Sunday, December 17, 2017

Part 1: The Keyboard is Mightier Than the Fist. How MLSN Will Save Middle Class Golf

Throughout my entire career as a head greenkeeper, I've worked for middle class clubs with the exception of my first gig, which wasn't a club per say, but a daily fee joint built smack dab in the middle of six hundred middle class shitboxes and townhouses.  The middle class isn't foreign to me, and being a product of middle America, it seems fitting I manage turf for those golfers working tough to earn that middle class wage.   On more than one occasion, I have tried to land a job at one of those upper echelon clubs where the majority of the male members sport Brook Brothers slacks and Salvatore Ferragamo loafers without socks (*1).  And if you have read my blog, or know me personally, you may question why I would desire to work for a club where the one percenters rule. Perhaps it was driven by ego, and my wanting to prove I can grow grass with the best of them.  But honestly, I know I can hang, so this rationalization of wanting to prove myself, was in reality, just a cruel mind trick where I was only trying to justify the real reasons of wanting to schlep it up at some high class joint.  The true reason for desiring a position of this stature was fairly simple. Money.

At my first gig, I made a pretty decent salary, and the annual operating budget was just under seven hundred grand.  Because it was surrounded by a zillion craptacular shitboxes, each person living in one of these homes had to pay an annual fee that contributed to the course's operating budget which, in my opinion, was pretty ingenious.  This annual fee pretty much guaranteed that the course was always going to be there no matter how good or bad the receipts were at the gate.  This set up definitely gave me a sense of security, particularly since the mortgage bubble had just burst, and people weren't playing golf all that much.  But I fucked up, got on the bad side of the pro, lost some grass, got backdoored by another greenkeeper and was fired (*2).

Fortunately, I wasn't unemployed too long and was able to secure a job at what I thought was a stable private club.  They had just received an influx of members from a club that had just shit the bed so things seemed to be looking up.  My annual operating budget was just a hair over a half mil, with promises of improving, and everything went really well those first two seasons.  Season three is when this club, "shit the bed" as members left in droves, and the operating budget was slashed by nearly a hundred grand (*3).  Although the reduction in my budget did annoy the shit out of me, it was the non payment to my vendors which genuinely pissed me off.  It's pretty fucking tough going into a season when you're thirty thousand deep to your vendors from the previous year, so I quickly surmised this particular situation wasn't ideal.

I suffered through three seasons of slow pay bullshit before landing my current position at another mid tier club.  They're not quite as bad off as the previous shit show where I was the MC of green, but the financial struggle is definitely real.  Which gets me back to my point.  Money was the sole reason driving my desire to keep greens for the Salvatore Ferragamo set, and it wasn't because I was looking for an improved salary (*4).  I just wanted to work at a joint where the vendors didn't cut me off in August, the fuel tanks remained relatively filled,  and making payroll was nary a concern (*5). It's pretty frustrating working at a club that resembles one of the many flop houses I lived in during my early twenties.  I honestly thought my days of suffering through stretches of no electricity, cold showers, and using crumpled up pages from the phone book as an alternative to toilet paper were way behind me (*6).  It's not too bad when you're twenty something, but at forty, it's pretty beat shivering your ass off in an office because the club hasn't paid the goddamn heating bill (*7).

Since 2014 I've blasted off my resume to all the up scaler job postings within a fifty mile radius of my killer brick ranch house and haven't even received one interview request.  And I know my cover letter and resume are strong because I listened to that Turfgrass Zealot podcast with Armen Suny, where they specifically discuss resume writing, a million times..  My shit was definitely dialed in,  but for some reason, I was never chosen for an interview.   And here's the catch.  Armen Suny has held the purse strings for three really terrific gigs in my region.  Three positions I have applied for sending him resumes and cover letters concisely tailored in an effort to impress him!

On the third try I actually received a phone call from Mr. Suny and as we were discussing my credentials, which by the way, hit on every bullet point of the posting, he basically called me a jumper.  I really couldn't argue his point, because I had been jumping from gig to gig the past couple of years, but I explained how I just wanted to work for a club with some sort of stability.  His response,

"I don't care how good the story is, you still look like a jumper".

His advice was to stay at my current gig another year.

I was bummed, because I honestly felt I would've been a pretty good fit for this club despite what Mr. Suny described as my jumpiness.  This particular job seemed right in my wheelhouse, so in a last ditch effort to attempt the dissuade I asked,

"Are you going to the Penn State Turf Conference?  I'm doing a presentation."

"You are?" was his response. "What are you talking about?" he then inquired.

"The art of minimalist green keeping," I replied.

"Oh." he said. "I've heard about some superintendents that have stopped core aerating."

In hindsight, I probably should have steered him toward my epic blog post, "Cussing Down Core Aeration", but I needed to convince this guy I was a solid greenkeeper, despite my penchant of jumping from job to job like a left handed reliever with mediocre stuff (**8).  So I immediately delved into what I know best, and mentioned how I began implementing MLSN this past season with excellent results.

