Tim Powers, CGCS, of Poplar Creek Golf Course in San Mateo, Calif., has been participating in GCSAA webinars for several years. Photo courtesy of Tim Powers
About 1,200 miles separate Foran Hall from the GCSAA headquarters in Lawrence, Kan.
Two decades ago, this distance took on new – and historic – significance for GCSAA. Inside Room 338 of Foran Hall at Rutgers University’s Cook Campus in New Brunswick, NJ, Bruce Clarke, Ph.D., and Mike Agnew, Ph.D., huddled at Clarke’s desk. They were sitting side by side, a computer in front of them, a clock within sight. On March 13, 2002, the time had finally come for a new adventure for them, GCSAA and, indeed, the golf course management industry.
On this day, 20 years ago, the first GCSAA remote online webcast (what are now called webinars) was presented by Clarke and Agnew, a former Syngenta senior technical manager. The three-plus-hour seminar, “Dollar Spot and Anthracnose: Beyond the Basics,” was a hot topic.
“Anthracnose was rampant. People were losing their greens. People were losing their jobs because they couldn’t control the disease,” Clarke says. More than 40 golf courses across the United States participated in the webinar, as did superintendents in Canada and Ireland. They could hear Clarke and Agnew, see their slideshow, and ask questions.
Feedback from attendees made it clear that this was a useful and groundbreaking moment for GCSAA. Ninety-one percent of people who signed up rated the webcast as good or excellent. One of them said, “That’s exciting! I believe that the technology used this morning will enable all of us to be much more efficient with our time and allow us to participate more freely in educational experiences of this quality.
Providing education in this way has become a GCSAA standard.
“I think it was a good idea,” says Clarke, professor emeritus of turf pathology, who retired in January after 40 years at Rutgers and was the recipient of the GCSAA’s Colonel John Morley Distinguished Service Award. in 2014. “The goal was to provide actionable information for superintendents to do their job.
A plan comes to fruition
Jake Tenopir, CGCS, was just 11 years old when GCSAA launched its webinars. He knows about them now.
“This industry is changing so much. If you look back 50 years ago, whether it’s moisture management or nematode management, everything is changing and it’s certainly not slowing down,” says Tenopir, Maintenance Manager of golf courses at the Polo Club in Boca Raton (Florida). and a member of the GCSAA for 12 years. “We educate our club members. If you’re unaware of today’s trends, you can be in a pickle if you don’t have the answers for them.
Despite early rave reviews, the GCSAA suspended the rise of the webinar program for much of 2002 and part of 2003. During that period, tax deliberations put some new programs on hold, says Dan Ward, who was then GCSAA Senior Director for Education. Finally, at a meeting of the association’s board of directors in the fall of 2003, the decision was made to host regular webcasts beginning in 2004. A myriad of benefits, including earning points education and the economic benefits of allowing members to stay close to home or work and webcast affordably, sold the board on the merits of webinars.
“We had the ability to reach our members, even as far away as places like Southeast Asia. I had every confidence in the world that this was going to be a success and move the association forward,” said then-GCSAA President Jon Maddern, a GCSAA member for 46 years, who is now Director of Agronomy at ClubCorp.
A large number of GCSAA education staff participated in the orchestration of the webinars. Among these was Tracy Adair Derning, hired in 2004 as a computer specialist who taught computer-related webcasts. “Part of it was to make it easier for them (superintendents), to make it easier for people who are tech-averse to use our platforms,” she says.
Another staff member still on board as a webinar leader is Lisa Wick, GCSAA’s senior director for e-learning programs. She hosts webinars from her home office, with multiple computers at the same time. Wick introduces webinar presenters to start sessions and is there to answer questions via chat, help with technical issues, and more.
Among past webinars that resonate with her is the March 2020 town hall meeting on the then-evolving COVID-19 pandemic with GCSAA CEO Rhett Evans. The program reached a maximum of 500 participants. Another memorable moment came after the end of a webinar, when she received feedback from Brian Youell, the GCSAA Class A Superintendent at Uplands Golf Club in Victoria, BC, who had suffered a severe brain injury at work. “He said going through those webinars really made him feel like he could go back to his work, he could go back and participate. It was cool,” Wick says.
Ward, who was at GCSAA from 1997 to 2004, certainly thought the webinar idea was pretty cool. “Sometimes the bandwidth was horrible; we also had timing issues, when presenters almost had to say, “More and more,” before the next person spoke so they wouldn’t step on each other. But I was very keen on progressive learning,” says Ward. “We had the best of the best instructors to work with. And we made it work.
