National Golf Day policy issues: A progress update

A look back at how GCSAA has made inroads on issues important to the golf industry over 16 years of National Golf Day.


GCSAA members in a legislative meeting at National Golf Day
Advocacy efforts by GCSAA members at events like National Golf Day have helped move the needle on the some key industry issues. Photo by Soapbox Consulting

Editor's note: National Golf Day is May 7-10. GCM is covering GCSAA's involvement in the event with stories all week long. To keep up with our complete coverage, click here.

Since 2008, GCSAA has joined forces with the American Golf Industry Coalition (formerly known as We Are Golf) to bring golf course superintendents and industry professionals to Capitol Hill for National Golf Day. In that time, Chava McKeel, GCSAA’s director of government affairs, says she has seen a marked change in how legislators view the industry.

“What I’ve seen over a 16-year period is more of a recognition of the value of the golf industry,” McKeel says. “When we started out, fewer people were aware of the golf industry and how many values it provides and probably had more of a negative perception of it.”

Bob Helland, GCSAA’s director of congressional and federal affairs, agrees.

“We quickly realized that there were decision-makers in Washington who did not understand the economic and environmental value our industry provides. As a result, we faced either 1) the threat of penalty or 2) the exclusion from legislation that benefitted others”.  As Helland describes it, people were asking, “What need was there for a bill that benefits golf?” 

These days, thanks to an increased presence of GCSAA members, government affairs staff and grassroots ambassadors advocating in Washington and at the district level, that tune has changed.

“We don’t get overlooked anymore by the people who want to be our allies but who didn’t understand who we are and what we do,” Helland says.

GCSAA member involvement at National Golf Day has grown steadily since the organization first started getting involved with the event. This year boasts the highest attendance yet, with 250 golf professionals expected to join lobbying efforts on Capitol Hill. That means more opportunities to build relationships with lawmakers and government agencies who can help turfgrass professionals advance their industry and improve their courses’ value to their communities.

Seasonal worker at a golf course
One issue that GCSAA and its members continue to work on is increasing H-2B visa allowances to enable golf courses to hire more seasonal workers.Photo by Montana Pritchard

One such example is GCSAA’s evolving relationship with the Small Business Administration, which McKeel cites as a valuable tool in staying on top of forthcoming legislation and regulation that could impact superintendents.

“One person we met with in a previous SBA meeting with the Government Affairs Committee let me know that OSHA was considering a new heat-stress standard that golf facilities could have to comply with, and they specifically said they wanted to work with GCSAA members to gain feedback on that proposal before it came out for public comment,” McKeel says. “These kinds of things all lead back to events in Washington we’ve done around National Golf Day.”

Many issues that will be addressed on National Golf Day have been discussed in prior visits to Washington, due to their importance to our industry. This includes increasing the number of seasonal workers who come to the United States under the H-2B visa program. Golf’s demand for these legal and temporary workers has increased by 51% from 2019 to 2022. Yet, the statutory cap on these visas remains 66,000 annually.  GCSAA’s government affairs team, including its grassroots ambassadors, has been working with Congress and the executive branch to provide relief from this cap. Helland says advocacy has been helped by the association’s efforts on National Golf Day. As a result, the H-2B cap was almost doubled this year — by an additional 64,516 visas. This year, golf continues to advocate for even more visas to help meet golf’s labor needs.    

“It’s just for this year, so we’ll have to keep coming back for more, but our prior work has built up to that success,” he says.

Another ongoing point of discussion that has seen growth, and which is among the topics being brought to the table for National Golf Day, is the inclusion of funding for turfgrass research in the multiyear Farm Bill legislation.

“We first took that to the Hill in 2018 and lobbied as a group to have the federal government recognize turfgrass research as a high priority in the Farm Bill,” McKeel says. “We came back in 2019 and were able to secure $3 million for turfgrass research, which went toward hiring more scientists to do more research looking for drought-tolerant and more sustainable varieties of grass.”

The Farm Bill is back up for reauthorization in 2024, and McKeel says the plan is to expand research funding even further.

Turf researchers walking a test plot during a university field day
Thanks to work by GCSAA, members and industry allies, turfgrass research has benefitted from increased federal funding in the farm bill. Photo by Darrell J. Pehr

“We know the $3 million annually allocated to research scientists is there. Now we have two new requests,” she says. “We’re asking for a $5 million grant program that provides more money that more parties can dip into for vital research projects, including golf facilities. We’re also asking for $2 million to fund the first-ever comprehensive survey on the turfgrass industry to show how big and how valuable it is.”

McKeel says National Golf Day, and the opportunities it has presented over the years, remains a great way to introduce members to the value of advocacy at the national and local levels.

“People who go to National Golf Day and do the advocacy exercises in a group setting, they understand how it works and how to do it at the state and local level, where it’s needed even more because things move more rapidly,” McKeel says. “I’ve seen more people getting involved in advocacy and develop a thirst for this kind of activity. That’s something we should be proud of.”

Abby Olcese is GCM's online editor