And this is when things got real uncomfortable.

Let's just say, Mr. Suny is not a fan of MLSN.  And I wish I could recall his exact words, but he growled something along the lines of, "if anyone doesn't think the balance between Calcium and Magnesium percentages isn't important, than that person needs to get back to college and take an entry level soils class."

I was fucking stunned.  Because here's a guy, who uses the word, "anarchist" in the title of his blog and specifically states in his job postings that he desires a, "creative turf manager with strong agronomic skills that stays current with advances in turf technology."

Well, I really don't know what's more creative and current than MLSN! And growth potential, and flexible fertilizer systems, and measuring clipping yields, and using growing degree days to time plant growth regulator applications, and bio char, and....

This is how I assumed our conversation was going to progress after I mentioned MLSN, figuring he would be so impressed with my knowledge about the latest in turf management trends, I was guaranteed at the very least, an interview.   But old Armen wasn't hearing shite, and he immediately pretended (I allege) to take another call.  Before hanging up, he did say he was going to call back, but never did.

I was pissed, but not because I got screwed out of an interview.  It was Mr. Suny's utter angst towards MLSN that aggravated the hell out of me.  I just couldn't fathom, a person of his stature, pretty much a pillar of our trade,  totally disregarding the people who developed this alternative approach to managing soils in an effort to make our jobs as greenkeepers less burdensome.  Even though I do not know Dr. Larry Stowell, Dr. Wendy Gelertner or Dr. Micah Woods personally, I took it personally, and honestly felt like Mr. Suny had full on dissed my good friends.  This anger lingered for days, and obviously it's still hanging, but I have since cooled off a bit realizing the broader scope of this drama.

I'm really not meant to manage turf for the one percenters.  My greenkeeping path lies with the middle class, because these are the people I am most familiar with, and in all honestly, where I belong.  Stumbling upon the MLSN guidelines was not a coincidence.  It was totally meant to happen, and I can honestly say, by implementing this approach to managing soils, it probably helped our club survive at least another year, but more importantly, kept me in a job!  I saved our club a shit ton of cash, because I made a decision not to manage soils the, "Armen Suny" way.  If Mr. Suny wants to continue hiring greenkeepers that waste time, inputs, and most importantly, money because he firmly believes interpreting soil data in a way that agriculture has disregarded since the early eighties, then have at it.

The Minimal Levels of Sustainable Nutrition Soil Guidelines are a, "more sustainable approach to managing soil nutrient levels that can help you decrease fertilizer inputs and costs, while still maintaining desired turf quality and playability levels" (*9). But to me, MLSN is more than sustainability, reducing costs, inputs, and making sure your soils are supplied with the adequate levels of nutrients.  For me, MLSN is about getting my environmental compass pointing north, and contributing to saving middle class golf.  In part two of this blog,  I'll explain how I'm going to pull this off by showing the significant savings I made by using MLSN (*10).

1) Obviously, they can afford socks, but choose not to sport them for some reason.  Rich dudes must have smelly feet.

2) I did get hosed pretty tough.  And for years I placed blame all over the place.  I blamed the pro, and the dude who really did snake my job.  But after years of reflection, I realized something.  Bottom line....I just did not do a good enough job, and deserved to be fired.  Getting shit canned is tough to accept, but in all honestly it was good thing.  I am a better greenkeeper for it.

3)  Members didn't roll because of playing conditions.  Despite my abuse of inputs, the membership loved what our staff was accomplishing.  Greed was a the main reason members left in droves. Coupled with the total ineptness of the board of governors.  That place was a shit show!

4)  Not that I would mind a bump in pay!

5)  I remember vividly taking a two ton jack and lifting up the back end of the fuel tank to get those extra gallons of fuel leaning towards the front end where the intake pipe was situated.  What a pain in the ass, but shit, we had to fuel our fairway mowers somehow.

6)  One of our favorite bits when using the pages from the phone book as shit tickets was telling whomever, that I looked up your name in the phone book, tore out that page, and wiped my ass with it.  As I reflect back, I realize I was a total degenerate.

7)  The heat was shut off regularly at my prior gig.  It has not happened at my current position.

8) In my opinion, "stuff" is a lazy word, and the word itself, kind of annoys the shit out of me.  I think the word, "stuff" is only appropriate when describing a pitcher's repertoire of pitches.  For example...."Jamie Moyer has good stuff".

8) Check out my epic blog, "Cussing Down Core Aeration". Perhaps my greatest hit!↓

9)  How Pace Turf describes MLSN ↓

10)  I have to write a column for the February issue of Golfdom, before I begin writing part 2 of this blog.  Can you believe I got a gig writing a column for Golfdom because of this blog?  So stoked they took a chance on me.  Seth Jones and Buddy Gannon rule (Buddy was the one who stumbled upon this piece).  My goal is to have part 2 of this blog published around the middle of January.


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