This is the 13th Bernhard sponsored BIGGA trip to the USA and this year it was held at the new venue, The Henry B Gonzales Convention Centre in San Antonia, Texas.
The lucky ten were selected from an ever growing, impressive collection of greenkeepers, managers and mechanics that were presented with their itinerary at the BIGGA Turf Management Exhibition (BTME) in Harrogate this January.
Steve Nixon, International Sales Manager said, "The job of selecting ten people to go on this trip gets harder each year and it is tough to turn away so many good candidates. I do hope they will apply again. Jim and I are so impressed with the level of intelligence, professionalism and commitment to the industry.
We have always enjoyed running this trip. It's a great opportunity for us to meet and spend time with ten such committed professionals. Over the last 13 years this trip has advanced the careers of people at the top of their trade, supporting BIGGA with their increasingly impressive Continued Education Programme. We feel privileged to be able to spend time with them and watch them grow and enjoy the US experience."
We met up recently with 2012 Delegate, David Gray from Ladybank Golf Club. He passed on a message to this year's delegates before they left for the USA. He said, "3 years have passed since my trip to the GIS Las Vegas and they have undoubtedly been the most important and defining of my career. I have been very actively involved in the Educational side of Greenkeeping and have inspired other members of staff to get involved in the BIGGA CPD scheme.
After a recent re-structure at work which saw my boss Colin take up a new title as Course Manager I was absolutely delighted to be appointed as Head Greenkeeper. I must say this could not have been possible if it weren't for the trip!
The confidence gained, the things I learned, the contacts and the friends I made along with an increased educational drive have essentially mapped out my career.
On this trip I gained valuable information from all aspects - the course visits, topical educational seminars and from my fellow delegates. I consider these guys to now be friends of mine and we regularly exchange emails and texts whether it's about work or just banter! We also make a point of meeting up every year at the BTME to reminisce about the fantastic trip we had and catch up on the year gone by."
The 13th Delegation had a memorable fifty-hour journey to San Antonio after hitting bad weather at JFK. The snow came down and as the stack of aircraft waiting to be de-iced built up, more flights were delayed and cancelled.
Through the entire journey, sitting for hours in departure lounges, on planes, trying to get hotel bookings for the night, standing in wet snow waiting for transfers, everything that could go wrong did - and yet throughout the punishing journey everyone remained cheerful, everyone found something to laugh about, and we all kept smiling to the bitter end.
The Delegates emerged great friends and were an inspiration to travel with.
We'd all kept an eye on the San Antonio weather the week before we left the UK - so we'd all packed light spring clothes. We arrived in freezing temperatures and most of us felt chilled for the entire week - particularly on the Friday when we toured the spectacular TPC San Antonio - in temperatures hovering around freezing. Despite looking like a bunch of eccentric English (Scots and Irish) in our layers of thin cotton this is what the delegates, in their own words, had to say about the trip.
Graeme Roberts, Deputy Course Manager, Camberley Heath Golf Club said, "The big thing for me is how we got on so well. It was really great to meet and spend time with guys of the same level and more experienced. It was great for advancing career development, sharing ideas and just networking in a friendly atmosphere. It's been amazing. I realise more than ever too, the importance of continued education and increasing ones knowledge, using the Internet resources available from GCSAA as well as reading material. It was just great to see how things are done in the US. We can't take all of these back to the UK, like the budgets and staff levels, but the scientific knowledge, levels of organisation we can certainly relate to.
I found the show phenomenal, not just the size but it was so well organised. There were so many people to chat to and the layout was easy. Because it is bigger the exhibitors can show off more of their products so it was good to see an entire range or fleet.
Bernhard exposed us to so much, it was a great challenge and I think being part of a team allowed us to be more confident. I certainly loved it. We all had the same passion for our work and I made a lot of good friends. It amazed me that we arrived at Heathrow not knowing anyone and walked out of Houston like old friends. Having met some of the delegates from past trips at Harrogate this year, I really appreciate what they said now.
The whole week was amazing, even the flights, the 50 hours of travel - I'd not change a thing.
The entertainment in the evenings was great, thanks to Toro and Jacobsen, and particularly the karaoke evening with the BIGGA and Bernhard crowd.
We put so much in to the week but I never felt overly rushed. The seminars were good quality and I particularly found the first one useful, "The benefit of maintaining oxygen levels in the root". It was very in depth so helped us to understand it from the scientific side. The presenter was very animated and engaging and I liked the way he involved us throughout taking questions from the floor."
