What advocacy is all about

Learn how to let golf’s voice be heard, and why your voice counts.


U.S. Capitol building

Let’s start with some definitions of a couple terms you’ve likely heard, the first being watchdog. Yes, everyone knows the literal definition of watchdog: Fido, who barks in your front yard and alerts you when the mail carrier or someone approaches your house. Today we are talking about the watchdog group metaphor.

What is a watchdog group? It’s a group that monitors the activities of another entity (such as an individual, corporation, nonprofit group or governmental organization) on behalf of the public to ensure that entity does not behave illegally or unethically. For example, there are consumer-protection watchdogs, campaign-finance watchdogs … the list goes on. Seemingly every industry group has one and for good reason. These groups keep guard and watch from the background, coordinate with industry partners and work with lawmakers on issues that could affect their interests.

GCSAA represents more than 19,500 members. We are lucky to have GCSAA’s government affairs department serving as our watchdogs. Add in help from the GCSAA field staff, and we have a comprehensive team that is looking out for superintendents at the local, state and federal levels of government.

Their experience and guidance have been priceless when dealing with legislators and regulators. They focus on numerous policy areas, including land, water, and pesticide and fertilizer use, to name a few. This team has been at the forefront of addressing these issues before they become law so our members can provide input through written comments, action alerts, hearings and testimony. Thanks to their leadership, the grassroots advocacy efforts by GCSAA members are recognized and appreciated by the entire golf industry.

Let’s define another term: advocacy. Advocacy seeks to ensure that all people in society can have their voice heard on issues that are important to them. Advocacy protects and promotes their rights and ensures their views and wishes are genuinely considered when decisions are being made about their lives.

The Grassroots Ambassador program pairs GCSAA members with members of Congress to build strong relationships between them. Over 500 grassroots ambassador volunteers serve as the “go-to” people for lawmakers and their staffs on golf course management issues.

I have served on many different government relations committees in my career. Living in California, I have experienced many policy changes that directly impact the way I manage a golf course. This is why I have chosen to speak up and become more active. If we do not interact and develop relationships with policymakers, they will draft policy without our input. We must be part of the process. It has been a difficult lesson for me to learn, but the more involved I get, the more I realize we are in the relationship business. Those relationships matter most when it is time to get things accomplished.

These experiences have led me to serve on the GCSAA Government Affairs Committee. The GAC provides strategic input and guidance on public policy issues, lobbying and grassroots efforts in the areas of advocacy and compliance. This work strives to ensure golf facilities remain viable enterprises.

Last September was my first chance to participate with the GAC. I joined 10 other committee members from around the country for our annual meeting in Washington, D.C. The organization and planning required to pull off this meeting was extremely professional and administered perfectly. The government affairs team led numerous discussions, foremost the development of a 2023-2024 Priority Issues Agenda, which identifies the top policy matters expected to impact superintendents over the next two years.

After the committee meeting, we met with key congressional offices on some of these issues, working to improve those offices’ understanding of golf course management and building stronger relationships in the process.

Looking into the future, we can see what’s coming. Laws and regulations are changing. Our jobs are changing, and the challenges our industry faces are numerous, but I am confident that GCSAA and the government affairs team are looking out for our best interests. That said, we all must contribute to the process. I encourage you to get involved, and participating in National Golf Day is a great way to do so. If you can’t be in Washington for this year’s event May 8-10, consider contacting your lawmakers’ offices back home to advocate for one or multiple issues. Visit the Advocacy section of GCSAA.org, especially the Take Action tab, where you can easily contact state and federal lawmakers. They need to hear your voice. That is what advocacy is about.

Kurtis Wolford is the GCSAA Class A golf course superintendent at Woodbridge Golf & Country Club in Woodbridge, Calif., and a 20-year member of GCSAA.