Friday, June 30, 2017

In my first month...


New and old: Joined here with GCSAA Secretary/Treasurer Rafael Barajas (left), former South Central Field Staff Representative Brian Cloud (2nd from left) and Southern Oaks superintendent Jorge Croda, CGCS (right)

On June 1, I headed to GCSAA headquarters for training to become the South Central Field Staff Representative.  After two intense days of drinking from the fire hose, I flew back to Houston to prepare to hit the road.  On June 7, I attended the North Texas GCSA meeting at Southern Oaks in Burleson, Texas.  Host superintendent, Jorge Croda, had the golf course in pristine shape for their chapter championship.  Jorge’s good friend and GCSAA Secretary/Treasurer Rafael Barajas flew over from Florida to join the fun.  The next day, I had the opportunity to visit with GCSAA member Richard Webster at Thorntree Country Club.  This was a special treat for me because Thorntree was the very first golf facility that I worked at to start my 30-year career as a superintendent and now it was my first facility visit as the South Central Field Representative for GCSAA.

On June 12, I attended the South Texas GCSA Chapter Championship hosted by George Cincotta at Riverbend Country Club.  All participants had a great time and all agreed the course was in fantastic condition.  On June 13, the Texas Gulf Coast GCSA hosted their meeting at Harlingen Country Club in Harlingen, Texas.  Jerry Wade was the host superintendent and President Kevin Girt did a great job organizing the education and golf tournament.  On June 14, I was able to spend a few hours with Mr. Girt at his facility, Northshore Country Club.  We discussed many things related to his facility and the Texas Gulf Coast GCSA chapter.  This region is geographically challenged with many facilities spread out over a large area and it makes it difficult for members to attend meetings, so we discussed different ways to help achieve better attendance.

On June 27, I headed to the hill country of Texas to attend the Central Texas GCSA Chapter Championship held at Vaaler Creek Golf Club.  Host superintendent, Todd Leist, had this remarkable property in great condition for the tournament.  Superintendents and vendors from the Austin area and San Antonio area had a fun day at this event.  The next day I spent a few hours with Ken Gorzycki, director at Horseshoe Bay Resort on Lake LBJ.  We spent a few hours developing a steering committee for BMP development for the state of Texas.  We have identified and contacted nine people from around the state that will make up this committee and our first meeting to get the BMP development started is scheduled for August of this.

I traveled over 2000 miles for my first month and spoke to over 200 people.  When I was not traveling, I was able to speak to members from Arkansas, Oklahoma and New Mexico to introduce myself and discuss issues with their respective chapters.  I will be meeting with members from Arkansas in July to help them get started with their BMP plan and I hope to do the same with members of Oklahoma.  I also worked with many superintendents over the phone helping them with their class status, Grassroots Ambassador program and dues renewal.  I hope to speak with potential new members over the next several weeks.

John Walker
South Central Field Representative

Friday, April 14, 2017

Not goodbye, see you later!

As a card-carrying member of the “old timer's club,” I often tell young people, including my son and daughter-in-law who are brand new parents, “Don’t blink, because your newborn will be all grown up if you do”. Well, that is exactly how I feel about my tenure working for the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America. The past six years have been the most rewarding and beneficial of my career but they have passed way too fast. I have cherished every minute of working with GCSAA members, affiliated chapters and, of course, the fantastic team that works at 1421 Research Park, Lawrence, Kansas 66049. 

I first joined GCSAA in June 1986. I was 6 months out of college and joined because my boss, Mike Allen of Northwood Club, handed me an application one day and un-ceremonially said, “here, fill this out.” What Mike did that day was start me on a path of being involved with GCSAA for the past 31 years, a path that will continue through the rest of my career. I have been a member as an assistant, a superintendent, an affiliate, a chapter executive, and as an employee. All have been very rewarding opportunities and have been beneficial to my career and my life. 

I mentioned the fantastic team I had the opportunity to work with at GCSAA. A few faces have changed over six years but the commitment to members remains the same. I knew many before I went to work with GCSAA and I hope all of them will always be friends. Every one of these great people are committed to the mission: GCSAA is dedicated to serving its members, advancing their profession and enhancing the enjoyment, growth and vitality of the game of golf. I wrote about the way I feel about these folks in 2014.