Bruce Clarke, Ph.D., (left) and Mike Agnew, Ph.D., were among the pioneers of GCSAA’s webinar program. They delivered the very first 20 years ago. Photo by Matt Sweatlock
Lunch and learn
As she ate leftover chicken and rice, Jean Esposito, CGCS, devoured information relevant to her operations.
Superintendent and owner of the Hinckley, Ohio golf course, Esposito had lunch one day last July while participating in the “Factors That Affect Pesticide Fate & Behavior on the Golf Course” webinar by Travis Gannon, Ph.D., of the North Carolina State University. Esposito joined her from her home on the 17th hole of the Hinckley GC. “I need a little time to set myself up. I’m not tech savvy. My nieces help me with anything tech-related,” says Esposito, a GCSAA member of 45 years.
At the end of the webinar, she made the short trip back to work with a sense of “mission accomplished” from the lunchtime experience. “My dad (Donald Krush, who was superintendent) told me years ago that if you get something out of something, it’s worth it. I got a few things out of it (webinar), so I’m happy,” says Esposito.
It wasn’t a working lunch, but CGCS retiree Michael Morris and Michigan State University’s Thom Nikolai, Ph.D., sat at Morris’ dining room table. on Bellows Avenue in Frankfort, Michigan to lead the GCSAA. second webinar in 2004. Using Morris’ Gateway computer, they followed Clarke and Agnew’s “Anthracnose and You”, the first of 2004, with “Taking Control of Green Speed Part I: Finding the Best Green Speed for Your Golf Course”.
Morris, a 37-year GCSAA member who at the time supervised Crystal Downs Country Club in Frankfort, says: “Thom drove up from East Lansing. We did it on a weekday afternoon. It was a unique experience. I think people were generally excited about it. We reached a very large audience. The technology was heavy, but it worked. It took a team, and they (GCSAA Education Department) made it easy for us. I thought it was progressive for GCSAA to deliver technology in this way. »
He continues to serve people like Theodore Chapin, assistant superintendent of the Preserve Sporting Club in Wyoming, RI. The five-year-old GCSAA member is a fan of webinars. “Time is limited in this industry, but I’ve done a lot. Honestly, it’s a no-brainer,” Chapin says.
Lisa Wick, GCSAA’s senior e-learning program manager, was overseeing this live webinar in August. Photo by Roger Billings
A tradition grows
Reached by phone one morning this summer, Tim Powers, CGCS, mentioned that a webinar was on his afternoon to-do list. It was not a first.
“I made them. A lot,” says Powers, superintendent of Poplar Creek Golf Course in San Mateo, Calif., and a GCSAA member for 35 years. “Even though I’ve been in this (business) for a while, I can still pick things up here and there. Sometimes it’s like, ‘Oh, maybe we should try this.’ Talking and listening to people from all parts of the world about a new way of doing things never hurts.
The numbers indicate that webinars matter. In 2021, total live and on-demand webinar attendance was 15,452. In 2011, the total was 3,493. From 2005 to 2021, more than 110,000 attendees attended GCSAA webinars, including industry partner webinars, which began in 2014. Education points for successful webinars that can last from 15 minutes to 90 minutes range from 0.03 to 0.20 points. When it all took off in 2004, it cost members $30 and nonmembers $45 per webinar. Thanks to Syngenta’s sponsorship of the webinar series, webinars have been free for over a decade.
“Our commitment to the industry goes beyond our product portfolio,” says Stephanie Schwenke, Turf Market Manager at Syngenta. “Syngenta has been a proud partner and supporter of GCSAA educational webinars for years, and we remain committed to providing free educational webinars as a benefit to GCSAA members.”
Today, webinars can be accessed via desktop or laptop computers, on tablets, and via smart phones. Some webinars have been translated into Spanish. And, occasionally, older webinars available on demand have been updated. For example, Aaron Patton, Ph.D., professor of turf and weed science and turf extension specialist at Purdue University, updated a webinar he conducted on calibrating sprayers and the selection of the right nozzles several years after the first one. And last year, Clarke and Agnew revived the topic of anthracnose for a webinar.
Twenty years after the duo played a vital role in this webinar journey, their initial hopes have exceeded expectations. “In the beginning, we didn’t have all the right tools to work with. Now the tools are there,” says Agnew, who retired in June from Syngenta and, along with his wife. Nancy, launched Agnew Agronomic and Horticultural Solutions. “We always thought it would only be good.”
If anything, you might even call it an industry game changer.
“Before, you had to go to the library, attend a meeting, or read an article in GCM,” says Clarke. “I think online search engines and webinars have been the means to immediately provide cutting-edge information to superintendents.”
Howard Richman is CWM associate editor.