bryan Unruh, Ph.D., professor of environmental horticulture at the University of Florida, and Daniel O’Brien, research technician and doctoral student at the University of Arkansas.

This tour covers everything from drones to elevating water management, enhancing native areas and fostering pollinators and wildlife. Camelback Golf Club will be the location, with superintendent Greg Brandriet, CGCS, serving as host.

Robinson says one of the things he took away from the interactive facility tours hosted at Marriott properties last year in Orlando was the benefit superintendents received from learning in a hands-on environment.

“Coming from a superintendent’s standpoint, being out on a golf course and seeing what you’re talking about firsthand always brings it to life and makes it easier to understand,” the 29-year association member says. “Camelback is a great property to host this. We’ve been Audubon-certified there for over a decade. We did a major renovation to the Ambiente Course there (site of the tour) about 10 years ago, and a big piece of that was we eliminated almost 100 acres of irrigated turf.”

Other initiatives include the addition of pollinator wildflowers and a state-of-the-art irrigation system. The property has done its site-specific BMP plan, and the staff is always looking for ways to continually improve management practices, Robinson says.

Conference attendees also will have access to more than 70 seminars covering everything from data-driven irrigation to topdressing strategies. The conference will offer 21 Power Hours on Monday and Tuesday, providing in-depth guidance on networking, nematodes, career transitions, and more. Visit https://bit.ly/3UAeJRu to learn more.

— Darrell J. Pehr, GCM science editor