I worked directly with some of the best people I know. Steve Randall is the exceptional leader of the Chapter Outreach Department and has built a team and a program that has changed the way GCSAA is identified and “delivered” to the industry, affiliated chapters and members. He is a great boss and a good friend. 

I knew and worked with Leann Cooper when I was a chapter leader in the early 2000s. She is an amazing lady and has had an incredible evolution as a GCSAA employee. She has been and always will be my “go-to person” in the association when it comes to chapter questions. Leann has a fan club made up of all of the chapter executives from around the country who know she is committed to their success.

And, of course, I want to recognize my field staff “brothers.” I credit Steve Randall for building an outstanding team and an atmosphere that propagates camaraderie and teamwork. I have worked with nine other field staffers during the six years on staff and have formed a special bond with each one that I have had the privilege to know. They will always be very close friends and I wish them all continued success. And, besides, I have way too much “dirt” on all of them so I know they will always have to keep me in the “club.”

There will always be a special place in my heart for GCSAA and the great friends I have made. There are way too many co-workers, members of the board of directors, chapter leaders, and members to mention that have helped me along the way and made an impact on my career. I thank every one of you from the bottom of my heart. I want to be the biggest advocate for GCSAA outside of staff that there is. 

Fortunately, the next chapter in my story will allow me to continue to work closely with the members I have served for the past six years. Starting bright and early, Monday, April 17, I am going to work for a close friend, Tony Campagna of Turf Materials. Tony and Brenda Campagna are very special people and have built an outstanding business that supplies the highest quality sands and aggregates available and backs it up with superior customer service. They have provided an incredible opportunity and Carol and I are super excited for me to be a part of the Turf Materials team. I am looking forward to working in the agronomic side of the business again and will be able to spend less time at the Holiday Inn. If you are interested, here is a story about my move to Turf Materials.

So, please keep in touch, friends. My new email address is brian@turfmaterials.com, my new twitter handle is @bcturfmaterials, and I will continue to have the cell number: 817-296-9117. Thanks again for everything and I will see you on down the road!!



Friday, March 17, 2017

Meet Mary Beth Rogers - GCSA of Arkansas

I have said before on this blog that the best part of my job as a field staff representative in the South Central region is meeting and working with extraordinary people. I met Mary Beth Rogers at the very first event I attended in this role in January of 2011. She has been a joy to work with for the past six years and is always very helpful and inviting. She is the current chapter executive for the GCSA of Arkansas and the Arkansas Turfgrass Association. I know that all of the members of these associations think the world of her and appreciate all of the work she has done to make these organizations outstanding!

I also met her husband, JP Rogers, at my first event. He was serving as the President of the GCSA of Arkansas. JP and Mary Beth are a great couple and I enjoy "knowing" their whole family through Facebook. JP is the golf course superintendent at War Memorial Golf Course in Little Rock.

I have also been very impressed with the work that Mary Beth does in the field of Dyslexia Awareness. She was recently involved in an effort to pass Arkansas legislation SB 328 (science of Reading Bill) that involved advocating in schools for a child's right to learn to read. Way to go, Mary Beth! You will read more about her involvement in these issues below.

So as if she wasn't busy enough, I asked her to help us all get to know her better. She did a great job and I hope you will all enjoy learning more about this amazing lady. Thank you, Mary Beth for all that you do for your members and the golf industry in Arkansas!

How long have you been with the GCSA Arkansas?  I am in my teenage years with GCSA.  I'm almost 15 now!  

How did you get started with the chapter?  I was lucky enough to have dated a very handsome assistant and we went to a lot of chapter meetings. The first Christmas party I went to was in 1991! That was my first impression of what a great group of people were involved in the Arkansas chapter.  They couldn't get rid of me after that.  I later married that assistant but the important part of the story is how he was mentored as an assistant.  The course superintendent was the infamous Bud Busken and he taught JP everything he knew (and then some!).  Bud's wife Mary Jean had been running the Arkansas chapter as a volunteer.  I can't even imagine the hours and hours she contributed to the association free of charge.  When I heard that she wanted to retire I jumped on the chance to attempt to fill her shoes and lucky for me they let me try!  I think golf course superintendents are some of the smartest and hardest working people on the planet and I hope that that respect shines through in the work I do with them to promote the profession.   

