On a recent visit to the USA, Kevin Marks visited Charlotte in North Carolina to see what turf equipment manufacturer Jacobsen has to offer on their Future Turf Managers programme.
Without doubt this was a whirlwind few days and probably more intense than any of us imagined, but it was without doubt, extremely interesting, informative, lively and fun for all of us involved with Jacobsen's Future Turf Managers (FTM) programme.
Twenty-nine students from universities across the United States, including the first two female delegates, attended this year's FTM programme, which was centered on Jacobsen's headquarters in Charlotte, NC. The aim of the programme is to provide a further insight into the industry that they are joining in the coming months.
The students, who either graduate this year or had recently graduated from turf-related study programmes, were recommended by their professors as being top level candidates with great prospects to become future leaders as they progress their careers. They had the opportunity to learn from experienced turf professionals in an educational environment under the guidance of industry leaders. Since its inception back in the 1970s, over 700 students have participated in the Future Turf Managers programme.
On the evening prior to the first full day the group gathered for a welcome reception at a local hotel, with introductions to Jacobsen staff and a presentation on the company; it's history, products, services and its position within the multi-industry parent company, Textron inc.
The hectic first day began with a tour of Jacobsen's Wilmar production facility to see how today's modern mowers and turf utility vehicles are designed and built. The whistle-stop tour included a visit to the new Jacobsen Eclipse 322 production line, to see the manufacturing processes involved in creating this unique, hydraulic-free mower.
This was followed by a visit to the Quail Hollow Club where superintendent Jeff Kent explained how he prepared for the recent PGA tour championship and how he was getting the course back in shape after the tournament. The students then split into three groups for product demonstrations and ride and drives of some of Jacobsen's latest turf equipment.
Next up was John Patterson, fleet manager at Doral Country Club and president of the International Golf Course Equipments Managers' Association, who spoke about the importance of building a good working relationship with your technician and the benefits that would result.
The day concluded, as you would expect at the home of NASCAR in Charlotte, with a visit to the recently opened Hall of Fame and dinner at a local restaurant. Here Jacobsen's training manager, Erik Sides, an avid NASCAR fan, tries the pit crew simulator at the Hall of Fame.
Day two was no less hectic and began with an early morning tour of Jacobsen's Distribution Center and Jacobsen University. Three high-profile speakers were on hand to share their knowledge and experience about the industry.
Brian Wingerd, the GCSAA's business development manager, spoke of the value and the resources available for members of the association and concluded by announcing that attendance on the programme had earned each student 0.8 points towards the 5 points required for Class A certification. Sharon DeWolfe, Jacobsen's events specialist also announced that each attendee had been given a year's student membership of the GCSAA, courtesy of Jacobsen.
Dr. Charles Peacock (left), professor of Turfgrass Science at NC State University and FTM alumnus, stressed the importance of continuous professional development to ensure a progressive career path and gave his thoughts on how the environment and sustainability will impact superintendents in the coming years.
The final presentation by Chad Price (right), an executive member of the Sports Turf Managers' Association and president of Carolina Green Corp, included a look at the value of the Green Industry to the US economy - $147 million of which $40-$60 million is the turf grass sector, and the structure and benefits of membership of the STMA. Of particular interest to the student delegates was the information relating to the SAFE Foundation scholarship programme.
The next stop, in a busy schedule, was a bus ride down the I-77 corridor to the University of South Carolina in Columbia, where the group visited the baseball stadium and heard from field manager Clark Cox, who spoke about his turf management programme using Jacobsen's latest Eclipse 322 all-electric triple mower at his new 8,500 capacity stadium. A short trip across town and the group arrived at the 80,250 seat William Brice stadium, the home of the college football team, the Gamecocks, for a conducted tour of the facility. An intense day ended with a group dinner at a local bistro.
Brandon Arnold, one of the participating students from Washington State University, reflecting on the value of the Future Turf Managers programme at the close of the event said, "This has been an unbelievable experience.
Yes it's been hectic, but it's also been hugely enjoyable. I can't believe how well we've been treated here and the quality and experience of the speakers has been fantastic; I'll definitely put this on my CV so that potential employers realise how special it was for me to attend the FTM programme. The value has been immense. I think the most surprising aspect was the awarding of the points for GCSAA accreditation and the complimentary student membership; that's just awesome!"
Dan Wilkinson, president of Jacobsen added, "At Jacobsen we are committed to giving turf grass students a practical view of the profession, while offering guidance, support and the added value of our experience to help these turf professionals of tomorrow embrace our industry. It was a great three days and my thanks go to everyone who helped make it such a success."
From an outsider's perspective, it's interesting to see how all the major equipment manufacturers expend considerable time and resource to these events in which they are undoubtedly investing in the men and women who will possibly become their primary customers in the future.
However, in Jacobsen's case, over these three days there's been a real sense of investment in these young people, as they begin their chosen careers; a sense that it really more about helping solidify the future of this industry than it is about selling product.
Finally, this sign was on the gym wall at USC's baseball stadium … and is probably as relevant to the Future Turf Manager students as it is to USC's athletes!