Leigh Powell - Assistant Golf Course Manager, Hockley Golf Club loved the trip. "It started off on a massive high for me. I really enjoyed being thrown in the deep end with 9 guys into some pretty stressful situations. The great thing was we had only known each other for a matter of hours and we got stuck in and dealt with it together. It was a perfect way to pick each other's brains and break the ice. BIGGA and Bernard did a brilliant job with the selection process. Between them they picked some brilliant guys with different characters and all the guys bounced off each other.
The itinerary planned for us was immense! There was so much to do and see, exposing us to so many people and opportunities in such a short space of time and being in a big party gave us a lot of opportunities we wouldn't otherwise have.
The education was excellent and extremely in-depth - far more than I am used to in the UK. The methods they use for documenting and recording data is first class! Some of these methods I am hoping to adapt and execute at my club this season.
I particularly enjoyed the first seminar on the Monday as the gentleman giving the presentation was very engaging and encouraged us all to quiz him at any point. On the Tuesday seminar there were lots of methods that we are trialling at our club so that was especially interesting for me to see some facts and figures I could relate to.
GIS was brilliant - the show is absolutely massive, far bigger than I expected, it was great to see so many new products under one roof ranging from GPS robotic hand mowers to remote controlled drones. I have gathered some great ideas to take home with me, plus some networking opportunities that in time I am sure will help with my future career progression.
TPC San Antonio is a truly stunning golf course and it was very positive to see such friendly and humble guys give up so much of their time to show us round, particularly as they have a big tournament in 3 weeks - so I really appreciated that. The sheds matched the course and were fantastic, ultra state of the art!
I loved the bunkers at TPC. They're quirky and aggressive with odd shapes and deep slopes. Not a soft line in sight. Luckily for me I don't rake them every day, as I am sure that opinion would change very quickly!
It was also refreshing to see a course with such a big budget doing some very simple cost effective methods and sharing them with us.
I enjoyed seeing the contrast in colour between the dormant playing surfaces at Dominicon. It is something I have never experienced before and it looked amazing. It was also interesting hearing about the challenges Dane faces like the hogs tearing up turf. It's so similar to the badger damage I have on my site. He was managing a gorgeous site and I am very grateful for him taking time out of his day to give us a guided tour of his facility.
The whole USA visit was amazing! One of the best lessons I learned was, always take a spare pair of pants and a toothbrush in your luggage, 'cause you never know…."
A trip of a lifetime!"
Simon Connah - Deputy Course Manager, Old Course, St Andrew's Links.
"Firstly, I'd like to say thanks to Steve and all the Bernhard staff. We certainly had a few challenging moments getting to San Antonio but it was great from the start and it is an incredibly generous thing that Bernhard do for the BIGGA Delegation.
I thought San Antonio was a wonderful place, the huge Henry B Gonzales Conference Centre and GIS show was bigger and better than I'd ever imagined and the exhibition much larger, impressive and professional - and maybe a bit more show biz and polished.
I was quite nervous about the education seminars as I thought it would be pitched at a very high level, but I found they were very good, easy going, fun and interactive. I enjoyed the first day the best - 'Benefits of oxygen in the root zone' delivered by David Doherty, CEO, International Sports Turf Research Centre, Kansas. The seminar was very interesting and we were encouraged to ask questions, debate and share knowledge. David was interested to know what was going on across the UK and our unique environments but of course we all share common goals and visions.
Cale A. Bigelow, Professor of Agronomy at Purdue University, delivered the afternoon seminar. He had been in St Andrews a while back and we'd met each other then. His presentation was 'Optimising soil health to enhance growth and quality' - quite a fascinating insight into traditional and non-traditional soil amendments. Basically looking at overcoming the challenges within the soil environment, promoting good turf growth and quality with particular attention to amendments used to increase the biological chemical and physical functionality of soil. I learned a great deal and it was invaluable.
Both presenters used lots of slides, were dynamic and fun and encouraged everyone to take part so we were all very engaged. The UK greenkeepers contributed quite an international feel asking lots of interesting questions. It felt like more of a discussion, which I found really useful.
TPC San Antonio was fantastic and of particular interest to me as they are preparing for the Valero Texas Open. I was interested to see how they were preparing for a televised event in comparison to us with the Open Championship in sight in July. Superintendent Stephen Coyne and his team were 3 weeks away from the event and they were kind enough to chat about the course management in the lead-up to hosting this PGA tour event. We have a very different course, geography and climate but our goals and visions are very similar.
