2014 marked the 11th Bernhard sponsored BIGGA Delegation to the USA. Originally the brainchild of Stephen Bernhard, the main idea behind this unique trip is education.
"We work so closely with greenkeepers all over the world, and so we see the differences in the way they work, their priorities, their funding.
We thought it would be a valuable exercise to select ten of our top greenkeepers and give them the opportunity to see the Golf Industry Show, promote the work of BIGGA on their stand and represent the UK, and look at some of the best clubs in the USA.
Most importantly it has always been about the opportunity to spend time with other greenkeepers, to share ideas and experiences and see first-hand how they work.
Every year at the interviews we are impressed by the levels of intelligence and professionalism in the people we see and most heartening is their total commitment to the industry. We recognize it is unique in its generosity of shared spirit - and so for us, it is also an education," explains Stephen Bernhard.
All ten greenkeepers came back feeling enriched and stimulated by their experience. We have taken comments from five of them, which reflect the views and experiences of the whole group.
Jaey Goodchild (Course Manager, Bowood): "The week flew by, our schedule was packed and I think that the days which yielded the most for me were the visits to Sawgrass, playing at Orange County National, our day at the Aeration and Water Management Seminar and my time on the show floor.
The Aeration Seminar was fantastic. The format gave us three perspectives on the same issues, being warm season, cool season and academic.
This day served to demonstrate that no matter what your budget or location all turf managers are facing the same issues when it comes to organic matter management and it's consequence on playability.
The seminar on Gadgets and Gizmos was informative in the morning session with some useful info regarding moisture meters and applying light measurement data to turf culture.
Visits to courses highlighted the demands of golfers and consequently how golf courses are managed and presented. In my opinion, in the US course management is more heavily influenced by golfer expectation and managing the consequences of these expectations.
Here in the UK there seems to be more weight put on correct agronomic process and consequentially customer expectation adapts more to the results of this management.
Staff levels and budgets were as I expected on the big operations, given the level of customer expectation and I think that they are on a par with the big operations here in the UK."
Gavin Neill (Deputy Course Manager, St. Andrew's Links Trust): "I would like to thank BIGGA and all the team at Bernhard for this amazing opportunity and a life experience I will never forget.
I was taken aback by the sheer scale and size of the convention centre. Manning the BIGGA stand was a great opportunity to communicate with superintendents from all over the world, explaining the benefits of joining the association and how it has progressed my career.
It was also great to see so many BIGGA members over at show. It was a proud moment wearing my suit, tie and BIGGA badge, representing BIGGA.
Attending the evening functions was a great opportunity to meet new people and to improve on networking skills. Everyone was so positive towards the delegates and they were amazed at what Bernard's and BIGGA provide for the trip.
Although I'd been to TPC Sawgrass before it was a real honour to be there. When we arrived we were introduced to the two First Assistants and the Workshop Manager. Then we were all given a printed presentation of the tour, which I was very impressed with, having never experienced that anywhere else before.
In their break room they had a computerised screen of the daily schedule as opposed to the usual white board that we are all use to.
In the 10 yrs since I visited there has been quite a change in the size of facilities and machinery. They have made renovations to management offices, break rooms and what impressed me most was the new chemical storage and mixing room.
I certainly gained some ideas from their attention to detail on the labeling of knapsacks with date and time used and safe use practice.
I was amazed by the amount of money and work put into the stadium course renovations last summer from changing the grass species on selected tees, fairways and approaches from Tifway (Bermuda) to Celebration (Bermuda).
Due to this, all areas selected for the change were blanket sprayed with Roundup, turf lifted, then again sprayed with Roundup, sand capped to 8 inches then leveled and turfed with large rolls of Celebration Bermuda grass.
Large areas were also renovated for added spectator mounds to help with spreading and controlling wear due to high volume of people in small area.
My highlight of the course visit was a tour of the amazing clubhouse. We arrived for lunch where there were two tables of seven with the two assistants joining us for a Q & A. We learned so much from questions.
A lunch I will never forget in such a special place the home of the PGA. Next the charismatic General Manager gave us a full tour of the whole clubhouse and we really appreciated the history of the course and the tournament.
Overall it has always been a career goal to become a delegate and to visit the show. I felt very proud at show and all week to be representing BIGGA. I have gained so much confidence from the show and have become so much more motivated with new goals being set. It really was a trip of a lifetime and one that I will cherish for the rest of my life."
Dave Collins (Course Manager, Lickey Hills): "A fabulous week and it means the world to me to have been selected as a delegate
. My first impressions on the differences of American greenkeeping is that is appears to be more clinical in its approach, the budgets seem to be almost unlimited and in some cases the chemical budgets alone were higher than my entire years budget including wages.