You also manage the ATA – how did that come about?  The chance to manage ATA came a few years later. When the board of directors were looking for a new executive secretary they called me for an interview because there were a couple of golf course superintendents on the board who recommended me.  Did I mention that I'm hard to get rid of?  There is a lot of synergy between the two groups.  Managing turf in the transition zone has its own set of challenges and I think it's helpful when a secretary has an understanding of those challenges and constraints.  Having been exposed to the industry in both my home life and work life I came into ATA with a working knowledge of association management, turf issues and the nature of the turf management.  Managing a trade show requires me to act like a duck: cool and calm on the outside but paddling like crazy underneath.  It is so much fun to see all the parts of the show come together and work out.   There are exciting changes on the horizon for ATA and I'm thrilled to watch our years of strategic planning start to make a difference. 




What is it like to be married to a golf course superintendent?  Lonely and broke. Okay, I'm kind of kidding but a good turf wife knows that her marriage will have seasonal demands and mother nature will have her way no matter what.  Being married to a superintendent means everything is on you during the summer and don't even think about a summer vacation.  But it's a small trade-off for those days when the family can do things together when everyone else is cranking out another 9 to 5. There are worse things in the world than being married to a man who works hard.  

How was it when JP was president? It was actually wonderful to have my husband serve on the board and serve his term as president.  He couldn't ignore my calls or emails!  

Please tell us about your family.  I've been married to JP, the superintendent of my life, for 20 years. We have two teenage boys (prayers are appreciated and donations accepted!). We have a yellow lab experiment dog and cat with a bad attitude but they keep us entertained.

I know you that dyslexia awareness is an important issue for you – can you tell us about the issue and your involvement?  I firmly believe that when you have that little thought in your head that says "Someone should do something about this," that means you need be that someone.  We figured out that our oldest son was dyslexic when he was in 1st grade.  I say "we" figured it out because no one at his school could. 



Most people think dyslexia means you see words backwards or they float around.  It's really a neurological difference that hinders the ability to decode words and assign sounds to letters.  It also typically affects spelling and working memory.  It is not an IQ problem or work ethic problem. One in 5 people is dyslexic.  

It's truly only a disability because our schools are not equipped to teach using the science of reading.  Dyslexics can be taught to read with the right programs and all children can learn to read with these programs.  I saw what not being able to read did to my child and it broke my heart.  When I learned about the dropout, suicide and prison rates associated with dyslexics, my heart shattered. Every time I drove by a school I said a little prayer for all the brave kids sitting in class wondering what was wrong with them.  I didn't find my mission, it found me. 

I found a wonderful group of teachers and passionate parents and we formed an advocacy group. This group gives advice to parents seeking support, teachers asking advice about students and many of them travel thousands of miles across the state at their own expense each year to attend IEP meetings with parents. Currently, this group has several bills before our state legislature that will make real change in our schools.  

I'm really moved by how many people in the turf business approach me and tell me they are dyslexic. They feel like it's a dirty secret but the reality is that their brain is wired differently in a way that makes them more creative, inventive and intuitive.  It should be celebrated and recognized for the many gifts it brings.  I hope that tide will turn and will brag out being dyslexic instead of ashamed of it. Most people don't realize that Steve Jobs, Sir Richard Branson, Charles Schwab, JK Rowling, Picasso, Leonardo da Vinci, Alexander Graham Bell, most of the sharks on Shark Tank, many actors like Jennifer Anniston, Henry Winkler and Jay Leno, Albert Einstein and golfer Tom Lewis are all celebrated dyslexics.  

I know you are very proud of the recent Arkansas SB 328 legislation that just passed. Are you working on other projects? We have several other bills in the works right now. One will require schools to print students reading grade level on the report card so parents can see more than just a letter grade. The other will provide some enforcement measures to our original dyslexia bill. These are huge changes and will help us make great strides in literacy for our state! 

People may not realize how many dyslexics there are in the professional turf management field. I would bet it's higher than many other fields. Dyslexics like to work with their hands, are big picture thinkers, project oriented, very creative and tend to avoid careers that require a lot of reading and writing.


What are some good resources to learn more about dyslexia awareness? The International Dyslexia Association, Understood.org, Dys-add.com or for information specific to your location search for Decoding Dyslexia and your state's name. 