The course reminded me a lot of Gleneagles, the greens & surrounds complexes, bunkers, attention to detail. The greenkeeping facilities were pristine and impressive and looked like they had been constructed yesterday. The offices, break room, everything was amazing, and the way the spraying facilities are set up, the storage and handling of chemicals etc - but I also liked to see some things that were just normal - little improvisations like the Superintendent had a bit of tape holding his glove together, some older tools - that sort of thing.
I thought Bernhard really stood out as a company. The stand looked bright and professional and there was something about it that drew you in. The marketing and branding is strong and easily recognisable. The staff were really friendly and approachable and it was an absolute pleasure to get to know everyone. I thought the blazers definitely work and wherever you go, the grinders stand out. I wouldn't be rushing to change anything there.
One of the best nights out was our dinner with the Bernhard team. The networking is incredible. The social nights were all fun but invaluable. I loved the Bernhard, BIGGA & Toro evenings and when I was at the Jacobsen Rodeo it made me think how just how lucky we all were to be there as its certainly not something you would do everyday - so every moment of the trip was a once in a lifetime experience. I desperately hope I can get to another American show in the near future.
The guys formed in to a team very quickly. Everyone had fairly good leadership skills but also knew how to bond in to a team environment and again I think it comes down to our similar career goals, aspirations and attitudes towards golf course management. Some of the guys were in their 20's, some in their 40's, but there were no barriers. Some are working small miracles with small budgets but we all have the same passion to get the job done. We learned together and chatted whether we were socialising at a conference or over breakfast. Every moment was useful.
I found it quite an emotional experience at times. When we were on the BIGGA stand we met dozens of Superintendents from all round the globe and they were fascinated that I worked on the Old Course at St. Andrews so that led to a lot of conversations and everyone was so nice and generous spirited.
Back at home we encourage our own staff to get out, as individuals and talk to people at shows so I've always seen the value in that. I will be giving a presentation to my colleagues and management at the club shortly so that I can share my experiences with them. I'm sure it will inspire them to apply for things like this - I will definitely encourage them to. It certainly has given me a boost and made me focus and think about my own objectives for the future.
I go to BTME in Harrogate as a customer but here at GIS we were representing our clubs, our employers, BIGGA and Bernhard. I know everyone was very proud to be there wearing our BIGGA badges and lots of people seemed to be drawn towards us. A final massive thank you should go to Jim, Les, Jill, Sami & Lee who all helped to make it an unforgettable experience."
Richard McGynn is an Irishman from The Curragh of Kildare, now living in Switzerland. He commented that he was 'very disappointed that there were Welsh and English on the trip too.'…But when he'd got over that shock he said, "Everything is bigger at GIS and very professional. If it's in the industry then it's at GIS.
There were a couple of things I'd not seen before. I really liked the robot greens mower. You set it up with 3 or 4 beacons on the green and it records the shape and cuts on its own - different patterns of cut on different days. It's expensive but I can see the value. In Switzerland labour costs are very high, and I do think it is the future. The other thing I was pleased to see was the relatively new UK drainage system that uses ropes with a pipe inside. It works along the same principle as capillary siphoning.
The issue for me is that our industry is changing, because demand is greater, but we don't seem to be changing to keep up with it. We have to develop and run these things. We are doing more with the same rather than less with new products.
The other guys on the trip were great. We are a good mixed group and I am looking forward to keeping in contact with them.
It was also good to catch up with people I'd worked with in Russia, India and Dubai too- that has been very nice, and the networking overall has been excellent.
I think for me it's not such a massive career change…but for younger guys this whole experience will have a big impact on them - and it is good to be part of that journey."
Sam Evans, Deputy Head Greenkeeper, Oakland Park Golf Club.
"As this was my first trip to the USA, initially, I was completely overwhelmed by the way the Americans do things - from the size of buildings and cars, to the efforts made for the Golf Industry Show, for example; the opening and closing ceremonies, which were incredible.
It was extremely interesting to see how they approach greenkeeping and how others regard the industry. I would love to be able to use some of their methods to see if they work, even though the climate may differ. I may be able to adapt some of the fundamental skills, after all it's the same product we all want at the end of the day. It amazed me at how the Golf Course Managers in America are seen almost like celebrities, and seemed to have minimal contact with the rest of the staff, as opposed to our world, where at most clubs, managers lead from the front.