It was hard to comprehend. I think the environmental impact on the surroundings seem less important in USA as we have much tighter controls on chemical use in the UK."
Geoff Fenn (Course Manager, Bedford & Country): "I was very impressed with our first educational seminar on 'Greens Aerification and Water Management by Numbers', presented by two superintendents, the magnificently named Troy Fink and Nelson Caron, and a Research Professor from Virginia Polytechnic Institute, Erik Ervin. An 8am start to the seminar told us this would not be like Harrogate!
This was a real eye opener for those of us who have never visited the States before. The intensity that the American Supers maintain their turf was quite amazing.
There were tales of using 10 members of staff with hand brooms to brush in top dressing to avoid large machinery running across the greens and taking 100 readings with a soil moisture meter every morning and afternoon.
The intensity of management and pressure to produce fast, firm, smooth greens all the time seems to mean they manage the turf right on the borderline between healthy and very stressed!
The second seminar, 'Gadgets and Gizmos' - How to Best Use Measurement Technology took us to Shingle Creek Golf Club where the seminar was part classroom and part practical use of equipment on the golf course itself.
The morning was interesting showing how to present data in a way that would be easily understood by the layman and this is something I will definitely be utilising in the future.
Overall the two seminars showed a real difference between the UK and US based turf managers. On the plus side the US manager come across as very professional and we could certainly learn from them in this department.
They are much more willing to get involved in seminars than the usual attendees at UK seminars. I really felt at the end of the seminars that the US managers could take a leaf out of our books, by managing a little less intensively and be a lot kinder to the environment, save a huge amount of their budgets and still produce some truly excellent golf courses.
Friday was the day everyone was looking forward to, the visit to TPC Sawgrass. The facility was as impressive as you would imagine and were very well looked after by a really welcoming, friendly and professional staff.
The machinery fleet was most impressive with stats like 44 JD Gators and 80 staff for 36 holes making everyone a little green with envy.
It was a fantastic chance for us to see the course itself and of course everyone wanted to see the famous 17th island green and the staff were very patient while we had numerous group photos of us standing on the green.
We were then treated to lunch and a tour of the clubhouse by probably the most enthusiastic guy you could ever meet - Bill Hughes the General Manager and PGA Pro.
Looking at past champions lockers such as Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods just doesn't happen every day! Overall an amazing day and a once in a lifetime opportunity to visit such an iconic place that is known by anyone who loves the game."
Paul Mills (Course Manager, Penn GC) really enjoyed the day at Orange Country National Golf Centre and was taken a back by the sheer scale and quality of everything including customer service.
He really enjoyed manning the BIGGA stand at GIS chatting to the American greenkeepers who hold the Master Greenkeeper Certification in very high regard.
For all the greenkeepers the penultimate day was their visit to the legendary TPC Sawgrass.
Paul explained, "The yard was huge and contained several buildings, the main building housing the staff room complete with LCD monitor with the scheduled works for the day and canteen. Joe the Superintendant and the assistants are all very career drawn and work between 10 -12 hours per day.
The Workshop Manager showed us round the mechanics workshop, which was a superb facility, and he ran through their pre tournament preparations with us. The area was spotlessly clean and a good example of the high standards needed to keep fine turf machinery in the best condition.
I liked that they had converted two John Deere Gators into mobile workshops equipped with all the equipment needed to make adjustment and repairs out on the course vital they said during tournaments when time is of the essence.
We viewed the new chemical/spray facility, a free standing building that cost a staggering $230k. Shock and awe comes to mind, awe at the precision of the facility
Out on the course we were informed about the incredible conversion of half the tee boxes, all of the fairways and approaches to greens from Tifway (419) Turf to Celebration in 18 days! They had their own staff as well as 50-80 staff from the construction company.
I couldn't fail to be impressed by the staff's aspiration, passion and attention to detail. "
Steve Nixon, International Sales Manager said, "We were once again, very impressed with the group of Delegates and the US trip was a huge success.
They found the seminars very interesting, instructive and professionally presented. They were thrilled to spend a day at TPC Sawgrass, where General Manager Bill Hughes gave them a lot to think about in his fascinating presentation and tour of the clubhouse.
It goes without saying that they really enjoyed looking over both Orange County National and the Sawgrass courses, which are both fabulous examples of America's best.
GIS is always impressive and they all enjoyed not just the exhibits, but also manning the BIGGA stand and representing their profession, Bernhard and their country. They certainly wore their badges with great pride.
They were a really good bunch of guys and I know they came back to the UK much richer for the experience."