Are you a golfer? What are your hobbies?  I am not a golfer. I am terribly  
uncoordinated and I don't like to do anything that might be misconstrued as exercise. I also can't see that little white ball in the air but that's usually not a problem since it likes to stay firmly seated on the tee no matter how hard I swing. My favorite hobby is napping. I have mad napping skills.  

Best thing about being a chapter executive?  By far the best thing about being a chapter executive is the people I get to work with. I love that I don't do the same thing every day.  Event planning is fun and strategic planning is exciting.  We are a small chapter but don't tell us that because we don't act like that.  We want to offer our members to the same value they would get from a big chapter.  I love seeing an assistant grow and become a superintendent in charge of his own course.  Watching someone grow and succeed is exciting and validates that chapters have the power to truly affect lives promote careers. 

Your background – where you grew up, family, education, travels?  My roots are deep in Arkansas.  I grew up in a small town with wonderful parents and got to marry the man of my dreams.  I went to college at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and earned a degree in business management but I've always said that being a chapter executive uses more psychology skills than anything.  When we travel, I drag everyone down to the beach and they drag me camping. It's a charmed life I lead and I'm blessed to be a part of GCSAA. 





Monday, January 9, 2017

Communication clutter!


ASAE logo

You will be happy to know that GCSAA “puts its money where its mouth is” and supports all employees to be active members of the American Society of Association Executives. It is the equivalent organization for people who work in the association management industry and provides very useful professional development, education resources, and a community to exchange ideas and expertise with other members. GCSAA has an Organizational Membership which allows all employees to utilize the asae.org website and access to all of these resources.

Recently, I took advantage of this opportunity and participated in a webinar titled “Breaking through the clutter – New, more effective ways to communicate with your members”. I chose that webinar because I believe communication is the most important tool that chapters utilize in all aspects of their chapter operations. It is the key to everything a chapter does from recruiting and retaining members to promoting attendance at chapter meetings. And honestly, something all chapters could improve.

The webinar was taught by Mr. Dave Stevens who is the Managing Partner of Stevens & Stevens, an award-winning company dedicated to helping associations improve their marketing and communications results. He did a great job and hit on several items that I believe can help chapters with their communication strategy. The information was also very useful in everyday communication whether you are dealing with golfers, customers, employees or coworkers, or even everyday interactions. Following are a few items that I thought interesting and useful.

  •          Communication with members is now more difficult than ever. We have more technology and tools, but individuals are constantly bombarded by marketing and communication. The presenter compared the effort required by your members to find your message is similar to “Finding Waldo”. All of us are hit with hundreds of messages every day that include modern technology (email and social media), dynamic graphics, and “younger” and rebranded marketing.
  •          The presenter suggested every organization should decide and create a “value proposition” or “brand statement”. This is similar to an organization’s mission statement but targets specifically their marketing and communication. One simple example made was “The National Association of Widget Makers will help you make more money.” So, every communication made by the NAWM should pass the test that it communicates that message.
  •          Here’s one I know is very true – Keep your messages short and simple. I know because I violate this advice every day (you know that if you are still reading this blog). This sure isn’t a new thought, “The more you say, the less people remember. The fewer the words, the greater the profit” Francois Fenelon, 1651 – 1715.
o   Chapters could certainly benefit by using this strategy when announcing meetings to their members. I think the challenge is tailoring your messages for all chapter members.

o   As someone who has attended hundreds of chapter events in my career, I look at an announcement and really only need to know: date, location, cost, speaker and/or education and golf. Like many engaged chapter members, that is all of the information I need to decide about attending.

o   But what about a new member or one not very engaged? They certainly need more information and probably even a little coaxing.

o   I think it would help to consider that some members will want to show their supervisor or owner the notice to get approval for attending.  For that reason, information heavy on the education, networking and value. It seems like most meeting announcements are geared toward over-informing. Probably somewhere in the middle is the best compromise.
  •          Another good thought I found was to focus on what your organization provides that can’t be found on Google or other easy technological avenues. This makes a lot of sense to me. Google has changed the way we find everything including fertilizer rates, pesticide labels, you name it.
  •          And finally a few short and concise bullets of other useful items and tips:
o   Keep your messages short and concise – bite size
o   Use simple graphics in groupings
o   Tolerance for long text is very low – use text as if it is only being skimmed
o   Differentiate yourself – focus on your unique benefits
o   Track your email open rate and unsubscribe results
o   Email subject lines are important – keep short but informative
o   Keep in mind that a very large amount of messages are now read on phones and mobile devices – use templates

I hope you find some of this information as useful as I do. There are some very common sense pointers that can help chapters get their message to their members in an effective manner.




Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Finish your race

Chances are that everyone reading this blog has been touched by cancer either personally or by someone very close to them. I think we all find inspiration through these very tough battles even though some of them don’t turn out the way we hope. I find inspiration every single day from my wonderful wife Carol who is a 16-year cancer survivor and, even more incredible, a 34-year survivor of me! She is my hero.

I also want to tell you about another inspiration of mine that has had a profound impact on my career and my life. Don Armstrong is a former golf course superintendent that I first met in March of 1980 when I went to work at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth (at the age of 8…right?). I was right out of high school trying to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up. He was the assistant superintendent at Colonial from 1978 – 1981 and went on to have an outstanding superintendent career that included returning as the superintendent at Colonial where he hosted the PGA Tour from 1982 – 1987. He has been in the golf course maintenance industry for 38 years and has been a golf course consultant with his company Golf Resources, Inc. since 1987. For five years in the 2000s, he had his own financial management company in Fort Worth. His advice and the example he has set for me as one of my professional role models has been an inspiration to me throughout my career. I ask his advice every time I see him even to this day.

But the much more meaningful inspiration I have received from Don over the past 36 years has nothing to do with fertility, pest control, management, or anything else related to growing grass. Don celebrated his 10-year cancer survivor anniversary in 2015. In 2005, he was diagnosed with Leukemia and went through five chemotherapy treatments and a stem cell transplant. He was the picture of health before his diagnosis and we were all stunned. The story regarding his battle to survive is remarkable, but what he has done since his diagnosis to create awareness, raise money for blood cancer research and to inspire others is truly incredible. He has become an author and motivational speaker and still works in the golf industry in Texas and Oklahoma. He is an avid marathon runner and trains others to run marathons through his organization known as Team in Training which is a fundraising campaign for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. He also organizes and manages an annual fundraising event called the Honored Hero Run which raises money for blood cancer research. He has even inspired yours truly to get off the couch once and a while and participate!

Now, Don has taken his efforts to the next level. He has written a book about his life, appropriately titled, Finish YOUR Race. It goes on sale on January 24 on Amazon and I can’t wait to order one of the first copies. Below is some information about the book. I encourage you to take a look and get to know Don a little better. I hope you will find his story as inspiring as I do and will consider going to Amazon on January 24 and picking up a copy for yourself.

Don Armstrong was first diagnosed with leukemia, a blood cancer that threatened to end his life, in 2005. He endured five rounds of chemo in eight months, culminating in a successful stem cell transplant on May 12, 2006. This was his new “birthday” and his second chance at life.

This journey was filled with uncertainty as well as life lessons and huge victories that changed almost every aspect of his life. Don discovered that adversity affects us all, but it doesn’t define us — it’s the way we react that determines and changes the outcome.

Well into Don’s journey with leukemia, he decided he had to give back and make a difference. Since his diagnosis, Don has run 18 marathons (4 internationally), completed a triathlon and a 100-mile bicycle ride, and raised over $100,000 for blood cancer research.

Don decided to write Finish YOUR Race to share the extraordinary lessons and strategies he learned while his life was on the line. The strategies he discovered aren’t just for cancer patients — everyone can use them to empower their lives.

When you read this uplifting memoir, you will be captivated by Don’s story, inspired by his determination and encouraged by his example. You’ll learn that it’s possible to transcend even the most challenging circumstances and find your life purpose and live it with passion in the process.

Don Armstrong is a leukemia survivor having endured five (5) rounds of chemo and a stem cell transplant in May 2006.  He is an avid marathon runner having completed over 20 marathons to-date.  10 since his stem cell transplant.  Don is also an author and motivational speaker.  He teaches others to win their race in all areas of life with courage, confidence, grace and a positive spirit.  Don resides in Fort Worth, Texas. You or your organization may contact Don at Don@DonArmstrongLive.com or 817-917-5919 for information about his speaking availability.