The first seminar we attended was 'The Benefits of Oxygen' presented by David L. Doherty, I think this was the most beneficial to me. He really engaged the group and had some radical and interesting methods. It was really well presented and engaging which proved to be a great start.
Once the show had started, we either manned the BIGGA stand, or looked around the show. I really enjoyed manning the stand, interacting with greenkeepers from all over the world and trying to promote BIGGA membership globally. We all dressed in a BIGGA blazer and tie, which made us stand out and look extremely professional and I believe we gave a good representation of not only ourselves, but also UK greenkeeping. It was amazing to walk around the show, taking it all in, and there was a lot to take in. The size of the convention centre was big and took around 30 - 60 minutes just to walk around. Once I got my bearings I started to enjoy meeting reps I already knew, making relationships with new reps/companies and trying to think how I can use some of the products and processes on my course.
My initial reaction to visiting TPC San Antonio was 'Wow, Wow, Wow.' It gave me some new goals within my own career. From one spectrum to the other yet it is attainable and real! The greenkeepers at TPC San Antonio were just like us, enjoyed greenkeeping and have been lucky enough to work at such a prestigious golf course. The attention to detail and surfaces there were incredible! I was also in awe of the machinery and yard, which was vast to say the least. It was great to see how a golf course is run with such a large budget.
A highlight of the week for me was bonding and getting to know not only the 9 other delegates, but also creating a friendship with the Bernhard & Co staff. I thoroughly enjoyed the BIGGA night out, which I am afraid included karaoke! (I must just add here that Sam's rendition of Neil Sedaka's, Oh Carol was better than the real thing. He has the voice of an angel. Sallie). Although, saying that, it is extremely hard to choose just one thing from the week because there were so many wonderful experiences and great moments.
From this trip I have made 9 friends for life along with new relationships with Bernhard staff, I must take this opportunity to thank Steve, Kim and Sallie especially, along with the other Bernhard staff for sorting everything out for us, even when it appeared nothing was on our side! I strongly recommend everyone to apply for this life changing experience! The benefits you gain from it are huge!"
Lee Sayers, Course Manager, Mid Kent Golf Club
"The high spots for me were getting into bed in the early hours of Mon at am. My bed felt amazing after our 50 odd hour journey!
Then there was the show and the education - both really good and professional. I learned lots new techniques, looked at a few new pieces of equipment that I shall certainly be looking out for - aeration equipment mostly and talked to a lot of people.
Wednesday night with Bernhard and the BIGGA night were amazing, and the last night with the lads.
One word - 'people'. That is what made the trip for me. We had a great last evening with the lads, we learned a lot from each other and were all happy to listen to each other. We were a very even decision making group.
I loved the visits to the golf courses and really enjoyed meeting the golf course Superintendents who were just like us. They were greenkeeper types, approachable and happy to share their knowledge.
Dane showed us round Dominion Golf Club. He was very gracious and gave us lots to think about. We looked at the course, learned about managing the difficult weather conditions with long spells of high temperature in the summer. He told us he covers his greens when temperatures fall below 24 degrees F. This is a lengthy job and takes 8 guys 4 hours. We looked at the hog damage, which is clearly quite a nuisance to deal with. "
The TPC San Anotnio greenkeeping team was great and were very proud of their course. They did a great job showing us around. It was amazing to see the course. We don't such labour intensive bunkers here in the UK!
I really want to thank you all Stephen Bernhard and the Bernhard family of staff- who have been brilliant. If it wasn't for Bernhard we wouldn't have had this amazing opportunity to broaden our minds, our careers and make such good friends."
Steven Hulme. Head Greenkeeper, Murrayfield GC. Edinburgh
"I went to the GIS show in New Orleans in 2009 but I think this seemed a bit more organised, with a lot more stands and more choice of products. I'd not seen as many prototypes in a show before - so it was good to see things we don't yet get in the UK.
There were some fun superfluous things too like decorated buggies with big alloy wheels and bunker mats that leave advertising imprints in the sand - so that was fun to see.
We had a great day on the course visits, especially TPC San Antonio. What a fantastic insight it gave us into what can be achieved given the right resources to match expectations.
For me, meeting everyone was the best bit. We all got on really well and I think the chaos of the journey bought us all together - by the time we'd got here we'd bonded. The group was well matched and there were no big egos to worry about.
The Americans we met seemed genuinely interested in us, and our story and wanted to know how we do things in the UK, how they differ - so we had a lot of interesting discussions and I made a lot of contacts.
I was very impressed by the professionalism of the Superintendent Association. Their seminars were good, very informative and well run and probably a bit more relaxed than ours.
Overall an amazing week and I feel like I have made a new group of friends within the industry, AND a big thank you for Bernhard and Company and BIGGA for making it happen. "
Kevin Armstrong, Head Greenkeeper, John O Gaunt Golf Club.
"I think meeting 10 guys and all getting on so well is fantastic and shows what common ground we have. From the first moment we got together, with all the travel troubles, we bonded and now we have people we can call on for advise, go and play golf with, meet up for a beer.
I think one of the biggest things I learned on the trip is how important, good and precise communication is and by taking that back to my work and making the changes it will be fundamental in moving my career forward.
I agree with Sam on the education. I like that they got us involved throughout the presentation and that really started the show off on the right foot. It related to things I do in the UK and Europe so it was all good and very useful.
The show size is amazing and it almost takes you 2 days to get round it and see everything you want to see. It is very much like Harrogate but on a far larger scale and for me the latest advances and innovations in machinery was the highlight in the show. No matter where you were from you were welcomed onto the stand and people were interested to listen to our experiences. I learned a lot of very informative stuff that I can take back to work and use in my career.
TIC San Antonio was amazing. There were shed loads of good ideas we can take back to work. How organised they were with their chemicals and waste products was of great interest. The course was as good as expected and it was amazing to get out there and see it first hand.
The whole trip was such a great experience with a great bunch of guys and girls and I must say a massive thank you to everyone involved at BIGGA and Bernhard for organising this trip. It has been a life-changing experience and one, which I feel privileged to have been part of."
Miles Todd, Course Manager, Llandudno (Maesdu) Golf Club.
"My first impressions were how good the group was. Straight away we made a good connection, which made the 50-hour flight tolerable. We made life long friends from that one incident.
The Show was vast and the scale impressive and so much bigger than I'd imagined. It was good to be able to see so many ranges of machine.
I found the seminars really fascinating because they were a totally different world than we are use to, and that was highlighted by a conversation I had. Coming from North Wales with a small budget standing chatting to two guys from the Ford Plantation Country Club in Virginia where they have a $million plus budget.
Dave Doherty's seminar was really interesting and I learned a lot from him. Things we can't necessarily use on our golf course but good to gain knowledge and open my mind to other ideas.
The course visit to TPC San Antonio was biggest thing for me. It made me aspire to be somewhere like that in the UK. Seeing the professionalism of it, and it opened my eyes that I still have so much to learn in the industry. It really put it in perspective and made me want to learn more from being on this trip.
I was also interested a few other differences between our countries. Firstly to see how greenkeepers are viewed in the USA. They have a professional status whereas in UK many are still seen as grass cutters. The Americans follow a different career path to us and it seems to be more science based. They get a degree and then get a position as a Superintendent. In the UK we work our way up and get our hands dirty on the way. I don't think I know any greenkeepers in the UK who have been to University.
The Americans use a lot more water than we do, and are very reliant on water to keep the course alive - so their budgets reflect this. They also use more fertilisers and chemicals. My philosophy is traditional and very basic. I use very little fertiliser, water and chemicals - only when I really need to.
Being on this trip I made 9 new friends for life and I have learned so much from them. Thanks to everyone involved in the process and for making it such a successful trip. It has definitely given me more confidence in my career. Even talking to Lee, I now feel that the Master Greenkeeper qualification is more accessible, and I want to do it.
We are 10 of only 130 people to do this trip, so I feel very privileged."
Sean Brocklehurst, Assistant Greenkeeper, Harpenden Common Golf Club
"From the very beginning we bonded and we all got on well for the rest of the week. Our personalities gelled straight away because there was such a nice mix in the group. We will definitely keep in touch. The networking overall has been amazing.
The show is huge, massive and impressive. I walked round it several times and there was much more to it than I expected. It was a very visual experience. We have the same products on show at Harrogate but at GIS they have the space to show the whole range, and the market is so much bigger. I have seen some things that I want, so that's good.
Everyone I met throughout the visit was very friendly and interested in our opinions; the educational seminars were very informative, well run and enjoyable.
The hospitality we received from BIGGA and Bernhard was really organised and amazing."